Bose' new SoundLink Mini proves you don't necessarily need a big box to get big sound. Well, biggish sound, anyway.
Bigger, as in big cabinets and big drivers, can often mean better when it comes to extreme audio fidelity - let alone big audio loudness - but in the world of portable Bluetooth speakers, bigger isn't necessarily better. In fact, it could be worse, since larger sizes generally also mean less portability, all other things being equal. And portability is generally one of the things people want in a Bluetooth speaker.
Bose blew the bigger is better idea out the window when it released its original SoundLink portable Bluetooth speaker, a lovely little unit that's so compact yet offers such big sound that it was, well, "ear opening." I liked the product so much when I reviewed it that I ended up buying one and I use it all the time, when travelling (it fits into the carry-on quite well) and for hauling around the house when I do chores.
It's also perfect for taking into the back yard for those lazy hazy crazy days of summer when your wife insists you get out of the home office and spend some time basking under that big yellow thing in the sky.
At $330, the SoundLink is more expensive than a lot of Bluetooth portable speakers, some of which can be had for $50 or less. Having reviewed several different examples of the species, however, it seemed a clear case of getting what one pays for: I have yet to find a portable Bluetooth speaker that sounds as good. Sure, there may be one - or more - but I haven't tried one yet.
Downing the ante...
With such an apparently perfect product on its shelf, you could forgive Bose for sitting back and enjoying the profits. But they didn't: the new Bose SoundLink Mini takes all of the great things about the original SoundLink and shrinks them even more. It's like the opposite of supersizing...
Bose introduced the SoundLink Mini with a bang, at New York's Grand Central Terminal in early June, and it sounded very good in the demo room. Outside, where the ambient noise of huddled masses and massive trains was more obtrusive, it wasn't as good - but what would be as good under such circumstances?
Needless to say I was dying to try the system under my own conditions - travel, chores and (ugh) outdoors - and Bose was kind enough to send me one to play with. I've been messing with it for about a month now and have formed a pretty good opinion of it.
Wouldn't you know, I now want to sell my original SoundLink so I can buy the Mini. Bose must see me coming!
According to the vice president of Bose' Home Entertainment Division, Phil Hess, the goal with the SoundLink Mini wasn't simply to develop a smaller speaker; it had to be up to snuff. "The SoundLink Mini had to be small," he was quoted in Bose PR materials as saying, "and it had to offer better sound than any speaker of its size." Again, I haven't tried every speaker of its size, but they do seem to have pulled it off again.
The Mini (not to be confused with the BMW-owned car) is small enough to be carried easily in your hand - though once you lift it you might be surprised at how substantial the little beastie feels. Despite that, it tips the scales at only a pound and a half, which Bose says about half the weight of its bigger, older brother. And its tiny footprint (two inches by 7.1 inches by 2.3 inches) is about a third the size of the original SoundLink.
And considering that it sounds fantastic, all things considered, that's pretty remarkable.
Okay, the SoundLink Mini definitely can't play as loudly as the "maxi" can, but (and this came as quite a surprise) I haven't found that to be an issue because it plays plenty loud enough in the venues for which it's designed. I set it up in a hotel room and played my tunes all evening and, while the SoundLink Mini isn't capable of rattling the walls, the audio quality was marvelous - and it's undoubtedly a good thing the walls didn't rattle or management would've made me spend the night in the car.
Likewise, on a pleasant Sunday afternoon on our deck, the Mini gave all the sound quality I insist upon without causing the neighbors to converge on Chateau Bray with pitchforks and torches.
And as for how it works when I do my chores, well, which speaker would you rather haul around?
Bose says the SoundLink Mini takes advantage of several engineering advancements, including a pair of new passive radiators to reproduce the low notes. And its bass reproduction is remarkable. Sure, it doesn't thump in your chest like a good subwoofer can, but it's rich and clean and clear - remarkably so considering its size. In fact, close your eyes and you'll forget how tiny the little bugger is: the sound is much bigger than the footprint.
Midrange and high frequencies are handled by new, custom-designed, high-efficiency transducers Bose claims move twice as much air as conventional same-size transducers. Bose also uses digital signal processing to balance the tone "at any listening level." So there are no tone controls; all you get is power, mute, volume, Bluetooth (for pairing) and aux (there's an auxiliary jack on the back, so you can plug in wired devices, too - a nice bit of flexibility).
I have missed the really rich, "ballsy" sound that larger and more powerful systems can produce, with bass that can rattle a room (fortunately, I have other systems for that!) but not a relevant complaint considering the Mini's mandate (er, persondate, to be gender neutral). In fact, the Mini is really quite amazing in its own right, with deeper and more satisfying bass than you might think possible from such a tiny unit. Overall musical fidelity is first rate, too: I've played my best recorded music through it and can vouch that this is really an audiophile speaker.
It won't replace your home theater system, of course, but it could be perfect for those who need a quality blend of performance and portability.
The SoundLink Mini uses Bluetooth A2DP. Pairing is easy and it stores the six most recently used Bluetooth devices in its memory, another nice bit of flexibility for the modern home that has plenty of smart devices.
It's even good looking, with an anodized aluminum housing that should also resist scratches and fingerprints. And while I didn't toss it out of a hotel window or anything, it definitely seems plenty robust enough for everyday use and occasional abuse.
The Mini comes with its own base that beeps when you sit the unit on it so you know it's seated properly for recharging. Bose says the lithium-ion battery is good for up to seven hours of listening. My attention span being what it is, I didn't measure that, but have had no issues with it running out of power on me so far. Besides, if I plan to use it for a long time (overnight in the hotel room, for example) I just leave it on its charger.
Bose also makes some soft covers for the SoundLink Mini, in orange, green and blue, as well as a travel bag. The covers sell for $25 each, while the bag is $45.
There's no remote control, so you have to keep your source unit close by, which kind of sucks but not excessively. Heck, I can carry both units in one hand easily, and having the source player close by makes it easier to skip or change tracks.
When Bose came out with the original SoundLink I was amazed at the sound for the size. Yet the SoundLink Mini ups that ante substantially. Sure, it doesn't play quite as loud, but you probably won't care. If you do, they still sell the original unit.
The Bose SoundLink Mini lists on Bose' Canadian website for $219.99. That's a good chunk of change, but for that investment you'll get a lot of performance and even more convenience.
There must be a point of diminishing returns when it comes to size/performance of a speaker system, but so far Bose seems to be avoiding it. I can't wait to hear the SoundLink Micro, assuming they're planning such a beast.
copyright 2013 Jim Bray