Jabra’s Solemate line of Bluetooth speakers has been a fairly dependable group in a crowded field, and the new Solemate Mini, at $99 (list), aims to keep the streak going. The ruggedized design is easily portable, and despite its very modest (but not quite pocketable) size, it can get pretty loud. There’s no distortion on tracks with serious low-end, but deep bass lovers will likely find the speaker lacking in that department. There’s plenty in the way of rich lows and crisp highs, but nothing resembling a serious low-end rumble—you’ll need to spend more money for that. A built-in speakerphone function for taking wireless calls adds value to the Solemate Mini’s reasonable price, making it a very solid contender in this range.
Measuring 2.4 by 4.9 by 2.0 inches (HWD) and weighing in at 10.4 ounces, the ruggedized, splash- and dust-resistant Solemate Mini has a rubbery exterior offered in red, yellow, blue or black. Two grilles on either side of the unit cover the forward-facing drivers and a rear panel that also emits some sound—though a much less bright, passive radiator-like sound. The lower panel of the Solemate Mini has a rubberized gripping surface that keeps it from dancing across tabletops, while the top panel houses the Volume controls and a button that tells you battery status when pressed—and also doubles as a call answering/ending button. There are no playback controls on the speaker, and volume controls work with the volume on the audio source device, rather than independently of it, as some competing Bluetooth speakers do.
Pairing was a piece of cake with our iPhone 5s, though you have to deal with a pretty cheesy voice-over guy (“Go ahead and connect me…”). It also pairs via NFC with Android phones so equipped. Jabra estimates the battery life for the Solemate Mini at roughly 8 hours, but results will vary based on your usage—specifically, how loud you blast your music. A USB charging cable is included, as is a 3.5mm aux input cable for direct playback from mobile devices. Cleverly and usefully, the cable snaps into a grid on the bottom panel so you can take it anywhere without losing it. However, this means the cable is very short.
On tracks with serious sub-bass content, like the Knife’s “Silent Shout,” the Solemate Mini is taken to the brink of distortion at maximum volume—but it never quite surrenders. This is thanks to the digital signal processing (DSP) that Jabra employs. Because of the DSP, rather than distortion, you’re likely to notice that at max volume, the dynamics of the piece seem to change, with transients being limited dramatically. At slightly lower volumes, the overall dynamics are restored a bit, and the Solemate Mini delivers a clean, surprisingly bass-forward sound. No deep bass fiend will find the Solemate Mini to be powerful enough, but nothing in this price range is. The speaker can deliver more lows than one would expect from its tiny frame, however.
It’s on tracks with less deep bass content, like Bill Callahan’s “Drover,” that the Solemate Mini truly shines. Since the DSP has to do less work at top volumes to keep the speaker from distorting, the speaker seems to be able to get much louder on these tracks—it can project sound quite a distance and easily fill up a moderately sized room. Callahan’s vocals and the guitar strumming on this track get just the right amount of treble edge to keep things clear, but his baritone vocals are also given a pleasant, rich bass presence. The drumming here sounds natural, if a bit thin compared to speakers that have more low frequency presence.
The kick drum loop on Jay-Z and Kanye West’s “No Church in the Wild” gets a strong enough presence in the high-mids so that its attack can still slice through the mix, though it’s not as intense as it can be on speakers that have a more sculpted sound. The Solemate Mini seems to focus squarely on the low-mids, mids, and high-mids, but not by boosting and contorting them wildly. The result is some rich lows and clear vocals—purists seeking flat response may wish the speaker were a bit brighter, but the DSP will likely scare them off in the first place anyway.
Classical tracks, like John Adams’ “The Chairman Dances,” fare less well on the Solemate Mini. They sound just fine, with a reasonable balance of lows and highs, but the volume level here can be an issue, with softer passages often sounding too quiet, despite the DSP, and even louder passages, at max volume, not projecting very much. This is mainly due to the way classical and jazz records are recorded and mastered—with very little compression, and thus a much wider dynamic range—but the net result on a small speaker like this is that classical tunes can sound rather quiet.
Unfortunately, the Solemate Mini has the nasty habit of lopping off the first second or two of a newly selected track—this is a common phenomenon, but we generally tend to see it in much cheaper speakers. If a much cheaper price is what you’re looking for, the 808 Audio Canz Wireless Speaker and the Boom Movement Swimmer are both decent options—they can’t produce the same volume levels as the Solemate Mini, but they do a respectable job considering their bargain prices. In this price range, the Panasonic SC-NT10 is also a very strong option—it doesn’t look quite as cool as the Solemate Mini, but it is perhaps a bit more easily portable, and offers a similarly loud, clean audio experience.
Finally, if you have a bit more room in your budget (and tote bag), consider the Bose SoundLink Mini, which offers a much fuller sound, or Jabra’s larger, $150 Solemate, which is a better deal than it was at launch thanks to a $50 price cut, although it lacks the Solemate Mini’s speakerphone capability. At $100, however, the Solemate Mini is a great deal—its flaws are outweighed by its impressive audio projection and its solid bass presence, making it a strong contender for real estate in your suitcase on the next vacation.
|Type||iPod, Computer, Wireless, Portable, iPad, iPhone, Android|
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc