Boston Acoustics released the MC200 Air AirPlay speaker last year to mixed reviews, including ours. At $299, it simply didn’t sound like a speaker that should cost that much. The MC100 Blue ($149 direct) is half the price—credit the lack of Wi-Fi support and AirPlay licensing fees to Apple—and as a result makes much more sense as a reasonably priced, full-sounding wireless speaker. It’s not perfect, but it performs well enough for the price, that it’s our Editors’ Choice for budget wireless speakers.
Design and Setup
The MC100 Blue measures 5.98 by 15.75 by 5.28 inches (HWD) and weighs 4.5 pounds. It’s made entirely of black plastic, with a glossy finish on the base and top panel, and a plastic grille that stretches the width of the enclosure. Behind the grille, in the center, is a series of vertical blue LEDs that light up as you increase the volume; then after a few moments, they disappear until you touch the controls again. A secure rubber base ensures the MC100 Blue doesn’t dance around on your shelf or table at higher volumes.
The top panel features an NFC zone in the center, plus six round, recessed buttons on the right: Power, Bluetooth, Auxiliary, Mute, and Volume Down/Up. All six are sufficiently large and easy to find. The left side of the speaker holds a 3.5mm Aux input and a 3.5mm stereo headphone jack, in case it’s easier to use that instead of the one on your device. The back panel contains a Power input, a covered mini USB Service connector, and a hardware Reset button, plus keyhole openings if you want to mount the speaker on a wall.
Inside are two 3.5-inch full-range drivers, plus some digital signal processing to enhance bass response, which Boston Acoustics calls BassTrac. The system is rated at 70Hz to 20kHz, albeit without plus or minus decibel figures. The slim black remote features bubbled membrane keys for Power, Volume Up/Down, Bluetooth and Aux source select, Mute, Play/Pause, Stop, Forward, and Back track skip. Along with the remote, the package contains a printed manual, a quick start card, and a wall-wart-style AC adapter.
In addition to stereo Bluetooth, the MC100 Blue features NFC, which simplifies the pairing process and lets you easily switch between multiple devices. It also supports aptX, which is a higher-quality codec for Bluetooth streaming that an increasing number of devices supports. Both of these features are a boon to high-end Android phone owners; I tested the MC100 Blue with an iPhone 5, which doesn’t support aptX or NFC.
Performance and Conclusions
The MC100 Blue sounds impressive for its size and cost, with solid bass punch, a reasonably smooth midrange, and no distortion at top volumes. It achieves the latter with digital signal processing, by limiting bass response as you turn the volume up. That means the speaker sounds quite full-range at low to moderate volumes, but begins to thin out significantly and lose its bass kick as you reach maximum volume. On our standard bass test track, The Knife’s “Silent Shout,” it didn’t distort even at top volumes, but the bass end pretty much disappeared as I neared the maximum setting. Back off a bit and you’ll still get plenty of punch and volume.
The one other audible issue is a slight deficiency in high-end response. Cymbals, vocal sibilance, and the top end of acoustic guitars tended to sound a little overcooked and tinny. The midrange sounds reasonably neutral, though, and that’s more important to get right.
Still, this speaker is enjoyable to listen to. Rage Against the Machine’s “Fistful of Steel,” when turned up, overwhelmed my corner of the lab with its sizzling electric guitars and massive kick drum. The cymbals are very smoothly recorded, but you can hear a touch of harshness in the way the MC100 Blue presents them. Depeche Mode’s “Suffer Well” sounded better, since it’s a warmer recording with a more muted treble end, and the electronic kick was punchy and full. Thievery Corporation’s “Habanos Days” had just the right amount of deep synthesizer bass to lend the chill-out track plenty of presence.
At just $149, it’s tough to find much wrong with the MC100 Blue. While it’s not quite for audiophiles, and not portable given its width and weight, it’s a great solution for anyone looking for a budget-priced, full-sounding wireless speaker for a small apartment, bedroom, or office. Since it’s designed to stay put, Boston Acoustics put all of the money into getting the most sound out of a reasonably sized form factor, instead of trying to pull off a miracle and get the same effect out of something much smaller.
If you’re looking for true stereo separation, the Grace Digital Bluetooth Speakers fits the bill and offers a smoother, more detailed midrange and high end, but that system costs $100 more and has a few mild Bluetooth pairing quirks. If you’re looking for something more portable, the Bose SoundLink Bluetooth Mobile Speaker II remains our favorite, while the Bose SoundLink Mini is impressively full-sounding for something that’s just seven inches wide, but they’re both more expensive. Finally, the Bowers & Wilkins Z2 is a powerful Lightning dock for anyone who wants to charge an iPhone or iPod touch and navigate music directly, but it costs more than twice as much as the MC100 Blue.
|Wireless Remote Control||Yes|
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc