If you’ve ever shopped at Ikea, you’re probably familiar with two of its most popular shelves. There’s the Billy, the standard bookshelf seemingly issued to every American just out of college and moving into an apartment, and there’s the Kallax, the shelf system consisting of big squares. The Billy’s great for books, but the Kallax’s cubes are much more versatile. You can put books in them, or storage bins, or even pet condos. And now you can put a big stereo speaker right in one of those squares, where it will fit snugly and provide lots of audio power. That speaker is the $349 Hogtalare, and while it isn’t directly related to Ikea (which offers its own line of speakers, none of which are made for the Kallax), it’s designed to fit perfectly in a Kallax shelf. It delivers solid sound quality, though you can find greater value for the price by shopping outside the box.
The Hogtalare is a simple, 12.9-inch square box measuring just 6.7 inches deep, with a reinforced, wood frame cabinet and a cloth grille front. The speaker is available in five different color combinations, four of which pair a black cabinet with a black, blue, red, or white grille, while the fifth is all white. It isn’t portable or water resistant in any way; the speaker lacks a battery and an IP rating, and needs to be plugged in to work.
The grille is attached magnetically, and easily pops off to reveal the stereo 1-inch tweeters and 6-inch woofers behind it, powered by three amplifiers (15 watts for each tweeter and 25 watts for the woofer, with 50W total power for each channel). Removing the grille also reveals the five-button control array below the woofer, with backlit buttons for volume up/down, power, source, and pairing; these buttons are all designed to be pressed through the grille cloth, and can easily be seen thanks to their lights.
The back of the Hogtalare holds a 3.5mm audio input, a USB port for outputting 5V of power to charge your devices, a connector for the power cable, and a switch for toggling whether the speaker automatically turns on with a Bluetooth stream and off after five minutes of inactivity, or is manually controlled. Wall-mounting holes on the back let you hang the Hogtalare on a wall if you don’t want to put it in a Kallax shelf.
Because the Hogtalare is only 6.7 inches deep, if you decide to put it in a Kallax shelf you’ll have plenty of space behind it (though not in front of it, since pushing the speaker back on the shelf will hurt the stereo imaging, with the tweeters bouncing off of the walls of the shelf instead of your room). It makes a nice hidden storage space, if you don’t mind running a cable or two through it to power the speaker.
When placed on a Kallax shelf, the Hogtalare fits perfectly in perfectly, with only a few millimeters of clearance. This means you can’t easily turn or pull the speaker out of the shelf, but fortunately Hogtalare kept this in mind. The control panel below the woofer juts out half an inch, just enough to use it as a handle to pull the speaker forward if you want to move it.
The Hogtalare supports Bluetooth 4.2 with AptX, but not AAC. While it’s a fairly big speaker, it isn’t very deep, at least in physical volume (and therefore in bass response). It has a woofer, not a subwoofer, and while it has a bass reflex port, it doesn’t reach into sub-bass ranges. It still can get quite loud, easily producing enough sound to fill a living room or small apartment.
How We Test Speakers
The bass synth notes and kick drum hits in our bass test track, The Knife’s “Silent Shout,” sound powerful, but don’t shake the walls. They easily fill a room, though, and don’t distort at maximum volume levels. Perhaps if the speaker were deeper, it could produce a real subwoofer response (the 13-inch cubic space of the Kallax shelf is the right size for a smaller subwoofer). It’s possible this is intentional, as the rumble of a subwoofer would likely shake everything else on the shelf.
The kick drum in Fleetwood Mac’s “The Chain” sounds full and natural, not thunderous, but with plenty of bass presence through the Hogtalare. The guitar plucks and strums sound clear and full, with plenty of resonance in the lower frequencies and texture in the higher frequencies. The vocals also come through very well in the mix, prominent enough to stand out against the other elements.
The Hogtalare on my Kallax bookshelf (next to a very worn Kallax cat condo).
The Crystal Method’s “Born Too Slow” also sounds very good through the Hogtalare. The backbeat has enough bass power to sound properly ominous and keep the track thumping, while the guitar riffs and vocals get plenty of attention. The higher frequencies again receive lots of presence, making the cymbals and snares really pop at higher volumes and giving the mix a balance that leans slightly toward the treble end, but still provides enough low-frequency response to sound full and powerful.
Best on a Kallax
Ikea offers its own line of Sonos-collaboration speakers, the Symfonisk, but none of them are designed to fit in a Kallax. The Hogtalare is the ideal size and shape for a Kallax shelf, and as a Kallax owner, I can attest that it fits in perfectly while offering powerful, full sound with plenty of high-end detail. That said, it also costs $350, which places it against some pretty stiff competition with additional features or aspects that the Hogtalare lacks.
The $400 Sonos Move, for example, features Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant voice support and works with Sonos’ multi-room ecosystem, while the $400 UE Hyperboom features a water-resistant design and a lot more bass power. Both speakers also feature built-in batteries for portable use. If you want to spend a bit less while still filling the room with sound, the Amazon Echo Studio offers Amazon Alexa voice integration and Dolby Atmos surround sound thanks to multiple angled drivers for just $200. So while the Hogtalare looks and sounds just right on on a Kallax shelf, it doesn’t hold up quite as well elsewhere.