Insomniac Sleep Machine

For a journalist and critic, sleeping with your subjects is a potential conflict of interest, not to mention a monumental act of bad taste. But that’s what I’ve been doing with the OontZ Angle 3 Plus. This little portable speaker is my new bedtime music companion.

I was drawn to the OontZ because for me, bedtime music is a medical necessity. I have chronic insomnia. Without enhancers, I would sleep two or three hours every two or three nights. No one can go on like that. Drugs helped, for a while, but I reached the point where the elephant tranquilizers I was taking to bludgeon myself to sleep were losing effectiveness. Rather than increase the dose, I looked for enhancers. A blackout curtain helped. Slow, chiming music also became an indispensable part of my sleep regimen.

It has been 13 years since I’ve last written about this subject. I wrote about the Altec Lansing inMotion im600 twice that year. First I reviewed it. A few months later I announced that it had become my favorite means of playing music while falling asleep. It has faithfully lulled me to sleep ever since (with occasional help from a Soundmatters FoxL Dash 7).

At one point I had as many as three Altec units, the review sample and two more I bought. Since then one developed a mechanical buzz and had to be discarded. Another lost so much battery life as to become unusable, and two attempts to replace the battery failed. I was down to one Altec with two or three nights worth of running time when I bought the OontZ Angle 3 Plus. The OontZ brand arose out of Cambridge SoundWorks, a well-known loudspeaker maker.

Two features were crucial in my selection. First, because the single power outlet in my bedroom is not where my bedtime music system needs it to be, I need to use a battery-powered speaker. And because there are few chores I loathe as much as recharging hungry little batteries — see this token of my distaste — I need the speaker to run as long as possible on a charge so that I won’t have to mess with it more than once a week, assuming 60 minutes of playing time per night.

The OontZ far exceeds my requirements. It is rated to run an incredible 30 hours per charge when playing at two-thirds of maximum volume. In that respect it outpaces other OontZ products as well as most other portable speakers on the market. (If you know of something else that runs longer, let me hear about it in the comments section.)

Because I don’t want to damage the battery by running it all the way down, I usually wait no more than two weeks before recharging the OontZ. That comes to 14 hours, or about half of the rated playing time. Once every few nights I awaken in the middle of the night and go for another hour of music, so two weeks of active duty would come to roughly 20 hours out of the rated 30 — still a good margin of error.

The Angle 3 Plus is a triangular solid 6.5 inches wide and fewer than three inches high and long. The enclosure is plastic with perforated metal speaker grille and rubber end caps that are pleasing to the touch. It is not heavy but feels solid. Rubber-clad membrane controls are on one side. They include power, volume up, volume down, play, back, forward, and a Bluetooth pairing button.

Anti-wireless scofflaw that I am, I don’t use the Bluetooth function. Instead I use a short KabelDirekt mini-plug cable to link a gaggle of music players to the analog stereo mini-jack that sits beneath a rubber hatch near the controls, along with the USB-Micro jack used for charging. That way I don’t have to worry about running down my phone battery — or running out of music.

The music players include a vintage Astell & Kern AK100, the company’s first product and still a sterling performer, along with an AK Jr. I’ve also got a couple of ancient SanDisk Sansa players which continue to amaze with miracles of longevity — the older of the two has been in regular use for 13 years. Because they’re a lot thicker than most Apple products, they have room for bigger batteries that help them run longer.

The lone survivor of my fleet of iPods is a sixth-generation nano, the one with a touchscreen the size of a postage stamp. My three other iPod nanos and first-gen touch are essentially dead — their slim form factors were pleasing to the eye but did not leave room for batteries that would stand the test of time. When the 6G nano and a slowing iPad mini give up the ghost, my divorce from the Apple ecosystem, with its unconscionable planned obsolescence, will be complete.

Top: Altec Lansing im600. Middle: OontZ Angle 3 Plus. Bottom left to right: iPod nano 6G, SanDisk Sansa Fuze, SanDisk Sansa View, Astell & Kern AK Jr, Astell & Kern AK100.

Back to the OontZ: Two drivers of approximately 1.5–2 inches (at a guess) with neodymium magnets fire out of the front. Because of the unit’s triangular shape, they aim upward at a 45-degree angle. On the bottom is a flat rectangular bass radiator. It is an active driver and when you hold the unit you can feel it vibrating madly. Output power is a total 10 watts of peak power, which is not bad for an active speaker that runs for 30 hours.

The Angle 3 Plus has talents I will never use. It is certified IPX5 water resistant. When connected to a phone, it can serve as a hands-free speakerphone thanks to its built-in mic. And it can play while sitting on its broad base, with the bass driver aiming down, or standing on one triangular end cap. You try singing for 30 hours while standing on one foot. Trust me, it isn’t easy.

The Angle 3 Plus sounded good for its size but delivered a small fraction of the bass output you’d get from a full-size stereo system or even a larger powered speaker. The price of extreme efficiency was that Led Zeppelin’s ace Bonham/Jones rhythm section on “The Ocean” (Houses of the Holy, 24/96 FLAC) was decidedly on the light side. Even the lower strings of Jan Akkerman’s guitar on his all-acoustic Passion album (16/44.1 ALAC) were subdued.

Even so, I don’t play Led Zeppelin at night. I’m more likely to go for piano or chamber music. The OontZ delivered Beethoven’s third piano sonata (Alfred Brendel, 16/44.1 ALAC) with a light treatment of the left hand but a clean, listenable midrange. The slow movement of Schubert’s first piano Trio (Golub/Kaplan/Carr, 16.44.1 ALAC) showed relatively little plasticky coloration on the violin and cello. The top end, crucially with this kind of device, was not harsh or ragged at reasonable volume levels.

The OontZ certainly serves the guitar-synthesizer music I play most nights with commendable clarity and intelligibility. And as long as you don’t expect miracles, it does sound larger than its physical size, and plays as loud as you could reasonably want. I never quite reached the top of its volume limit — my ears gave out before the speaker did.

The OontZ line no longer includes the Angle 3 Plus but it does have a half-dozen models at presstime. The largest is the 11.5-inch-wide Angle Ultra Pro Edition; the smallest is the Angle Solo. Interestingly, none of the current models approaches the 30-hour playing time of the Angle 3 Plus. The one that comes closest is the 20-hour Angle 3 Ultra.

And how will the OontZ stand the test of time? Ask me a decade from now.

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Author of The Friendly Audio Guide and the annually updated Practical Home Theater (quietriverpress.com).

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Mark Fleischmann

Mark Fleischmann

Author of The Friendly Audio Guide and the annually updated Practical Home Theater (quietriverpress.com).

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