Wayne Thorp will speak at the 2015 AAII Investor Conference this fall; go to www.aaii.com/conference for more details.
High-end speaker with wireless music streaming via Bluetooth and AirPlay
You may say that this has been the summer of the wireless speaker for this column. In June, I did a head-to-head comparison of three portable Bluetooth speakers that were perfect for the beach, a picnic or just out on your patio. While these speakers were great for smaller spaces, they did not offer the full-room sound many people look for. Therefore, when I came across the latest offering from Cambridge Audio, the Minx Air 200, I was quick to contact them. I was fortunate to get a loaner model and have been using it in my office for the last several weeks.
If you read the column regularly, you know I place much greater emphasis on performance and functionality over looks and design. However, I was surprised by how bland the Minx Air 200 looked when I first unpacked it. For $600, I would expect something a little more stylish than a glossy white plastic body and with a gray fabric cover over the speaker grille. The second thing I noticed with the Minx Air 200 is its weight, which is a bit over 11 pounds. While this isn’t intended to be a portable speaker (it doesn’t have a battery, so it always has to be plugged in), it definitely has some mass behind it. The speaker measures 17.7 inches by 8.7 inches by 6.9 inches.
On the top panel of the speaker are two banks of five hardware buttons: on the left are five Internet radio preset buttons, while on the right there are buttons for Bluetooth, analog input, volume up/down and power.
On the back panel is the power input port, bass level control, WPS button, Ethernet port, micro-USB jack, 3.5 mm aux input and a pair of stereo RCA inputs.
Inside the speaker is a 200-watt class-D amplifier that powers two 2.25-inch drivers and a 6.5-inch subwoofer.
The Minx Air 200 also comes with a black plastic remote that has three rows with six buttons in each. With the remote you can control the volume and mute; activate Bluetooth; adjust the bass; and select from the 10 Internet radio presets.
One interesting feature of the Minx Air 200 is that it supports wireless streaming via both Bluetooth and AirPlay. I have never used AirPlay before and I immediately came to realize why it seemingly is falling out of failure: setup, especially compared to Bluetooth, is archaic and complicated (especially for those who aren’t overly tech savvy). Trying to connect to AirPlay over the office Wi-Fi network failed miserably, so I stuck to what I know best, Bluetooth. Pairing the speaker to my iPhone via Bluetooth proved to be a bit problematic as well. Getting the speaker into pair mode was an exercise in patience; pressing the Bluetooth button didn’t always turn on the Bluetooth radio. Even after I had paired my iPhone with the Minx Air 200, it never automatically reconnected, unlike most other Bluetooth devices I’ve used. The one drawback with Bluetooth compared to AirPlay is that you have to have the device from which you are streaming within 30 feet of the speaker at all times. Even then, however, the connection isn’t reliable. I had the speaker sitting on a bookcase in my office, which is less than 10 feet from my desk, and on numerous occasions my iPhone would lose connection with the speaker and would require re-pairing.
Cambridge Audio has also produced an app for the Minx speaker system that is available for Android and iOS device users. With the free app you can adjust bass levels and set EQ controls and search settings. With it you can also select the presets for the Internet radio buttons on the speaker and the remote.
I am a big fan of Internet radio, especially Pandora and iHeartRadio, and the Minx Air 200 capitalizes on the medium’s popularity by offering 10 preset Internet radio channels. What is even more unique is that you can cycle through five of these 10 using hardware buttons on the top panel of the speaker, which means you can listen to Internet radio without having the speaker connected to a device.
The Minx Air 200 has patented BMR (Balanced Mode Radiator) speaker drivers that, according to the company, deliver a wider, more room-filling sound than similarly sized “traditional” speakers. The speaker also has digital signal processing that coaxes as much sound as possible from the compact enclosure. In addition, the Digital to Analog converters deliver the maximum detail from digital files before converting them to the actual sounds you hear.
After listening to a number of portable Bluetooth speakers over the last several weeks, I was impressed with the Minx Air 200’s clear and powerful sound. What’s more, there is absolutely no distortion, even at high levels. Part of this is because of the speaker’s solid construction, which prevents rattling at high volume. The other is that, for a speaker of its size, the Minx Air 200 volume doesn’t go incredibly high.
Even with the very good sound quality, I was left with a nagging feeling that I should be getting more. I was expecting a little more separation in the sound, but perhaps that is because most of my music listening these days is done with high-end headphones. Or maybe it was that I wasn’t blown away by a speaker that costs $600. Whatever it was, I felt a bit shortchanged by the experience.
The Cambridge Audio Minx Air 200 is a solid speaker, delivering clear whole-room sound. The sound quality is good, but for $600 I expected more from it. Furthermore, while I always say that I put function over form, the Minx Air 200 disappointed me in the looks department given its price point. Add to it the archaic AirPlay setup and the surprisingly spotty Bluetooth connection, and I would recommend you look elsewhere for a high-end wireless speaker.
Cambridge Audio Minx Air 200 wireless speaker system
$599 (Currently $599 from Amazon.com)