Bose SoundLink Mini Bluetooth Speaker
Here is my take on the Soundlink II vs. the Mini (I have since tested the Soundlink III vs. the Mini as an edit to this review) as I think there are a lot of people out there who might be considering the two. I posted a picture in the main description with the two of them side by side so you won’t think I’m blowing smoke
I purchased both speakers because I wanted to see which one sounded the best because even though I was initially attracted to the small size of the Mini, I figured I’d keep the II and spend the extra hundred bucks if it sounded better overall. After testing the two, the Soundlink II is headed back to Bose. I actually ended up getting the II first because the Mini was backordered everywhere at the time.
I don’t even know how to explain it to you but the Mini actually sounds better than the II and it is 1/3rd the size. This makes no sense to me because the II has four drivers and two larger radiators and the mini has two drivers and two smaller radiators.
When I played the Soundlink II, the first thing that came to my mind was that somehow this speaker was lacking in more than a few ways. The bass was weak, it sounded rather flat, it wasn’t as loud as I was expecting it to be (yes, I pressed the volume button on the speaker till I saw the flashing light which means it’s on max), and it had absolutely no stereo separation because you could easily pinpoint which direction the sound was coming from even at louder volumes. Honestly, I’d be embarrassed to turn the Soundlink II up during a party with a group of friends because I know it wouldn’t allow us to “feel the music” because the sound has no depth. I knew I was going to send the II back after about five minutes of listening but I listened to it a little more to see if I would change my mind. If you remove the Bose logo from the II, I don’t think you would pay more than $30 for it based on the sound quality alone. Yes, it sounded that bad to me. It sounded so bad that it made me angry that I even purchased it without listening to it in a store and even more angry that there are people out there writing positive reviews about how good the sound quality is when, in reality, the sound reproduction is lacking so much of the dynamics that give music its true impact. I’m not saying that I am expecting something like the Soundlink II to produce the sound of a much larger sound system but I do feel that it should be more refined considering its price tag and larger size.
When I received the Mini, the first thing that I noticed was not the sound but the design and build quality. I’m actually still in awe of how nice this unit really is. The case is made of SOLID ALUMINUM!!! It actually feels more like iron! Sometimes I just stare at it because they just don’t make stuff of this quality anymore. I like to hold it in one hand and tap on it with my knuckles and hear the solid sound that it makes! When you hold it in your hand you will just know right away that it is a high quality product. The Mini also has a nice rubber base that is slightly elevated and blends well with the surface you place it on so there is no ugly gap between the unit and the surface it is resting on. The rubber also provides a slip-proof surface and it probably absorbs excess vibrations produced by the speaker. The rubber base is removable and exposes the replaceable battery which is inside. The charging cradle is nice and slim and you can charge the Mini while in the dock or just plug the cord directly into the unit itself.
Now the II doesn’t look that bad either but there is just something about the Mini that is very attractive. Actually, I take that back, the Soundlink II is built well but it doesn’t look that good because it doesn’t even look like a speaker. It looks more like a book? More specifically, a book that is about to tip over at any moment. It looks even uglier when you flip the bi-fold cover on and lay it flat. The Mini, on the other hand, does look like a speaker. I actually can’t imagine designing it any better. Bose must have hired a new guy or gal to design it! I even think the small detail like the painted Bose logo looks so much better on it than a regular metal logo. The buttons on top feel nice and solid too. Build quality and design for the Mini gets 5+ stars!!!
Regarding the sound, as I stated earlier I am still scratching my head as to how or why this smaller unit sounds better than the larger II. Since I can’t explain it to you I will just say that there is nothing mini about the Mini’s sound. It addresses all the issues I had with the II. The reason I am happier with the Mini’s sound is because the size/performance ratio is much better than the II. With the II, I kept saying to myself “it should be louder than this” and “where’s the bass?” because the II should definitely be louder and more refined considering its larger size and higher price. When you crank up the II, it just sounds “sloppy.” When you crank up the Mini, it sounds tighter. I also want to say that I actually enjoy listening to the Mini on my desk at lower volumes. That’s actually what I bought it for. It’s just nice to know that it can get loud if you want it to. Also, I want to add that placement makes a big difference in sound. With either unit, you should have it face away from a wall so that the rear radiators can reflect the bass off the wall to amplify the sound. Try it for yourself and you will hear the difference.
In all fairness, I didn’t listen to the II for more than a few hours but I highly doubt there would be a night and day difference with any type of speaker break-in period. I have been an audio enthusiast for some time and I know that what I’m hearing with the II is pretty much close to how it was engineered to sound. I can’t see a speaker break-in period getting the bass to go down another note on the II. Even without any type of break-in period with the Mini, I am very happy with the sound.
To give you some faith in my review and to prove that I’m not one of those people who looks at Bose and automatically thinks “Bose is the best speaker company in the world best because they are expensive and they advertise everywhere…” I sold my Acoustimass 15 home theater speakers years ago for an NHT and Velodyne setup for my living room and I have never looked back. I’ll even be the first to tell you that I own the Wave Radio and I think Bose’s Waveguide technology is just hype with phenomenal marketing behind it. I don’t think Bose is anywhere near the best as far as sound reproduction goes but there are some things that the company does right and the Mini is a perfect example. Sound quality is a major factor in picking a speaker but believe it or not it is not the only factor. Aesthetics, build quality, and size to performance are also equally important factors when choosing a speaker. Ask yourself if you would buy a boxy 300 pound tower speaker with a giant footprint and put it in your living room just because somebody rated it as the greatest speaker in the world? Why do you think so many people bought the Acoustimass cube speakers? …It’s because they look good, blend well, and sound GOOD ENOUGH. So that’s why I am saying the Mini is an excellent speaker; not because I think it’s the best-sounding speaker but because there isn’t a Bluetooth/portable speaker on the market right now at this price point that comes close to offering you everything that the Mini does. I know I said earlier that the Soundlink II sounded disappointing because I felt that it was not refined but in the case of the Mini, I’m saying its a great product because it has some other factors going for it as well as the fact that it produces large, high-quality sound for its small size…which I believe is more refined than the larger Soundlink II.
Having said all of this, I cannot find anything that I dislike about this speaker. I hope you understand how I evaluate speakers and how I am evaluating the Mini. Asking for any more bass, greater dynamics, or louder volume considering its diminutive size, would be unrealistic. For what it is, I think you will be very happy with the Mini because there is nothing out there right now (that I can see) for two hundred bucks that can match it with regards to performance and overall quality. This is one of those Bose products that I wouldn’t even mind paying more for because it really looks and sounds that good. Finally, I want to say that setup took about five seconds for both models as they both recognized my iPhone immediately. Another added benefit of the Mini compared to the Soundlink II is the longer battery life. I also want to add that I actually don’t care that either unit doesn’t have a mic built into them or any other special features because after all, their primary use is for music playback. I mean a mic would be a cool feature but I can certainly live without it. Somewhere in the future I do see Bose releasing a Soundlink Mini II but for right now, I really don’t know what they could do to make this speaker look or sound any better than it already does.
5 stars and highly recommended!
EDIT 8/20/13: I ended up buying the neon green cover for it. Personally, I think the speaker looks much better without the cover but you might think differently.
EDIT 6/5/14: Today, I was at Target and I noticed that they had the Soundlink Mini and the Soundlink III on display side-by-side so I thought this was the best opportunity to test the III against the Mini. I pressed the demo button for the III first and I thought it sounded pretty good; it definitely sounded better than the older II from what I remember. I then hit the demo button for the Mini and quite honestly I actually thought the Mini sounded the same or better than the new Soundlink III. I played both speakers at a reasonable volume for what I thought was appropriate. I wasn’t about to blast both units while at the store but I’m sure the III would play louder than the Mini but then again, how many of us will listen to either unit at such high volume on a regular basis? I am so happy I bought the Mini and I’m still amazed how it manages to sound so good being that it is so small. I also want to add that they had the Beats Pill and Beatbox Portable on display side by side and I tested those out too. The Beats Pill sounded very disappointing to me; I just turned it off after a few seconds. Even though the larger Beatbox Portable sounded bigger and better than the Pill, interestingly it still didn’t sound anywhere as good as the Mini. The Mini is really a well-engineered product and I’m happy I own it.
Edit 2/19/15: I had been using the Mini exclusively for music but I have recently started using the Mini for watching movies and TV. We decided to hook the Mini up via Bluetooth to a projector and watch the Superbowl. I was amazed with the volume, imaging, depth, and clarity of the Mini. The small Mini actually sounded like a much larger soundbar. I can’t even describe the feeling but as soon as we turned it up, it just sounded amazing. Now granted acoustics could have played an important part as I had the mini set up about 6 inches from a concrete wall and that particular room had a 20 foot vaulted ceiling. I don’t know how much that helped amplify the sound but the Mini sounded like I had a decent size soundbar in the room. It was a great experience especially during the halftime show. I can honestly say the Mini brought the Superbowl to life.
The next week we watched “The Interview” and, again, it felt like we had a much larger soundbar. The dialog was crisp and very engaging and we were enveloped by the sound. The scene at the end with the guns and explosions was very realistic and had a lot of impact. I don’t know all the audiophile terms but the Mini did not sound like a TV speaker or even a small speaker. As I said earlier, what amazes me about this speaker is the depth it has. Small speakers usually don’t have depth because they are just so small and cannot reproduce a wide range of frequencies. This speaker somehow manages to reproduce highs and a decent amount of lower end frequencies to bring music (and now movies) to life. We didn’t even have the volume up the whole way but the Mini made the movie experience very enjoyable and it did justice for the big screen. If we didn’t have the Mini, we would have watched the movie on the projectors built in speaker and that would not do justice to a 100″ screen. As a result of this new found ability of the Mini, I plan on watching more TV and movies at home on the projector.
This speaker continues to impress me the more I use it; it is absolutely just perfect. I honestly don’t even think they could improve this speaker.
EDIT 6/5/15: I think I called it earlier…Bose has now released a Soundlink Mini II and by the looks of it, they haven’t changed anything other than adding a speakerphone and USB charging capability. Like I said earlier, the original Mini was that good that I didn’t believe they could do anything to improve its style or sound quality and I was right because the new Mini looks identical to the original! If I get a chance to listen to it, I will update again.