Belkin’s new smart speaker combines high-end audio, Google Assistant support, and wireless phone charging into one handy packageby Brian Hoss, Business Insider US
- The Belkin Soundform Elite combines premium audio, Google Assistant support, and wireless charging into one convenient smart speaker.
- The speaker’s wireless charging works well for both Android and iOS smartphones, and the charging pad skillfully cradles your mobile device during playback.
- Belkin has teamed up with Devialet, a French audio brand, to enhance the Soundform Elite’s performance, enabling a warm, punchy, and poised sound.
- The speaker’s industrial design is first-rate, making for a complementary addition to the home or office.
- While there’s no shortage of smart speakers to choose from, the Soundform Elite’s unique mixture of features helps it to stand out from competitors.
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Smart speakers have become an essential component of any connected household. Whether they’re used as an AI assistant, as an extension of our phones, or to control other connected products, smart speakers have the ability to tie our digital ecosystems together, combining the power of voice control with the convenience of wireless audio playback. Even better, adding a smart speaker to your home is now a fairly easy upgrade, and there are many worthwhile models to choose from.
Hoping to add another viable option to the market, Devialet, Belkin, and Google have teamed up to create the unique Soundform Elite Hi-Fi Smart Speaker + Wireless Charger. Together, the three companies each bring something worthwhile to the table. Devialet has provided the style and the premium audio performance, while Google has provided integration with its Google Assistant and Google Home platforms. That leaves the actual manufacturer of the Soundform Elite, Belkin, to further differentiate this smart speaker from the pack by offering fast wireless charging support for mobile devices.
In essence, this collaboration enables the Soundform Elite to serve three main functions: a wireless speaker, a digital assistant, and a charging station. And, thankfully, the speaker happens to perform well at all three jobs.
The idea of a wireless charger and a premium smart speaker in one is simple enough – so what could possibly go wrong? Well, quite a lot actually. The concept of wireless charging is very attractive, but in practice, whenever I’ve previously taken out and plugged in other wireless charging pads, my enthusiasm has been quickly dashed. The wireless chargers I’ve used before have been ugly little pads that require the phone to sit just so. When not in use, they’re unsightly and feel like clutter, and when in use, they’ve been marginally better than a ’90s era cordless phone charger.
Thankfully, none of this is the case with the Soundform Elite. The device has a distinct shape not entirely unlike Google’s own Google Home speaker. That form factor is then further elevated by a dramatic refinement that I can’t help but identify with European style sensibilities. The speaker is available in white or black color options, and the black unit I tested offers a very elegant look.
In terms of industrial design, the Soundform Elite is worthy of its “elite” moniker. It skews towards Bang & Olufsen in style, but without any sort of major compromise in functionality. I mainly use the speaker in my home office, but I could easily place it in my bedroom or living room and it would still feel right at home. Rather than the try-so-hard but look-so-sad state of so many smart products, the Soundform Elite’s overall look is complementary to a variety of decors.
- Colors: Black and White
- Sound stage: Mono with Speaker Active Matching by Devialet
- Microphone: Two far-field microphones for voice control
- SPL max: 90 dB SPL +/- 3dB
- Full range driver size: 35mm
- Woofer driver size: 2 x 70mm, vibration-cancelling “Push-Push” configuration
- Woofer max input peak power: 2 x 60watts
- Full range rax input peak power: 1 x 30watts
- Frequency response: 40 – 20,000Hz
- Voice assistant: Google Assistant
- Bluetooth: Bluetooth 5.0
- Wi-Fi: 802.11b/g/n/ac (2.4GHz/5Ghz)
- Wireless charge: Up to 10-watt charge
- Dimensions – 6.4″ x 6.4″ x 6.63″
- Weight: 2.8 pounds
Fast and easy charging
My house is home to a variety of smart products with support for different digital assistants – but none of them offer the Soundform Elite’s unique mixture of features. With that in mind, I can only imagine how my Siri and Alexa products began to sweat the day I unboxed this speaker. That heat must have only intensified the first time I set my phone into the speaker’s wireless charging basin. I primarily use an Android-powered LG V40, and the phone paired easily with the Soundform Elite during my testing. A small light on the speaker toward the right of the charging area turns on while connected, and the phone properly signifies that fast-charging is active when it’s resting on the pad.
In an effort to further test my curiosity, and likely further torture the Siri inhabitants of my home, I also tried charging my iPhone XS. The Soundform Elite obliged without raising a single complaint. And with that, all my concerns about wireless charging were laid to rest.
As an added bonus, for the first time in nearly a decade, I now feel like I have a proper cradle to place my phone on. This comes in handy when I’m sitting at my desk and want to be able to glance at my phone. With the phone resting comfortably and securely on the charging pad, I’m able to easily take a look at it or snatch it up without being tethered to a charger.
The Soundform Elite is very close to being a true plug-and-play device, and the wireless charging is its simplest and, dare I say, idiot proof-aspect. I’ve tried tossing my phone in at odd angles to defeat the connection, but there is no obvious flaw here. If you have ever put a Nintendo Switch in its dock and wished that interaction, that connection, was a 100 times more satisfying and less clumsy, then you’ll surely appreciate this satisfying simplicity.
Setup and usability
I’ve been keeping the unit by my side at my desk while I work, and across the room while I play games. With things being so hectic at home right now, I really like being able to listen to music while playing my PS4. Instead of having to deal with the erratic and clunky PS4 Spotify app, I can now simply say “OK Google, play music” and have the Soundform Elite fill my home office with lovely audio.
These simple voice controls also come in handy when you’re busy with other tasks but still want to listen to music. Whenever I find myself scrambling to get into my office to find and print worksheets for my son’s academics, I can rely on the Soundform Elite to fill the room with music without any troubleshooting or fiddling. It might just be for a few songs, but this small respite helps keep the wheels greased and turning in my home.
For testing purposes, I’ve been using Spotify and Youtube Music via Wi-Fi and the Google Home connection, and I also tried out the Bluetooth support. There is no AUX jack and no Ethernet port, however, and the only physical connection on the unit is the simple power plug. Though the Wi-Fi in my home office is spotty, the Soundform Elite has no trouble with my connection at all. The dual mics are also sensitive enough to hear me muttering about Google when close, while still being able to pick up my commands while across the room and playing a game on my home theater.
The Bluetooth support and limited onboard controls are appreciated, even if the bulk of use, including the initial setup, is done via Google. Using the Google Home app with a Google account to set up the unit is a prerequisite for successfully pairing with Bluetooth. Likewise, adjusting bass and treble is done in the Google Home app.
In Google Home, the supported music services include YouTube Music, Google Play Music, Spotify, Pandora, and Deezer. This suits most of my needs, but if you want to play some local MP3s off of your phone, you can do so by casting audio from your mobile device over Wi-Fi without having to use a Bluetooth connection.
In order to completely outclass typical smart speakers in the sound department, Belkin has enlisted an audio specialist in the form of Devialet, a French company known for pushing new tech and new designs in audio reproduction. The brand’s unique sensibilities are particularly well illustrated in its high-end Phantom speakers, which are compact, powerful, efficient, and not for the faint of wallet.
One of Devialet’s in-house innovations is their Speaker Active Matching (SAM) technology. This processing occurs during the digital stage of the source input – pre-analog conversion and pre-amplification – and it’s completely tied into the capabilities of the speaker. The idea is to get the most out of the speaker without overstepping the limits or creating any delay in a three-way setup.
With SAM, the Soundform Elite analyzes each song and each note, and plays them back to match what the speaker can handle. All of this occurs within the unit. It’s a fundamental part of the Soundform Elite’s design, and thankfully, not something that the user ever needs to worry about or mess with.
In practice, this feature helps the Soundform Elite deliver truly special sound for a smart speaker of this type. The compact size belies the speaker’s power, but it’s not enough just to be powerful. The power needs to be carefully and artfully managed so as to not crush the sound or cause any buzzing or shaking of the unit. The Soundform Elite does an impressive job keeping hold of the mids and the highs while easily applying a throatiness which helps to present a warm and lively sound.
Ultimately, what I look for in audio performance is clarity and power, so that each and every crescendo in my favorite tracks feels maximized. I want to be able to pick out the instruments, but not lose the composition. This is true in a track that just keeps building, like “Whirring” from the Formidable Joy. As the volume rises and the power of the Belkin speaker is fully demonstrated, the clarity remains strong and Soundform Elite’s control proves to be impeccable. There is no wobble, no shake, no buzz, no rattle. Nothing moves my phone on the charging surface, and even some loose rock candy sitting on my desk fails to vibrate.
The speaker’s capabilities are further demonstrated when listening to the “First Man” soundtrack. Each peak of the music is handled without issue as tracks vacillate between quiet and intense. Ultimately, the speaker’s playback quality never had me wishing for better output. The stability of this smart speaker is a killer feature, and I’m awed that the Soundform Elite performs so well on whatever surface I choose to place the unit on.
One more takeaway here: As you get into the higher echelon of smart speakers, it’s often obvious where a speaker taps out and is really meant to be flanked by a subwoofer and/or a second speaker. With the Soundform Elite, however, I can listen to the baseline on a song like Audioslave’s “Shadow on the Sun” and be satisfied that there isn’t a need to add a subwoofer. That punchy warmth is impressive, and I can appreciate that this sound has been achieved without fiddling on my part.
Problems with the Soundform Elite
The Soundform Elite does everything that it promises, including charging smartphones wirelessly, providing a quality audio experience, and offering capable Google smart speaker functionality.
With that said, things get a bit restricting when it comes to easily switching to a different set of audio settings. I’m a home theater guy, and I can’t help but wish that the Soundform Elite had a set of sound profiles designed for different playback needs, like music, games, and podcasts. It would make sense to me if, in line with the rest of the design, these profiles could be managed in the Google Home app and could be accessed by saying “Hey Google, switch to sound profile two,” or even better, “switch to game style/podcast style/rock style, etc.”
The speaker offers a powerful audio experience by default, but sometimes I wish I could adjust settings more easily. For instance, if someone a few rooms over is sleeping, then I might want the bass and treble lower and I don’t want to have to go to the Google Home app every time I want to switch the settings around. Being able to change profiles through a simple voice command would be a nice feature.
The bottom line
Ultimately, the Soundform Elite feels like a sophisticated smart speaker with two distinguishing features: wireless smartphone charging and impressive audio that scales well. This sophistication completely eschews any notion of a first-generation product.
Of course, the Soundform Elite can only go as far as the Google assistant can take it, but that suits me well enough. I can completely see how someone looking to dip their toes into the Google Assistant ecosystem might prefer to start with a Google Home speaker, but the Soundform Elite presents a more robust experience. With its stylish form factor and impressive audio presence, the Soundform Elite offers a great way to sneak premium audio performance into any room without losing the convenience that compact wireless speakers are known for.
What are your alternatives?
On account of the unique wireless charging plus smart speaker focus, there is no one-to-one alternative to the Soundform Elite. But, if I drop the wireless charging and stay with the Google Smart speaker requirement, then the Sonos One and the Google Home Max are two viable alternatives to the Soundform Elite. Likewise, the Apple HomePod makes sense if you’re going with Siri and iTunes.
While the Sonos One is a nice way to enter into the Sonos system and dedicated Sonos app, the Soundform Elite has better sound and also has Bluetooth support. Meanwhile, the Google Home Max has some features not found on the Soundform Elite, like multiple drivers and a 3.5 AUX jack, but it lacks the sophistication and flavor that Devialet brings to the Soundform Elite.
For even more smart speaker recommendations, be sure to check out our guide to the best smart speakers.
Pros: High-end sound quality, built-in wireless charging support, Google Assistant functionality, elegant design
Cons: Limited EQ options in settings, no Ethernet jack, no AUX port, a bit pricey