Portable Bluetooth speakers now have a host of features, from apps to speakerphones -- and some are even waterproof. Ultimately, though, the speakers have to sound good. The $199 Bose SoundLink Mini forgoes all of these niceties, instead focusing solely on making this device stand out in the audio department. That's why this speaker rises above everything else.
The sleek, silver-colored aluminum casing and sheer weight (1.5 pounds -- twice that of the Braven BRV-1) of the SoundLink Mini give it a classy look that matches Apple's notebook styling, and its build inspires confidence that the product will survive use on the road. Chunkier than the Jambox Mini, but flatter and longer than the Braven BRV-1, the Bose SoundLink Mini is closest in size (and weight) to the Logitech UE Boom and is very bag-friendly despite its weight.
The bottom has a rubber slab for stability, and there's a metal mesh grille on both the front and back of the speaker. Two passive bass radiators face in opposite directions to minimize vibrations, and a pair of full-range drivers sit on opposite ends of the speaker facing front.
A row of rubber buttons along the top controls power, mute, volume, Bluetooth pairing and input source (aux). A power jack and 3.5-mm line input are located on the right side, and pins for the included charging dock are on the bottom, along with a micro USB port.
The package includes a charging dock, although you can also plug the power supply directly into the speaker. The low-profile wall plug's prongs fold up, making it extremely compact. Accessories such as a travel bag ($44.95) and colored soft covers ($24.95) are available, but they add considerable expense.
Pairing the SoundLink Mini with a Bluetooth device such as a phone, tablet or laptop is a breeze. Just turn on the speaker and press the Bluetooth button to put it in pairing mode. It showed up right away on our iPhone 4S, with no PIN code required. A light above the Bluetooth button flashes white when the unit is not connected and stays solid when a connection is made. It flashes blue when it's in pairing mode.
The dual passive radiators and large, heavy magnets inside the SoundLink Mini give it extraordinary bass response, something lacking in literally all other speakers of comparable size. That's not to say that deep bass in tracks like Ludacris' "Helluva Night" comes through like full-size speakers -- the speaker does have its limitations. But bass and kick drums on tracks such as Peter Gabriel's "Sledgehammer" have way more impact than with any other speaker out there at the time of this writing.
But it's more than just bass; vocals and complex instrumentation on tracks like on Tower of Power's "So Very Hard to Go" and The Beatles' "Penny Lane" are impressively clear, with great overall tonal balance. Even Philippe Entremont's recording of Debussy's moody solo piano piece "Clair de Lune" sounds lively. Acoustic jazz has plenty of sparkle in the cymbals and presence in the horns, with powerful bass.
We watched episodes of "True Blood" and "Breaking Bad" on an iPad using the SoundLink Mini as the audio device, and dialogue, explosions and gunfire all came through very clearly with plenty of low-end rumble and crispness.
The SoundLink Mini is loud enough to fill a medium-size room or power a small outdoor patio party, and we didn't hear any noticeable distortion, even at top volume. The strong bass and overall output bests competitors like the Monster ClarityHD Micro and even larger speakers like the Jawbone Jambox. The speaker's wireless range is very good -- roughly 30 feet, standard for Bluetooth devices -- as long you maintain a direct line of sight. We experienced dropouts with two walls (or a wall and a body) in the way, even though the speaker and our iPhone 4S were only about 12 feet from each other.
Other speakers in this price range -- and below -- offer speakerphone, onboard playback controls and USB charging of the speaker. In some cases, like the Braven speaker, you can even charge your mobile phone. The Bose SoundLink Mini forgoes all of that, which may leave some feeling cheated at nearly $200. But ultimately, the Mini's sound quality on music and movies made the lack of features far less of an issue. Our biggest gripe is the lack of an included carrying case.
The SoundLink Mini has a built-in rechargeable battery that lasts roughly 7 hours, which is about half that of the Logitech UE Boom and three hours less than the Jambox. The SoundLink Mini charges in about 3 hours.
The SoundLink Mini's lack of speakerphone capabilities may deter some, and others will gripe about the lack of onboard controls or the device's ability to charge via USB. However, nothing approaches the SoundLink Mini's sonic versatility and full, rich output at this size. If sound is your primary concern, the Bose speaker is tops.