Bose has impressed us in the past with its SoundLink and SoundLink II Bluetooth speakers. Given the competition out there, it was only a matter of time before the company would take the portable speaker concept further and shrink it down to an even more bag-friendly size. The SoundLink Mini is Bose’s answer to portable speakers like the Jawbone Jambox and UE Boom. At half the weight, half the height, and two-thirds the price of the higher-end Choice SoundLink II, this $199.95 (direct) Bluetooth speaker is a terrific option if you don’t want to spend $300 and lug around a 3-pound speaker; it’s our new Editors’ Choice for small, portable Bluetooth speakers as a result.
With a flat metal grille face and a solid aluminum shell, the SoundLink Mini evokes the image of a radio from the 1960s, yet sleeker and more updated for today. It measures just 2 by 7.1 by 2.3 inches (HWD), and its satisfyingly sturdy-feeling 1.5-pound heft and aluminum casing gives an impression of solidity. Its grey finish looks attractive enough in any setting, but you can protect and color the speaker with optional $24.95 rubber covers available in all-over orange, blue borders with a clear center, or green borders with a clear center. This is strictly a Bluetooth speaker, and doesn’t have a microphone or support speakerphone calls.
The controls are arranged neatly in a row of rubber buttons on the top of the speaker, with raised Volume Up/Down buttons flanked by Power and Mute buttons on the left and Bluetooth and Auxiliary input buttons on the right. Lights above the Power and Mute buttons indicate if the speaker is on and muted, and lights above the Bluetooth and Auxiliary input buttons indicate which input is active. The Bluetooth light flashes blue when the speaker is in pairing mode, which can be accessed by pressing the Bluetooth button for a few seconds. The right side of the speaker holds a power connector and a 3.5mm audio input. The back is covered by a metallic grille just like the front but without a Bose logo painted on it, showing the passive radiator built into the speaker. Finally, the bottom of the speaker holds a large, rectangular rubber foot that keeps it in place and covers the rechargeable battery, along with contact points for the included charging cradle and a micro USB port.
Unlike many other Bluetooth speakers, the SoundLink Mini doesn’t charge through the micro USB port, which is only used for servicing the speaker and upgrading the firmware (a trait shared with the SoundLink II). Instead, it comes with a charging cradle that accepts the same power connection as the speaker itself. According to Bose, the speaker’s battery can last 7 hours on a charge. The cradle is a small rectangle of plastic with the Bose logo and a large recessed area for the speaker’s foot. The charging connections, made through small exposed contacts on the back-right corner of the speaker, are extremely easy to make thanks to the simple, functional cradle. The speaker falls into place without catching on anything or missing the contact, and it makes a loud chime when it starts to charge, letting you know you can leave it alone. While the lack of micro-USB charging can be inconvenient because it’s so common, the cradle gives the speaker a comfortable, sturdy place to charge without you having to touch any cables at all.
For its small size, the SoundLink Mini puts out some impressive sound. It easily filled both our lab test room and the main room of my apartment with streaming radio from my iPad, coming in just short on volume against some larger, constantly plugged in AirPlay docks. It also performed favorably against the Logitech UE Boom, and while its sound is more directional than the Logitech UE Boom and its 360-degree audio field, the SoundLink Mini put out more power and sounded just as good placed against a wall and facing the entire room.
The SoundLink Mini can’t quite put out the clear, strong bass of its bigger brother, but it can certainly hold its own. When playing our bass test track, The Knife’s “Silent Shout,” the SoundLink Mini produced solid sound from the deep synth notes of the intro to the song, but occasional pops hinted at the slightest potential for distortion at maximum volume. While the bass made the speaker itself shake, its small size limited its ability to produce real wall-shaking bass, though the reverb and harsh riffs of Daft Punk’s “Robot Rock” produced a suitably large-sounding soundscape, filling our test room.
Midrange and mid-highs are the SoundLink Mini’s biggest strengths, and Red Fang’s “Wires” sounded surprisingly clear and impactful. The crunchy track’s aggressive guitar riffs and drums usually drown out the vocals, but all three elements worked well together here, and I easily made out the lyrics without feeling like the riffs were getting overpowered or flattened. The SoundLink Mini’s solid high-mid performance gave it a slight edge over the Logitech UE Boom, which can sound slightly tinny in comparison.
The Bose SoundLink Mini is an impressive little powerhouse that produces clear, solid sound. It might be lacking in the bass punch the SoundLink II and other larger, more expensive speakers offer, but for its size and price it offers great performance. The charging cradle is handy, if not quite as flexible as micro USB charging would have been. And while it lacks a speakerphone function, it offers some of the best all-around sound quality we’ve seen in its category, making it our Editors’ Choice for portable Bluetooth speakers. If you’d like a slightly more versatile design and the ability to charge with a microUSB cable, the UE Boom is a solid alternative that offers comparable, if not quite as great, audio quality.
|Wireless Remote Control||No|
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc