You could argue that the last big innovation in high-end audio recording was stereo in the 1950s. Sure we've had attempts at improvements since then (quadrophonic sound in the '70s, "surround sound" in the late '90s/early '00s), but nothing has really stuck. While you can really hear the two-channel stereo mix in a pair of good headphones, home audio setups have long been cursed by the "sweet spot," the one exact location in a room where a listener can actually hear the stereo effect as the artist and producer intended.
Mass Fidelity founder Ben Webster wants to "blow up the sweet spot" and the Mass Fidelity Core Wireless Speaker System is the company's first product in a line that wants to change the conversation about home audio. (Mass Fidelity also makes the awesome Relay, a Bluetooth DAC that's the ideal solution for streaming music to a classic hi-fi system.)
While the speaker normally retails for $599, Military.com readers can get $125 off the CORE through September 3, 2016 with the code MA125. You can order a unit here.
What's the attraction here? The Core is going after the same home audio market as Sonos and it's comparable to that company's PLAY:5 speaker. If you want to purchase multiple Core units, you can easily set up a multi-room system: push one button on top of the unit and it automatically creates a dedicated 5GHz dedicated network that can support up to 8 devices. There's also a rock-solid Bluetooth connection that will highjack the audio from your device if you get within range. It's by far the best wireless connection I've encountered on a speaker so far.
The CORE packs 120 watts of power into a tiny box that's 6" square and 4" high and weighs about 5 pounds. It has a built-in battery that really does last the promised twelve hours and fully recharges in about two hours with the included power brick.
The Core works as a speakerphone, there's an AUX in if you want to plug in an iPod or other wired device and there's a USB out for emergency phone charging. There's an optical input so you can use the CORE as a speaker for a cable box, Roku or Apple TV. There's NFC touch-to-pair technology for the Android user and it streams aptX and AAC audio. In short, it's got all the features you expect from a high-end wireless speaker.
So what's the difference here? Mass Fidelity calls it "acoustic holography." In plain English, you get a full stereo image no matter where you stand in the room. If you've ever struggled to hear music in true stereo from a home audio setup because you weren't in exactly the right place, you'll be shocked by the stereo imaging from the Core. Walk 360 degrees around the speaker and you get virtually the same sweet spot sound no matter where you are.
There's a trick here and it's based on research into wave field synthesis by European universities that started back in the late 1980s. Researchers filled gyms with thousands of speakers and amps and recorded data about what happened with thousands of individual tweaks were done to the volume level on each speaker. All that data got compiled and now the processing power in a single speaker has caught up to the data set.
The result is more than just a trick. The speaker sounds great even if you don't notice or care about stereo imaging and, if you do, it sounds like the beginning of a potential revolution in home audio. Mass Fidelity's Webster says that the company plans to license the technology soon and that acoustic holography should start showing up in headphones before too long.
Mass Fidelity also makes the Core Sub, a subwoofer that pairs with the the Core and sells for $299. Here's the thing: bass on the Core sounds great and a really big part of the attraction is that all this amazing sound is coming out such a little box. Still, the audio market wants a subwoofer and the Core Sub offers the same one-touch pairing you get if you're using multiple Core speakers. Webster reports that some customers are using the Core as a TV speaker and the Core Sub definitely offers the kind of low-end boom you're going to want for action movies.
For most users, the Core will work beautifully on its own. It's a well-made piece of gear and takes up so little space that it's perfect for apartments. The stereo effect is truly impressive. It never sounds cheesy and it's hard to believe that kind of imaging and huge sound is coming from such a small unit. If you've left vinyl and CDs behind, this is an outstanding choice for hi-fi sound in a streaming world.