Bluetooth speakers are on the rise, and it's no longer necessary to be tied to your home to enjoy high-end audio. As Bluetooth technology evolves each year, manufacturers are able to offer audiophile sound without the need for wiring and oversized speakers. When I recently reviewed Creative Labs’ Sound Blaster Roar 2, I was amazed by the unit’s compact design and powerful drivers. As far as Bluetooth speakers go, it was one of the best systems I ever tested. The only thing that could have been considered a downside was its relatively high price of $169.99. Fortunately, Creative Labs has released a more affordable, and even more portable, alternative. The Sound Blaster FRee retails for only $99.99, and while it’s seventy bucks cheaper, the system delivers superb sound performance and features.
The Sound Blaster FRee is advertised as an audio device for adventurers, and there’s a good reason for it. The unit is small, measuring only 2.78" x 7.9" x 2.7", and weighing a little more than a standard TV remote. If you want to bring music while hiking or taking a bicycling trip, you won’t find anything more practical. It’s sturdy and can withstand tough outdoor conditions. Creative Labs uses IPX4-certified splash proof design to ensure the FRee can keep the music going even when it rains.
"The Sound Blaster FRee retails for only $99.99, and while it’s seventy bucks cheaper, the system delivers superb sound performance and features."
The Sound Blaster FRee isn’t as feature rich as the Roar 2, but it comes with most of the options that made the Roar 2 such a diverse speaker. You can easily switch between numerous sources, whether you’re listening to music via Bluetooth, USB audio, Aux-in, or a MicroSD card that lets you play music through the system’s integrated MP3 player. Like the Roar, the FRee has a built-in microphone for easy recording. It may not provide studio grade quality, but it’s great for brief voice recordings when needed. You can charge the speaker with the included power supply, or by directly plugging the FRee into your PC or mobile device. The FRee’s battery lasts longer than Roar’s, letting you enjoy music for up to ten hours nonstop.
Bluetooth pairing and the speakerphone are once again used by pressing the same button. It’s a feature that bugged me when reviewing the Roar 2, and I still find the design choice rather odd. While this doesn’t create any problems while on the road, it can cause connection issues when answering the phone while surrounded by multiple Bluetooth devices. One the flip side, the feature is useful since the FRee supports multipoint Bluetooth, allowing two connections at once for easier access with your mobile device.
"Creative Labs’ Sound Blaster FRee is yet another excellent product that does more than meets the eye. Don’t let the small speaker size fool you. This little guy packs quite a punch."
The Sound Blaster FRee boasts impressive audio performance for its size. The 360-degree speaker design helps spread sound evenly when outside, giving the impression you’re listening to a full-sized system. By enabling the LOUD button on the back, you can boost volume and spaciousness similar to Roar’s TeraBass and Roar feature. The sound is crisp and clean, but the bass lacks the Roar’s depth and intensity. You’re also not going to get as much finesse across varying frequencies, but to be fair, the FRee does as much as it can with its size.
As with all Sound Blaster products, the FRee is compatible with Creative Labs all-encompassing SBX Pro Studio suite. Here, you can tune various equalizer settings, as well as enable Creative Labs’ signature SBX mode for more in-depth audio. Aesthetically, the Sound Blaster FRee is a beautifully designed speaker. The unit comes in black and white colors, and the red highlights around the edges add a nice visual touch.
Creative Labs’ Sound Blaster FRee is yet another excellent product that does more than meets the eye. Don’t let the small speaker size fool you. This little guy packs quite a punch. It’s the perfect carry-on when you’re out adventuring, or just want to enjoy high-quality audio away from your work desk. It may not be as impressive as Creative Labs’ redesigned Roar 2, but at nearly half the price, it certainly stands on its own.
Review by: Tin Salamunic