When it comes to reviewing gadgets, once the review has been published, the item being reviewed is returned. Creative sent us the Sound Blaster FRee Bluetooth speaker and admittedly, we've taken our own sweet time with the review for one key reason — we don't want to part with it.
The Sound Blaster FRee is a rugged Bluetooth speaker that's got an IPX4 rating, making it a good pool-side or beach-side companion. It's got the rough dimensions of a water bottle and offers playback via a Bluetooth link or through USB, and accepts microSD cards loaded with music. The speaker also features an aux input jack. It also has a built-in microphone, allowing users to accept calls on their smartphones.
The buttons on the Sound Blaster FRee are placed across two surfaces. The ones directly behind the drivers features the playback controls for the microSD card mode. It also features a button to mute the mic as well as a button labelled "LOUD".
Rotate the speaker 90 degrees and on one surface, Creative has embellished the speaker with the volume controls, the power button and the call-answer/Bluetooth-pairing button. The surface also features three LEDs that indicate volume and battery levels.
It also features a pair of passive bass radiators, one hidden behind the mesh grille and one located on the side opposite it.
Look and feel
The speaker definitely feels tough, the build is top notch and the rubber end pieces allow the speaker to be placed in an upright position as well as a horizontal position. When placed horizontally, the speaker plays music in stereo, while placing it upright transforms the sound signature into an omnidirectional one.
The IPX4 rating means the speaker is resistant to splashes of water. During the test, we kept it by the kitchen sink while doing the dishes and took it into the shower a few times, and we can proudly say the speaker isn't broken.
This is where the Sound Blaster Free really shines. Irrespective of what the playback mode is, the speaker doesn't disappoint. The speaker spent most of its time pair wirelessly to either a laptop or a smartphone and whether we were watching something on Netflix, playing tunes off Apple Music or streaming a music video on YouTube, the sound was good. The bass was punchy [we particularly loved how baritone saxophones sound through the speaker], the mids were clear and the top end wasn't too bad either.
The Sound Blaster FRee really proved its worth as a laptop speaker. It's obviously much louder than most built-in speakers and the omnidirectional sound it offers when placed upright means the speaker remains perfectly audible even when placed two rooms away. We found ourselves walking around the house folding clothes, doing the dishes and what not, with the speaker in tow, while still following the plot during Netflix sessions.
Even while making and receiving calls, the mic is sensitive enough to capture sound from six-seven feet away. However, as the author's mother pointed out, the farther one moves from the speaker, the more one sounds like they're inside a well to the listener. We'd also wager that Monday morning conference calls with the head office using this speaker are going to be a relatively pleasing experience.
What we think
Having to part with the Sound Blaster FRee is not going to be an easy feat. It had essentially replaced laptop speakers for us, and having to resort to the built-in speakers on the rare occasion that the battery (rated to work up to 10 hours) would finally run out was a rather unpleasant experience.
We found the "LOUD" button to do as advertised in certain conditions, but if you're planning on fuelling a night of dancing with this baby, you will come out feeling disappointed. The speaker is loud when placed nearby, and yes, it does have the ability to fill a room with sound, but it sounds more like a background score than a random song plonked in the middle of a dream sequence.
While the Creative Sound Blaster FRee carries a Maximum Retail Price (MRP) of Rs. 7,999, we were able to find it for as little as Rs. 6,000 online.