I’ve long been a big fan of DALI (Danish Audiophile Loudspeaker Industries) audio gear, not only for its generally outstanding performance, but also for its elegant Danish design. TechHive has reviewed several DALI products, including the Rubicon 6 speaker, IO-6 headphone, and Katch One soundbar.
Now, it’s time to turn our attention to the original Katch, a portable Bluetooth speaker that shares its design aesthetic with the newer Katch One. But does it also share its performance characteristics with the soundbar? In many ways, yes.
This review is part of TechHive’s coverage of the best Bluetooth speakers, where you’ll find reviews of competing products, plus a buyer’s guide to the features you should consider when shopping for this type of product.
The Katch and Katch One look very similar, with the same super-slim oval cabinet. The only obvious differences are the grille—crosshatched plastic on the Katch, cloth on the Katch One—and the fact that the Katch One is more than three times longer than the Katch (5.8 x 33.9 x 2.7 inches for the Katch One versus 5.4 x 10.6 x 1.9 inches for the Katch, HxWxD). Also, the Katch weighs in at 2.4 pounds, which is less than a third the weight of the Katch One. Finally, the Katch is available in five colors, while the Katch One comes only in black or white.
Derived from DALI’s Fazon series, the cabinet incorporates an extruded-aluminum body that is said to allow a thin structure that maximizes internal volume without compromising rigidity. According to the company, matching the aluminum body with a composite front and rear baffle eliminates any potential internal resonance, so the cabinet does not add unwanted acoustic energy to the sound generated by the drivers.
Speaking of drivers, the Katch uses the same ones as the Katch One, just not as many. The smaller model includes two 0.8-inch soft-textile dome tweeters with neodymium magnets, and two 3.5-inch aluminum-cone woofers with a textile cap. In addition, there are two 3×2-inch steel-cone passive radiators in the otherwise closed cabinet. The shallow woofers are said to allow the full excursion of a conventional woofer by using a specially designed chassis, inverted diaphragm, and custom spider suspension.
One tweeter, woofer, and passive radiator face forward, while the other trio of drivers face backward. I suspect this configuration is intended to distribute sound evenly throughout a room or outdoor space. If you place it near a wall or other large surface, the bass will be boosted, which might or might not be a good thing, depending on your preference.
Two 25W Class-D amplifiers power the drivers, and the specified frequency response extends from 49Hz to 23kHz (±3 dB) with a maximum output of 95dB SPL. In addition, the DSP (digital signal processing) provides two sound modes: Clear and Warm. Clear is said to offer a neutral frequency response, while Warm boosts the bass.
The primary input is Bluetooth 4.0 with support for the aptX high-quality codec. Plus, you can pair a Bluetooth source with the Katch wirelessly using NFC (near-field communication) if the source device supports it. A 3.5mm stereo analog-audio input lets you connect non-Bluetooth devices, and the Katch automatically switches to that input when it senses a signal there. Fortunately, you can manually toggle between Bluetooth and the analog input. Finally, a USB Type-A port lets you charge a USB device (5V/1A), and you can also connect a Chromecast dongle to the USB port, which is a nice feature.
As I was looking through the manual and specifications, I noticed brief mentions of a Stereo Pair Mode, which lets you link two speakers into a stereo pair, but I couldn’t find anything more about it. The manual refers the reader to section 6.5, but there is no such section in the printed or online manual. When I asked DALI about it, I was directed to a third-party manual site, where the Katch manual does have section 6.5 explaining Stereo Pair Mode. I didn’t have two units, so I couldn’t try it, but it’s very odd that this feature is not fully documented on the DALI website or in the included manual.
The rechargeable battery is rated at 2400mAh, which allows the Katch to play for up to 24 hours on a single charge. Even better, charging takes only two hours, and the included power cord includes adapters for various AC outlets in different parts of the world.
Control is simple using the five buttons on the top of the unit. These include power on/off, volume up, volume down, sound-mode selection, and Bluetooth pairing; that last button also toggles between the Bluetooth and 3.5mm input. The power button is surrounded by four quarter-circular LEDs that indicate battery-charge status, volume, selected sound mode, and Bluetooth pairing status.
For most of my listening, I placed the Katch on a table far from any wall or other vertical surface. As usual, I played tracks in the Tidal Master library of uncompressed, high-resolution music from my iPhone XS via Bluetooth.
I’m a huge fan of Jacob Collier, a 26-year-old musical wunderkind who sings most of the vocals, plays most of the instruments, and composes most of the material on his amazing albums. He also does highly imaginative covers, such as “Moon River” from Djesse Vol. 2, a dense a cappella vocal arrangement. On the Katch, the overall sound was a bit closed in; it immediately struck me as coming from a small box. The vocals, however, were clear and natural, with pretty good balance from low to high. I listened with both sound modes—Clear and Warm—and Warm mode was slightly louder with a bit more bass, but it wasn’t a big difference.
I had much the same impression listening to the 2014 remaster of “It’s Good to be King” by Tom Petty from Wildflowers & All The Rest. The sound was clearly coming from a box, and it was a bit thin and bright. The Warm mode was fuller, but the bass was still slightly weak, while the vocals and electric guitar were very clear and up front, and the high-frequency elements of the drums (e.g., cymbals and snare harmonics) were quite prominent.
Next up was “Seven Bridges Road” from Eagles Live at the Forum MMXVIII. After more comparisons of the Clear and Warm modes, I ended up preferring Warm; Clear mode sounded too thin. But even in Warm mode, the sound was clearly coming from a small box, and the bass was weak. Then again, the vocals were nice and clean.
For some modern pop/rock, I cued up “Enigma” by Lady Gaga from Chromatica, which includes lots of synthesizers. As before, the vocals were clean and clear, but the overall sound was thin with weak bass.
As I was looking around Tidal, I came across an album called Blue Note Re:imagined, which includes jazz classics performed by new artists. Herbie Hancock’s “Maiden Voyage” is dramatically reimagined by Mr. Jukes—it’s recognizable, but just barely! On the Katch, the sound was thin and clear with relatively weak bass, and the high-frequency components of the drums were very prominent.
I found an entire album of reimagined Herbie Hancock tunes on guitarist Lionel Loueke’s HH. He performs “Dolphin Dance” on solo acoustic guitar, which sounds clean and clear. Interestingly, the thinness I had heard before was not nearly as evident here, though the sound was relatively bright.
Turning to classical, I listened to the first movement of Elgar’s Falstaff, Op. 68, as performed by Staatkapelle Berlin under the direction of Daniel Barenboim. Unfortunately, the Katch did not do justice to a full orchestra, sounding quite thin with weak bass. It was a little better with solo piano; specifically, Lang Lang playing Variato 4 from Bach’s Goldberg Variations. The piano sounded clean, but still thin.
During my listening, I tried placing the Katch up against a wall to see if the sound would fatten up. The closer it got to the wall, the more the bass increased, and the sound did get richer and fuller. But I had to put it very close to the wall to hear much difference.
Comparison with Urbanears Rålis
The most comparable product I had on hand for this review was the Urbanears Rålis, reviewed here. Both are portable Bluetooth speakers from Scandinavia, though the Rålis is larger, heavier, and less than half the price of the Katch.
Listening to each of the tracks listed above, the Rålis sounded bigger, richer, and fuller with more bass—in some cases, perhaps a bit too much. Also, the bass was sometimes slightly congested, and the highs were less prominent. It certainly did a better job on the orchestral selection. Interestingly, both speakers have about the same specified bass extension (50-Hz for the Rålis versus 49Hz for the Katch).
Even with the caveats, I ended up preferring the sound of the Rålis with its big, rich sound over the Katch’s thin, clear, bright sound with less bass than I generally prefer. And I couldn’t shake the sense that its sound seemed to come entirely from a small box, while the Rålis’ sound extended a bit beyond its physical boundaries.
Don’t get me wrong—the DALI Katch doesn’t sound bad per se. On the plus side is a clean, clear, bright sound that’s sure to carry throughout just about any gathering. I especially like its reproduction of vocals. But the bass is generally weak, even in Warm mode, and the only way to improve that is to place the speaker right up against a wall. Also, the sound appears to come entirely from its small cabinet.
As I hinted at the top, the Katch shares some performance attributes with its larger soundbar cousin, the Katch One. Quoting from my review of that product, “It must be placed up against a wall or other large, flat surface to sound its best; it sounds pretty wimpy when freestanding away from the wall. With the right placement, its sound is clean, open, and well balanced, though it’s a tad on the bright side.”
The Katch’s small size, light weight, and long battery life are big advantages in terms of portability. By contrast, the Rålis is much larger and heavier. On the other hand, the Rålis lists for $199, a mere 40 percent of the Katch’s list price of $499.
If you appreciate Danish design and clean, bright sound from a portable speaker—and you have the budget—the DALI Katch is a good choice. But if you prefer a warmer, fuller, richer sound, I’d look elsewhere.