Denon Envaya Mini Review – An Audiophile Grade Bluetooth Speaker?

Introduction – 

Even though I have a nice collection of earphones and headphones at home, I still value having good speakers on my devices simply for convenience when out and about and occasionally to share with others. Sometimes it`s not practical to use earphones/headphones such as outside on the veranda when it`s windy. I remember hearing my friend`s UE Boom for the first time and thinking, “Hey, that sounds pretty good.” This was especially so when considering that the speaker was waterproof, wireless and compact, all things associated with poor sound quality. I was impressed, but when he told me it cost $200 AUD, I was less enthused. Sure it was a good, feature rich speaker, but my $120 Edifier E25`s were much, much better. It didn`t make sense at the time from a value perspective, but it definitely piqued my interest.

DSC03291

I put bluetooth speakers off for a while, but came back to them a few years later when I bought an ultrabook with speakers that made my apple earpods sound rich. I`ve always felt that Logitech was well established in the portable bluetooth speaker scene with their UE Roll, Boom and Megaboom lineup; all compact wireless speakers with added water resistance that had earned their share of editor`s choice awards. This lead me to buy a UE Mini Boom which I immediately hated. It got loud, but I didn`t need that, and many online reviews were simply outdated. The sound was too big, it was too full bodied and lacking in any detail or clarity. Add to this very high latency and this speaker just left a sour taste in the mouth.

 

DSC03695

I later went to a few retailers and tried the UE Roll, JBL Flip 3, Soundlink Mini and many more. They were good, much better than the UE Mini Boom for sure, but they were also expensive and none really stood out to me sound wise. A well known youtuber Clavinetjunkie had only good things to say about the envaya mini and his objective listening tests only backed this up, the speaker sounded great, I also liked the design. I decided to take a risk based upon his brilliant online comparison tool (called oluvsgadgets) and buy the envaya mini. It cost me $130 AUD shipped which is cheaper than even the budget JBL Flip 3 and half the price of the top of the range Bose Soundlink Mini. Even with expectations high, I`m delighted to say that the envaya mini sounds even better in person, it is perhaps one of the most impressive pieces of audio tech I`ve tested of recent, see the design and sound sections below to find out why.

 

About Me – Some background, Gear of choice, Preferences and Biases

I generally prefer a slight v-shape to my sound, but still closer to neutral. I like a lot of detail and clarity, but can appreciate a smooth, laid back sound such as that on the X10`s. I prefer a more neutral midrange within a relatively tight tolerance, but I`m probably more forgiving of brightness over darkness. I`m not particularly treble sensitive and can tolerate large amounts without fatigue, though too much ruins the enjoyment. If I use a different eartip/pad/cover during the review I will note that and describe the sound changes.

Read More

 

Accessories – 

DSC03655

The packaging presents very well with a premium, treasure chest like box that feels very solid and protective. The speaker peaks out from beneath the lid and another flap underneath the speaker reveals  the charging cable, a nice velvet pouch and papers.

DSC03661

I would have liked a softer pouch, but the included one is still very nice; a slight purple hue makes it look quite luxurious. It will prevent scratches and scuffs when chucking the speaker into a bag or such.

DSC03662

The speaker doesn`t come with a wall adapter and Denon recommends using a charger that outputs no higher than 5v and 2.4a. I`m not sure how intelligent the charging circuit inside the speaker is, but some chargers that output higher amperage and voltage (such as 5.1v chargers or 9v QC2.0 chargers) may not play well with the inbuilt cell. Some buyers have noted battery issues down the road so it might be safer to use a 1a charger. In the past month that i`ve had the speaker, I didn`t notice any abnormal heating or coil whine when charging the speaker, even at the full 2.4amps.

DSC03653

Here you can see that the speaker supports NFC and low latency Apt-X, a rare feature in portable speakers and even computer speakers. Most modern smartphones and laptops support this codec for minimal quality loss over bluetooth.

 

Design – 

DSC03663

The speaker is impeccably constructed with a surprisingly weighty feel in the hand (just over 500g). It looks great with a very well finished matte black metal grill that encompasses the whole baton-like speaker. The grill is continuous with no seams and silver specks within the anodization creates a feeling of quality. Laser cut sound channels radiate from the Denon logo in the centre, creating a nice ripple effect that allows the underlying fabric to peek through.

It`s not as premium as the full metal Soundlink mini, but it`s also waterproof and far more refined than the fabric fascias of the UE Boom and JBL Flips. The speaker is also available in white with orange fabric underneath. It feels rugged and very solid, the grill does not flex at all.

The ends are capped with a very dense rubber that adds some drop protection and prevents the metal from getting scratched. The rubber is especially nice, it`s smooth and matte as opposed to grippy and tacky, but the speaker is still very easy to hold. As a result, it also doesn`t attract dust like the grippier UE speakers do. At the bottom are two softer feet that absorb vibration very well. Even at max volume, I did not find the speaker to dance around at all. It is well sized and smaller than both the soundlink mini and UE Boom, fitting comfortably in any bag and it`s absolutely at home in the bottle holder. The speaker is not waterproof, but water resistant (ipx4) which means splashes, not full submersion. You can wash it under the tap and take it into the shower if that`s your thing, but I wouldn`t throw it in the pool, unlike the UE lineup it will not float.

DSC03668

The speaker faces upwards at a slight angle and is well suited to near field listening, such as at the computer, but it will work well outdoors on the floor or a table for example. It is much more stable than upright speaker.

DSC03677

The speaker has five buttons in total, arranged in a very minimalist manner. The four buttons on the right control volume and power but there is also a play/pause button which is a nice touch. There is only a single button on the left which activates a battery indicator LED. It reports remaining battery life in thirds, flashing green, orange and red when there is less than 30% remaining. There is also a flap on the left which covers the micro b port for charging and a 3.5mm line-in port. The flap is double ridged for extra seal. Of note, the speaker has 100 volume steps that work independent of your device source volume. This very fine stepped control is great for precision and works well at home, but it`s actually too much when outside and it can take a long time get accurate adjustments. The power that the amp draws is directly related to speaker volume, if you get low battery life, keep the speaker around 50/100 and change the volume on your source, I get the claimed 8-10 hours with moderate volumes.

DSC03676

I did notice that the internal amp produces a very slight hiss, and a high pitched whine below 70/100 volume. The whine is very strange, but the hiss is softer than that on my edifier e25`s and UE Mini Boom. Overall it`s barely perceptible unless you place the speaker right next to your ear or it`s dead quiet within the room. The amp noise doesn`t increase much with volume, it`s still very quiet even at max.

DSC03684

It`s worth noting that the speaker supports NFC for easy pairing and Apt-X, which aims to provide wireless CD quality, in theory it should have enough bandwidth to stream 320kps mp3`s at 48khz, 16bit as long as your device supports it. When using Apt-X, the envaya mini has noticeably lower latency than other speakers but even though it`s not supported on my laptop the latency remains low enough for movies and youtube, lower than the UE Mini Boom for sure.

 

Sound – 

While I don`t have a good enough microphone to put into context how good this speaker sounds, you can input the UE Mini Boom and envaya Mini into oluv`s comparison tool here, http://switcher.oluvsgadgets.net/. The difference is immense and the sound is greatly impressive on its own.

The speaker pursues a mildly V-shaped signature, but it`s quite balanced on a whole. It has the best end to end extension of any portable speaker and also, by far, the best soundstage and stereo separation. Coming from the competent UE Mini Boom and UE Boom 2 which both have virtually none, the sound was very well placed. Denon must be using some sort of psycho-acoustics to achieve this as the sound seems to extend beyond the body of the speaker. But beside DSPs, the drivers themselves are well situated and the wide housing means that they are about as lateral as they could go without compromising portability. Speaking of DSPs, the speaker sounds very rich even at low volumes through the use of volume compensation. From brief testing, the soundlink mini seemed to employ a similar system, but both the UE Boom and Mini Boom sound anemic at low levels and much fuller as volume increases. It`s a nice touch which adds to the versatility of this speaker.

Bass –

The bass has astounding extension, quite similar to the soundlink mini indeed, and far superior to all other speakers I`ve tested (JBL Flip 3, UE Mini Boom and Boom 2 to name a few). The bass extends about as far as my Edifier e25`s, which is as low as audible bass goes (~50hz), but it rolls off a lot more. You will get appreciable quantities of sub bass at all volumes except at the very top where the sound leans out. Outside, the speaker struggles a bit more, but the rest of the bass spectrum remains balanced. The sub-bass has a moderate boost and mid/upper bass response is tastefully accentuated. This produces the “large sound” that many Bluetooth speakers go for, but the envaya mini avoids over-boosting the upper bass and lower mids (and veiling the mids) since it doesn`t need to compensate for a lack of bass extension, there is plenty of raw sound information here, no tricks applied. Quality wise, the bass is very textured and punchy. Bass has fast, rounded notes which is typical of speaker employing passive radiators. Quite a lot of detail is retrieved and there is plenty of slam. I like to use older rock songs with heavy bass drums to judge bass potency and the envaya mini and soundlink mini are the only speakers with enough extension to accurately portray these songs. The bass performance is incredible for a portable speaker and decent even compared to lower end computer speakers. Of course you will get much more volume and sub-bass from a 2.1 system, but the envaya has nice quality and a tightness to the sound so rarely achieved.

Of note, the bass radiator is placed at the rear of the speaker, the bassiness of the soundlink mini can be attributed to the fact that it is one of the only speakers with the radiators facing forwards, and placing the envaya mini on its back results in far more bass quantity. It can be good for low level listening where, despite DSP compensation, the bass is a little less prominent and you can feel the low notes resonating through the table which is a bit more visceral.

Mids – 

The mids are the best of any portable bluetooth speaker period. It sounds like a bold claim, but the envaya mini impresses with great body and balance that avoids the clouded, veiled sound of most Bluetooth speakers such as the UE Mini Boom. Mildly more prominent lower mids provide a nice sense of richness whilst slightly recessed to neutral upper mids retain nice clarity. The UE Boom 2 by comparison offers quite a mid-forward sound signature, but less bass extension and a lack of soundstage creates congestion. UE attempts to compensate by boosting the upper bass which overly warms and clouds the mids. They sound good on their own with more emphasis on clarity, but lack the crispness, detail and richness of the envaya mini. The mids even work for classical and jazz sounds impeccable. They deal well with complex passages and although I wouldn`t consider them balanced compared to monitors or my Oppo PM3`s, there is far more balance here than on any other Bluetooth speaker in this price/size range. The Soundlink Mini also has a strong midrange performance, it`s not nearly as balanced as the envaya mini, but they have even more richness and detail at the cost of transparency and clarity. It`s a personal choice, but in Australia, the envaya mini is almost half the price of the Soundlink and, considering that it can even be considered superior to the Bose, serves as a testament to the envaya mini`s performance.

Highs – 

The treble is also quite impressive. It is very extended and airy, rolling off only at the very top. Most Bluetooth speakers don`t even have a treble response, the UE Mini Boom had none whilst the UE Boom 2 is only mediocre. The Soundlink Mini is also just average whilst the envaya mini has a treble response that is commendable, especially at the price and size. It`s not as resolving as the Edifier`s but the treble has appreciable definition and texturing is quite good. They even pick up the small details in most songs whilst avoiding fatigue. There is slight sibilance but it`s only audible if you know what to focus on. Considering that the envaya mini only uses two 40mm drivers, the end to end extension is fantastic.

 

Verdict –

DSC03685

The envaya mini is a very attractive speaker which provides a full and remarkably punchy sound that is also balanced enough for home use, something you can`t say about almost every other portable speaker out there. It has a refined build that still feels rugged and sturdy in the hand. The speaker uses class leading Bluetooth protocols for easy connection, great wireless audio quality and low latency for video use. The sound can be a little more directional than the more tubular speakers on the market and it isn`t fully waterproof, but the envaya mini more than makes up for it with stellar audio performance and versatility.

DSC03682

In the end, I really like the envaya mini, much more than I thought I would. For me, it lived up to the hype and then some. The envaya mini is a great portable speaker and, now selling for under $150, it is also cheaper than most of its competitors. I you are considering buying the JBL Flip 3 or a UE speaker, then I would highly recommend having a look at the envaya mini first, it is better in almost all aspects.

Accessories – 8.5/10, Comes with a very nice box, charging cable and a velvet case. I would have liked a wall charger as well, but for the price I`m fine using my phone adapter. Denon could possibly avoid the widespread battery failure complaints by including an adapter of desired output.

Design – 9.5/10, Seamless cloth and metal grills both look and feel great. It`s well finished, the rubberized surfaces are smoother rather than tacky and aren`t dust magnets, still grippy. Battery life is good at half speaker volume, using the source to change volume. Doesn`t dance or rattle at high volumes, buttons are functional with a useful battery indicator on the left. Supports apt-x and nfc. Water resistant for added peace of mind.

Bass – 6/10, Well extended and punchy with good impact. Organic and not overly boosted, the bass performance is very good for a portable speaker and amazing for the size.

Mids – 6.5/10, Plenty of detail and clarity. The sound is rich and smooth but the upper mids are a little recessed. Far more balanced than other speakers but not necessarily better, very good all around.

Treble – 6.5/10, Actually impressive, extended and airy. Contributes to the open soundstage. Treble is just right but could be a little more resolving. Light years ahead of the competition here.

Value – 10/10, I bought mine for $130 AUD which was a steal. It`s a lot better than lower tier speakers such as the UE Mini Boom and still a respectable amount better than more expensive speakers such as the UE Boom 2 and JBL Flip 3.

Overall – 10/10, The envaya mini is a very well rounded speaker that has no clear deficits in design or sound. Some users have reported limited battery longevity (battery life is fine) and while I haven`t had any problems so far, it is a concern. It`s a great alternative to the more mainstream speakers on the market and it`s well worth the effort to import.

*Update: So it`s been about 3 months since I purchased the speaker, and so far the battery has been fine. Batterylife is similar to the day I bought it, if not slightly better and the device is showing no signs of degradation. I actually dropped the speaker from around waist height onto concrete, and although I wouldn`t recommend it, the speaker landed square on it`s shock absorbent feet and returned without a scratch! I`ve also taken it to the beach and washed it in the shower dozens of times, the speakers seems well sealed and the finish has held up very well. From my experiences, I couldn`t recommend the Envaya mini more.

 

6 Comments Add yours

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s