Sorry, can you speak up a bit - said, perhaps a little too loudly. We've recently had a fairly ear-splitting experience with a portable speaker system. The speaker in question was the Minx Air 200 from Cambridge Audio. The ear-splitting experience came from arrogantly expecting the wireless speaker couldn't pump out that much sound. As it turns out, we were quite wrong.
The Minx Air 200 is the bigger brother of the Air 100 which launched some time ago. At its core, it's designed to give you some multi-room audio in the vein of Sonos, but with a little less complexity, and arguably quite a lot more bulk. But, what Sonos has in size means that it doesn't have as much power, or the quality, some would like.
Front-on, this is just a massive speaker. The front is dominated by a grey grille, while the body of the unit is shiny white plastic. It's heavy, but not unbearably so and there's a handle to hold too.
There's also more to that handle than you might think, as it doubles as the bass port for the speaker. When you crank the volume up, it moves a pretty staggering amount of air too, so it can be quite a surprise. You could use it on a hot day as a fan, so that's handy.
On the top, there are buttons for internet radio presets, with a total of 10 presets but only five buttons. That means you need to access the second five via an app. We think this is a bit daft, and took that to mean there are only five presets that are any use to us. While we understand the urge not to have 10 buttons on the top, we still think that firing up an app for change is a faff. Still, we listen to Radio 4 exclusively, so could happily get away with one preset.
Over the other side, there are controls for power, Bluetooth pairing, volume and an X which will stop wireless streaming and activate the analogue inputs. A second press of this button will mute the audio. Handy to know.
On the back, there are the analogue inputs, an Ethernet socket, bass dial and power input.
Lots of connection options
One thing we are pleased to see is the provision of three ways to connect to the Minx Air 200. The first, is via good old Bluetooth. This opens it up to almost unlimited devices, from phones and tablets through to computers to connect with the Air 200. It's not without flaws, because we found that connecting was a bit tedious. To explain, first you pair the device, which is simple enough, and you're then able to play. The problems though, are twofold. First, when you start playing you get a little crack and pop when the track starts. This is a minor annoyance really, but it can be a little frustrating. The second problem is that once your phone disconnects from the Bluetooth, to use it again you must press the Bluetooth connection button again. We're not sure why this happens, or if it was part of how the Galaxy Note II works with Bluetooth, but it was a pain.
The other method is via Apple's AirPlay. If you have an iPod/iPhone or iPad, then this is the system that you should use, because it's a slightly simpler to configure - it should show up automatically - and then you'll be able to stream from iOS devices and also from any computer on the same network with iTunes. This is the slickest way of listening to music, and there are Android apps that can support media playback over this system, so it's well worth investigating.
Third, and If wireless isn't your thing, then you'll be pleased by the RCA and 3.5mm jacks which allow you to connect pretty much any MP3 player, or other device - TV, computer, etc - to the Minx Air.
Where to start here. Honestly, we didn't see it coming at all.
The sound is very clean and distortion free. Any kind of music sounds as it should, from classical right through to tracks remixed by The Prodigy. There's loads of power, but there's never really any distortion unless you push it right to the edge of its abilities, when on full bass, you can hear it struggle a little.
Vocals are crystal clear, and with anything that involves a single voice singing is just a joy to listen to. There's plenty of ability in all frequencies too. This isn't just a system that wins in the low end - although it really does - but a well-rounded wireless speaker that defies belief.
If you were led blindfolded into a room with the Minx set playing, and you were asked what made the sound, you'd never guess that it was a smallish wireless speaker. Indeed, it's only really lack of stereo separation that give this away as being anything smaller than a full-sized hi-fi.
But it's really the bass that will make you smile. It's not just the sheer mind-blowing power of the thing, but it's also the tightness of the sound and complete control that's staggering. We also love the fact that you have that bass control dial at the back. This is important because sometimes we want to have a bit of fun with our music. We want to ignore the concept of studio sound, and just have our ears duffed up by a bit of banging bass. Here you get an easy way to control that, and it's brilliant.
In sound terms, the Minx is just brilliant, we love it.
There's an app for that, obviously
As you might expect, there's an app for the Minx. Both Android and iOS have a version of it, and both work in a similar way. The iOS version is better because it integrates more seamlessly with the AirPlay functionality. You can send music from your Apple device from the app, whereas in the Android version you have to step outside it, and use the standard Android player, and connect via Bluetooth, with the problems we mentioned before about that.
There are some things about the Minx 200 that we found a little bit annoying. But we do mean "little bit", there is so much to love here that we don't want to overplay a few bugs, especially as some of them could be overcome with a firmware update.
The quality is really the most important thing, and in this regard the Minx 200 delivers in style. We love the audio, the bass is astounding, but never at the cost of the overall sound. The Bluetooth makes us a bit grumpy, because it's fiddly and seems less impressive than AirPlay, even though it's APT-X ready, so should offer some great audio transmission.
In summary then, if the steep price isn't a problem for you, we think you'll have a blast with the Minx 200. Just watch that hearing, because it will surprise the hell out of you.