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Monday, February 13, 2017

VIZIO Crave 360 Wireless Speaker Review

SmartCast speakers and soundbars can be connected wirelessly throughout the house. Photo: VIZIO.

Are You Craving More Wireless Music?

It's hard to find an audio company that isn't producing wireless speakers these days. Even companies traditionally known for video products are branching out into the world of wireless speakers. There are now more choices of wireless speakers than there are flavors of Baskin-Robbins ice cream (trust me, I counted). So if you're going to make something for that category, your product had better stand out.

VIZIO is doing that with the Crave 360, a new wireless speaker. The product is part of the company's SmartCast speaker lineup, which is designed to wirelessly put music into every room in the house.

Competitively priced at $249.99, the Crave 360 has a lot of the features you'd expect from a wireless speaker, including a few extras. Made for use in, around, and even outside of the house, it comes with a wireless charging base that will provide up to 8 hours of portable playtime on a full charge. It includes both Wi-Fi and Bluetooth support, as well as the option to use Google Cast. This is a nice perk, since it allows you to fling all sorts of audio from your favorite Google Cast-enabled apps and devices.


Out of the box, the Crave 360 is very simple, very stylish, and totally tubular. Weighing in at 8.81 pounds, this cylinder-shaped speaker has some serious girth to it as well. That's because it packs in four 1.5-inch full-range speakers and a 3.5-inch sealed subwoofer with a decent-sized magnet so it can move a lot of air. The Crave 360 boasts a rated frequency response of 50Hz - 20kHz and support for both DTS Studio Sound and DTS TruVolume. It comes packaged with a charging dock, a power cord, and a Quick Start guide.


The actual speaker has a slick, minimalist design. There are no visible controls on the speaker, but you can swipe or tap the top to fast-forward, pause, and play tracks. You can even twist the top to adjust volume manually. If you've ever used an Amazon Echo, you may get a sense of deja vu when you operate the volume control on the VIZIO speaker (not to mention the overall looks being similar). And the swipe and tap controls you may recognize from the Sonos Play:5 which offers a similar tactile control system.

The back of the Crave 360 has a power button, a USB jack, and an Ethernet port tucked into a spot at the bottom of the unit. It's a slick-looking speaker. And having direct access to music playback and volume right on the unit is nice as it saves you from having to do everything from your phone or tablet. But those top-mount controls can also make things a bit tricky. Several times I accidentally skipped tracks or paused playback because my hand brushed the top. Also, while carrying the Crave 360 around the house, my hand would knock into the speaker and make unwelcome volume adjustments.

Speaking of which, the Crave 360 is designed to be portable. Besides the built-in battery, it also has a handle towards the top, around the back. This is a nice perk, but the speaker is bit heavy to be easily transported, particularly by that little leather(?) carrying strap.

Let's Get It Started
The first things you need to do are dock the speaker and download the SmartCast app -- preferably in that order. The dock will charge up the speaker and the app makes setup a breeze. Free for iOS and Android devices, the app also provides options for control and sources.

To set up the speaker, push the power button and it will start to flash. That's your cue to launch the app, which will prompt you to create an account through Facebook, Google+, or email. Once you're in, you'll be invited to set up a new device. That directs you to view a setup tutorial or you can just jump right in. The app then locates your device and your Wi-Fi network. After I entered my Wi-Fi password, the system spent a good 5 minutes updating the speaker's software. When finished, it fired off a little tone to let me know it was ready to rock.

Well, almost. The app asks you to name the speaker and register your device, but you can skip those steps. There's even a "Learn How to Cast" tutorial video, in case you're not sure how to do that. While many users may find so much information to be overkill, I think it's a huge plus. I know a lot of people who can't even spell Bluetooth, let alone know how to work it. However, there's no way you can walk away from the Crave 360 scratching your head. VIZIO has spelled everything out pretty perfectly.

What You Crave
When buying a speaker, ease of use, controls, and other extras are certainly nice. However, it really comes down to how it sounds. Well, you don't have to worry about that with the Crave 360.

Unfortunately, we only had one Crave 360, so we couldn't review stereo sound or the multiroom features. On its own though, the Crave 360 is pretty impressive. First I started by streaming personal music, SiriusXM, Spotify, and even Netflix using Bluetooth. Although it has those pesky distance limitations, I actually prefer going the Bluetooth route because it cuts out the middleman. In other words, no app is needed. I also casted Spotify, Pandora, and VEVO audio and streamed several iHeartMusic radio stations through the app. Everything sounded pretty stellar and when it didn't, it was easy to tweak to my liking using VIZIO's app.

I cranked out Patsy Cline, The Clash, The Monkees, Eminem, The Bee Gees, and even Slayer. I could go on -- because I did. I had this thing nestled closely for a good two or so weeks, rocking out my every whim. It never disappointed. Vocals came through clearly, but that little bass boost that the subwoofer provides was certainly the standout. It can really rattle your desktop.


Netflix selections didn't sound as full, but I could see that being solved with a second (or third and fourth) speaker. That said, it definitely sounded better than just using my iPad or iPhone to produce volume.

The SmartCast app streams music through the iHeartRadio service. Photo: VIZIO.
All About the App
The SmartCast app is a necessity for setting up the Crave 360 speaker, but that's not where its purpose ends. It also provides additional ways to access different types of music and provides access to more advanced features for the speaker (or speakers).

Inside the app, there are pause, play, and volume controls. There's also the ability to search for music and cast the audio to one or more Crave speakers in any room -- and it doesn't have to be the same song. Users can send the same or different music to multiple cast-enabled speakers and soundbars, as long as they are on the same Wi-Fi network.

As mentioned, I didn't get to test out that feature (I only had the one speaker), but there were certainly some other ones I loved about the app -- as well as ones I didn't care for all that much. At first glance, the app sort of seems like a pointless middleman. First of all, it's limited in which content it can access. Designed for VIZIO's audio and video products, the app can access a total of 10 sources. However, the only streaming music source the app can access is iHeartRadio. If you want Spotify or another cast-able music service, you have to go directly to those apps on your phone or tablet and cast your music from there.

This is quite different from Sonos, where all of your music streaming services and local music sources are accessible from within the Sonos app. I did enjoy iHeartRadio's interesting selection of internet radio stations, though. There are a lot of stations, which are categorized well enough. However, it can be a little overwhelming... and at the same time, sort of limited. I think I am just spoiled with digital music services listing the artist, track title, and often artwork so you always know what's playing.

It should also be noted that if you're planning to use the Crave 360 with video sources, you're out of luck. Despite featuring access to VUDU, Hulu, and Google Play Movie & TV inside the app, you can't use the Crave 360 with video sources, even just for the audio. That's just a perk for VIZIO displays.

Also, the volume controls inside the app are a bit inconvenient. It would be nice to just use the built-in volume controls on your smart device, as you would when streaming via Bluetooth. The SmartCast app instead relies on separate volume up, volume down, and mute buttons, which need to be pressed every time you want to kick things up or down a notch. You can't just push and wait.


Despite my gripes, there is one thing I really loved about this app and it's the option for speaker tweaks. Underneath the drop-down menu to the left of the home screen, click on Device Settings, and the speaker you want to adjust. That's where you'll find options to adjust the bass and treble, Enhanced and Natural EQ settings, and a switch to activate the TruVolume feature. This made a world of difference in sound quality compared to the default sepeaker settings out of the box. Your mileage may vary, so it's nice to have the option to tweak the speaker to your music or listening preferences.

The Crave 360 is designed to go anywhere, with a rechargeable battery that provides up to 8 hours of playtime. Photo: VIZIO.
Turn Ons:
  • Good sound
  • App offers audio tweaks
  • Slick, minimalist appearance
  • Bluetooth and Wi-Fi options
  • Can be part of a multi-room speaker system
Turn Offs:
  • Touch controls on top can be a little too touchy
  • SmartCast app is confusing and limited
  • Sort of heavy for the handle that's attached
Craving More?
Perfect for the home or office, the VIZIO Crave 360 is a nice little speaker. VIZIO definitely deserves bonus points for making it cast-able, as well as portable. If you want to go beyond Bluetooth with your streaming, the sound quality and features are certainly on par with the $250 price point. And unlike standard Bluetooth speakers, the system can grow to bring music to your entire home.

Manufacturer's Specifications:
Company Contact Information:
VIZIO, Inc.
39 Tesla
Irvine, CA 92618
855-833-3221

On the web: www.vizio.com


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