When it comes to Bluetooth speakers there's real variety available, making that choice all the more difficult. There's waterproof, waterbottle-shaped, portable, high-end, affordable, big brand and no name.
As a company X-mini is best known for an innovative capsule speaker that launched a few years ago, but can it cut it in the packed Bluetooth speaker market too? The X-mini Clear differentiates itself by design, as well as pushing audio clarity - and the results are rather pleasing.
Made you look
The immediate thing that jumps out about the X-mini Clear is the rear, which is clear plastic. That gives you full view of the uncluttered internals, bringing the sort of retro charm that you might associate with a valve amplifier.
Normally the inner workings are hidden away, so this is certainly a talking point. The fact that X-mini has added some LED lighting to add illumination gives added appeal, especially when the lights drop.
The detailing of the back, with minimal circuitry attached to each driver, and a battery towards the bottom, is paired with a black front, with hexagonal carbon-fibre-esque patterning surrounding the drivers.
Those LED lights aren't garish, although if you have the front grille removed (as in our photos) then they are visible in the front ports, which you'll notice as you get closer to the speaker. The optional grille magnetically attaches, but we like the look of the copper-coloured ceramic drivers flanking the central 70mm active subwoofer.
If there's one thing we're less keen on, it's the touch controls. Not only do they need long, deliberate, touches, their glossy finish is a fingerprint magnet: you'll need to wipe them clean to keep the X-mini looking its best. And after a couple of weeks, you'll find it attracts a lot of dust too.
As a small scale speaker (it measures 218 x 89.5 x 112mm) the X-mini Clear makes a clear impression (a pun we couldn't avoid). Where so many speakers are boring boxes fronted with a grille, the X-mini is a good-looking piece of gadgetry that you'll be happy to have on display.
The internal battery has a 6600mAh capacity, so if you fancy taking it on the go then you'll enjoy 10 hours of playback without it being plugged in. We found that to be accurate in use, but when recharging is needed there's a charger included in the box. Problem is, it's chunky and comes with a power brick attached - we can't help feeling it could be more compact, which would be more appealing for those looking to leave the X-mini Clear permanently plugged in.
Bluetooth is paired with NFC for easy connection, so if you have a compatible phone (Android, Windows Phone, BlackBerry) then you can just tap it with your phone and initiate the connection. For non-NFC devices, such as an iPhone, iPad or computer, you'll have to trigger manual pairing - but that's also easy to setup.
It's also possible to switch to the auxiliary input, with a 3.5mm connection on the rear of the X-mini Clear for those wanting a cable connection, perhaps from an older MP3 player or iPod. There's also a USB connection for charging a separate device when out and about, to ensure that all that music playback doesn't leave you with a flat phone battery.
When powered on the X-mini Clear's touch control are nicely illuminated, with an orange backlight. Aside from the power on, there are volume and playback controls, letting you skip tracks on your source device, as well as pause.
Functionality of controls depends on what you've connected to the speaker: streaming from Spotify on an Android handset, for example, the controls would skip tracks - whereas when connected to a Mac, those controls wanted to operate iTunes, even if we weren't using it.
Finally there's a touch control for the both the LED illumination and the input (Bluetooth/AUX as mentioned). Combining the two together is a little fiddly, as you might be trying to switch the lighting, only to find it's switched over to a different input instead.
Rather than the X-mini Clear's name just being a play on words, it also alludes to another quality: audio clarity. The independent amplifiers and active subwoofer within are all designed to make sure your music doesn't end up sounding like mush, with the vented interior allowing plenty of air movement.
Clarity is achieved, with plenty of detail coming from the variety of tracks we sampled, but it's evident that controlling bass plays a major part here. This speaker doesn't ramp the bass to fill in the gaps and overpower everything else.
That said, it is capable of delivering a crisp bass line. We suspect that some would want a little more bass, especially for genres like dance music. But fed on a diet of middle-of-the-road pop and the X-mini Clear delivers sound with skill, rather than a bassy burble.
For example, we wanted a little more from Foo Fighters' White Limo, which didn't roar from the X-mini Clear quite as ferociously as it could have, but that was set in contrast to crisp vocals and precise bass on Ariana Grande's Love Me Harder, where this speaker performs far better. That contrast sums up the X-mini's performance.
Volume is handled well enough, but there's noticeable distortion and vibration at higher levels. Stay away from maximum volume, but even at lower output levels you'll get room-filling audio.
Beyond the audio there's a little light show using those rear positioned LEDs. Two options are on offer to accompany your tracks.
The first, and slightly more manic, sees the colour pulsing and changing with the beat of track - all rather fitting for Foo Fighters. The second, which is more ambient, softly changes through the colour hues on offer - much more in keeping with Grande. It's the latter option that's more relaxing, preferable for those lazy evenings relaxing to a few tunes.
It takes something special to standout from the Bluetooth speaker crowd and the X-mini Clear succeeds with a double-header: not only does it have an interesting clear rear panel design, but the audio is equally clear (so long as you don't max out the volume).
As a portable speaker the battery life is decent, and the USB charging facility for other devices is a clever touch. The main letdown is the chunky charger which might impact on the otherwise centrepiece design.
Put it on display and watch the accompanying LED lightshow dance to your favourite tunes. Visually and audibly the X-mini Clear has something to get your gadget senses tingling.
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