Placing the Katch on the table in front of us, we get our first feel of what $390 buys you; satisfyingly weighty, but not forgoing its portability, and seemingly robust while remaining easy on the eye.
It’s less industrious looking than its Dali bedfellow, the Award-winning Dali Kubik, with an oval face and retractable handle that’s more than a tad reminiscent of Bang & Olufsen’s stylish BeoPlay A2.
Dali Katch - Features
The speaker’s fully digital Class-D amp musters 2 x 25W of power. There’s a Bluetooth 4.0 receiver with high-quality aptX streaming from compatible devices and, thanks to NFC, owners of Android phones will save themselves precious seconds when pairing.
There are two audio profiles that cater for use in different surroundings. The Clear mode has a more neutral frequency response suitable for most listening situations, while Warm mode boosts the bass frequencies for larger rooms.
The driver array includes two 21mm lightweight soft dome tweeters, backed by a strong neodymium magnet with high-power handling and high sensitivity to the tweeter.
Meanwhile, the dual 3.5-inch woofers use a specially designed chassis, inverted aluminium membranes and special spider suspension. These may sound like comic book super powers but they’re actually things that help produce the bass of a traditional woofer within the confines of the shallow cabinet. The woofers are reinforced by two 73 x 52mm passive bass radiators.
The drivers are placed on the front and back of the cabinet, with one tweeter, woofer and radiator on each side. This helps deliver a wider spread of sound.
If you don’t want to play your music via Bluetooth, Dali has also included a 3.5mm aux connection, and there's a USB connector into which it suggests plugging a Chromecast Audio dongle to integrate your home network.
And let’s not overlook battery life: Dali says just two hours of charge is sufficient for up to 24 hours of wireless music playback.
Safe to say that if this Dali’s sound matches its build and spec sheet, we’ll have a very competitive product.
Setup and Operation
Operation is every bit as easy as you’d expect from a Bluetooth speaker. Pairing is problem-free and, helpfully, KATCH remembers devices when you turn them on again later.
Some smartphone users might bemoan the lack of a dedicated app for streaming and EQ tweaking, but that would just overcomplicate matters. Simply use your Bluetooth device to play, skip tracks and adjust volume, or use the top-mounted volume buttons if you’re nearby.
Hit the top button to toggle between the two sound modes – the LEDs light up in two halves to indicate which one is selected. The auto-sensing mini-jack input switches when you plug in the cable, but you can switch back to streaming by pressing the top Bluetooth button.
We began with simple Bluetooth playback from our iPod touch, pairing quickly and confirming with a nice bloopy connection sound. One early portrayal that had our ears pricking up was the alternate take of The Doors’ Riders on the Storm, where the opening bass line emerged from the Katch and filled the corner of the room with its full octave before being joined by a remarkably forward and weighty drum sound, and finally Morrison’s vocal projecting out in front of it all, everything held together as a highly entertaining whole.
Bill Berry’s recording of Ellington’s Take the A Train was also treated beautifully, the acoustic bass a little mild and recessed, but the piano growing in stature through the tune, the horns and solos positively bursting from the Katch with the dynamics of a full-size speaker, even a full sense of the room acoustic — when they say the Katch is “carrying the DALI DNA”, this is presumably what they mean.
Lemon Jelly’s The Staunton Lick jigged along with its jangling guitars rather too projected, and putting some sweeps through the Katch (via the cable input) there did seem to be a few little peaks or resonances up at 9kHz and 11kHz, a few small dips in the bass, but overall impressively well balanced, and with that remarkable frequency claim borne out — useful bass from as low as 40Hz and clean extension up to our hearing limits.
When we ran a channel ID track, the stereo separation was also unusually genuine and effective for a portable unit, so many of which are, as we said, actually mono. But it was backwards — left was right and right was left, through both Bluetooth and the minijack connection. From the DALI logo and the button iconography, you’d assume the strap goes on the left. We hesitate to suggest that DALI has accidentally switched the channels somewhere, but, um, should that be the case, the unit could be firmware updated (the old way, by download and USB) or used facing the other way — there’s one tweeter on each side (see above), so it doesn’t matter sonically at all.
As with all small speakers, positioning greatly affects the sound. We often have to distinguish how products sound depending whether they’re near or far, in free space or by a wall. DALI has very helpfully included a choice of two sound modes to allow some basic adjustment — one is brighter, the other warmer. If the Katch is across the room, or you’re using it outside, you’ll most likely pick the brighter (‘Clear’) sound. If the Katch is closer, on your desktop or bedside table, going ‘Warm’ calms things for a better nearfield balance. Experiment — our favourite spot had the Katch up on a cupboard near a corner with the ‘Clear’ setting.
You switch between the two sound modes using the far right button on top of the unit (if it does go the obvious way round), one of five nice flush-sunk studs. The others are for volume up/down, Bluetooth pairing and power, the last ringed by four lights which give a constant and useful reminder of the Katch’s charge level.
We didn’t notice any sonic penalty for going to battery operation, and in this mode the Katch sensibly turns itself off after a few minutes without an input. You then need to manually press the power button to restart, upon which it reconnects to your device, ready to play.
As for volume, this was for us a speaker that, like real hi-fi, tended to find its own level. When we played the modern recording of Gershwin’s own piano roll of Rhapsody in Blue, there was a level at which the piano sounded real — below it was too quiet to enjoy, above it got peaky. Some Mozart (Neville Marriner on Philips) was the same — a level just below room-filling had the Katch sounding its best, though orchestral strings were one element for which the Katch lacked a bit of richness in the low mids. Its sonic beauty thinned a bit with pop and rock played at high levels — complexity congested, bass levels unable to keep up with the midrange, unbalancing the sound.
There is an option of pairing two Katches as a stereo pair — this always lifts power and clarity dramatically, but we didn’t have a second unit to try it. As a single unit, it is at medium levels that the Katch sounds its best, and its best is impressively close to a hi-fi performance.
Stream a few tracks to the KATCH and you’ll immediately hear exactly where your money has gone. It’s a dazzling performer, not just for a Bluetooth speaker but for any type of speaker. It offers the sort of muscular, multi-layered sound that really has no place coming from such a slim cabinet.
What jumps out is how loud it plays. Hold down the volume “+” key and it just keeps going up and up and up. Before you know it there’s a huge, authoritative sound filling the room, with none of the chuffing or hardness you’d normally associate with a cheap Bluetooth speaker. It holds its composure with ease; the sound remains clear and focused.
So when you play tracks with big drum beats and epic guitar riffs, KATCH gives them scale and authority. Its dynamics and rhythmic savvy are remarkable – it really gets to grips with the ebb and flow of a fast-paced dance tune, never flapping as it tackles dense productions.
DALI’s drivers might not have much room to manoeuvre, but they can certainly move air. There’s plenty of bass, which thumps forth with tremendous heft, while the bold mid-range adds body to voices and instruments.
To find out, we connect a Mac via Bluetooth, which is easily found and connects automatically each subsequent time both devices are powered on.
We load up Tidal to play Godspeed You! Black Emperor’s Asunder, Sweet and Other Distress and are taken aback with each bar of the drum kit’s crescendo that starts the album on Peasantry or ‘Light! Inside of Light!’
Not only because the Dali Katch seemingly always has room to go further, defying its size with colossal thumps, but also because dynamically it fills us with anticipation for the grimy waltz-like riff that is to come.
When that riff finally arrives, the Dali is far from overawed by the track’s demanding instrumentation; there’s plenty of detail picked out from sawing guitars and multi-tracked strings, digging deep into the soil of wails and drones that tail off each phrase.
The size of the sound is quite simply incredible for something of the Katch’s stature.
There are further adventures in detail and dynamics with the record’s second track, Lambs’ Breath. At only eight seconds shy of ten minutes, and composed entirely of unsettling drones, it is decidedly not an easy listen.
Often we might consider it too harsh a task for a portable wireless speaker, even one costing this much; they’re really just for spitting out dance music at parties, right?
But this Dali Katch speaker is fantastically aware of the subtleties of each sustain, showing it has the versatility to go big on the first track, and also analyse the slowly moving tides of this one.
Let’s not get carried away, you won’t be replacing your entire hi-fi with this one speaker, but you’ll certainly be clearing bookshelves to find it a permanent home.
Switch to Ghostpoet’s remarkable Shedding Skin and Dali’s aptitude is proven to go beyond the instrumental.
Obaro Ejimiwe’s vocal delivery is characteristically relaxed, but the Katch still gives it a velvety, expressive dimension, not to mention loads of body.
Harmonies on tracks such as Be Right Back, Moving House are spacious enough to pick out different vocal timbres but tied together smoothly to deliver a real, immersive sound.
At $400, the Dali Katch is pretty pricey, but there are plenty of alternatives if you don’t want to spend quite as much. If it’s purely portable Bluetooth speakers you’re looking for, for instance, consider the Bose SoundLink Revolve Plus. It’s cheaper at $330 and, while it may not quite match the Katch for sound purity and agility, it’s bassier, and water-resistant to boot.
The Libratone Zipp ($250) doesn’t compete on outright sound quality either, but is more flexible than the Katch, supporting Apple AirPlay and Spotify Connect over Wi-Fi as well as Bluetooth 4 connections with aptX. Then there’s the KEF Muo, which sounds almost as good but can’t match the Katch’s scale and power.
Finally, we have the Apple HomePod which, although limited on the smart side of things (and not strictly a Bluetooth speaker like the Dali), delivers the most rounded, balanced sound I’ve heard from any wireless speaker. It costs $360 but needs an Apple tablet or phone to make the most of its other, smart features.