Let me be absolutely clear. I am not a music fan. I am not prone to purchasing music all the time and trying to keep up with all the new singers and bands that keep coming up all the time. What I do like to do is to listen to the same music that I enjoy listening to with a few new tracks and singles thrown in here and there. Due to this I am neither invested heavily in my music collection, or my music playing hardware. What I also like to have is, when I want to listen to my same old music, I should be able to listen to it wherever I am. And so, I have Bluetooth everywhere. In
the home, in my car and with me at all times, mostly. Listening to music has always been a very personal experience for me. I don’t like to impinge my musical tastes on to others, no matter how much theirs’s sucks. I have, therefore, invested in head and ear phones rather than speaker systems. It was only recently that I thought that a small portable Bluetooth speaker would be useful since it is a pain to have head / ear phones on for long periods of time. So I started looking around for this and after a lot of research, settled on the Creative Sound Blaster FRee for the reviews it had and the price that it was available in.
The FRee is a good looking device and that is what first drew me to it. When compared to the competition, the FRee looked a lot better and much more understated. Similar offerings from JBL and Sony were either too jazzy or too plain. It is built solidly and has a premium feel to it. The front wraparound grill, the red highlights and even the non-customer facing back all feel like made from very high quality materials. The FRee was the only pill shaped Bluetooth speaker that did not look as much as a pill as the others did. The device is IPX4 splash proof certified. I have not had a need to test this yet since this is an indoor use device for me. Another small detail that I really like (although this wasn’t a buying decision point) is that all the compliance text is in a font and colour that is absolutely non-intrusive. So none of the warnings clutter up the clean flat areas of the device in a visible manner. Although these are clearly visible when you angle the device or look at it in bright light.
The front of the device is completely unblemished and has a nice stiff grill all across. The ends are highlighted with red accented rings. It’s a nice, iron man red, rather than a more Dr. Dre, Beats kind of red. There are no controls in the front. These are relegated to the back and side panels of the device. Due to the design, the speaker can be stood upright on its side when you have some space restrictions, or you can always use it in the horizontal orientation. There are little rubber nubs that will protect the device from scratching. Since the side is rubber coated, you don’t have to worry about scratching in the vertical position either.
The Technical Stuff
This is a stereo speaker. Although the design of the speaker might give you the impression that this was a 2.1 speaker. This is due to the fact that there is “Rear Passive Radiator” that behaves like a woofer and vibrates as well to give the impression of enhanced bass. These “Passive Radiators” are on both the sides as well, but these don’t respond to the bass as much as they are stiffer and one side has the controls as well.
Although it means very little, this small package has a 2 x 4W RMS output. The speaker can get loud, given the right conditions. What is better is that it provides up to 10 hours of battery life and this is very visible as I have not yet run into an issue of wanting to use the device and finding that it’s out of juice.
The FRee also sports a few additional differentiators. 1) the ability to use it as a wired USB speaker with your laptop, the ability to play files off a micro-SD card using the inbuilt MP3 player and the ability to connect with an analog 3.5mm cable to play music. The built-in music player can be controlled with the various buttons behind the device. To top it off, this can also be used as a hands free for your non-roaming mobile needs. Although it is a much better music player than a Bluetooth hands free. The device can connect to two sources at the same time using the HFP (Hands Free Profile) and the HSP (Headset Profile). A typical use for me would be using the iPad to play music through Apple Music and using it with my phone as a hands free. However, mostly, I only connect to my phone for both the uses.
Considering the price point, the FRee has a good sound profile. Depending on what kind of music you are going to play you can expect a range of sound performance. For example, the typical Pick Floyd song will work very well and you can really crank up the volume on that one. You can even safely press the “Loud” button at the back on the speaker and get a little bit more punch from them. However, if you are
mainly going to be listening to Nirvana or the like, then you are in for a more mediocre sound quality experience. your playlist will be what determines whether you like the quality of sound or not. Not everything will sound great and that is what you can expect from a device at this price point.
Where this device excels, is staying hidden and providing you with an ambient music experience that can fill up the room. Don’t try to use this during a party though. I have tried to use this in various environments. At home, where it is relatively quite, it works very well and fills up the room(s) with a good level of sound. In this environment it works well for Podcasts as well, which is about 50% of my listening time. I have also tried to use it in my car. This fits in the cup holders that I have and gives a decent level of sound, but nothing to write home about. I have also used this as a desktop hands free in my office and there it does the job well and is able to pick up my voice while I pace around trying to make clients understand that what they are asking for is not a good idea and would not be a sustainable option
The bottom line: Creative’s history with sound for the masses helps them provide a package that ticks a lot of the boxes and can really satisfy people who are not audiophiles but are just looking for a cost effective options for wireless sound. Clearly, this is not a replacement for a medium or high end music system and doesn’t pretend to be one either.