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Mass Fidelity is a little known Canadian company that set out to make minimalism inspired speakers that could do the work of something far bigger, say a sound-bar. The speaker itself measures 6-inches in length and breadth and measures 4 inches tall. It comes with 5 custom speakers of which one functions as a sub-woofer. It is a beautifully designed speaker that will blend seamlessly into most rooms. However, for the asking price of Rs 34,990, does Mass Fidelity’s Core speaker fulfil its mission of being a soundbar replacement? We find out.
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Build & Design
The Core is constructed out of some incredibly premium material. The top is a sheet of black acrylic where the buttons neatly and seamlessly blend into the body. They have an ever-so-slight curvature to them which makes them easy to find and press. The front and sides are covered in a very premium feeling mesh cloth. I noticed that while it captured plenty of dust (and my dog’s hair), a quick brushing got it looking like new again. The mesh and the top acrylic sheet are both black, however, the base where the sub-woofer resides is chrome. The chrome finish is really nice and creates a beautiful contrast, allowing the Core to be placed in rooms with both dark or bring interiors. It's just minimally there.
The back of the Core has several ports such as an Optical and RCA input in case you would want to play music via a device that required being plugged in, such as the sound output from a TV. There is a sub-woofer out in case you decide to pair this with a dedicated sub-woofer from Mass Fidelity, a USB port to charge your smartphone and a power input port to charge the speaker itself. The ports are all exposed on the back, which feels a little counter to the minimalist approach of the speaker. A panel to hide these would have been great, but with the speaker placed against a wall, you don’t get to see the ports anyway.
What’s so Special
The Mass Fidelity Core requires a little explanation before I get into the review of its performance. The Core has five custom-designed speakers to recreate what the company calls “holographic” sound. This results in the experience of stereo sound no matter where you are in the room. This is achieved using four custom designed and tuned speakers, two speakers pointing forward and one on either side of the square. The fifth speaker functions as the sub-woofer and is a down-firing speaker. The speaker arrangement coupled with the right placement of the Core allows the speaker to achieve the desired result, which is, being able to produce holographic sound. This is how something so small is supposed to achieve the same acoustic properties as a sound-bar.
The Core was tested separately for both music and movie playback. For music, the test involved playing our standard set of test tracks (along with a few dozens extra that the reviewer likes) over both Bluetooth (from an iPhone) and via a wired source (iPhone plugged in via RCA). The test was also done to include the performance of the speaker when it is running on its internal battery (which is rated for about 12 hours of playback). What is obvious is that the speaker delivers impeccable audio quality regardless of whether it's running on the internal battery or on power, however, it does delivery slightly louder sound when plugged in.
When the testing for the Core began, we were told that it requires some specific placement in order to get the most out of its acoustic properties. The speaker should ideally be placed in front of a wall, with a solid surface on either side for the sound waves to accurately bounce off of. This kind of a setup may not be available in everyone’s homes, for example, my room had a wooden wardrobe on the left of the speaker and a stone wall on the right. Two very different surfaces even though the same distance, will bounce sound differently. I used the speaker in a variety of placements, one following the recommendation (thank God for friends homes), a huge conference room, a small room with mixed surfaces and even placed it awkwardly in the middle of the room with no wall behind it.
When it came to music, the first and foremost thing that was noticeable was that no matter how or where the speaker was placed, the stereo separation was incredible. Listening to Joe Satriani’s Flying in a Blue Dream, the instrumental arrangement stands pretty clear. The vocals on Judas Priest’s Beyond the Realms of Death lead ahead of the instruments, showcasing the Core’s wonderful ability to emphasise on vocals. Switching over to heavier music like Metallica’s Fuel and Tool’s Forty-Six & 2 which have a stronger presence of the drums showed that the lower frequencies do tend to get a little muddled. While the snare definitely stood out, the High and Mid Toms tended to sound more or less the same. Similar experience with the Hi-Hat and the Crash Cymbal. The double kick bass drum that Lars Ulrich and Danny Carry are known for sounded unimpressive, very unlike how they should be.
Where the speaker did impress was with regards to pop and EDM. Pop music with its mostly delicate instrumental arrangement with emphasis on vocals sounds pretty good coming from the Core. Artists like Mackelmore, Rhianna, Ariana Grande sound not just good, but very good. If you’re into EDM, it will depend on the sub-genre you’re into. When I played Infected Mushroom’s Return to the Sauce, there were moments when it felt like there was a delay in sound. In fact, there were times when one channel felt like it was trailing behind the other, but it wasn’t a consistent problem. Moving the speaker around solved the issue, but it was generally noticeable when I was standing a few feet away from the speaker, to its left or right.
As a speaker for playing music, The Core exhibits good stereo separation, great clarity on vocals but despite a special speaker dedicated to the sub-woofer, loses out on the bass. There’s definitely clarity here that stands above a lot of Bluetooth enabled speakers, but that clarity and the holographic sound rely on a very specific placement setup.
I tested the Mass Fidelity Core with 5 movies; 3 Idiots, Pacific Rim, The Matrix Revolutions, Kung-Fu Panda and Annabelle. All movies were played through an Xbox One with the sound routed to the Core via the optical-in. There was also a bunch of DTH content consumed, but that was in a different room setup. For movies like 3 Idiots and Kung-Fu Panda, where the auditory experience is more dialogue heavy with a gentle background score, the Core literally sings. When placed right, the stereo separation is impeccable, although, there were times when my friends and I felt it wasn’t loud enough. More action heavy movies like Pacific Rim (Gypsy Danger vs. Category 4 Kaiju sequence) felt like it could have sounded better. The mids were completely drowned and the bass wasn’t deep enough to register as deep. However, the dialogue remained fairly clear and audible. Same goes for the sequence in Matrix Revolutions where Captain Mifune is the last APU standing and has to fight off a swarm of machines but fails. The whole action sequence sounds like there’s too much happening, but once the heavy background score and sound effects clear out, the vocals go back to being crystal clear. Annabelle was an interesting movie to watch with the Core performing the audio duties. All the subtle whispers and creeks were audible and while it would have definitely been more impactful in surround sound, the stereo separation kept us at the edge of our seats. Yes, the movie is scary regardless of how many times I watch it.
For movie watching experience, The Core did actually a pretty good job of keeping the dialogues legible. Action heavy movies will see the dialogue get drowned when there is a heavy and dominating background score or loud explosions, but it doesn’t sound like a cheap speaker, just that at times, it maybe biting off more than it can chew.
The Mass Fidelity Core is a beautiful speaker designed with some true ingenuity. While the acoustic signature of the Core is definitely premium, the only way to truly achieve it under very specific conditions. Placement is absolutely critical and in order to truly get the Holographic sound, you need to have a solid surface on either side of the speaker. However, even without the “perfect” placement, you still get detailed, intricately balanced sound. However, if you were to spend this much money on a soundbar, you could easily get better sound and for the price, you could also find Bluetooth speakers that are more versatile. The Core is an ideal choice for those whose home setup allows for the “perfect placement” and those who are looking for something very minimal to make part of their home A/V setup.