Bose Soundlink Mini II Review – Luxury Design, Rich Sound
The first Soundlink Mini was quite an important product in the portable Bluetooth speaker landscape, it was one of the first speakers to use two opposing passive radiators and also one of the first to produce a proper bass response. It combined this extended, rich sound with a luxurious aluminium build and simple controls, creating a very appealing product.
Bose has since released an updated model, the one I have here, the Soundlink Mini II which features smarter electronics, increased battery life and slight differences to tuning. With such a minimalist approach to the refreshed model, does Bose`s offering still hold the top spot on the market?
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.
The Soundlink Mini II features one of the classiest designs of any bluetooth speaker. It presents very symmetrically and looks fantastic, but can be hard to orientate by feel.
Once you actually start playing music, it is easy to differentiate between front and back, just based on the clarity of the sound. A rubber rim runs around the front and back faces, providing some shock absorption, but I doubt the speaker would return unscathed from even a modest fall. Other Bluetooth speakers are much more rugged feeling, not more solid or sturdy, just rugged.
The Soundlink mini is noticeably heavier than the competition, a good or bad thing depending on your perspective. It weighs around 50% more than the Envaya Mini for example, a speaker that is itself quite hefty. As such, the Soundlink Mini II is immediately noticeable in a bag or pocket, but also feels especially premium and quality in the hand. The battery is not particularly large at 2330mah so the weight must come from large driver magnets and the metal housing.
Speaking of battery, runtimes are quite good on the Mini II, similar to the Envaya Mini at medium volumes but quite a bit longer at high volumes. You won`t struggle to meet the 10hr claim in normal use.
The Soundlink Mini II has no life-proof features such as water and dust resistance but the solid weight and all-aluminium build feel a step above the competition. The Envaya Mini is another speaker I praised for having a solid build, and it feels great too, but the rubber ends are inconsistent with the well-finished perforated aluminium grill.
At the end of the day, the Envaya Mini is actually more practical and hardy, but the Bose feels nicer and more consistent.
I did notice just a little flex in the very middle of the grill of the Soundlink, just in front of the radiators, but it is rock solid elsewhere. The Soundlink will look better in a home environment, but the Envaya remains leagues classier than any other waterproof speaker on the market.
Both have shock absorbent soft rubber on their base and neither walked around when playing at max volume. The Soudlink has a much larger base however, and is more stable as a result, the Envaya Mini can be accidentally rolled off the table due to it`s more cylindrical design.
The Soundlink Mini II has a more minimalist approach to controls with a multi-function button to play/pause and skip tracks, volume buttons and pairing button, that`s it. All are tactile and very easy to use.
The Soundlink doesn`t support NFC nor Apt-X (The Envaya Mini has noticeably less latency for movies and games), but pairing is simple and intuitive. Simply hold down the Bluetooth button until the icon begins to flash and it becomes discoverable to nearby devices. The Soundlink mini has a neat text to voice feature that announces the name of the device it`s connecting too, battery remaining, etc, it`s very nice but can be obtrusive at night. In addition, a single press of the Bluetooth button switches between the devices the speaker has remembered, making for simple transitions, useful in multi-room setups, etc. It also has 100 volume steps like the Envaya Mini for fine control. Despite the weight, the Soundlink Mini II is quite small, similar in size to the Envaya Mini and smaller than the UE Boom.
Initially I was really impressed by the Soundlink Mini II, It sounded very dynamic and rich, not balanced, but enjoyable nonetheless. After a few days of listening however, I`m still liking the Envaya Mini more. The Soundlink`s sound isn`t bad, in fact it`s probably one of the best small Bluetooth speakers in this size/price class. The midrange is the biggest issue, whilst the rest of the sound is very good. While the Envaya Mini`s mids are more natural, the Soundlink seems to be tuned mainly for contemporary music, a fare but polarizing choice. Spikes in the upper mids and certain sculpting emphasize electronically synthesized effects, however it can sound metallic, raspy and even thin at times with other material. The Envaya carries more details but the soundlink has more clarity, it really depends on preference, but the Envaya is technically better.
In terms of presentation, I found the Envaya Mini to be superior, with more instrument separation and soundstage. You can see that Bose has tried to separate the drivers as much as possible and whilst stereo separation is very good, they should have implemented a DSP like the Envaya Mini to achieve a wider field of sound. Both have volume compensation and sound rich at low volumes, the Soundlink especially so.
The Soundlink mini will go quite loud and I didn`t notice any distortion at full volume. It is about 20% louder than the Envaya Mini, but both easily fill my two car garage. The Soundlink employs two opposing passive bass radiators compared to the envaya`s single radiator. It also projects bass tones forward (producing a very rich, thick sound) whilst the envaya projects back and down (creating a more balanced, brighter sound). One could argue that balanced is the way to go, but while the bass of the envaya diffuses out over distance, the Bose sounds more balanced a few metres away. As such, I would recommend the Envaya for more near field listening, whilst the Bose is better suited for longer rooms perhaps.
The Soundlink has a boost to the sub-bass and mid-bass producing a lot of slam, but it`s not overly muddy. The upper-bass isn`t too emphasized unlike the UE Boom range providing a warm, but relatively clear midrange. The Bose soundlink Mini II has much more bass, both mid bass and sub-bass than the Envaya Mini and similar if not slightly better extension. While the bass response on the Soundlink Mini II isn`t as tight as the Envaya Mini, they are both similarly textured. The Envaya Mini`s sub-bass is punchier but the Soundlink has more slam. The bass performance is quite similar really, it just depends on preference.
One thing to note however, the Soundlink Mini II sounds more consistent than the Envaya Mini due to the front facing radiators, the rear firing radiator on the Envaya can get lost open spaces, resulting in an anemic sound.
The Soundlink Mini II is darker and richer sounding than the Envaya Mini and quite a bit more V-shaped. The warm mids flatter most genres of music but the drier midrange of the Envaya Mini sounds consistently cleaner. The upper midrange in particular is much better on the Envaya Mini, female vocals have more body, just the right amount, whilst the Soundlink Mini II sounds a bit raspy and thin. I can`t quite put my finger on it, but the Soundlink can sound a bit hollow, there is some sort of dip in the midrange of the soundlink that I don`t agree with, the Envaya sounds much more balanced on a whole. The thin upper midrange on the Soundlink Mini II can create the impression of more clarity or detail, but it sounds plain wrong when playing certain material.
The Soundlink Mini II`s treble response is not as sweet or textured as the Envaya Mini, but it`s still a very good treble response for a portable Bluetooth speaker. The Envaya Mini`s treble also extends more. The Soundlink Mini II is slightly more emphasized in the lower treble but lacks the top end sparkle of the Envaya. As such, the treble on the Soundlink is very textured with great body, it is also less fatiguing during long sessions.
Whilst the Soundlink Mini II is no longer class-leading, it is still a very good speaker. It is missing some features such as water-resistance and low laterncy apt-x which would have made it a much more versatile product, but in return you get an exceedingly premium build and top notch audio performance for a portable speaker. In addition, the electronics are smart and the batterylife is very good. I personally enjoy the sound of the Envaya Mini more, but the Soundlink Mini II still holds certain advantages, although it is much more expensive, around $250 vs $150. Despite that, the Soundlink Mini II is much easier to find at retailers and is commonly on sale. For those looking for a reliable, stylish and rich portable speaker, the Soundlink Mini II is a great choice for buyers in 2016.
Accessories – 10/10, Comes with a wall charger, cable and dock. Bose offer optional cases custom fit for the speaker, a great package befitting of the price.
Design – 8.5/10, Very premium, all aluminium build looks and feels great. Might be a bit too heavy for a portable speaker, but it is very stable during high volume playback as a result. Intuitive controls and smart electronics work perfectly. Missing a few features that would make it killer.
Bass – 6.25/10, A lot of slam and decent punch without the bloat of most speakers. Very consistent and enjoyable, great for low level listening and doesn`t diffuse too much with distance. Good texturing and detail retrieval.
Mids – 5.5/10, A little off, but not severe. I know my description sounds bad, but the Soundlink Mini II is still quite accomplished for a portable speaker and the V-shaped signature may be more to your liking than mine. It really depends on the type of music you listen to, female vocals are the biggest issue, but otherwise, they are fine. Nice clarity and detailing. Rich lower midrange sounds impressive and dynamic.
Treble – 6.25/10, Pretty extended for Bluetooth speaker, great body and detail. The treble response is very good overall.
Value – 6.5/10, Although the Soundlink Mini II has a very premium look and feel and also a strong audio performance, you do pay a premium for the brand, the packaging and the convenience. At ~$250, the Soundlink does not perform well enough to justify the $100 premium over the Envaya Mini.
Verdict – 8.5/10, The Soundlink Mini II is almost as good as the Envaya Mini soundwise, but pursues a more consumer orientated sound. It sounds especially dynamic due to it`s great bass and good treble responses in culmination with decent stereo separation. The design is class-leading for sure and the controls are well thought out. It also comes with a great selection of accessories. The Soundlink Mini II is a very impressive product overall.
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