Mention capsule speakers, and the first brand that pops into your mind should be X-mini. The Singapore-based company pioneered the trend that spawned scores of pint-sized speakers that are so portable, you can stuff them in your pockets.
This year, the audio gadget makers have taken a leap of faith and embarked on a new product category, which is still close to its audio roots. But X-mini has taken a bigger approach (literally) with a new 2.1 speaker system - the X-mini Clear.
As to whether it’s a clear winner in audio delivery, lend us your ears (well, eyes actually) for a short moment.
Design: not covering up
First, you’ll need to forget everything you’ve heard about X-mini speakers. This isn’t the capsule speaker that you chuck into your bag. The bulkier form factor makes it more suitable as a coffee table or TV console accessory rather than a portable speaker. That said, it’s not that heavy to lug around, and though X-mini hasn’t confirmed if it'll come with a matching carrying case, you can fit the Clear into your bag easily.
The first thing that caught our attention was the clear plastic chassis, revealing the innards of this 2.1 speaker system. And surprisingly, it isn’t a total mess. From the rear, you can see the 70mm subwoofer flanked by a pair of 40mm ceramic drivers. And if you’re excited by the sight of chips and PCB boards, don’t get giddy when you spot them underneath the speaker.
At first glance, we were thinking, “Okay, so that’s about it, moving on…” until our Spotify playlist started playing on the Clear. And we noticed lights on the speaker front.. Pretty lights pulsing from the pair of speakers that’ll hypnotise you. And that bass beat, which draws you in further with the subwoofer that vibrates (yes, you can see the vibration) with every bass beat.
Controlling the Clear speaker is pretty straightforward, either from the touch panels on the top or through the connected device via Bluetooth. We were baffled by the touch controls, since the play/pause, volume and skip/back icons weren’t very obvious until the panel lights up with a quick touch. X-mini mentioned that this is a work-in-progress, and the final design could rectify this oversight.
This X-mini speaker isn’t short on connections, the first of which is the easiest - near field communication (NFC). Switch on NFC on your smartphone, tap it on the Clear speaker, and the Bluetooth connection is immediately established. Or, you could go with the old-school method of discovering the speaker in your Bluetooth settings.
Then there’s the 6600mAh battery that powers this portable speaker. Which, by the way, can be used to charge your smartphone or tablet via the rear USB port. Theoretically, if your phone is running low on juice, you can just plug it in, and even physically connect it to the speakers’ 3.5mm audio jack without stopping the music as you charge.
There’s also a noise-cancelling microphone integrated with the speaker. It comes in pretty useful if you’d rather activate the microphone rather than pick up the phone to take an incoming call.
More after the break...
Performance: packs quite a wallop
The X-mini Clear during the demonstration wasn’t a final production unit. But it managed to amaze us with the difference the 70mm subwoofer made to the sound quality. We see the look of disbelief in your eyes, so this video is as close as we can get to give you a rough gauge.
Each driver has its own amplifier, which adds to the punch of the low, mid and high tones. In our short 30-minute session, we heard distinct separation between the bass and treble, while vocals weren’t overshadowed by the punchier bass or higher notes.
The said amplifier also assists with the audio separation. This means that you can identify where the sound’s coming from. Say, if you’re watching a horror film, you can visualise the footsteps approaching from the rear. We didn’t have a proper audio or movie clip to truly test the audio separation, which we’ll explore with a final review unit.
X-mini Clear initial verdict
It’s still too early for us to pass a definitive verdict on the X-mini Clear. But based on what we’ve heard from this early unit, the first impressions are good, and the final unit’s performance shouldn’t be too far off.
Neither is its availability date, which is slated sometime in October. Pricing for the 2.1 portable speaker is pretty high at S$299, but it’ll be available for a special pre-order price of S$199 during Comex 2014.