Who would have thought that Ministry of Sound would be an obvious Sonos multi-room audio competitor? That's exactly where the Audio L Plus is targeting its attention, as the top-of-line product in the MoS Audio range.
Forget sweat-dripping-from-the-ceiling clubs with DJs spinning vinyl dubplates back in the early 1990s, though, the Audio L Plus is all about the here and now. It's neat and tidy in appearance, capable of networked multi-room support, Bluetooth wireless connectivity, or wired input to blast out those beats - or other musical genres of your choice.
Having recently seen the affordable Audio On headphones from the same line, which were rather bass-heavy in their tuning, does the Ministry of Sound Audio L Plus manage a more balanced output to appeal to not only Clubber's Guide fans familiar with the brand, but a wider audience too?
Ministry of Sound Audio L Plus review: Design
Sometimes things in clubs look better hidden away in the shadows. We wouldn't say that of the Audio L plus (which has been living on our desk, not in a trendy east London warehouse ready to party): it's a smart looking speaker on a large scale that's fairly inconspicuous by design.
But bring it into the bright light of day and its material choices perhaps aren't the most exciting that we've ever seen, with the grey plastic body of this particular review sample coming across as, well, nothing more than grey plastic. The bronze trim sets it off though. But at £300 it's around the same price as the Sonos equivalent.
Up top the MoS Audio L Plus has a smooth tap-and-swipe touch panel, an idea that we rather like. In the latest Sonos Play:5 there's a similar feature, but somehow Ministry has failed to make this particularly engaging. The Audio L Plus lacks any light-up prompts, say, and it's not particularly apparent that it's a control panel to any degree unless you happen to read up about it (and nobody likes to read a manual). Swiping to change tracks is a grand idea, but one that could be better implemented.
Ports are tucked around the back for the power cable, 3.5mm audio in and Micro-USB - and that's about it. You can connect via Apple AirPlay, DLNA or Bluetooth so in the main everything is wireless anyway.
The Bluetooth pairing button is positioned to the L Plus's side, in inconspicuous fashion (aside from its light-up LED), tied in neatly with the design of the product. We've had no issues pairing, although when closing a laptop, for example, it often fails to reconnect to Bluetooth without manually repairing - a Bluetooth issue we have with numerous products, not just the Audio L Plus.
In other Sonos comparison observations, the Audio L Plus also has multi-room capability. Perhaps an obvious for a Ministry product, what with multi-room clubs with different DJs spinning their tracks an age-old idea. In our testing we received a single Audio L Plus so can't actually comment on how well the multi-room aspect of the product works.
Download the Audio Controller app (iOS and Android, we tested the latter) and it's easy to hook up phone/tablet and the speaker via a Wi-Fi network connection. Once that's happened for the first time you needn't worry about doing it again, ensuring a decent connection therein.
Ministry of Sound Audio L Plus review: Serious sound
Instead of multi-room we'll focus on what will matter to most: the Audio L Plus's sound quality.
As long-time dance music fans we do love a bit of bass (well, a lot of it actually). But with well-trained ears and a love of many musical genres, our preference is for a better all-rounder in terms of audio performance. Too much bass simply kills a lot of music, which is an issue the Audio On headphones suffer.
Fortunately the Audio L Plus is entirely different in its delivery. It's more than got the bass department covered, with low-frequency levels achieved down to a wobbly 30Hz, but that's not to the detriment of the rest of the sound. Perhaps a little more pep in the mid-range wouldn't go amiss, but in our comparisons we've been equally pleased with the Audio L Plus as we have been with our Mordaunt-Short speaker setup. That's high praise given how long we took going through bookshelf speakers before settling on the perfect (yet affordable) pair.
Behind its curved metal grille the Audio L Plus houses two 115mm drivers, accompanied by a pair of 25mm tweeters and an all-important port for bass output. That combination ensures the high-end gets enough clearance in the mix, with plenty of sparkle. We've been streaming from Spotify and catching up with Daniel P Carter and Friction via the Radio 1 mobile app for a dose of rock and drum & bass, respectively, with everything sounding heavyweight but not overpowering in any one frequency department. Good show all round.
One of the ways the Audio L Plus wants to be used is via its Audio Controller app. There are some great features in this, such as live broadcasts from the Ministry of Sound on the weekend, which you won't find from any other maker. How important that is in the order of things only you'll know, but it gives a unique selling point. It's a shame the app isn't as adept in other areas, lacking the ability to build playlists or cue tracks - it's not on that Sonos level just yet, as much as it wants to be.
Ministry of Sound might sound like an unlikely Sonos competitor, but the Audio L Plus does a grand job of making itself heard in the multi-room market.
It's far better tuned and balanced than some of the other MoS Audio range products, ensuring quality sound for not only dance music but a wider range of genres. Sure, there's significant bass, but that comes without swamping the other frequencies. And if you're buying into Ministry then, well, you're going to be expecting bass delivery anyway.
The low points are few and far between, but the Audio L Plus's plasticky shell and an app that can't quite see off Sonos two small points to be made. If it's serious sound you want then, whatever your preferred choice of tunes, this is Ministry showing off that it understands audio beyond the club walls.