Powerful audio performance for the size. Weather-resistant build. Can be linked with another VG3 to form a stereo pair.
Overpriced. Bass can distort and rattle at maximum volumes.
- Bottom Line
The Soundcast VG3 is an outdoor-friendly portable Bluetooth speaker that can deliver some solid audio, but its price is too high for its overall performance.
Outdoor-friendly, portable Bluetooth speakers are Soundcast's specialty. The trouble is, they've become the specialty of several competing manufacturers in recent years, too—and contenders like Bose, JBL, and Sony have been making great-sounding models at reasonable prices. That makes the VG3 a little disappointing for $299.99. The speaker is powerful for its size, but sometimes has issues playing back deep bass tracks at high volumes. But the main problem is that you can get a speaker of comparable quality for about half the price.
Real Life. Real News. Real Voices
Help us tell more of the stories that matterBecome a founding member
Measuring 9.0 by 3.5 by 3.5 inches (HWD), the VG3 stands upright and has angled corners, so it isn't quite cylindrical. Its dark gray exterior has a matte finish, with speaker grille on either side panel for the two side-firing drivers, vented areas for the audio and air movement created by the down-firing sub to escape through, and an angled touch-sensitive control panel up top. There's an NFC zone near this top control panel for pairing compatible devices.
The bottom panel has a rubberized foot so the speaker stands stable despite the strong vibrations it's capable of reproducing; there's also a threaded screw hole for mounting the speaker. Near the base, on the back panel, there's a covered connection area—this is where the micro USB cable connects for charging, and there's also a 3.5mm aux input here. Clothbound cables are included for both of these connections, both of generous length. A drawstring pouch is included for these cables.
While the speaker is weather-resistant, its rating of IP64 is actually fairly modest—the 6 stands for total protection from dust and solids, and the 4 stands for protection from water spray from any direction, but not necessarily from water with any sort of pressure, and the speaker isn't submersible. Basically, light rain won't harm it, but don't dunk it in the pool or turn the hose on to wash it off. We review plenty of IPX6, IPX7, and even IPX8 products that can withstand more pressure and are submersible.
The control panel is touch-sensitive and features a central power button with an array of controls encircling it. Below the power button, plus and minus controls adjust the volume levels—an LED readout shows you the levels as you adjust them. There's also a Bluetooth pairing button, a TWS (True Wireless Stereo) button for linking two VG3 units for simultaneous stereo playback, a mute button, and a play/pause button, which is also the call management button. Holding down the mute button for five seconds enables or disables the child lock for the control panel, and holding it for 10 seconds enables or disables the auto-lock function, which locks the control pad after three minutes without being used. There are no track navigation controls.
The built-in mic offers decent intelligibility. Using the Voice Memos app on an iPhone 6s, we could clearly understand every word we recorded, however, even at close distances, the mic tended to record at low levels.
Soundcast estimates the VG3's battery life to be roughly 15 hours, but your results will vary with your volume levels and your mix of wired and wireless playback.
Internally, the VG3 packs dual 1.5-inch full-range drivers and a single down-firing 3-inch subwoofer—these drivers combine for a total of 30 watts of power.
On tracks with intense sub-bass content, like The Knife's "Silent Shout," the VG3 delivers some solid bass depth, but it has trouble with the rumble of the track. At high volumes, it sounds like the vibrations from the woofer are rattling the enclosure. At maximum volume, it sounds like the woofer is distorting a bit. This is a challenging track and a speaker this size distorting isn't shocking, but it shouldn't happen when the price tag is $300.
Bill Callahan's "Drover," a track with far less deep bass in the mix, sounds powerful through the VG3. Callahan's baritone vocals receive a rich low-mid presence, the drums are graced with a solid thump that doesn't go overboard, and the guitar strums are crisp and clear. This is a very sculpted, not at all accurate sound signature, but it gets the overall balance of lows and highs right, and the boosting and sculpting should project clarity and power in outdoor environments. However, at top volumes on both the speaker and an iPhone 6s, Callahan's vocals flirted with distortion.
On Jay-Z and Kanye West's "No Church in the Wild," modest volumes bring out the speaker's strengths—crisp high-mids give the drum loop the punchy attack it needs to cut through the layers of the beat, and allow the vocals a clean, clear delivery, while a powerful lower frequency presence gives the drum loop some added heft and gives us a sense of the sub-bass synth hits, even if we can't experience their full power due to the speaker's size. At top volumes, there's no distortion, and the bass is still quite powerful.
Orchestral tracks, like the opening scene from John Adams' The Gospel According to the Other Mary, receive far more lower frequency boosting than needed, which brings the lower register instrumentation to the forefront of the mix. Again, outdoors, bold moves like this will sound a little more natural, but indoors, the speaker sounds wildly sculpted. Bass lovers may love the sound signature, but it's not for those seeking an accurate portrayal of the mix.
The Soundcast VG3 generally sounds quite good for a speaker its size, even if it does distort on some deep bass tracks. But it's hard to stomach the $300 price when there are excellent options of similar or better audio quality and outdoor-friendliness for significantly less money, like the JBL Charge 3, the Sony SRS-XB40, and the Bose SoundLink Revolve. I wouldn't go as far as to say any of these options wildly outperform the VG3, but for nearly half the price, you can't go wrong. If you're looking to spend even less money, meanwhile, the EcoXGear EcoCarbon delivers decent audio in a durable build.
About the Author
Contributing Editor, Audio
Contributing Editor Tim Gideon has been writing for PCMag since 2006. He specializes in reviewing audio products, and is obsessed with headphones, speakers, and recording gear.
More From Tim
JBL Bar 2.1
JBL Reflect Mini 2
Shinola Canfield Pro In-Ear Monitors
Ikea Eneby (8-Inch)
Subscribe to the newsletter news
We hate SPAM and promise to keep your email address safe