If you’re in the market for a portable Bluetooth speaker, they’re not exactly hard to find. You can bung one in your basket at the supermarket or order one online for peanuts – great news if you’re on a tight budget. The trouble is, these low-cost speakers can often sound like you’re listening to music down a phone line, with no bass presence, scant high-frequency finesse and mid-range seemingly an alien concept.
That’s why anyone with an ounce of sonic self respect should splash out a little more on their Bluetooth speaker, and that’s where the DALI KATCH comes in. This portable wireless speaker may cost a wallet-draining £329, but with it comes the promise of top-drawer sound quality courtesy of the Danish brand’s advanced digital technology and specially engineered drivers.
Having seen DALI’s jaw-dropping full-size speakers, it comes as no surprise that KATCH is a beautifully designed unit. Its pill-shaped aluminium cabinet oozes class, with a glinting chamfered edge lending a little razzle dazzle. The main body feels remarkably solid too, the use of aluminium and ABS/polycarbonate baffles allowing DALI’s engineers to create a structure that maximises internal volume without compromising on rigidity.
That said, the mesh panels covering the front and back sides feel rather plasticky and can be squeezed inwards when you press them. It reduces the overall feeling of luxury and isn’t in keeping with the quality elsewhere.
The most striking aspect of the KATCH’s design is the sheer slimness of the cabinet – 47mm to be precise. That makes it compact and easy to carry around, despite the inherent heft of the high-quality cabinet. There’s a leather carry handle at one end that slides away from the main body, which not only aids portability, but also looks nice when stowed away.
KATCH comes in a choice of three colours – Cloud Grey, Moss Green and Dark Shadow, the latter a sort of bluey/grey shade that adorned my test sample. If truth be told, it isn't the most electrifying selection of colours – the speaker equivalent of GAP clothing – but all three look perfectly tasteful.
Running along the top edge are five firm, responsive buttons that govern volume, power, Bluetooth pairing and sound modes (more on those later). Four lights surround the standby button, which light up incrementally to indicate the volume level, as well as denoting the sound mode, pairing and power status.
At one end, a rubber cover conceals a 3.5mm mini-jack input for non-Bluetooth devices and a USB port, the latter allowing you to charge devices and possibly drive a Chromecast Audio dongle to link KATCH to your home network. Nice.
Below them is a port for the supplied power adapter. The built-in battery takes about two hours to charge and provides 24 hours of playback at a normal volume, according to DALI. In fact, after an initial charge I didn’t have to recharge it for a good two days’ worth of testing.
The speaker’s fully digital Class-D amp musters 2 x 25W of power. There’s a Bluetooth 4.0 receiver with high-quality aptX streaming from compatible devices and, thanks to NFC, owners of Android phones will save themselves precious seconds when pairing.
There are two audio profiles that cater for use in different surroundings. The Clear mode has a more neutral frequency response suitable for most listening situations, while Warm mode boosts the bass frequencies for larger rooms.
The driver array includes two 21mm lightweight soft dome tweeters, backed by a strong neodymium magnet with high-power handling and high sensitivity to the tweeter.
Meanwhile, the dual 3.5-inch woofers use a specially designed chassis, inverted aluminium membranes and special spider suspension. These may sound like comic book super powers but they're actually things that help produce the bass of a traditional woofer within the confines of the shallow cabinet. The woofers are reinforced by two 73 x 52mm passive bass radiators.
The drivers are placed on the front and back of the cabinet, with one tweeter, woofer and radiator on each side. This helps deliver a wider spread of sound.
Operation is every bit as easy as you’d expect from a Bluetooth speaker. Pairing is problem-free and, helpfully, KATCH remembers devices when you turn them on again later.
Some smartphone users might bemoan the lack of a dedicated app for streaming and EQ tweaking, but that would just overcomplicate matters. Simply use your Bluetooth device to play, skip tracks and adjust volume, or use the top-mounted volume buttons if you’re nearby.
Hit the top button to toggle between the two sound modes – the LEDs light up in two halves to indicate which one is selected. The auto-sensing mini-jack input switches when you plug in the cable, but you can switch back to streaming by pressing the top Bluetooth button.
Stream a few tracks to the KATCH and you’ll immediately hear exactly where your money has gone. It’s a dazzling performer, not just for a Bluetooth speaker but for any type of speaker. It offers the sort of muscular, multi-layered sound that really has no place coming from such a slim cabinet.
What jumps out is how loud it plays. Hold down the volume "+" key and it just keeps going up and up and up. Before you know it there’s a huge, authoritative sound filling the room, with none of the chuffing or hardness you’d normally associate with a cheap Bluetooth speaker. It holds its composure with ease; the sound remains clear and focused.
So when you play tracks with big drum beats and epic guitar riffs, KATCH gives them scale and authority. Its dynamics and rhythmic savvy are remarkable – it really gets to grips with the ebb and flow of a fast-paced dance tune, never flapping as it tackles dense productions.
DALI’s drivers might not have much room to manoeuvre, but they can certainly move air. There’s plenty of bass, which thumps forth with tremendous heft, while the bold mid-range adds body to voices and instruments.
Old favourite "Blue In Green" by Miles Davis is an absolute treat in that respect – Coltrane’s sax lines are solid and substantial, but they’re also laced with silky, expressive detail. Treble reproduction is smooth and refined, making hi-hats sound like they’re being played rather than spat out.
Overall, it’s an engulfing sound, with a lovely tonal balance and great energy. Playing around with the sound modes I was perfectly happy to stick with the Clear setting, which did a great job wherever I placed it. Warm mode pushed the bass just a little too much for my taste, but was still perfectly enjoyable.
If you’re in the market for a superb-sounding Bluetooth speaker, and money is no object, then I haven’t heard many better performers than the DALI KATCH. Its ability to produce a powerful, detailed and composed sound from a slender cabinet is nothing short of miraculous, while lengthy battery life, suave design and fuss-free operation further justify the price tag.
So what’s the Katch (sorry)? Well, the plasticky speaker mesh takes the shine off the design a little, and yes it’s undeniably expensive for a Bluetooth speaker, but otherwise KATCH is a stunning portable proposition.
DALI redefines portable Bluetooth performance with a stunning speaker that combines elegant design, long battery life and sparkling sound to devastating effect.