The problem: small mobile devices are great for portability but their built-in speakers (if they exist) are poor, thanks to their tiny size and sub-optimal enclosures. The latest tablets sound better than earlier models, but it still pays to plug in an external powered speaker.
Edifier’s Sound to Go Plus could be the answer. This wedge-shaped single-unit powered speaker system is 261mm long and 36mm high – in other works, a shade longer than a 10” iPad.
Several things are distinctive.
First, it feels robust and high quality, thanks to its brushed aluminium shell. Second, it is not just a powered speaker, but also a USB sound device that was recognised immediately by the Mac, Windows 8 and Windows RT devices I tried.
Third, it packs in four 1.25” drive units and a 30mm x 90mm passive bass radiator for a fuller sound that you might expect from such a compact speaker.
The unit comes with audio cable, USB cable, and a simple black bag, though you will struggle to get the cables as well as the device into the bag.
Charging is via USB and no mains adapter is supplied. Many smartphone adapters will work, or you can charge from a PC or Mac.
The Sound to Go Plus has two modes of operation. The first is USB-based, and works by attaching the gadget to a PC or Mac and then selecting it as the default audio output device. The second is based on a standard 3.5mm jack socket. This is necessary, because most smartphones and tablets, including Apple’s iPad, do not recognise USB audio devices. Microsoft’s Surface RT is an exception, and worked fine with the Edifier and a USB cable.
The existence of two modes does add some complexity though. Edifier has designed it so that the analogue jack input takes priority. This means that if a jack cable is connected, the USB audio connection does not work. If both are connected to the same machine, neither works.
The advantage of the USB connection is first that it sounds better, and second that the device will charge while it plays.
Volume buttons are on each end of the device, down on the left, up on the right. Once connected, you turn the device on by depressing both simultaneously. This is smart, since it is unlikely to happen by accident in your bag.
Sound and mobile is all about compromise. I compared the Sound to Go Plus with several alternatives, from built-in speakers on an iPad or Surface RT, to various other portable systems.
The Sound to Go Plus was a big improvement on the built-in speakers. Sound is deeper, crisper, smoother and more detailed.
Compare to a grown-up pair of powered speakers like the superb Audyssey Lower East Side, admittedly more expensive and less portable, and the Sound to Go Plus is boxy, bass-shy and constricted.
That said, the Edifier sounds miles better than a old Creative Labs Travelsound unit I tried. The Travelsound is also a one-piece design, but with only a single drive unit per channel and no passive bass radiator. The Edifier won easily.
I was less sure about the comparison with the X-Mini Kai. The Kai is a mono unit but even with only one drive unit it lost only narrowly to the Edifier. The Kai’s brighter sound made the Edifier sound slightly muffled and the bass on the Kai is also decent, though in the end the Edifier’s smoother, weightier sound won my preference. The Edifier also feels stronger and more business-like than the quirky Kai with its concertina design.
Still, a unit like this is not about the ultimate in sound quality. It is about getting acceptable sound while on the go, and in this respect the Edifier impresses. It is not squawky or annoying, build quality is good, and watching a movie or playing background music with this is more fun than using what is built into a tablet.
Volume is just about good enough, though I would have liked a little more power.
The Edifier Sound to Go Plus is a great little device and worth considering if you are looking for better sound while travelling.