OPPO Digital Sonica Wi-Fi Speaker Review - Home Theater Forum and Systems - HomeTheaterShack.com

 
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OPPO Digital Sonica Wi-Fi Speaker Review


OPPO Digital has established itself as the premier manufacturer of universal disc players by doing business the right way; delivering well-built high performance gear paired with customer service that’s known to be excellent. And the company’s reputation isn’t limited to disc players, having successfully dipped its toes into high-end audio waters with well reviewed headphone and headphone amp offerings. Talk to just about any enthusiast and you’ll hear the same thing: OPPO delivers an overwhelming amount of performance for the price. That kind sentiment makes every new OPPO product a true curiosity, and is exactly why the company’s 2016 entry into wireless audio is exciting.

Thinking back to its birth in the early 2000s, wireless audio has transformed from a spark into a modern day four-alarm fire fueled by demands of convenience, ease of use, and quality sound reproduction. The current number of standalone Bluetooth speaker options (not to mention entire ecosystems of manufacturer specific wireless technologies) is quite staggering. OPPO’s entry (called Sonica) is a moderately priced standalone product aimed squarely at buyers that want a high quality experience across both performance and usability spectrums. At $299, its price point has plenty of competition from the usual suspects in the industry, making distinctive performance an absolute necessity for survival. Of course, that notion is almost a given, but the sheer number of available options makes it particularly poignant.

Today, we’ll take an up-close look at Sonica and put it through its paces with a sound performance test drive. Definitely read on, as Sonica has a lot to offer.



Overview
Measuring roughly 12-inches (L) by 6-in (W) by 5-in (H) and weighing a mere 5.3-pounds, Sonica is a powered portable speaker that’s easy to handle and place. Packed inside of its robust black molded cabinet is a 2.1 speaker configuration comprised of two 2.5-in wideband drivers, a single 3.5-in bass driver, and dual 3-in bass radiators. OPPO opted to use four internal amplifiers: two 15 Watt amps connected in a bridged mode drive the bass driver while two 10 Watt amps power the wideband drivers.

Sonica offers lots of standard connectivity options including Bluetooth, AirPlay, DLNA, and Wi-Fi streaming, a 3.5mm auxiliary connection, and a USB slot*. It can also play music via OPPO’s proprietary Sonica app platform (iOS and Android) that loads on a portable device and acts as a gateway to on-device content in addition to TIDAL and Spotify Connect.

Music file format support is also quite extensive. OPPO says that Sonica can accommodate AAC, AIF, AIFC, AIFF, APE, M4A, ALAC, MP2, OGG, and WMA. In addition, it can decode audio files up to 24-bit/192 kHz from formats such as FLAC, WAV, and Apple Lossless.

Aesthetically speaking, Sonica is super easy on the eyes with a sleek rounded body and smooth black satin finish. I placed it in several different rooms during the review period and it looked great (if not invisible) just about everywhere. It feels rock solid when handled and the knuckle wrap test reveals an inert cabinet. Fit and finish is impeccable.



Sonica has intuitive controls on its topside (top) and several backside connectivity options (bottom).


The front and sides of Sonica feature a non-removable cloth grille (I tried to gain access to the drivers for a visual inspection, but was unsuccessful). The top features easy to identify volume controls and connection indicator lights, while the front lower lip of the cabinet houses a customizable “mood light” that gently shines down on a surface. The bottom of the cabinet presents three threaded mounting points (not detailed in the User Manual) and two soft rubber “feet” strips. The backside has an Ethernet port, a USB slot, a 3.5mm jack, and the power connection.

Just a note about the power cord: it has a molded right angle design that helps to maximize how close Sonica can sit to a rear boundary. This might seem trivial, but it certainly helped me to better position the speaker in tight spots.



Unboxing and Set-Up
Sonica’s tasteful packaging is on par with other OPPO products I’ve handled, which have always exceeded expectations. In many ways, unboxing an OPPO product feels like an important event, as packing materials are both functional and well crafted. In the box, I found a power cord, a user-friendly User Manual, a Quick Start Guide, and the speaker.



Sonica's box contents include the speaker, a power cord, and two User Guides.


Aside from plugging-in the speaker, set-up involved downloading the Sonica app to my iPhone 6. Thankfully, this process was quick and painless because the app is the only pathway to pairing the speaker with a home Wi-Fi network. The app’s set up interface is well executed and my speaker was paired and fully operational within a matter of minutes.

Let’s take a few moments to review the app, since it’s functionally important to the speaker. The app is quick to load, presenting a menu of music source options. Users can select from TIDAL, Spotify, music stored on the mobile device (itself), network sharing, management of music on a USB stick, Bluetooth, and devices connected to the Auxiliary input. Along the bottom of the screen users can select favorites (songs tagged as a favorite, recently played songs, and playlists), settings, and specific Sonica speakers in the home.

The settings menu offers a range of usability options. Here, users can set a sleep timer, alter the mood light, update firmware (handled solely by controls within the app), change the app’s screen brightness for nighttime use, manage Bluetooth and Auxiliary input functionality, and directly influence sound output. The app offers five different output presets (labeled “Preset 1” through “Preset 4” and “Super Bass”). If you don’t know which to choose, there’s a “Guide Me” feature that picks an optimal sound setting based on room size, room characteristics, and bass preferences.



Screen shots from the Sonica app.


Overall, the app’s interface is easy to use and consistently delivered a great user experience (even making the speaker's firmware update simple and painless). Most will find the interface to be similar to other audio apps. I liked how each song’s file type was displayed in song lists, and a song’s playback window had familiar fixings (such as album art, artist and song name, song controls, playback time, and volume control). My only frustration came when manually fast-forwarding by dragging a song’s timeline marker. Occasionally, the app would skip to the end of the song if I let go of the marker with a minimal amount of time remaining (30 seconds, for example). It’s hard to know if this is an iPhone6 deficiency, or a quirk related to the app. It’s also worthy to note that the Sonica app is only available for portable devices (not desktop computers). However, I found AirPlay and Bluetooth functionality to adequately cover this omission.



Measured Performance
Sonica is certainly a peppy speaker, especially considering its size. I only had one Sonica on hand, but users with more than one can play them in groups or as stereo pairs. In fact, multi-speaker owners can even play different music through various groups of Sonica speakers simultaneously. This is all controlled through the app (where speakers can be selected, renamed, and grouped together for simultaneous playback).

Before we dive into my impressions of the speaker’s musical capabilities, let’s take a look at some sound sweep measurements taken by Room EQ Wizard using a UMIK-1 microphone. These measurements were taken in my family room (approximate size: 2,300 cubic feet), which is part of a semi-open concept floor plan consisting of walls and large openings leading to two other rooms. Measurements were taken in two positions: while the speaker sat on a coffee table near the middle of the room, and while the speaker was positioned on a shelf in the corner of the room.



Sonica's Preset 1 measurements from a corner room bookcase (red) and center room coffee table (gold).



Sonica measurements taken from a corner room bookcase (top) and center room coffee table (bottom).


As the graphs show, Preset 1 and Super Bass offered very similar bass performance (with Preset 1 offering a slightly more robust low end). The speaker definitely seemed to benefit from the corner shelf placement, with bass roll off occurring around 55 Hz as opposed to the coffee table’s position of roughly 64 Hz. Overall high frequency performance in both positions was fairly smooth.

The measurements also demonstrated the impact of OPPO's various Preset sound modes. Preset 1 presents more robust bass, which tapers as you move to higher Presets.

During music playback, I found I was able to elevate volume levels to the 92-95 dB region without noticeable distortion. This pushed the speaker’s volume control right to the brink of max and was more than loud enough to be heard across the entire first floor of my home.



Music Playback
In order to evaluate Sonica’s musical capabilities, I tapped a wide range of music from sources including an iPhone6 (both stored and streamed), iTunes on an iMac and PowerBook running El Capitan, a USB stick, and TIDAL. This allowed me to listen to a variety of file types including MP3, AIFF, Apple Lossless, and AAC. Searching for songs via the Sonica app (no matter the source) was easy and painless. The following are a few notes on specific tracks I listened to during my demo sessions.



Image: Atco Records, AC/DC.


AC/DC, The Razors Edge, "Thunderstruck" (M4A, Bluetooth)
Kicking things off, I reached for a track that would challenge the fiery side of Sonica’s capabilities. What I ultimately found was a pleasantly sharp attack with smooth highs and notably deep bass. Nothing mellow to be found here. A common theme across the entirety of my demo sessions was a nice balance of bass, mids, and treble, and "Thunderstruck" certainly played to that without sounding harsh or screechy (especially considering the source).


Various Artists, Ciao My Shining Star, "All for the Best" by Thom Yorke (ACC, AirPlay)
Ciao My Shining Star is a star-studded tribute album honoring the life of Mark Mulcahy’s (Miracle Legion) late wife through covers of the band’s extensive catalog of songs. This particular track is performed by Miracle Legion fan (and band front man, himself), Thom Yorke, using a funky techno approach. Sonica played the track with a pleasing depth of sound and tonal balance. Yorke’s voice appeared appropriately crystal clear as the track pulsed and breathed to life. I found a surprising amount of spatiality, with notable height of sound. Quite frankly, I was surprised by this discovery since the speaker lacked any sort of stereo mate. Of course, it wasn’t as dramatic as imaging you might experience from a true two-channel rig, but it was impressive nonetheless.


John Mayer, Paradise Valley, "Dear Marie" (FLAC, USB)
"Dear Marie" has become one of my favorite go to demo tracks. It’s a song that presents an ultra smooth warm bass line, complimented by Mayer’s voice (which is forward and isolated). Sonica handled this song perfectly with controlled bass and snappy highs. Mayer’s voice remained clear and concise, and the song’s acoustic guitar rang beautifully. All in all, a very pleasant presentation that led me to sit and listen to the entire Paradise Valley album several times over. This particular track was Hi-Res fed via the USB input, and I was able to hear a sound quality difference between this kind of source and Bluetooth material. However, the difference was not so striking as to make Bluetooth material unlistenable.


Youssou N'Dour et Le Super Etoile de Dakar, Fatteliku/Live in Athens 1987, "Immigres" (Apple Lossless, USB)
Next, I reached for an interesting concert track performed by Youssou N'Dour et Le Super Etoile de Dakar. It carries a fantastically fun and freewheeling live vibe, bubbling with loads of drums and clean guitar lines. Sonica drove this track fairly well, leaning just a tad to the bright side of the equation. It’s a bright sounding song by nature, however, and Sonica handled it well within the realm of acceptable. The speaker certainly didn’t unnaturally tone down the song’s audio characteristics, which was a plus.


Daft Punk, Tron: Legacy Soundtrack, "End of Line" (MP3, AirPlay)
Finally, I called upon Daft Punk’s bass-laced Tron:Legacy Soundtrack. "End of Line" is a track that delivers a particularly hard-hitting bass experience. Considering Sonica’s size, it did an admirable job keeping up and staying smooth. While the low-end of this song digs well below Sonica’s natural capabilities, the speaker presented enough warmth and power to keep the songs weightiness intact. Even when pushed to its highest comfortable volume level (90-95 dB), Sonica maintained composure and clarity. I was certainly impressed and enjoyed the song’s smooth presentation. Tron: Legacy is full of challenging tracks and Sonica handled them all with grace. Two thumbs up.



Conclusion
Nearly a decade ago, I invested $200 in a small cutting-edge network music player called SoundBridge. That unit used optical and RCA outputs to integrate with a stereo receiver or powered speakers, while providing convenient cross-home wireless access to Internet radio stations and computer-stored music. Around that same time, Sonos was arriving on the wireless scene with its own vision of wire-free music playback. Both products, while different in their approach, were quickly energized by a rising swell of consumer interest in audio portability and convenience. Looking at where we started (to where we’ve arrived), companies like OPPO are peppering the wireless speaker segment with phenomenal products.

As Sonica sits, it offers a lot for a relatively modest price. Checking off a list of must-haves (small size, favorable appearance, generous playback options, link-ability, sound quality, and solid customer support) is relatively easy when it comes to this speaker. I certainly enjoyed my listening sessions and the speaker’s super smooth sound. My most noteworthy complaint is the lack of gapless playback support, which resulted in a small pause between tracks that are artistically meant to flow together. That's a small issue, however, and I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that OPPO addresses it with a future firmware update.

You might ask yourself, how does Sonica rank against its competition? Rather well, would be my assessment. Its primary challenger is likely the widely recognizable (and well reviewed) Sonos Play 3 speaker. While Sonos offers excellent performance, it lacks both Bluetooth and AirPlay functionality. And that leads me to give Sonica rather high marks. It’s a great sounding speaker that allows for playback from two major streaming services and a wide range of sources, in addition to handling Hi-Res audio. Nearly perfect for someone looking to enjoy simple access to good sounding digital tunes without the bulk of a large stereo system.

Highly recommended.



Notes
* The USB slot is meant to be used with memory sticks and drives loaded with music files. You can charge a phone via this slot using a USB-lightning connector, however this kind of connection will not allow you to play music direct from your phone.



Specifications
Power Supply: 100 V - 240 V ~ 50/60 Hz
Power Consumption: 35 W / 6 W (Standby)
Size (mm): 301 (L) x 147 (W) x 135 (H)
Weight: 2.4 kg (5.3 lb)
Wi-Fi Protocol: 802.11.a/b/g/n/ac
Bluetooth Standard: Bluetooth 4.1
AUX Max Input: 2 Vrms
Audio Formats: AAC, AIF, AIFC, AIFF, APE, FLAC, M4A, M4A (Apple Lossless) ALAC, MP2, OGG, WAV, WMA
Drivers: 1 x 3.5” long displacement bass driver, 2 x 3” balanced bass radiators, 2 x 2.5” wideband drivers with Neodymium magnets
Operating Conditions: Temperature 5C - 35C, Humidity 15% - 75% (No Condensation)
Wall Mount: Optional



Image Credits: Todd Anderson (Home Theater Shack), Atco Records, AC/DC
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