Belkin SoundForm Elite Hi-Fi smart speaker review: The case of the missing midrange

My thoughts about the Belkin SoundForm Elite Hi-Fi Smart Speaker + Wireless Charging can be distilled in a single word: boring. Listening to a $300 speaker should be exciting. Listening to this one elicited a very different emotional response: indifference.

Belkin doesn’t have a track record of building great audio equipment, but its partner on this project—the French audiophile company Devialet—most certainly does. The Devialet Phantom blew my mind when I reviewed it five years ago. So, I had high hopes when I learned Belkin had enlisted that company’s expertise to develop something more mainstream.

This review is part of TechHive’s coverage of the best smart speakers,  where you’ll find reviews of competing products, plus a buyer’s guide to the features you should consider when shopping.

Intense bass response was one of the Phantom’s highlights, utilizing a push-push architecture to minimize unwanted vibration while reproducing low frequencies. The SoundForm Elite takes this same approach, and it’s no slouch in that department. You won’t feel the lows in your core, but there’s only so much that engineers can do with an enclosure that measures 6.4 x 6.4 x 6.63 inches (WxDxH).

Belkin’s pursuit of low-end performance becomes obvious when you examine the SoundForm Elite’s driver configuration: a single 35mm full-range driver (about 1.38 inches) powered by a 30-watt amplifier, paired with dual 70mm woofers (about 2.75 inches) that get 60 watts each. Note that these specs are peak power ratings, not RMS.

That said, the speaker gets plenty loud for its size: Belkin claims sound pressure level of 90dB, plus or minus 3dB, and the speaker had no problem filling my 13 x 19 x 9-foot (WxDxH) home theater with sound; it’s just that the sound was dull as dishwater, despite its claimed frequency response of 40Hz to 20kHz (no tolerance given).

soundform elite controls Michael Brown / IDG

The SoundForm Elite has touch-surface controls for volume, play/pause, Bluetooth pairing, and mic muting.

Listening tests

Listening to Steely Dan’s “Cousin Dupree,” from the band’s Two Against Nature, the speaker’s midrange was severely muted. The snap of the drummer striking the snare drum, for example, sounded as though he had laid cheese cloth over the drumhead—the sound was absolutely muffled. Donald Fagen’s vocals were also impacted; he sounded like he was singing through a six-inch stack of pop filters.

Annie Lennox’s vocals fare a little better on “Precious,” from her album Diva, but the strings sounded so far back in the mix that they all but disappeared. One thing that did impress me was the SoundForm Elite’s ability to hear the “Hey Google” wake word even while playing music at full volume.

Belkin doesn’t provide an app (apart from Google Home), so you’ll need to use something like Plex to stream music you own from a home server or NAS box. I suspect, however, that Belkin expects most people to use a streaming service like YouTube Music, Spotify, or Tidal. I used the latter to “cast” HiFi tracks to the speaker from my Pixel 2 XL, and later from an iPad mini. The speaker is no slouch in the Wi-Fi department, with a dual-band 802.11ac Wi-Fi adapter onboard. It also supports Bluetooth 5, if you find it easier to stream music that way.