Bluetooth audio is used in more an more products now. I’m usually not a fan because it’s just another layer of compression and equally another area to fail and use battery life. I can’t imagine taking my Sennheiser HD650 headphones and then using them with a Bluetooth codec (I suppose aptX lossless would be OK). That said, there are undoubtedly many many uses where it comes into it’s own and where the sheer flexibility and portability start to easily outweigh the loss in audio quality.
Released in July 2013, the Bose Soundlink Mini is not a new product but it is still a current product and is still pushed and marketed well in stores through display stands and promotional material. Bose clearly want people to take notice of their portable bluetooth audio range.
It is, however, a new product for me. So, what’s it like? Overall, so far so good but I realise that’s of little use if you’re considering purchasing this device. Firstly let’s start off with the positives and negatives.
- First and foremost is sound quality. For the size, I was amazed. The fullness of the sound from a unit this size is incredible. The sound can fill a room with ease. More on that to follow.
- Extremely good build quality. Feels solid and well made in every way with a fully metal surround and metal front and back speaker grill.
- Design is a matter of taste but it looks simple, sleek, mature, elegant and appears to be a quality product. No garish colours here.
- Compact. Surely that’s what you want if you are buying something like this. The bigger it gets, the more you move into needing a different category of product in my view. I like this because a can chuck it in my overnight bag easily.
- It’s not trying to be too much. It’s a device to connect via Bluetooth or 3.5mm line level auxillary and play music. That’s it. I love the ‘focus on what you’re good at’ approach. Features can be nice but also start to muddy what a product is about and nine times out of ten, rarely or never get used.
- Comes with a charging cradle which improves the portability and ease of charging.
- Battery life is very good considering the size of the unit (which physically limits the battery mAh capacity) and the sound output this can provide.
- Reliable and easy to use. No bluetooth pin numbers or problems connecting. If you have it paired with your phone and have a song playing on your phone speaker, hit the power button and it’s connected and playing on the Soundlink Mini within about 5-10 seconds. Easy.
- Equalization. The EQ on the Bose device might not be to everyone’s taste. The gain on the EQ seems to be the sub 120Hz bass and the 8kHz and higher top end. It may lack clarity in the mid-range for some. It reminds me of the 1980’s when people used to set their 5 band graphic equalisers in a pretty pattern starting high on the left, dropping in the middle and back up on the right.
- No aptX support. The device does not support the latest Bluetooth audio codec. This could be seen as a negative but the reality is that this is not a device for audiophile use. It’s a convenient and portable music source that beats the hell out of most flatscreen TV’s and is better than putting your iPhone in a glass. You’re quite simply not going to notice the difference.
- Price. As with anything from Bose, you pay for the name but you also get what you pay for. This is arguably a little overpriced for some. Current standard UK price at time of writing is £169.99.
- Directional Sound. Where you position this device has quite an impact on the treble response. This is true for any speaker but you really do see a drop in the sweet treble when the device is off angle to your ears. My advice would be to place this as close to ear level as you can and avoid placing it centrally so no-one in a room will be behind it.
- Bluetooth Range. This is not really a fault of the product but it does impact the usefulness of the product as BT radio is at its very core. It would be lovely if Bluetooth had a better RF range but it’s stuck there in the 2.4gHz short range band along with many other devices. If I position a laptop around different parts of the house I can see a total of 62 wireless networks. The frequency may not be the same but it’s a heck of a lot of noise and clutter on the band.
More about audio quality…
There’s no really good way to demonstrate this as any recording is only as good as the acoustics of the room, the mic used, the position of the device & the music chosen. However, I thought I would make a recording of 4 devices at a distance of approximately 0.5 metres. The first is an iPhone 5, the second is an iPad (3rd generation), thirdly comes the Soundlink Mini and finally a full home system with 2 tower speakers (basically, hifi separates). Then for good measure, the fifth audio file is the original track.
This is recorded on a DR-100 field recorder on an NTG-3 microphone. I have attempted to match the levels into the mic preamp on each of the recordings and the final levels of each of the tracks but no EQ, limiting or compression has been applied. All files link to wav files so may take a short time to buffer on slower connections. The testing is done with a great track from Jake Evans called This Is Life.
iPhone Audio Test:
iPad Audio Test:
Soundlink Mini Audio Test:
Hifi Separates Audio Test:
Overall, I am scoring this as follows. Scoring is my system…made up based on what I feel like :-)
Sound Quality - Excellent for the size but EQ is a matter of taste.
Build Quality - Outstanding. Hard to fault.
Value - Expensive. You pay for quality but also the name.
Fit For Purpose - Small portable music. Nothing more, nothing less.