LAS VEGAS, CES 2013 – When I videochatted over Skype with one of Belkin‘s PR people a few days ago, I told them I was dumbfounded at the sound coming from the tiny speakers built into the pre-production Thunderstorm case they sent me to play around with (the review notes I scrawled down actually read “pretty fucking amazed with this thing”). Nate, whose face I could see gazing at me from Belkin’s Los Angeles office, seemed stoic. “Invariably people have that same reaction… we call it ‘the thirty seconds of wow.’ ”
Before we get to the reason behind the reactions, a short desription. The Thunderstorm is a rather bulky case with a thick, molded plastic back that fits the iPad 2 and 3. There’s a detachable front cover that doubles as a three-position stand for the case. A latch snaps the case’s 30-pin connector (fret not, iPad 4 owners, a Lightning version is coming this spring) in place, which connects the iPad to the case’s speakers. Charging for both the iPad and the case’s lithium-ion battery are handled through a power-adapter port. Power, volume and mute controls line the outside of the case. Belkin says the lithium-ion battery inside should last for “playing it really loud, and watching two Godfathers.”
Now the speaker, which runs along the bottom edge of the Thunderstorm (when the iPad is in landscape orientation). There are actually three separate speakers: A central bass port, flanked by two tweeters. The bass port include ducting that winds around the interior of the case (one reason for the bulk) to increase the amount of bass response. But the real magic, says Belkin, comes courtesy of Audifi, who provided the Thunderstorm’s custom chip. Audifi has digitally manipulated the sound coming from the Thunderstorm to create the effect of speakers with vastly more separation than the case’s tiny speakers seem capable of; think 2.1 theater-quality sound for your iPad.
The result is so eerily effective, at one point while watching a TV show on Netflix I actually had to repeatedly pause playback to make sure the sound wasn’t coming from somewhere else inside my house. Movies and games were exponentially improved, though music not as much.
The Thunderstorm will sell for $200 when it arrives later this month. We’ll have a full review a little later.