Fugoo Sport XL Bluetooth Speaker Review

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Fugoo Sport XL.

Fugoo Sport XL.

 

Product reviewed: Fugoo Sport XL ($299.99 at Amazon), also available as Fugoo Style XL ($279.99 at Best Buy) and Fugoo Tough XL ($329.99 at Best Buy)

Summary: Significant improvements in sound quality over the original, with an equally significant increase in size. The Fugoo XL is worth its higher price, but make sure you have the room (and arm strength). If you liked the original Fugoo for its sound quality (and you should), then you’ll love the Fugoo XL–while simultaneously longing for the original’s highly-portable design.

Pros:

  • Excellent, balanced sound with plenty of low-end oomph to go with detailed midrange and highs
  • A well-rounded feature set with solid Bluetooth profile support (including aptX), external charging, and logical controls
  • Unmatched toughness and waterproofing with replaceable jackets that ratchet up the drop-proofing
  • It floats!

Cons:

  • It’s really, really big and heavy
  • Battery life is reduced over the original
  • Can’t be charged via USB
  • Bluetooth stack needs work, with numerous connectivity issues that don’t exist with the original version – Update: a recent firmware update on the Fugoo XL seems to have resolved many of the issues I was previously experiencing.
  • 3.5mm input jack produces noticeable interference

Introduction
I reviewed the original Fugoo Bluetooth speaker a few months ago, and gave it fairly high praise for its design, build quality, and overall sound performance. I considered it to be the best available option at the time at its price point of $250 or less. At the very least, it was the best I’d used, and good enough that I felt no need whatsoever to search out other options.

Flash forward to today, and Fugoo has finally released their second Bluetooth speaker, the much larger and reasonably more expensive Fugoo XL. Fugoo was kind enough to provide a Sport version to review, and I’ll be comparing that model to its smaller sibling, the Fugoo Tough that I’ve been using since the first review. The primary question I’ll be answering, because it’s very relevant for me, personally: if I like the Fugoo, is the Fugoo XL worth the upgrade?

I’ve been thinking about this question since I first learned that Fugoo was planning to introduce a larger, more expensive model. One of the things I like the best about the original Fugoo is the size: it’s remarkably small while still sounding incredible. It’s very easy to carry around the house and pretty much everywhere I go. Would a larger speaker be less convenient–and how much better must it sound to be worth the extra size (and cost)?

Fugoo XL box contents.

Fugoo XL box contents.

Build and Design
When UPS dropped the speaker off and I tore open the packaging, I was actually surprised at just how much bigger it really is. You can look at pictures all day long and not get the full impression. Yes, Fugoo says that the XL version is 4X larger, and I believe them. In person, though, that “4X larger” takes on significantly more meaning.

Now, the increase in size really doesn’t mean much in a vacuum. Whether or not it matters depends entirely on how you’re going to use the speaker. If you want a speaker to stick in your backpack and take anywhere you go, then the Fugoo XL is simply too large. The original Fugoo is perfect in this scenario. But if you’re going to haul your speaker around the house, to the beach, or generally don’t mind carrying a speaker on its own, then maybe size doesn’t matter as much.

If the size by itself isn’t a deal breaker, then the next question, and perhaps the more important, is this: does the sound justify the larger size and higher investment? We’ll consider that question in a few paragraphs. For now, let’s take a look at how the Fugoo and Fugoo XL compare in terms of features and specifications:

Comparison Chart

Additional features that are shared between both models include:

  • aptX support for the highest-quality Bluetooth sound available. More on Bluetooth later in the “problems” section.
  • 3.5mm stereo input for wired connection. Plugging in saves battery life on both ends by allowing Bluetooth to be turned completely off. Again, check out the “problems” section for more on the wired connection.
  • MicroUSB for firmware updates, a particularly welcome capability that allows feature updates and hopefully helps avoid early obsolescence.
  • Omnidirectional microphone with noise cancellation providing full-duplex speakerphone capabilities. I’d rate the Fugoo/XL as a bit higher quality speakerphone than my phones’ native capabilities.
  • Digital Signal Processor (DSP) intended to optimize sound quality based on music and volume, while reducing wind and background noise for conference calls. More on the DSP later.
  • One-touch access to all mobile digital assistants, including Siri (Apple iOS), Cortana (Microsoft Windows Phone/10), and Google Now (Android). Just hold the middle button and talk.
  • Voice prompts for Bluetooth pairing, power status, battery life, and different operating modes. Given the dearth of visible notifications, the voice prompts are vital.

Both speakers utilize Fugoo’s Core-X concept, where the drivers are housed in a waterproof, durable design that slips inside the replaceable cases. Like the original Fugoo, there are Style, Sport, and Tough versions, with increasing mud and shock proofing as you go up the line. As you can see in the image below, the Core-X is the primary reason for the difference in size between the two models:

The Fugoo XL Core-X component has significantly larger mid/woofers and passive radiators.

The Fugoo XL Core-X component has significantly larger mid/woofers and passive radiators.

As with the original Fugoo, the Fugoo XL’s iOS support is definitely the best compared to Android and Windows phones (Windows Phone or the upcoming Windows 10 Mobile), in that the iPhone and iPad directly control the speaker’s volume and display the speaker’s battery life in their status bars. Other devices have separate volume controls, and so you’ll need to adjust the player and speaker separately to get the right amount of sound (or crank the speaker all the way up and control volume with the player).

Both the Fugoo XL and the Fugoo will receive firmware updates enabling them to be used in pairs for true stereo separation (or louder volume). That will create a real crisis for my pocketbook, as I’d love to get a second Fugoo XL and test out the stereo enhancements.

Update: I checked with Fugoo on the status of the dual speaker support, and unfortunately there’s some bad news:

Hello Coppockm,

We regret to inform you, that the update to pair two speakers at once will no longer be coming out for the Fugoo and Fugoo XL products. Due to unforeseen setbacks we have decided it best to scrap the project rather than release an unstable update for the speakers. All of our future products will have the ability to pair 2 speakers at once right out of the box. We truly apologize for the inconvenience this has and will cause many of our customers. We wish to continue to provide you with quality audio products in the future.

Thank you,
Victor
Fugoo Support Team

Finally, the Fugoo XL has two other new features of note. First, the Fugoo XL floats, so there’s much less risk of losing the speaker if you drop it off the side of a boat, for instance. And, the Fugoo XL has glow-in-the-dark buttons, which is a nice touch for use in darker environments.

Battery Life
Even though the Fugoo XL is significantly larger, Fugoo hasn’t packed in more battery life–not that they really needed to do so. The Fugoo XL is rated at 35 hours compared to the original’s 40 hours, the result of a larger battery paired with an increase to a full 38 watts of audio power (Fugoo doesn’t list the original’s wattage, but I understand that it’s less).

In my experience, the Fugoo XL’s battery life is definitely shorter than the Fugoo’s. I managed to run the Fugoo XL’s battery all the way down during my initial testing, something I didn’t manage with the original. It’s not that the Fugoo XL has insufficient battery life–you can definitely use it for two full working days of listening, and then some. It’s just that the newer version doesn’t have the crazy, seems-like-it-lasts-forever battery life of the smaller model.

As before, you’re completely reliant on the speaker’s voice prompts and simple LED for feedback on battery life. That’s not so much a knock against the Fugoo, since most Bluetooth speakers operate this way, but rather an attribute that makes iOS devices that much more convenient.

So, how does it sound?
The major reason to produce a larger speaker is to provide a larger sound. Not just louder, hopefully, but more sound, a larger soundstage, phrase it however you want–all that extra size has to count for something. Did Fugoo succeed in making a bigger and better sounding speaker with the Fugoo XL?

I’ll summarize things this way: yes, the Fugoo XL provides a meaningful improvement over the original, smaller version. The soundstage is indeed larger, with more oomph at the low end in particular. At the same time, midrange and highs didn’t seem to suffer (for the most part), although the improvement isn’t quite as dramatic. Let’s break it down. In general, I would say that the Fugoo XL offers up a much more balanced sound overall, making the original Fugoo sound much, much brighter in a direct comparison.

Lows
Where the Fugoo’s DSP sometimes dropped aggressive and/or isolated lows, presumably to avoid clipping, the Fugoo XL’s DSP keeps them around. And generally speaking, the XL is simply boomier, but in a good way. In almost every song I tested, I heard everything I expected to hear in just the right proportion (expanding the range to 50Hz vs. 60Hz in the original also certainly helps). It’s the lows that really make the XL stand out, and I can’t imagine someone wanting more bass unless all they listen to is rap and dubstep. Even then, for a Bluetooth speaker, the XL might very well suffice.

Midrange
The biggest problem with the original Fugoo, which might very well be a personal problem, is that it sometimes suffers from some apparent distortion or sibilance when harmonic vocals clashed with, say, harsh cymbals in certain songs. I had a difficult time describing the effect in my first review, and I haven’t come up with a better way to describe it since then.

Simply put, the XL has fixed that issue entirely, while convincing me that the problem really does exist with the original Fugoo (i.e., it’s not really just me). Now, midrange is smooth and competent, if maybe just a touch subdued. I’m not sure if it’s the bass being so much heavier, but although midrange is cleaner, it doesn’t quite stand out as it does with the smaller Fugoo. That’s actually probably a good thing. Regardless, a song like the Eagles “Witchy Woman” no longer sounds scratchy during its complex chorus, which makes for a huge and welcome difference.

Highs
Like the midrange, the Fugoo XL’s highs are a little more subdued compared to the original Fugoo, but ultimately that just makes the original sound too bright and a bit harsh. The Fugoo XL can handle everything that’s thrown at it, and it mixes in the highs with less emphasis and yet with plenty of clarity. When listening to a song side-by-side with the original Fugoo, the Fugoo XL just sounds more cohesive.

Volume
Fugoo calls the Fugoo XL “The Loudest Portable Bluetooth Speaker,” and I’m sure they have some metrics to back up that claim. Interestingly, the Fugoo XL is rated at 97bB vs. the original Fugoo’s 95dB, and so on paper it’s not significantly louder. In person, I’d say that the Fugoo XL doesn’t actually sound that much louder, simply because the original accentuates the midrange and particularly the highs so much more that it makes up for the marginal difference in sound pressure.

Note that both the Fugoo XL and the Fugoo have a “loud” mode that’s intended for parties and such where maximum volume is more important than ultimate quality, which I didn’t test extensively. As far as I can tell, the mode is equally effective in both models. In the end, though, I would say that the Fugoo XL isn’t exactly louder than the Fugoo, it just produces a fuller sound at its highest volume. Both are plenty loud for Bluetooth speakers, filling moderately-sized rooms and outdoor scenes with enough volume to overcome loud conversations.

Samples
I tested the same songs on the Fugoo XL as with the original Fugoo, plus a couple of extras. I’ll quote my comments from the original Fugoo review, and then provide some thoughts on the Fugoo XL in comparison. If I were to use one word to describe the Fugoo XL compared to the original Fugoo, it would be this one: balance.

“Witchy Woman,” The Eagles:

The sibilance I mentioned in the midrange is most pronounced here. Overall, the song sounds decent enough, but the chorus is just a bit harsh to my ears.

The Fugoo XL fixes everything that the Fugoo did poorly in this song regarding the midrange sibilance, making for a much cleaner rendition. Rather than hearing jumbled hissing in the chorus as with the original Fugoo, you’ll hear the intended clashing, somewhat spooky, vocal harmonies.

As we’ll see across the board, the Fugoo XL was much more balanced, meaning that depending on the song the original Fugoo seems more active when there are lots of highs involved. But, as a song plays on, the Fugoo XL begins to sound so much more pleasant overall simply because the soundstage is so much broader.

In general, consider my opinion as this: I loved the original Fugoo’s sound quality with this song, and the Fugoo XL is just that much better.

“Tiny Dancer,” Elton John:

I hear some of the same midrange flaws in the vocals in what’s otherwise a very smooth and mellow song, and overall the Fugoo does a good job with one of my favorites.

Again, the Fugoo XL is cleaner than the original, with no harshness or sibilance, and the newer model can produce a better version of this song even at much lower volumes.

“Back in Black,” AC/DC:

This song is the definition of punchy, with a powerful bass opening, aggressive vocals, clashing cymbals, and dominating guitar riffs. The Fugoo handles everything surprisingly well and provides a nice rendition of this heavy metal classic.

The Fugoo XL’s much improved low-end provides significantly more detail here. The aggressive vocals are maintained, along with the guitar riffs, and so the song’s complexity (for a hard-rock tune) is more faithfully reproduced.

“Whole Lotta Love,” Led Zepplin:

Here’s another song with a distinctive guitar riff and vocals and overall complexity, and the Fugoo does extremely well.

Simply put, the Fugoo XL provides, again, a much more balanced version.

“La Villa Strangiato,” Rush:

This is a very complex instrumental piece (and my favorite Rush instrumental overall), with a quiet intro that builds to a crescendo while moving through five distinct parts before its done. The Fugoo mostly kills this song, providing copious amounts of detail and emotion. It’s impressive. My only complaint is that a few bass drum beats are dropped at various points throughout the song, I think because the DSP is getting in the way–but that’s quibbling.

The Fugoo XL competently represents all of the emotional variations in this song’s various parts, while holding onto the bass drum beats that the original Fugoo drops out. The Fugoo XL’s DSP obviously has much more confidence in the speaker’s ability to handle the low range without clipping (and/or the Fugoo XL’s lower range comes into play).

“Renegade,” Styx:

There should be a heavy bass beat at the start of this song, and it barely registers on the Fugoo. The song sounds great otherwise, but again the DSP seems to be doing its best to avoid even the possibility of distortion at the low end.

Again, the Fugoo XL provides a more accurate rendition by hanging on to the bass beats that the original Fugoo discarded. In this case, I do wish those bass beats were a little more prominent, as they would likely be on a more powerful sound system, but at least they’re present this time around.

“Symphony No. 40 in G Minor, K. 550,” Mozart:

My favorite Mozart piece sounds excellent on the Fugoo, with all kinds of range and complexity. No complaints whatsoever. In fact, consider this an endorsement of the Fugoo for all classical music.

Classical pieces like Symphony No. 40 aren’t all highs and midrange, and the Fugoo XL proves that mixing in a little more low end can provide a much more balanced listening. The original Fugoo handled this song well, but I do prefer to listen on the Fugoo XL. In general, the Fugoo XL’s wider soundstage simply handles the complexity of classical music more faithfully.

“Dell’ amore non si sa,” Andrea Bocelli:

Powerful vocals smack in the midrange stress the speakers a little here, and bring out the aforementioned sibilance just a touch. I wouldn’t call the response harsh, by any means, but there’s just enough of a buzz to bother me. Again, many people might not ever notice it.

Once again, the Fugoo XL makes for a significant improvement in handling complex vocals. Bocelli certainly provides a challenge in this regard, and Fugoo’s newer speaker provides a much more faithful rendition.

“Lose Yourself,” Eminem:

Low-end response is pretty much missing, with the DSP seeming to get in the way of what would presumably be distortion. It’s not unlistenable, it’s just nowhere near the intended sound. Hip hop and rap aren’t my favorite genres, and that’s a good thing as far as the Fugoo is concerned–which could probably be said for all small speakers.

As already mentioned a few times, the Fugoo XL goes down to 50Hz, compared to 60Hz on the original Fugoo, and that’s nowhere more apparent than on this song. If you’re into bass-heavy music like rap, hip hop, and dubstep, then you’ll definitely want to opt for the Fugoo XL.

“Shake Your Rump,” Beastie Boys:

The Fugoo does better on this song, oddly enough, handling the bass growl in the chorus without completely dumping it. I’m not sure why the DSP deems this song more playable than the previous example, but it’s far less aggressive in damping things down.

Same as with the previous song, the Fugoo XL places itself in a different class entirely.

“Roundabout,” Yes:

Steve Howe’s opening guitar riff is one of my favorites, and the original Fugoo did just fine with it. But as the rest of the song kicks in, the Fugoo XL’s broader range elevates it to another level entirely. There’s plenty of guitar detail, but pulling in a better bass representation makes for a much more pleasant listening.

“Hot for Teacher,” Van Halen:

The drum intro here is difficult enough to play, let alone for a small speaker to properly play back. I wanted to see how the Fugoo Xl would handle the explosive opening drum riff, and suffice it to say that where the original Fugoo was an incoherent mess, the Fugoo XL handled it with aplomb.

Problems
Fugoo has some work to do with the Fugoo XL’s Bluetooth stack. Pairing is easy enough across all of my devices, but there are occasional dropouts on all of the devices, static, and other issues. It’s nothing more than an inconvenience with my iOS and Android devices. However, my Windows 10 and Windows 10 Mobile devices, including a Lumia 830 smartphone and a Dell Venue 8 Pro tablet (that usually provides superior sound quality), are simply unusable with the Fugoo XL via Bluetooth. I’d blame that on Windows 10’s Bluetooth drivers if there weren’t similar, albeit lesser, issues with iOS and Android. Update: As I indicated at the beginning of the post, the recent firmware update for the Fugoo XL seems to have addressed the issues with Bluetooth connectivity.

Also, the 3.5mm line-in port creates significant interference with all of the cables I tried, including the cable that’s in the box. There’s hissing and crackling in the background that’s audible even during quiet portions of songs at reasonable volume. Stop playing, and you can hear the noise from across a quiet room. That probably can’t be fixed in firmware, and my unit might be defective, but it’s something to keep in mind if you like to plug in and hopefully get a cleaner sound than Bluetooth connections provide (while saving some battery life).

Conclusion
The Fugoo XL is a marked improvement over the original Fugoo in overall sound quality, and tosses in external charging and floatability as nifty extra features. You get the same toughness, waterproof qualities, excellent design, flexible covers, etc., with a more complete soundstage that must rank near the top in Bluetooth speakers for anywhere near the same price. There are some Bluetooth issues to iron out, the line-in connection is a mess, and the Fugoo XL Sport doesn’t feel quite as durable as the original, but those aren’t deal breakers for me, personally.

Whether it’s worth the extra size and/or expense is very much a personal decision. But if sound quality is your primary concern, then the Fugoo XL deserves some serious consideration.

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Comments

  1. After having these for a while, what’s your opinion now. With firmware updates and such have any of the kinks been ironed out. Also have you used any Accessories? thanks

    • Mark Coppock says:

      I haven’t tried any of the accessories, but the latest firmware issue does seem to have resolved some of the issues. Thanks for reminding me, I’ll update the post.

  2. bowenpacific says:

    Great review! Some serious price drops happening now on the original and XL. Makes them that much more appealing.

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