Review: The SoundCast
for surround and subwoofer applications
Want to do away with trailing speaker cables?
SoundCast has the answer!
We have published quite a number of wireless speaker system reviews during these last years, from the inexpensive Rocketfish Wireless Rear Speaker Kit we first reviewed in 2007 but that still remains among the best in wireless rear speaker solutions, to our recent review of the Sonos Music System. The latter is a superb but relatively expensive wireless solution for multi-room music distribution.
The SoundCast wireless solutions reviewed here fall within the same category of as the Rocketfish; this range includes the SurroundCast SCS100, SurroundCast SCS120, and the SubCast. The SurroundCast SCS120 — referred to as 'X2' — is a more powerful version of the SCS100, while the SubCast is designed mainly for powered subwoofer applications though it can be used to extend any full bandwidth line-level audio signal over a maximum claimed range of 150 feet.
All three products under review within the SoundCast range are extremely easy to use, and once installed you simply forget they are there! These SoundCast wireless systems for multichannel sound are somewhat more expensive than the competition, but they generally deliver more power and include a convenient auto-power off feature often missing on many wireless speaker systems.
The SoundCast SurroundCast 2X is a plug-and-play 2.4GHz robust wireless audio solution capable of CD-quality sound and 50W rms audio output per channel.
Unlike most wireless speaker systems, the SurroundCast line includes an Auto-Power Off function that puts both transmitter and receivers in low-power standby mode when no audio signal is fed to the system for more than 20 minutes; the system will automatically turns itself to 'on' once it detects the presence of an audio signal on the transmitter.
SoundCast Wireless System components are available from
SoundCast is a relatively new comer in the industry in that the first wireless audio product from SoundCast appeared on the market in 2006.
Since then, SoundCast has developed a complete range of both wireless speaker systems that come with built-in amplified speakers, and wireless audio systems designed to make use of the same audio speakers that come with your gear.
SoundCast Wireless Speaker Systems
Products within the range of SoundCast wireless speaker systems include the popular OutCast line of battery-powered outdoor speakers; these are the OutCast and OutCast Jr.
These can be configured to play music from any audio source or compatible iPod device using the appropriate SoundCast transmitter, over a wireless range of up to 300 feet. In addition, the OutCast wireless speakers include controls that enable the user to shuffle through music stored on your iPod direct from the wireless speaker when used with the iCast iPod docking transmitter module. The other compatible SoundCast transmitter is the UAT, or Universal AudioCast Transmitter; this can transmit music from a line-level audio source e.g. a PC or AV receiver, to any OutCast wireless speaker.
The OutCast range represents a rather very interesting line of battery powered wireless speakers that can deliver up to a remarkable 100W of audio power; SoundCast claims a full 10-hours run at full volume using the the built-in rechargeable Lithium battery pack, when the latter is fully charged.
Their only real problem with this SoundCast range is price; the smaller but popular Soundcast OCJ411A 60W OutCast Jr complete with the iCast iPod Transmitter, is presently selling on amazon for $600.
At a much cheaper price tag comes the range of Soundcast wireless audio systems we will be covering in this review. The reason for the cheaper price is that this line of SoundCast wireless systems does not include built-in speakers or a rechargeable Lithium battery back, since they are intended for surround sound and subwoofer applications where you will be making use of existing system speakers and the AC power feed.
The scope of this line of wireless audio products is to help remove the cable clutter and do away with trailing speaker cables around the room between your AV receiver and the rear/back surrounds. The SoundCast units for this purpose are the SurroundCast (model SCS100), a 30W rms per channel stereo wireless audio kit that comes with a common amplified wireless receiver unit, and the SurroundCast 2X (model SCS120), a more powerful version of the SurroundCast wireless audio kit that comes with two separate amplified wireless receiver units — one for each speaker.
The SurroundCast 2X is capable of delivering up to 50W rms per channel; this is well above what most wireless rear speaker kits generally deliver. This makes the 2X the ideal wireless rear speaker kit to use with medium size home theater systems. 50W per channel for the rear and back surrounds represents plenty of audio power not only for movie applications but also for music listening; the latter imposes greater demands on the power requirements for the surrounds.
These units are presently available online at $199 and $350 respectively. At these prices, these SoundCast wireless systems are selling at a similar price to most comparable systems, though in the case of the Soundcast SCS100, the Rocketfish kit reviewed on our site provides the same functionality for half the price. The Rocketfish unit delivers up to 25W rms /channel, somewhat less than the 30W/channel of the SCS100; however, this extra power would be practically unperceivable in a typical surround sound application. The only real difference between the Rocketfish and the SoundCast SCS100 is the absence of the auto-power off feature on the Rocketfish.
This auto-power off feature found on SurroundCast products is a most welcome convenience as it puts the SurroundCast transmitter and receiver units in a low power standby mode when no audio signal is present for more than 20 minutes; the system will then automatically turns itself to 'on' once an audio signal is sensed on its inputs. This auto-power off feature is often missing on many wireless speaker systems.
This SoundCast pricing for its SurroundCast units renders the SurroundCast 2X more of a valid option. The extra power of the SCS120 represents a significant boost in output power over similar wireless rear speaker systems; this extra power would definitely come in handy especially when the SoundCast is used as part of a medium size home theater installation during multi-channel music listening.
Earlier on in this review, we indicated that these SoundCast wireless systems can be used in both wireless rear and back surround applications. The possibility to use these SoundCast products in both 5.1 and 7.1 systems arise out of the fact that it is possible to use a second SurroundCast wireless system within the same room environment without having any interference issues. Thus, it is possible to go not only for wireless rear surrounds, but also for wireless back surrounds in a 7.1 speaker setup.
SoundCast has a third unit within their wireless audio range; this is the SubCast, a $170 wireless audio kit designed primarily for use with wired powered subwoofers.
It will enable the user to hide the subwoofer while doing away with connecting speaker cables. As explained in our speaker placement guide, subwoofer placement is not critical and thus can be hidden out of view, say behind a coach.
The SoundCast SubCast kit has the same latency delay of 15msec as the SurroundCast units when both transmitter and receiver are in the same room. This makes it possible to use the SubCast in conjunction with the SurroundCast in a multi-channel wireless speaker setup. Having the same latency delay in such applications is important to maintain the correct balance between the sounds from the different channels.
This minimal latency delay is well within the typical delay settings normally applied for the rear/back channels in a multi-channel speaker setup. In other words, this latency delay is not an issue with these Soundcast wireless systems. At the same time, take note that this latency has to be taken into account when setting up your AV receiver to ensure correct timing between the different speaker channels.
Unlike the SurroundCast units, which come with a fixed delay setting, the SubCast features a latency switch that changes the latency from 15msec to 64msec when a longer wireless range is required. The SubCast supports a maximum wireless range of 150 feet or 45 meters; this longer delay is required for improved performance at greater distances.
Other main differences between the SubCast and the SurroundCast units is that the SubCast come with an RF three-channel selector switch to enable the user to choose an optimum channel for operation; there is also a Hi-Low sensitivity switch to better match the incoming signal level with the SubCast unit.
One other important difference between the SurroundCast and the SubCast is that while the two SurroundCast kits connect at the speaker level, the SubCast connects at the line level at both the transmitter and receiver ends. In addition, the fact that the SubCast is in effect a full bandwidth wireless audio kit means that this SoundCast wireless unit can be used to transmit any audio signal at line level wirelessly over a 150 feet range; this gives rise to a number of other applications apart from its intended LFE wireless connectivity.
One misleading feature on the SubCast is the presence of a USB port on both the transmitter and receiver units; the sole purpose of this USB connectivity is for power feed from the supplied AC/DC adapters. Mentioning power, the SubCast does not feature auto-power off but unlike the amplified wireless receiver units on the SurroundCast kits, power consumption of the SubCast is minimal. In other words, the SubCast is a low power unit designed to be left 'always on' as you would normally do with your Wi-Fi router.
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Installing the System
The SoundCast wireless systems used for this review were the SurroundCast SCS100 wireless rear speaker kit pictured here, and the SubCast unit.
This made it possible to check the use of different SoundCast products within the same room environment both for interference issues, and also for possible differences in latency delays between the different SoundCast units when these are used to drive different speaker channels within the same multi-channel audio setup.
Installing both the SurroundCast and the SubCast is simply a plug-and-play matter. The SurroundCast connects directly to the rear speaker outputs on the AV receiver while the SubCast connects to the LFE line-level output on the home theater receiver.
Each SurroundCast transmitter and its corresponding receiver are pre-mated at the factory, meaning that on powering up, both units will find each other even in the presence of a second SurroundCast kit, say when using two SurroundCast units for wireless connect between both the rear speakers and back speakers in a 7.1 speaker setup.
Both transmitter and receiver units on the SurroundCast incorporate plus and minus buttons that are used to calibrate the audio signal level on the surround speakers. The kit is calibrated at the factory but these buttons gives the user additional adjustment in case the resultant speaker level signal is either too low or too high. The buttons on the transmitter and receiver units perform the same function and are available on both units to facilitate system setup in case one of the units is out of reach. System calibration is a onetime adjustment that requires balancing the volume level of the surround speakers with the rest of the channels; once this step is completed, adjustment of the sound output on the surround speakers is carried out through the AV receiver in the usual manner.
Note that while in the case of the SurroundCast SCS100, adjusting the volume level on the wireless receiver end will equally adjust the sound level of both surround channels, thus maintaining the right volume balance between the two channels, this is not the case with the SurroundCast 2X (SCS120). The use of two separate wireless receiver units imply that the best way to adjust the level of the surrounds is by using the adjust buttons on the transmitter; otherwise it would be difficult to balance the volume levels between the two speakers.
The SurroundCast uses 2.4GHz wireless technology to transmit CD-quality sound; this means these SoundCast wireless systems may interfere with other 2.4GHz in the area if say your wireless router is too close to the SurroundCast. Mind you, we did not experience any interference issues with our SoundCast setup and Wi-Fi network despite the presence of a 2.4GHz wireless router some 5 meters away in the same room and a couple of neighboring Wi-Fi networks in the area.
Using a second SurroundCast unit in the case of a 7.1 speaker setup is an equally simple matter as further explained in this pdf instruction issued by SoundCast.
Installing the SubCast follows on the footsteps of the SurroundCast except that connectivity now is at line-level direct from the LFE on the AV receiver. We left both the sensitivity and the channel settings to their default out-of-the-box settings, namely Hi for input, Channel 1 for the RF channel in use, and left the delay to 'same room' setting.
This is all it takes to set-up the SoundCast wireless system. What remained was to fire our Pioneer AV receiver to test the new wireless setup. Both the Soundcast SurroundCast and the SubCast units immediately found their mated wireless receivers. We decided to run our AV receiver surround sound setup to ensure that the additional delays on the surrounds introduced by the wireless link are in effect taken into account when setting the delay for the surrounds on the AV receiver. Alternatively, you may simply proceed to reduce the delay applied by the AV receiver on the surrounds by approximately 15msec to counterbalance the latency delay of the wireless link; this should give you a good enough system correction.
As stated in our introduction on the SurroundCast SCS100, these deliver 30W rms per channel, which is more than enough for a small to medium size surround sound setup, especially with movie watching. With music listening, the SurroundCast 2X would probably do better if you enjoy listening to music at higher volumes.
As we got used to expect from 2.4GHz wireless audio systems, sound quality was simply superb; you would not tell there are no wires in between! The whole setup worked as expected.
Initially, the volume on our active subwoofer turned out to be that bit low in comparison to a wired connection. However, shifting the sensitivity switch to the more sensitive LO position on the bottom of the transmitter did turned out to be a bit too loud, so we left the sensitivity switch to its default setting and adjusted the LFE level via the AV receiver.
In addition, as expressed earlier on in this write-up, we did not experience any interference issues with our Wi-Fi network despite that the presence of a Wi-Fi router and two SoundCast units within the same room.
The SoundCast is a typical 2.4GHz wireless audio system that is extremely simple to install and setup. It provides a robust wireless connectivity and delivers excellent sound quality, one where you would be hard pressed to tell there are no wires in between!
Main competition for the SCS100 is from the Rocketfish, which at just $99 comes much cheaper though at 25W rms per channel, the Rocketfish delivers just that bit less audio power than the SoundCast SCS100. The main benefit for the SoundCast however, is the presence of the auto-power off feature which is definitely a plus considering the features available on most wireless rear speaker kits.
In the case of the SoundCast 2X SCS120, main competition is from the JBL WEM-1 we reviewed on our site here. Both are rated at 50W rms/channel and both include the auto-power off feature. The JBL is some $100 cheaper than the SoundCast wireless system but then the JBL supports a lower signal to noise ratio; the JBL also comes with one wireless receiver unit housing the 50W rms stereo amplifier instead of the two receiver units found on the SurroundCast 2X. The use of two separate wireless receivers on the SCS120 would definitely come in handy in a number of applications.
Other differences between the two include a remote control for the JBL — missing on both SoundCast units, and a shorter wireless range for the JBL (70 feet) but that is still adequate for most second room wireless audio applications. The presence of a remote control is not much of use in a wireless rear speaker setup, but it would surely come in handy in the case of a second room wireless audio installation.
On the other hand, the SubCast is a more affordable line-level wireless audio kit that remains practically unchallenged with hardly any competition within its category — especially if you want to connect at line-level both at the transmitter and receiver ends.
Our only complaint... The SoundCast wireless systems reviewed here come at a somewhat expensive price tag compared to what the competition has to offer; this is particularly so with the SurroundCast units. Otherwise, these represent excellent, easy-to-use wireless solutions capable of great sound quality for home audio applications.
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