Vizio Crave 360 SmartCast Wireless Networked Speaker Review

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Vizio has a reputation for designing products that offer comparatively high performance for the dollar, especially when it comes to flat-panel displays and soundbars. The company recently expanded its product offerings with two networked lifestyle audio speakers: the Crave 360 ($250) and Crave Pro ($300). The Crave 360 is the smaller model and is designed to be portable, but it also comes with a charging dock that allows continuous operation with plug-in power.

For this review, I compared the overall fidelity of the Crave 360 to Denon’s Heos 1 speaker ($200) as well as the Sonos Play:1 speaker ($200). While both cost less than the Vizio, they are smaller, monophonic speakers that lack a built-in battery. However, Denon does offer an attachable “Go Pack” battery for the Heos 1 for $100. Read on to find out how Vizio’s entry into the lifestyle wireless-speaker category performs and how it stands up to the competition.

Features and Specifications

Standing 10″ high with a 4.9″ diameter, the Crave 360 is fairly large for a portable wireless-speaker system. It’s a modern-looking cylindrical speaker made of a satin-aluminum alloy, cloth, and glass. The look and feel says luxury, and I would rate it as being more attractive than either the Play:1 or the Heos 1. The wraparound metal grill on the Vizio is actually reminiscent of the seamless metal grill on the Sonos.

Vizio says the 360’s five custom drivers can combine to produce up to 95 dB of “dynamic sound” with “50 Hz bass.” The speaker sports four 1.5″ full-range drivers that provide 360-degree coverage, plus one 3.5″ downward-facing bass driver that’s located in its own sealed chamber. The speaker comes with a charging base and can run for up to eight hours on a full charge at 74 dB average output (C-weighted). It works with either Wi-Fi (802.11n) or Bluetooth and includes a leather carrying strap for easy portability.

Vizio’s SmartCast app can be used to control the Crave 360, and you can also control it directly with Google Cast-enabled apps. SmartCast offers content aggregation and brings together multiple compatible devices to create a unified ecosystem for search and playback of content.

The entire top of the speaker is a glass touch-sensitive dial that supports tap-to-play and swipe-to-skip, and you rotate it to increase or decrease the volume level. An Ethernet port facilitates use in a fixed location that is not dependent on Wi-Fi, and a USB port lets it play files from a thumb drive, albeit without any sort of display with which to search for tracks. (The SmartCast app can’t do this, either.)

The Crave 360 is a Google Cast-compatible device, and this crucial capability allows it to serve as part of a multi-room networked audio system. With Google Cast, you can assign speakers to groups and cast to individual speakers or groups of speakers from thousands of compatible apps. The system is flexible enough to handle usage scenarios that include playing different songs in different rooms or playing the same music in all rooms. Furthermore, the Crave 360 can coexist on a network with other Google Cast devices like Vizio’s SmartCast TVs and soundbars, not to mention Google’s Chromecast Audio streamer.


The Crave 360 speaker depends on its dock for power. The USB and Ethernet ports are located on the rear of the unit. Photo by Mark Henninger

One major area where the Vizio deviates from the Denon or Sonos speakers is its lack of a threaded socket for mounting with a bracket. Furthermore, the Crave 360 depends on its dock for power, whereas you plug a power cable directly into the other two speakers. This makes the Vizio ideal for placement on shelves, desks, countertops, and end tables, but not so much for mounting up high on a wall.

Performance

Fans of high-fidelity music reproduction need to reset their expectations when dealing with compact lifestyle speakers. This is not a system that will satiate an audiophile’s deep craving for ultimate fidelity, or make a bassaholic nod their head in respect. But, it makes a perfect companion for cooking breakfast on Sunday morning, providing background tunes for a party, or taking on a picnic.


The Crave 360 is a great kitchen companion. Photo by Mark Henninger

The Crave 360 also turned out to be a viable alternative to the Sonos Play:1 and Denon Heos 1 speakers when serving as part of a multi-room networked-audio system. Indeed, I’d argue that the open nature of Google Cast makes it a very appealing. Setup was just as fast and easy as with Sonos, and a bit faster than with Denon Heos—all three systems took just a couple of minutes from power up to the point they were streaming music.

I took some quick readings using Room EQ Wizard and a miniDSP UMIK-1 USB mic to see how the three speakers compared, and the results coincided with my initial subjective observations. Vizio’s speaker possesses measurably better bass extension and flatter response in the treble region, as compared to the Sonos Play:1. The same observation holds for the Denon Heos 1, but there was less of a performance gap in that case.


The Crave 360 beat the Heos 1 and Play:1 speakers when it came to bass extension, but not peak output. Photo by Mark Henninger

When it came to bass extension, the Crave 360 lived up to its claim of providing extension down to 50 Hz, easily beating the other two speakers in that metric. The Play:1 and Heos 1 both quit trying at around 80 Hz.

The Crave 360’s peak output, as measured from one meter away, was lower than either of the other two speakers. However, the gap was only about 2 dB, and because the Crave 360 is radiating in all directions—unlike the other two speakers—it sounds as loud as the others.

Despite the claim that the Crave 360 is a 2.1 system, there’s no real stereo soundfield to speak of. Notably, unlike the Denon and Sonos speakers, you can’t use two Crave 360s as a stereo pair.

A major performance parameter for any wireless speaker is Wi-Fi range. I have no way to measure the exact limits of the Crave 360’s wireless range, but there was no place in my home where it did not immediately connect to my network and stream reliably. This was in contrast to the Heos 1 and Play:1 speakers, which would sometimes struggle to connect when located at the farthest point from the router in my home, which is about 50 feet—two rooms and one floor away.

Sound quality was pleasant for a device of this type. It’s not going to be the number-one consideration for such a product, but it’s worth noting that the Vizio genuinely sounds better and measures better than the Denon Heos 1, or the Sonos Play:1. This advantage comes at the cost of a few dB of peak output, but even that is only because the other speakers are not omnidirectional. Unlike the other two speakers, the Crave 360 sounds crisp no matter where you stand relative to it.

Listening to music with the Crave 360 was more fun than I had anticipated. It’s better than a lot of computer speakers I have heard, and it’s 3.5″ bass driver did its very best to pound out a genuinely surprising amount of bass for a device of its size.

I used Google Play as my streaming source. “Welcome to Los Santos” featuring MC Eiht and Kokane sounded surprisingly unencumbered, with a driving bassline and plenty of sparkle. Meanwhile, DJ Cam Quartet’s “Espionage” from The Soulshine Session sounded better than decent; every note of the bass was reproduced with a tightness and depth that was commendable for a wireless speaker, while the cymbals, sax, and piano came through with non-fatiguing clarity.

I could—just barely—feel a bit of physical vibration from the bass. “Friends and Enemies,” from the same album, showed off its surprising ability to parse out layered recordings in an engaging manner.

“You Wish” by Nightmares on Wax, turned up loud enough to be more than just background music, sounded surprisingly full and detailed. Don’t get me wrong, it pales compared to a decent stereo system, but it’s absolutely better than you’d expect from a lifestyle speaker.

The most notable aspect of the Crave 360’s performance was how effectively the 360-degree dispersion works. The speaker’s tonality stayed consistent regardless of where I was in a room.

Conclusion

There are many options out there when it comes to wireless, rechargeable, and Bluetooth speakers. Vizio’s take on this type of product is a strong entry that can be used as part of a multi-room system at home with Google Cast or as a rechargeable, portable Bluetooth speaker that also plays music stored on USB flash drives.

It’s well-made, attractive, and because it relies on Google Cast, it’s not going to be obsoleted anytime soon. Indeed, the best thing about networked speakers is that their capability grows as the software controlling it matures.

On the design side of things, the Crave 360 looks so good, it got the ultimate seal of approval—that of my spouse. It’s a speaker that sounds good, goes anywhere, is easy to use, and can act as part of a multi-room audio system. You can’t ask for much more out of a wireless, networked, lifestyle-audio device. If Vizio’s portable speaker sounds like what you’ve been looking for, it’s worth checking out.