Lately, we’ve seen a slew of wireless speakers hit the market, be they Bluetooth options or systems that use Apple’s AirPlay. Several, like the Denon Cocoon Portable, attempt to sweeten the deal of wireless music even more by adding rechargeable portability as a feature, as well as Android and Windows streaming compatibility. At $499.99 (direct), however, you’d expect the Cocoon Portable to offer powerful, distortion-free audio, and unfortunately, that isn’t always the case. Deep bass tracks cause substantial distortion at top volumes, making the system’s otherwise solid feature set a bit less compelling.
As far as AirPlay docks go, the 7.1-by-13.8-by-5.4-inch (HWD), 7.3-pound Denon Cocoon Portable doesn’t break any new territory, at least visually. The main color scheme is the seemingly Apple-ordained black with metallic accents that nearly every other AirPlay option uses. But the portable speaker is easy to carry around with its built-in handle, and its contour is water and sand resistant, to boot.
Unlike the majority of AirPlay speakers, the Cocoon Portable also has an actual built-in charging dock. The docking tray pops out when you press it and houses an LED status display, which scrolls artist and song title info when streaming from an iOS device or when one is docked.
Across the top panel, a series of touch sensitive buttons controls Playback, Volume, and whatever your sound source is—it switches between radio presets and whatever device you’re streaming from or have docked.
The metallic mesh speaker grille covers the rounded front panel and hides two 25-watt, 4-inch drivers. Along the back panel, there’s a power adapter connection for the included power supply, a 3.5mm Aux input, an Ethernet port, buttons labeled Netlink and WPS (both used during set-up), a Loudness button (more on that later), and the Power switch.
The manual is included on a CD, which is useless for several devices this speaker is designed to work with, including some recent computers, so I don’t really understand the logic there. Also included is a small, membrane-buttoned remote control with Power, Volume, Play/Pause, Track Navigation, and Sound Source, but it lacks full menu navigation. This would be more of an annoyance if you couldn’t just use your device’s on-screen controls to navigate menus—since you’ll likely be streaming, your device is basically its own remote control. There’s a nook on the back panel for storing the remote.
Setting up the Cocoon Portable to stream wireless audio from an iOS device is simple—dock it, download the Denon app when you’re prompted to, and follow the simple instructions. You’ll need a Wi-Fi network and its password, but that’s about all you need to have handy. The Netlink button on the back exists for routers that don’t support WPS—press it and follow the instructions on the app. The app also doubles as an alarm clock, which is useful if you keep the Cocoon near your bed and want to wake up listening to music.
The system supports streaming via Apple’s AirPlay, but it also supports Android devices, and streaming from most Windows computers. Denon estimates the rechargeable battery has a roughly 5 hour life on a full charge.
In terms of controlling it, the Cocoon can be a bit of a troublemaker. My docked iPhone 4S, with no AirPlay or Wi-Fi involved, would often respond to on-display volume adjustments to the phone with a multiple-second delay. So you think you’re turning it up, but after a few seconds and no result, you boost things a little more, and then a few seconds later, your actions catch up with you and you end up blasting the speakers or cutting their volume more drastically than intended. Using AirPlay causes similar delays.
The loudness button is a relic of older times—it adds a bass boost boost and some digital signal processing when you listen at lower volumes, and does something similar at higher volumes, too. It’s a fairly harmless, but unnecessary, feature, as the Cocoon Portable sounds crisper and clearer with the Loudness button not engaged.
As for audio performance, the Cocoon Portable sounds just fine at moderate-to-loud volumes. But when you really pump the volume, expect distortion to rear its ugly head on tracks with deep bass, regardless of whether the Loudness button is engaged. At maximum volume, the Knife’s “Silent Shout” becomes a crackling, fuzzy, distorting mess, and even at about 85 percent, things are dicey. This isn’t shocking when you look at the Cocoon Portable itself—it’s not tiny, but it is lightweight and designed to be portable. It doesn’t have the look or feel of an extremely powerful speaker system.
You’ll never mistake the Cocoon Portable for a system with a built-in subwoofer, but its bass performance is not anemic, either. The real strength of its audio performance is the delivery of low-mid and high-mid frequencies; bass guitars, vocals, and middle-register instruments have the majority of the spotlight here. Rock and pop is delivered with crisp highs and enough low-end presence to round things out nicely.
On classical tracks, like John Adams’ “The Chairman Dances,” the highs and mids are delivered with a nice treble edge to them. The higher register strings and percussion are never overly bright, but are definitely the stars of the mix. Lower register strings are delivered with a tiny bit of bass boost, but nothing that makes them sound muddy or over-the-top. if anything, it’s the highs that sound a tad over-boosted, but it helps keep things articulate. The Loudness button adds a bit of spacial sense and depth to the sound, as well as some brightness, but nothing extra is really needed to begin with, so we recommend keeping it off. Especially on this track, it seemed to add so much brightness that the shakers in the background were almost hissing.
Jay-Z and Kanye West’s “No Church in the Wild,” when played at moderate volumes, is reproduced with a sharp treble edge on the attack of the kick drum loop, while the sub-bass synth part that plays beneath the beat is delivered with subtlety. Again, this system is not really for bass lovers. Hip hop tracks like this one don’t sound bad, but the vocals and mid-range aspects of the mix are the elements that stand out most; the low frequencies are there, but take a secondary role. At top volumes, this track also distorts.
The built-in Internet radio options are nice, but the touch sensitive buttons on the top control panel are also slow to respond, so actually switching between stations and creating presets is a bit of an annoyance. Regardless, the inclusion of Internet radio, along with three presets, is a plus, and you can also access the stations via the free Denon controller app.
So, the portability, water resistance, Internet radio, and rechargeable battery add convenience to the Apple, Android, and PC-friendly streaming Cocoon. It reminds us of another recent multi-faceted streaming system, the Pioneer A3 (XW-SMA3-K). Both speaker units offer excellent extra features, but the sound performance is not necessarily a huge strength.
It’s more Denon’s pricing that seems off. The Cocoon Portable is priced like a system that is more powerful and won’t distort at top volumes, thanks in part to the wireless functionality and portability. If you’re looking for a booming bass system that’s also portable, the Cocoon Portable is not it. If you don’t listen to much music with deep bass content and you plan to listen at more moderate levels, the audio performance is far more forgiving, and even sounds like a high quality system.
If you’re looking for a wireless portable speaker with booming bass, consider the Beats by Dr. Dre Beatbox Portable. For a more refined, less booming audio experience, the wireless Libratone Zipp is a solid, stylish choice. And if you’re looking for a smaller, more easily portable wireless option without sacrificing too much audio performance, the Bose SoundLink Wireless Mobile Speakeris a strong Bluetooth choice that’s easy to pack. For the money, the Denon Cocoon Portable offers several laudable features, but it’s hard to get past the distortion issues at high volumes.
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|Wireless Remote Control||Yes|
|Power Rating (Left and Right, Each)||2x25 watts RMS|
|Type||iPod, Home Theater, Computer, Wireless, iPad, iPhone, Android|
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc