Review: Bose's SoundLink Mini is an exceptional Bluetooth speaker

Posted:
in General Discussion edited November 2015
Bluetooth speakers are one of the most popular accessories for mobile devices, helping pump up the volume from audio-limited smartphones and tablets. AppleInsider took a look at Bose's SoundLink Mini to see how it fares in this crowded space.

Bose's SoundLink Mini in its charging cradle.
Bose's SoundLink Mini in its charging cradle.


Our verdict: If you're in the market for a palm-sized Bluetooth speaker and don't mind spending $200, buy the SoundLink Mini.

Choosing speakers has never been an easy task; over the last century, thousands of manufacturers have produced a nearly endless array of options. Any given store might carry a subset of models numbering in the hundreds, forcing even the most seasoned shopper into decision paralysis.

Most of us know the feeling of spending hours in our local big-box electronics retailer, dutifully switching between dozens of speakers by pressing little plastic buttons on a shelf, sending electrons surging through 16-gauge wires to power the field magnet, move the voice coil, and vibrate the cardboard or fiberglass or kevlar cone to produce sound.

Trying, desperately, to find some hum or buzz or muddy bassline that we could latch onto in an effort to discern one from another before anyone noticed we were listening to Oops!... I Did It Again at an unacceptable volume.

Fortunately, that painful process is largely gone, replaced instead by a thorough scouring of Amazon reviews and Reddit recommendations to find the best-sounding set. But now we have a whole new world to contend with: speakers with wireless stuff bolted onto them.

Enter Bluetooth

In the beginning, Bluetooth speakers had a very specific purpose: amping up the volume of a portable music player while camping, barbecuing, or hanging at the beach. Larger, stationary audio systems handled those duties at home.

Lately, however, a shift is on. Bluetooth speakers have become constant companions as people downsize from suburban houses to smaller city-center apartments; the recent trend toward living more simply means eschewing multiple devices where one will do.

Manufacturers have followed this progression, designing portable speakers to perform more capably indoors, where quality is more important than volume. Some now come with optional charging docks, and others with built-in microphones to double as smartphone-connected speakerphones.
The SoundLink Mini boasts more than 4,000 5-star reviews on Amazon
Bose is perhaps the biggest beneficiary of this change. Though the revered QuietComfort line of noise-canceling headphones deserves credit for pulling the brand out of the doldrums, its portable audio systems have quickly put Bose back on top.

Of the 10 best-selling Bluetooth speakers on Amazon, only two cost more than $45: Bose's SoundLink Mini and SoundLink Color, which come in at $199 and $129, respectively. There's a reason for that.

AppleInsider has spent a month with the $199 SoundLink Mini, using it as our primary in-home audio source. For reference, we tested the device in a modestly-sized one-bedroom flat just above street level in central Hong Kong.

Hardware

There's only one word to describe the SoundLink Mini: solid. Its aluminum casing gives the unit a distinctly premium feel, and the weight is substantial; not too heavy, but noticeably heftier than competitors like Jawbone's Mini Jambox or the Beats Pill.

Thankfully, Bose has graced the SoundLink Mini with an understated, dignified industrial design that will blend in to all but the most bohemian decor. It's not unlike a Volvo sedan --?it won't win any awards for styling, but it's not embarrassing to be seen with.




The top features a row of six buttons: one each for power, mute, volume up and down, Bluetooth, and auxiliary. The buttons are sealed behind a rubber strip, and four --?power, mute, Bluetooth, and aux --?are indented, while the two volume buttons rise slightly to help identify them by touch

Truthfully, we don't really like the buttons --?they aren't necessarily bad, they just don't feel right. They're a bit fiddly, and rubber makes it seem as though they were intended for a water-resistant device, which the SoundLink Mini is not.

Around the right side is a standard 3.5mm headphone jack used for connecting devices directly to the speaker, flanked by a power port that takes input from a small "wall wart"-style plug. The plug comes with American prongs built in, but Bose includes a number of country-specific adapters in the box, a welcome touch.

The left side of the unit is blank, while the fore and aft faces are covered in a fine metallic mesh with the Bose logo screen printed on the front.

The bottom sports a micro USB port for firmware updates as well as a small pressure connector for charging the SoundLink Mini via the included dock. A single rubber "foot" serves to both stabilize the device and cover up the 2,230 mAh battery, which is designed to be replaceable.


The SoundLink Mini's rubber foot hides a battery that can be easily replaced when it wears out.
The SoundLink Mini's rubber foot hides a battery that can be easily replaced when it wears out.

In Use

Pairing the SoundLink Mini to a Bluetooth audio source is fairly straightforward. Turn the unit on, press the Bluetooth button until it blinks --?which indicates it's discoverable --?then select it in the Bluetooth settings of your iPhone, iPad, Mac, or other Bluetooth device of choice.

The SoundLink Mini will remember up to six Bluetooth devices at a time, though you can add as many as you like; it will simply drop the least-recently connected device from its memory.

In our tests, Bluetooth connection time rarely exceeded three seconds. If the last connected device is in range, simply turning the SoundLink Mini on usually results in an almost immediate pairing.





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Sound quality is simply astounding for a device of this size, whether connected via Bluetooth or the auxiliary jack. Mids are well-rounded, highs are crisp and detailed, and the bass is punchy, with an extraordinary amount of thump.

The SoundLink Mini faithfully reproduces every note of Bob Dylan's harmonica on It's All Over Now, Baby Blue. Jimi Hendrix's guitar in Foxy Lady is just as clear as the drums-from-a-box on Paul Oakenfold's The Harder They Come, which the SoundLink Mini can project to fill a room in convincing fashion.

One of our primary use cases for the SoundLink Mini is tethered to our Apple TV as a sort of miniature soundbar for the television. In this job too the SoundLink Mini excels, standing head and shoulders above the built-in speakers on our Samsung LED set and adding a pleasing low end to gunfire or explosions.

It's this latter role that reveals the SoundLink Mini's greatest weakness: it doesn't have a remote control. In fairness, this only matters when using the auxiliary port --?and none of Bose's competitors in this space have one either -- but it's still something we would like to have seen in the box for a $200 device.

Battery life is a stated seven hours, a figure we were able to more-or-less match in our tests. This isn't exactly an impressive figure compared to competitors that boast 10 hours or more off the grid, but it's an acceptable number given that sound quality isn't noticeably different without the wall wart.


Conclusion

The Bose SoundLink Mini isn't perfect. It's a little heavy, a little expensive, and there's no remote control. It doesn't have a microphone, so it can't be used for calls. It doesn't get as loud as some others, and it's not waterproof.

It doesn't matter. At various points, we've also spent time with Jawbone's Mini Jambox, the Beats Pill, UE's Boom, and JBL's Pulse, and there is simply no other speaker of this size that delivers the kind of full, room-filling sound that the SoundLink Mini is capable of. It may not be the best speaker for every situation, but it's the best one overall.

If you're in the market for a palm-sized Bluetooth speaker and don't mind spending $200, buy the SoundLink Mini.

Score: 4.5 out of 5
image

Pros:
  • The audio is extraordinary for its size.
  • Excellent build quality.
  • Bluetooth pairing is trouble-free.
Cons:
  • Some will find the $200 price tag excessive.
  • Doesn't have a built-in microphone for use as a speakerphone.
  • The battery could last longer.
Where to buy:

Bose's SoundLink Mini is available for $199 from Apple retail stores and online retailers like Amazon.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 73
    That's a nice review. And I agree; I listened to these the other day in a store, a big store, and they indeed sound good. Thinking of gifting this to a friend who doesn't have any speakers in the kitchen, the place where she spent most of her time.

    This was odd; I don;t have any plugins installed and normally can view a .gif just fine:
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  • Reply 2 of 73
    dewmedewme Posts: 1,896member
    I love this speaker for all the same reasons the author described. The only nit for me is the proprietary power connector and charging dock. I'd prefer a micro USB so I don't have to pack the special dock with the speaker when I travel. Too many damn one-off solutions are making our lives miserable. But at least we can listen to some sweet music to soothe the pain!
  • Reply 3 of 73
    esoomesoom Posts: 155member
    I've bought 5 of these so far (one for me and 4 as gifts), use it at work every day, the sound is amazing, and I used to view Bose as equivalent to Monster Cable, the zillion & one reviews on Amazon convinced me to give it a try.

    As mentioned, no microphone, so it doesn't function as a phone extender, but I don't use that functionality.

    After having owned it for some time, my only criticism is that the aluminum is soft and scratches easily.

    Two thumbs up, insane sound for such a tiny speaker.

    Beware, and only buy from an authorized dealer, there are knock offs floating around, and they're almost impossible to tell from the real thing, physically.
  • Reply 4 of 73
    paxmanpaxman Posts: 4,589member
    I just sold my Bose Soundlink and got an equally good speaker, crucially- with a dock for the iPhone for half the price. The Bluetooth connection on the Bose was such a pain and when you are several people sharing the number of steps required to get the thing to work was a deal breaker. Hopefully the mini as per this review is much better.

    In my view a physical dock is so much preferable to Bluetooth.
  • Reply 5 of 73
    BOSE SUCKS
  • Reply 6 of 73
    rogifanrogifan Posts: 10,669member
    I have this speaker and I love it. For everyone that complains about Bose quality being crap like Beats this speaker does not fall into that category.
  • Reply 7 of 73

    Good sound, but the design is a little dated. Don't like the rubbery buttons or the lack of call support and line-Out. I also prefer the LiveAudio mode of the Jawbone mini jambox and multi play functionality. After 2 years on the market, time for Bose to update this model.

    If you want room filling sound with great bass, the Beats Pill XL is the one to get.

  • Reply 8 of 73
    john.bjohn.b Posts: 2,716member

    I looked at any number of Bluetooth speakers this past Christmas for presents and wound up buying the Sony X3 and X5 over the Bose, Beats, UE, JBL, etc.

     

    I thought the Soundlink Mini was weak for the $200 price point.

  • Reply 9 of 73
    philboogie wrote: »
    This was odd; I don;t have any plugins installed and normally can view a .gif just fine:

    It's not you, but the link they used. I'm not sure if the following is one they wanted to use, but I found one that does work for the intended image…

  • Reply 10 of 73
    solipsismy wrote: »

    30 megs? That's the biggest .gif I've ever seen! Is showing a video through .gif a new 'standard'?

    Thanks!
  • Reply 11 of 73

    I considered this one, but my own personal complaint is the big BOSE tag on the speaker grille. If I already chose a product and paid for it, I don't need to be reminded what it is. The only purpose for that is to advertise Bose's brand for them-lame! Contrast this with Apple; Apple typically designs their kit so the user needn't look at an ?-others might, but not the owner. I don't see an Apple logo on the front of my AppleTV or MacBook, iPhone, or iPad and it seems I won't see one on my ?Watch. It's my personal thing, but I avoid products with conspicuous logos as often as I can.

  • Reply 12 of 73
    john.b wrote: »
    I looked at any number of Bluetooth speakers this past Christmas for presents and wound up buying the Sony X3 and X5 over the Bose, Beats, UE, JBL, etc.

    I thought the Soundlink Mini was weak for the $200 price point.

    This. I wish the reviewer had done a comparo with some of these models. I think the X3 is an exceptional value for $99 at a certain members-only big box retailer, and it comes with a protective case, too.
  • Reply 13 of 73
    solipsismysolipsismy Posts: 5,099member
    I bought some BT speakers for the bathroom recently on Amazon. I think they cost around $15. It also comes with a built in FM radio and a battery, both of which I didn't really want.

    My only gripe [U]was[/U] that I have access Settings » Bluetooth to Connect to the speakers when I want to use them. That sounds like a chore, but it's in the ballpark of swiping up on my iPhone and changing the audio to the BT speakers, and I get the added benefit that if I hit stop on my iPhone and then leave the radius it will disconnect and not auto-reconnect when I enter it again, which is an unexpected convenience, albeit extremely minor.
  • Reply 14 of 73
    magman1979magman1979 Posts: 1,108member
    carthusia wrote: »
    I considered this one, but my own personal complaint is the big BOSE tag on the speaker grille. If I already chose a product and paid for it, I don't need to be reminded what it is. The only purpose for that is to advertise Bose's brand for them-lame! Contrast this with Apple; Apple typically designs their kit so the user needn't look at an ?-others might, but not the owner. I don't see an Apple logo on the front of my AppleTV or MacBook, iPhone, or iPad and it seems I won't see one on my ?Watch. It's my personal thing, but I avoid products with conspicuous logos as often as I can.
    Seriously? You opted not to buy one of the best battery-powered Bluetooth speakers in existence because the company logo is on the front grill? Sorry, but that's just down right silly.
  • Reply 15 of 73
    magman1979magman1979 Posts: 1,108member
    I got one of these as a Christmas present shortly after they first came out just over a year ago, and I regularly use it, smiling each time I turn it on! I've shown it off to several of my friends and co-workers, and their initial reaction to the look has always been "oh that's cute", which quickly turns into "whoa that is sick" when I crank it up!

    I agree with some of the commenters here that the aluminum used is a bit too soft and easy to ding, but I baby mine, so not a huge worry for me.

    I recommend these to everyone who needs battery speakers, despite not being a fan of Bose for anything else.
  • Reply 16 of 73
    This speakers are amazing!!!! I took them to work and everyone was impressed. Not two other people night them this holidays
  • Reply 17 of 73

    One of our primary use cases for the SoundLink Mini is tethered to our Apple TV as a sort of miniature soundbar for the television. In this job too the SoundLink Mini excels, standing head and shoulders above the built-in speakers on our Samsung LED set and adding a pleasing low end to gunfire or explosions.

    How did you accomplish this? The Apple TV has neither an analog audio output nor does it have the ability to use Bluetooth for anything other than a wireless keyboard.

  • Reply 18 of 73
    Quote:

    Originally Posted by MagMan1979 View Post





    Seriously? You opted not to buy one of the best battery-powered Bluetooth speakers in existence because the company logo is on the front grill? Sorry, but that's just down right silly.



    No it's not silly, just my preference. We all have things we care about aesthetically and that's mine. It's not as if I heard it was a "best-of-class" must have. Think of it this way, if there were a great pair of stereo bookshelf or floor speakers, would you care if there was a logo emblazoned on the front grilles? I wouldn't buy them no matter what the quality or reviews. 

  • Reply 19 of 73
    magman1979magman1979 Posts: 1,108member
    carthusia wrote: »

    No it's not silly, just my preference. We all have things we care about aesthetically and that's mine. It's not as if I heard it was a "best-of-class" must have. Think of it this way, if there were a great pair of stereo bookshelf or floor speakers, would you care if there was a logo emblazoned on the front grilles? I wouldn't buy them no matter what the quality or reviews. 
    Sorry, this is still illogical... You're essentially saying you'd be willing to buy a sub-par product over the superior product, just because of a corporate logo on the superior model. That completely defies rational reasoning. Almost every consumer electronics product made today, whether computers, home appliances, TV's, stereo amplifiers, coffee makers, have the corporate brand logo (and sometimes model number) emblazoned on the front of the product. As long as the product I want is made by a reputable brand, and provides the quality and benefits I'm looking for, I don't care if it has a brand logo.

    BTW, MacBook Pro's have the illuminated ? logo on the back of the display, and I show it off proudly when in public. This is also corporate branding.
  • Reply 20 of 73

    I tried these out recently: the sound was decent, for the size and price. I wouldn't say that it deserves a 4.5/5.0. The $300 model (the larger Soundlink) sounds so much better.

     

    I finally settled on the B&O Beoplay A2, at twice the price: spectacularly high-quality sound. I could not believe my ears. However, despite B&O's claims of 24-hour battery life on a full charge, I've been getting a pathetic couple of hours. (This, after exchanging it for the first one which had the same problem.) I might have to return it.

     

    Still looking for the B&O A2-type sound on a bluetooth speaker, with long battery life...

     

    Add: I also checked out the uber-cool, hi-tech looking Clio (http://clearviewaudio.com). Simply gorgeous, but the sound quality still has a slight ways to go. I think it mitt worth a serious consideration a couple of years down the road.

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