Soundcast Outcast Junior
60W outdoor sound system – the ultimate in ASBO tech?
Review Aimed at outdoor music lovers, the Outcast Junior comes from American manufacturer Soundcast Systems and, compared to the larger Outcast model, is the more compact and affordable version. It features four 3in drivers at the top of the unit and a 6.5in sub-woofer in the base, all powered by a 60W digital amplifier. Despite looking like a cross between a parking bollard and a pedal bin, its form is borne from its genuine ruggedness.
Soundcast’s Outcast Junior: the noisy neighbours' weapon of choice
Appearing a little lacklustre in a shade of battleship grey, the Junior feels very solid with its hard plastic and rubberised body. Every input has a sealable cover for protection from water and grit. The whole shebang weighs in at 8.2kg and gives the product stability, while still being light enough to carry with its rubberised handle to a shady glade without breaking your back. The Junior also has protruding feet, which help to hold the product firmly in place on soft ground such as sand.
The unit includes several power options: an internal 12V rechargeable unit, a 12V car converter lead and a mains adapter. Initial charge on the internal cell took around seven hours and recharging takes roughly the same. All the connections and controls on the unit are easy to locate and operate.
There are also different ways to deliver music to the Junior. It comes with a 3.5mm jack input and cable to hook up to external music sources. Alternatively, there are two transmitters options: the iCast for iPod owners or the Universal AudioCast Transmitter (UAT). While these are sold separately, nobody is likely to buy a Soundcast Junior without one of these so we’re reviewing this as a system, rather than just the main unit.
The UAT supports a USB connection to Windows PCs or Macs, as well as audio devices such as a CD, player or iPod through line-level inputs on the UAT. The Transmitter kits can come with various cable combinations from 3.5mm mini-jacks as well as RCA phono connectors. The iCast transmitter adds £75 to the outlay or £95 for the UAT. The unit’s own price tag is £399. At that price point, the unit is not an insignificant purchase, so it better be good.
Also featuring a 3.5mm input, the iCast dock needs mains power; hampering portability
Both transmitters have a quoted range of 350ft. Testing with the iCast version we found this to be about right. Obviously, the amount of potential interference is going to be a factor. In town the distance achievable varied a little, but away from built up areas, the unit lived up to its spec with no problems at all.
Configuring the Junior and and the iCast is very simple. With the iCast on, use the channel switcher on this transmitter to match the channel number on the Junior. Press play and a connection kicks in very swiftly. Also, if you are using an iPod, simple pause, play, track up/down choices are possible from the Junior’s control panel, so there is no need to return to the transmitter to adjust playback. As you would expect, this function is not available to devices plugged in using the 3.5mm jack sockets on either the Junior or the iCast. Control functions are also disabled on Macs connected to the UAT, although PCs do get some playback control.
The Outcast control panel is pretty much identical to the Junior
The first option we tried was an iPod via the iCast transmitter at a rather thin 128kps. With not too much to work with, the speaker’s 6.5in down firing subwoofer, four mutli-direction drivers and 60W digital amplifier, delivered a really impressive musical performance. Kylie’s I Can’t Get You Out of My Head, gave the speaker more than enough to think about, with its strong bass mixed with fluffy high vocal passages.
The unit delivered a sound that was more than just a bit of background, you could comfortably just sit and listen to it as a focus of entertainment. Going to the other extreme, we tried at few tracks from Slayer’s seminal thrash metal album Reign in Blood. The challenge here for the speakers is just to keep pace with the frenetic guitar and thunderous bass attack. It genuinely appeared to enjoy the task providing all the attack and menace intended for each song.
Upping the bit rate from the iPod 320kps and the Live at the Woolf Trap album by the Doobie Brothers revealed that the Junior is not just capable of decent sound reproduction in difficult environments, it is a good speaker system in its own right, regardless of its roaming capabilities.
You get the very best performance situated around six to eight feet away, where the sound is very thick and detailed for a single enclosure system. Plugging in through the speaker’s own line-in jack also provides a pleasing performance and, of course, utilising this option means it can go anywhere you go. We decided that, as the great British Summer was in full swing, the beach was the only logical place we could really put the Junior to the test.
Base response: the 6.5in bass driver projects downward through the bottom of the unit
Sure enough, you can annoy the hell out of any one sitting near you trying to read their trash holiday novel. And taking the Junior to its very loud extremes, playback definition remains detailed. Even in an open space like a beach, you can deliver sound across a wide area – a good thirty feet away, the output was still sufficient.
We thought the down-firing sub-woofer might suffer a little on a stony beach, but the unit is solid enough in its own right to control its own sound rather than be too influenced by the environment it is in. Just to underline the robustness of the system, the inevitable shower that accompanied the Junior’s day out at the beach, mattered little, the unit played on with no problems. While sonically impressive – considering that the Outcast Junior has portability and the convenience of wireless connectivity as major selling points – it appears that Soundcast hasn’t really thought this concept through. Both the iCast and UAT docks require power so, regardless of the Junior’s go-anywhere battery, you’ll have to be close to home to use it wirelessly.
A proprietary wireless protocol delivers the system’s 350ft range
One way around this is to have a laptop power the UAT using USB. As the iCast – presumably the most popular option – doesn’t feature USB, iPods and the like would have to be attached to the UAT with 3.5mm jacks, so they might as well be plugged in to the Junior directly.
Still, if you were going to go to all this trouble, a laptop could stream to the Outcast from the UAT. But really, wouldn’t it just be a lot simpler if there was an SD card slot in the Junior? You’d not have to worry about valuable, tethered equipment getting wet or sandy either. And, if Soundcast can’t go that far, how about a covered compartment on the Outcast body to protect the tethered unit? Makes sense really.
Still, if money is no object, each Junior can be assigned as a left or right speaker in a stereo configuration and fed by a single transmitter. Admittedly, this arrangement is getting really rather expensive, but shows that the Junior can be quite versatile, so long as you don’t wander too far from home for wireless use.
It was hard to fault the Outcast Junior’s robustness and its audio performance. It sounds much better than you’d expect from a single source and doesn’t mind getting wet either. Even so, there are shortcomings regarding its wireless portability and, more significantly for UK customers, it really is the proverbial sledgehammer to crack a nut. For our colonial cousins across the pond and down under, the Outcast Junior has obvious appeal. Yet, given the size of average British garden and our typically inglorious weather, the Outcast Junior seems destined to become the most expensive garage sound system you’ll ever buy. ®
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