Cambridge Audio Minx Air 100 review

The Minx Air 100 doesn't deliver the most exciting sound, but it's the best small wireless speaker we've heard for jazz and classical music, at least at this price.

The Cambridge Audio Minx Air 100 is the smaller of the company’s two new wireless speakers. It’s not quite as stellar a performer as the larger Minx Air 200, though; not just because of the smaller size, but because the $449 (direct) Minx 100 makes a few compromises sonically that similarly priced competitors don’t. Just make sure that you’re willing to sacrifice a little bass and overall volume capability for what amounts to beautifully detailed sound you might not expect from this category of speaker.

Design, Controls, and Remote
The Minx Air 100 measures 7.2 by 13.9 by 4.6 inches (HWD) and weighs nine pounds. It features the same smooth white lacquered finish and textured silver accent band as the Minx Air 200. The two speakers share a lot of the same design and setup features, so we’re sharing some of the same material between these two reviews; feel free to read the review of your choice, depending on which model you consider.

As with the larger model, the overall design errs on the side of understated, perhaps a bit too much so, but it’ll look good in just about any modern décor. The acoustically-damped enclosure is finished in a smooth white gloss plastic, with a nicely textured silver accent band around the front panel edge and a gray cloth grille. It’s not as classy as a Bowers & Wilkins product, style-wise, but it otherwise looks the part. Behind the unit, there’s a nifty handle built into the injection molded plastic; as a result, carrying the Minx Air 100 is easy.

The top panel features two sets of five gray rubber buttons, on the left side and right. The left side contains five number presets, while the right side contains Bluetooth, Analog Input, Volume Up/Down, and Power buttons. The back panel includes a power port, a hardware bass level control, a WPS button, an Ethernet port, a micro USB port for servicing the unit, a 3.5mm auxiliary input, and a set of stereo RCA inputs. The power supply is built into the enclosure, so you only need the included white two-prong AC power cord; many speakers like this require a separate inline power supply and a semi-proprietary cable that’s difficult to replace if it’s lost or damaged.

The flat remote is a small, thin, black plastic slab with six rows of three buttons, including Volume Up/Down, Mute, Bluetooth, Bass Up/Down, and 10 Radio Presets. The buttons are bubbled plastic membrane keys that are easy to press one-handed, but they’re not backlit. The speaker responds quickly to button presses.

When you power on the Minx Air, an LED on the back flashes orange and green. To set up AirPlay, you have to connect to the Minx Air’s temporary Wi-Fi hotspot. Once you do, you type 192.168.1.1 into your browser, select your Wi-Fi network’s SSID from the list, and type in your password and click Apply. The Minx Air will save the configuration, and your own PC will see the Minx Air hotspot disappear, meaning that it should automatically reconnect to your existing home network. If all is well, you’ll be able to select the Minx Air from your iOS device. This setup is functional, though we prefer the streamlined, mobile app-based process used in the Editors’ Choice Bowers & Wilkins A5.

That said, Cambridge Audio makes available a free Minx Air iOS app, which I tested using an iPhone 5. The app lets you control the device as if the iPhone were a remote, as well as find and store Internet radio stations from a selection of over 20,000. It also includes something you can’t get via the front panel or hardware remote: 10 DSP presets for modifying the speaker’s frequency response curve.

The Minx Air 100 takes about 20 seconds to fully power on. There’s also a fair amount of background hiss, which can be a problem in quiet rooms when listening to quieter passages of classical music at higher volumes. At idle, the Minx Air 100 consumes less than half a watt of power from the wall, just like its larger sibling.

Performance and Conclusions
Inside is a 100-watt class-D amplifier driving a pair of 4-inch balanced mode radiator drivers. Contrast this to the larger Minx Air 200, which employs 2.25-inch drivers and a separate 6.5-inch subwoofer. Still, the Minx Air 100 doesn’t distort, even on tracks containing deep bass played at top volumes. Rage Against The Machine’s “Fistful of Steel” sounded surprisingly punchy and aggressive. As I turned up the volume, it continued to sound smooth, but the bass punch was lacking, and this is a track with a loud kick drum and bass guitar. I turned up the bass, but then began to heard compression in the entire track; all of the instruments ducked down a bit with each kick drum hit. Cambridge Audio swears there’s no processing going on, so I’m going to guess it’s just hitting some kind of maximum output limit and dipping ever so slightly each time.

Less-aggressive music fared much better. On Bill Callahan’s “Drover,” his silky voice came through clearly, with not as much chestiness as I’ve heard on other speakers. There’s a bit too much sibilance and emphasis on the plosives (p-word sounds) in his voice, although I wouldn’t call it harsh; it’s just more prominent than usual. On the other hand, the Minx Air 100 barely rendered the continuous eighth-note kick drum kits; if I hadn’t heard the song before, I wouldn’t have realized they were there, or would have at least thought they were a different drum than the kick.

The acoustic guitar pick work came through beautifully, though, as it did with Ani DiFranco’s more aggressive playing on “Knuckle Down.” You can hear plenty of detail coming from the strings, but there’s also a sense of less excitement here than I’ve heard through other systems. I also couldn’t hear the acoustic bass on this track particularly well, at least not with sufficient body. Turning up the bass control to the two-o-clock position helped.

Queen of the Stone Age’s “Little Sister” sounded good as long as I left the bass turned up. It’s a fast song with prominent bass and electric guitars; the Minx Air 100 managed to deliver sufficient detail without the quarter-note wood block sticking out too much. Flunk’s “Indian Rope Trick,” an electronic trip-hop track, was perhaps the least impressive on the Minx 100, thanks to the deficient low-end extension. It also sounded a little flat and unexciting; the Minx Air 100′s overly-transparent and natural presentation sometimes sounds a little bland with heavily processed music.

All told, the Minx Air 100 is a fine wireless speaker, particularly for classical and jazz fans; the amount of detail it can render on these kinds of recordings is truly impressive. At $449.99, the Minx Air 100 is $50 less than the Bowers & Wilkins A5, which lacks Bluetooth streaming but has much better bass punch; we also prefer the A5′s easier AirPlay setup and slick styling. The Bowers & Wilkins Z2, a combination Lightning and AirPlay dock that’s $50 less than the Minx Air 100, sounds a bit more punchy and energetic, although the Z2 was prone to distortion at higher volumes, and it also charges an iPhone 5 or iPod touch. If you just want a Bluetooth speaker that’s smaller and less expensive, the Editors’ Choice Bose SoundLink Bluetooth Mobile Speaker II delivers impressive sound for $299, although it’s not as natural-sounding and transparent as the Minx Air 100 and lacks AirPlay compatibility.

Specifications
Channels 2
Connections 3.5mm, Stereo RCA
Wireless Remote Control Yes
Separate subwoofer No
Power Rating (Left and Right, Each) 50 + 50 watts RMS
AirPlay Yes
Type Wireless
Physical Dock No
Bluetooth Yes

Verdict
The Minx Air 100 doesn't deliver the most exciting sound, but it's the best small wireless speaker we've heard for jazz and classical music, at least at this price.
Published under license from Ziff Davis, Inc., New York, All rights reserved.
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc