I’m not going to bury the lede: the Sound Dimension Soundots XCEL Ai-1 modular sound system is terrific, innovative and sounds great, but all that comes at a cost. These are high-quality speakers designed in Sweden that can be used singly or in various combinations, either on battery or plugged into power, either Bluetooth or plugged into analog or optical digital.
Let’s start with one Sound Dimension Soundots unit, which is made of steel & aluminum, weighs a little more than 1.5 pounds and is about 7 inches long and 2.5 inches in height & depth. There’s a slight curve to the front, and each side is slightly angled; I’ll explain why later. You can clearly see two front-facing speakers and there’s a port for the bass to radiate out the back. There are three buttons, for power, source and light – light because there’s a ring of LEDs around the front grille – more on that in a moment. The speaker also contains a lithium-ion battery said to be good for about 8 hours on a full charge.
One speaker by itself can be connected Bluetooth to your phone or other device, and play directly from it. But if you plug a 3.5mm into the jack on the back of the Soundots, it will use that as the audio source. The same jack takes both an analog or digital optical signal – and can tell the difference without any input from you. I did have a problem getting it to work correctly with the optical output of my new Sony TV, but when I switched to the TV’s headphone analog output, all was fine.
And by fine, I mean excellent, clear sound; better than the TV speakers of course, and better even than the soundbar I had been using. Both TV dialogue and music were very natural sounding, and playing music Bluetooth off my phone sounded terrific and even noticeably good to my wife, who was two rooms away.
So the reason for the slight curve and angle of the Soundots unit is that it is designed to seamlessly connect to another unit, and another and another, and…well, you can build a speaker system of your choice.
The Soundots recognize each other whether they are placed next to, above or below another Soundots. They do this with IR – infra-red – light through the 4 small holes (the “dots”) on the top, bottom and sides of each unit. But the real trick is that Sound Dimension Soundots XCEL Ai-1 have what they call AiFi Technology, a patented little artificial intelligence, which tells each speaker where it is in relation to its siblings, and based on that, how to ”act.”
So one speaker alone simulates stereo; place two next to each other and one is left and the other right. Place three in a row and you create a “soundbar” of left, center and right. Stack them up and the bottom presumes itself to be the “bass” of a tower with greater output. Put a few in a row and more on top – I believe it’s a maximum 9 in any direction – and it’s an impressive wall of sound, operating as “one” system.
While the Soundots can run just on battery, so you can take one outside on the deck in nice weather (they are not waterproof), they also plug into a power adapter and the power is daisy-chained with supplied cables between the units, either to charge or simply power continuously.
Now about those LEDs that light up the front. They come on when you turn the unit on (and with a “ta-da” sound) – and when “connected” by AiFi you only need to turn on one Soundots, the others get the hint. The LEDs actually perform some functions. They flash when awaiting a Bluetooth connection, and if on battery turn yellow, then red as the battery runs down or when you manually turn the units off.
They are called “mood lights” but thankfully do not change or pulse to the beat of the music like some bad 80s disco. The basic colors are green, blue & red, but you can use the Soundots app on your iOS or Android phone to wheel around to different colors, change the brightness of the lights, or even just turn them off – my preferred setting when watching TV as the color was just distracting. The app can also control sound volume and stop/start your phone’s music app.
The Soundots XCEL Ai-1 is great, but so is the price: $270 for each Soundots, bought directly, plus shipping. So a 3-unit “soundbar” would set you back about $900. As I write this, there’s no discount for buying multiple units, as there is on their Swedish site, and I couldn’t find any discount code, but that may change. They are well worth it, if you can afford them.
Here’s a little video they made: