Holographic sound. No, we’re not making this up – it’s a thing, and it’s the key feature of the Core wireless speaker system from Mass Fidelity.
But do you really want to say goodbye to your multi-speaker surround sound setup and the string of cables running under the flooring or around the outside of your entertainment space? Let’s take a look at Core and see just what it delivers, and at the end of this review, we’re giving this unit away to one lucky reader!
Mass Fidelity Core: What’s it All About, Really?
As you should have by now gathered, the Mass Fidelity Core is more than just another Bluetooth speaker with cable connection options. The box boasts of “innovative holographic technology” that creates “an astounding multi-dimensional image that sounds better than traditional stereo sound” – but just how true is this?
I was fortunate enough to speak to the Core’s CEO and co-founder, Ben Webster a few weeks ago, and he was happy to explain – conceptually, without giving away any secrets! – how the device produces the sensation created with the Holographic Sound Technology. Understanding what the aim of the device is would be vital in establishing whether it succeeds, and whether particular environmental scenarios limit these aims.
So, in short, Wave Field Synthesis (WFS) is a rendering technique that creates a sound image in empty space, as opposed to pumping it through a traditional loudspeaker (or multiple speakers). The result is that the audio is pushed along “pathways” with the intention that a lifelike, natural sound is received by the listener. Ultimately, the result is that there is no “sweet spot”, as there might be in a multi-speaker setup. The sweet spot is essentially everywhere!
It’s a difficult concept to get your head around; the proof, as with so many things, is in the testing.
First impressions are good. Mass Fidelity have packaged Core in a compact box, with an outer sleeve that gives all of the information you would need to make a buying decision.
What the sleeve doesn’t tell you, however, is that this is device is equivalent to a 120 Watt speaker, and houses five custom designed speaker drivers. These do the hard work of emitting the sound (with 44Hz-20kHz frequency response) from the Core, which we’ll look at in more detail below.
It Doesn’t Only Do Wireless
Hidden away on the back of the box is a list of connectivity options.
Among things such as 12-hour battery life (I found it was closer to 13 hours, with but full recharge taking around 3 hours – specification state it should recharge in 2) and USB charging, you’ll find mention of an AUX input and optical input for outputting sound from Apple TV, Roku, or your cable/satellite decoder. There’s also a sub-out for connecting a wired sub-woofer, and behind the back panel you’ll find a connector for home automation systems.
The Core also features multi-room support (like Sonos), enabling you to wirelessly connect several of these devices around your home or workplace, so they’re all pumping out the same tunes. But you should only need one in each room. This is what the box refers to with “wireless speaker system”.
After all, this “wireless speaker system” also includes wires for those of you without a Bluetooth-ready home theater PC or system. This is obviously a massive advantage, and expands the potential reach of the Core. But then again, this is a giveaway, and the Mass Fidelity Core – initially funded as an Indiegogo project – is retailing at $599. (It’s worth mentioning that the project exceeded its crowdfunding goal by 23 times, raising an immense $1.4 million.)
As such, this is obviously not your standard Bluetooth speaker.
Like a Soundbar, But Not a Bar
Over the past few years, audio equipment manufacturers have noticed a reluctance by some consumers to invest in traditional 5.1 or 7.1 surround sound systems, often due to space and cabling requirements (as well as children and pets). To combat this, the soundbar was developed.
Originally released by Altec, various companies (such as Zvox) can be credited with perfecting the idea, with Sonos among those that have produced soundbars with superior quality audio. But what is a soundbar, and how does it differ from a surround sound setup?
Well, the soundbar is exactly that, a bar of sound, a long, narrow speaker that is typically placed above or below your TV set. The wide dimensions of a soundbar means that audio can be bounced off walls to create an illusion of surround sound.
So, soundbars are easy to position. What about Mass Fidelity’s Core?
When You Can’t Find the Core
The name “Core” suggests a piece of hardware that can be placed centrally, in the middle of your home theater setup, potentially as the heart, depending on how happy you are with the results.
But the portable 6x6x4 inch holographic speaker makes placement tricky for anyone using a wall-mounted home theater solution, just as it can prove a problem for those with TV cabinets and stands built to exact specifications.
Now, if you’re using the Bluetooth connection to output sound, this shouldn’t be a massive problem, as the speaker can – in theory – be placed anywhere. But if your aging TV and home theater hardware requires you to hook a cable up to the Core, then positioning the device could prove to be a bit of a problem unless you have the right cables to hand.
Setting Up Mass Fidelity Core
Getting started with the Mass Fidelity Core is pretty simple. It plugs into the wall but also has a 12-hour battery life, making it ideal for totally wireless scenarios. This might be music streamed from your smartphone, or your home theater, gaming PC, even a house or garden party. Thanks to the USB charger port, you can also keep your smartphone or tablet battery topped up while piping music through to the Core.
If using with a PC, however, be aware that pairing via Bluetooth with Windows 10 and Mac OS X is not an exact science. Earlier versions of the OS are apparently more compatible, but a cabled connection will give the best results.
Setup is essentially plug and play. Within minutes, the compact dimensions of the Core will produce an aural experience that seems as though the science fiction future we were promised 30-plus years ago has finally arrived. Don’t forget to pull the plastic tab out of the back of the remote control to activate the lithium battery.
Core Test 1: Small Room (Music and Games)
Tested in a small room (my office, a traditional “box room”, essentially 2m cubed), the sound from the Core was at first slightly overwhelming. This was, of course, a matter of volume, and once I adjusted this, I enjoyed several hours of light classical music piped through the Core.
Quality was good, the tone warm and the necessary highs and lows met without any of the associated vibration and rumbling you might associate with other wireless speakers. Remarkably, even the oldest MP3 files – some of which were not encoded with a particularly high bitrate – sound fresh and lively.
Video games sound great too, pretty much as you would expect them to. Nothing beats the sensation of wearing a headset to get the full audio experience, but the Mass Fidelity Core certainly gives a superb audio reproduction, better than other wireless speakers I’ve tried with games.
Of course, this isn’t any other wireless speaker.
Core Test 2: Living Room (Movie)
Watching Captain America: The Winter Soldier with the Core connected to my Apple TV via optical cable, it struck me that while the sound was good, and just as clear as it had been connected to my smartphone for music (and my PC for gaming) there was something missing.
Although everything remained crystal clear, and although there were no obvious problems with bass, the range of the device didn’t quite seem to do the movie justice; the sound just didn’t seem “big” enough without rattling a few ornaments. This is in contrast to our Philips soundbar, which does produce good results without upsetting any statuettes.
So the Core is clearly a powerful device, but there are situations in which it might not be ideal. Ultimately, I think you would get the best use a single Core in a dedicated home theater, although it certainly does the job in a modest TV room setup. On reflection, I’m not sure if it has quite the same impact across a two hour movie as a Dolby 5.1 or 7.1 setup, or if I’m still adjusting, but the presentation of the soundtrack through the Core is certainly clear and enhances an enjoyable movie.
Core Test 3: Outside (Music)
If you’re in the habit of holding barbeques and garden parties, the Core will prove useful, up to a point. I don’t know if it is the local environment (a garden in midwinter) but the Core didn’t impress me outside. Perhaps I was expecting too much based on the success of the device in the interior tests, but it just didn’t seem to deliver the audio punch I was expecting.
Now, a clearer, less humid summer’s day might yield different results, but in this test, the Core didn’t hit the mark for me (I was listening to Led Zeppelin, music that I’m very familiar with.)