The Soundfreaq Soundstep Recharge is larger than most of the £100-ish battery-operated iPhone docks we've reviewed this year. While part of the size issue is down to pure design, it's also caused by the sonic strategy employed here.
Where many dinky iPhone docks use a simple dual driver design, the Soundfreaq Soundstep Recharge has three - two 2in drivers for the mid-range and treble frequencies and a larger 3in "subwoofer" driver to provide low-end power. It's this larger speaker that benefits the most from the extra internal space of the dock, giving it a larger area within which to brew.
It works wonders too. Where other small battery-powered docks like the Sony RDP-M15iP are conspicuously limited by their size and form factor, sounding rather reedy and underpowered, the Sound Step has a full-blooded, bassy tone that lets it compete fairly well with most sub-£200 docks. There are three sound options that give you a little control over its sound signature too. Dubbed UQ3, this equalisation engine has three settings, a standard one, a bright one and a bassy one. Each is commendably tasteful - with those that extend the two extremes of the frequency spectrum not leaving the Sound Step too boomy or harsh-sounding. You switch between these settings with a simple tap on one of the buttons to the left of the dock's front panel.
Using the A2DP Bluetooth, rather than a wired or dock connection, limits the sound quality a tad - as Bluetooth streaming is lossy - but at this level most will barely notice. While a solid performer, this isn't high-end audio and the fidelity is limited by the speaker array more than the use of Bluetooth.
The Philips Fidelio range offers similar performance for slightly less money if you don't need the battery-powered or wireless functionality. But if you care about these features, we'd opt for this Aztec beauty over something like the Fidelio DS7700, offering a slightly more powerful sound for less money.
The internal battery is good for up to six hours of playback, giving slightly less longevity than the Fidelio DS7700, and the same stamina as the Sony RDP-M15iP. We don't miss the extra three hours offered by some others, because we consider the Sound Step to be semi-portable rather than something to take out often. It's just that little bit too chunky, and its design is less focused on making the thing fold up into a low-volume form. As this approach has led to a larger-scale sound that doesn't feel hampered by its portable leanings, we're pretty happy about this compromise.
Packing-in the right features at the right price, and offering sound quality better than the majority of battery-powered docks, the Soundfreaq Sound Step Recharge is one of the very best portable docks you can get for under £150. It's much less portable than some, without any of the fold-away bits of other options, but when the result is a beefier, larger-scale sound, we're happy to make the trade off. If you only need occasional outside use, it's a cracking buy.