To be just another Bluetooth speaker nowadays often isn't enough, there needs to be something standout. Seeing that, Creative, the company that has been in the speaker game since making sound cards in the 80s, came up with the Sound BlasterAxx Axx 200.
The Axx 200 isn't just a good-looking Bluetooth speaker tower with touch controls, it's also a mobile charger for your phone, a conference call speakerphone, a Dictaphone and - get this - a megaphone. But are these extras enough to make you want to part with your money considering there's so much competition out there?
The Axx 200 is just shy of 200mm tall and a maximum of 72mm around. For the size the noise coming from the Axx 200 aptly plays on the Blaster aspect of its name. It's clear that Creative knows what it's doing in balancing digital sound.
When used outdoors there's enough power from the two 1.5in drivers to fill a barbeque party easily, though at full volume this does limit battery life. And at the very top level it can start to sound a little more crunchy, though not to the point of being bad or annoying.
Bass is always a bone of contention with portable Bluetooth speakers at the smaller scale. Thanks to the open sub outlet on the rear of the Axx 200 there's plenty of pounding low-end to be heard considering the size. In fact if you place your hand over the outlet when it's loud you can feel the puffs of air moving around. With the SBX setting turned on this is even more impressive, but with well-balanced treble too. You don't sacrifice sound quality for extra bass on the Axx 200.
Grab the mic
One of the things that separates the Axx 200 from some other Bluetooth portable speakers on the market is its microphone. Not only does it allow for conference calling, it'll also let the speaker double as a megaphone.
Yes, you can speak into the mic, after sliding and holding or locking the megaphone button, and your amplified voice will come out of the speaker. And you can pump it up to full volume for a really booming example of your own voice. There's a little echo but if you're using it at a party to get the drunken stragglers out it'll do the trick nicely.
Since conferencing is the primary use of the quad microphone array Creative has included some smarts to make this the best possible experience. On top of the 360-degree mics there's Crystal Clear Voice technology from Creative which lets the speaker focus on voices. This worked well to cut out background noise and deliver a headset-like quality to calls. Creative described this as a CrystalVoice Focus technology that effectively creates a beam which picks up your voice while dropping anything else. Should you want to share background music you can turn it off with the Voice Focus button.
If the Axx 200's equalisation isn't to your liking you can download the iOS or Android app, called Creative Sound Blaster Central, to adjust the levels to suit. But this isn't just for pro tweekers, there are quick settings too, and your phone can be paired instantly thanks to NFC built into the top of the tower.
For music there's SBX Defualt, Warm Sound or Smart Volume; for movies there's Dynamic Boost, Night Mode and Clear Dialog; while gaming offers Stadium Surround, Clear Comms or Cinematic Action.
Within SBX Default users can vary surround levels, crystaliser and bass - there's even crossover frequency settings should you need them. There's also a voice effects option for the megaphone with options for ork, robot and plenty more - although we couldn't get this to work as there was no audible difference to our ears.
The app also shows the Axx 200's battery which can be displayed as an icon at the top of your mobile should you want to have it at a glance. And there's a selection of one-touch buttons in the pull-down bar to toggle settings on and off.
The Sound BlasterAxx Axx 200 might have a rather silly name, but that's the only area where design goes awry - the hexagonal unit itself is fantastic.
Beautifully crafted out of metal and plastic the Axx 200 stands to not only deliver sound over obstacles but also to offer its mics and buttons at a more accessible height. We say buttons, it's all controlled with beautifully illuminated touch controls.
Top-side controls include mute, SBX, mic mute, Voice Focus, Noise Cancellation and phone mode. The back has plenty of real buttons including on and off which doubles as Bluetooth activation.
Hard switch mic muting and play controls are also useful. The Axx 200 has yet another use: as a Dictaphone. Put a microSD card in the back and you can record voice memos right to the card whenever they come to you. A good way to record your mates using the Dictaphone like fools without them knowing, if nothing else.
The only thing the Creative BlasterAxx doesn't have is a water-resistant build like the formidable (but pricier) Ultimate Ears UE Boom.
READ: UE Boom review
Power to all
The battery in the Axx 200 has plenty of juice at 5200mAh. That equates to 15 hours of playback according to Creative and from our use we'd agree. If you play music loud, however, then it won't be quite so long - but will still last over 10 hours. To recharge there's a cradle dock that the Axx 200 can easily slot into which we rather like.
If your phone is struggling for battery while sending music over Bluetooth the Axx 200 can help. Thanks to a USB port it is able to charge your mobile from its own battery. It's limited to 1A so no fast charging is possible - but you probably just want enough to keep both devices playing. We think it's a great feature.
Given the price point the Creative Sound BlasterAxx Axx 200 is an exceptional piece of kit. It may appear to be just another Bluetooth speaker but we think it's oh so much more.
For £130 you get a portable speaker, mobile charger, Dictaphone, megaphone and conferencing speaker. Not bad considering all parts of that actually work well and have been honed to perfection by Creative, a company with decades of experience in this area.
It looks great, sounds great and for this price the Axx 200 outshone our expectations right across the board.