Before ... the HiddenRadio is a Bluetooth speaker "hidden" in a lid.
It's taken a while, but wireless speakers are finally a big deal. Cool, affordable designs such as the Jawbone Jambox and better technology (pairing codes are pretty much over) have led to an explosion of cord-cutting speakers in the market.
Despite the never-ending onslaught of wireless speakers, nobody has come up with a design quite as clever as the HiddenRadio. Looking like the lid of a gigantic roll of ChapStick, the HiddenRadio is a wireless speaker with a literal twist: To turn it on and reveal the speaker, you simply rotate the top. It's ingenious, really, and it keeps the number of buttons and switches on the outside of the device down to a very manageable zero.
After ... twisting the cylindrical "lid" of the speaker turns it on.
Make no mistake, though, there are buttons and a switch, but they're strategically located on the bottom of the device, along with the auxiliary input (for plugging in a non-Bluetooth device) and a micro-USB port for charging (no wall plug, though). There's a switch to go between the three modes: Bluetooth streaming, a wired connection (a mini-jack patch cord is included) or FM radio (there's an antenna, too). The two buttons are for switching stations.
With Bluetooth, however, you'll never need them, so it's just as well they're on the bottom. Twisting the Hidden for the first time, I saw the small LED on the base start blinking blue, indicating it was in pairing mode. My iPhone 4S found it easily, and I was quickly paired up after a couple of taps.
So far, so good, but the trouble starts with the sound. Playing some music for the first time (Inside Out from Canadian guitar savant Bobby Cameron) I was immediately struck by how tinny the speaker sounded. Mind you, Bluetooth hits music with compression and portables always have issues with power, so you're never going to get outstanding sound from a portable, wireless speaker.
Hidden ... the controls are on the bottom, which also has a semi-adhesive texture to ensure it stays put.
The HiddenRadio produces omnidirectional sound - meaning the same sound emanates from the speaker in all directions -which is likely part of the problem. I've always found omnidirectional speakers wanting as far as audio quality goes when compared to more traditional tweeter/woofer designs.
To make sure it wasn't just first-listen issues, I auditioned the HiddenRadio with a Jawbone Jambox SmartSpeaker (the smaller model), which retails for roughly the same price ($US150) that you can pre-order the Hidden for (its regular price is $US190). With song after song, the Jambox outclassed the Hidden every time - from the cacophonous rock and high-pitched voices in Evanescence's Bring Me to Life to the upbeat Celtic rhythms of Great Big Sea's Ordinary Day. The Jambox can play louder, too, although the Hidden is rated at 15 hours of playback to the Jambox's 10.
It's too bad HiddenRadio suffers a bit in the audio department - it's really a very clever and convenient design. While wireless and portable audio are relatively new, speakers themselves are a mature technology, and nobody's going to re-invent good sound, no matter how much they've raised on Kickstarter. If enough people buy this version of the HiddenRadio, I hope they hire a superb audio engineer to give it some kick-ass sound for version 2.0.
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