We test three popular brands of mini-speaker to see which puts out the best sound--and most irks our apartment building superintendent.
Crave freelancer John Scott Lewinski covers tech, cars, and entertainment out of Los Angeles. As a journalist, he's traveled from Daytona Beach to Cape Town, writing for more than 30 national magazines. He's also a very amateur boxer known for his surprising lack of speed and ability to absorb punishment. E-mail John.
To expedite the outstandingly unscientific experiment, I chose Dubstep, which is electronica in the extreme. In fairness, some wouldn't call it music as much as well-organized static. When the uninitiated listen to Dubstep, they're often uncertain if the CD might be skipping. As a bleeding goat will draw the hungry, Dubstep pouring from my iPhone will attract the crotchety handyman if we can get the racket loud enough.
We begin with the most affordable speaker, the Cyber Snipa Sonar. Retailing for $24.95, the rechargeable, collapsible 3-watt speaker extends from its base to stand less than 6 inches high and connects via standard headphone jack or via mini-USB to most music players. Once folded up again, it'll easily fit in your pocket, let alone your computer bag.
Though it's designed to enhance the gaming sound coming out of a laptop, smartphone, or tablet, we put its music ability to the test. If you're going to crank the volume up with such a speaker, be prepared for the shock of how much audio oomph flows out of such a small device. Once at full capacity, the Sonar's Vacuum Bass Technology system (creating a small subwoofer inside the speaker) bounces the speaker in place slightly, more than filling our outdoor pool area with plenty of staccato beats. But while I can recommend the Sonar without reservation, it didn't rouse our super.
We switched to the $29.99 X-mini speaker from ThinkGeek. Rechargeable like the Cyber Snipa, this 2.4-watt unit unscrews from its shell and "pops" out into a compact accordion shape. When you get it thumping, you can see movement of its interior bass unit in its small resonance chamber.
As with the Sonar, the bystanders for our test were astounded by the sound the X-mini managed. Some folks asked if there was a separate power cord needed to juice its bass. But, like the Sonar, it requires only a charge via mini-USB to set up cord-free and play for at least four hours. However, while the volume from the X-mini was adequate and entertaining, it didn't rouse the sleeping giant.
So, we were left with the $199 foxL Bluetooth Soundbar from Soundmatters. Admittedly, it's not an absolutely fair fight here as the foxL outstrips the Sonar and X-mini in price, size, and power with its 8 watts.
At a little over 6 inches long, the foxL packs every bit of its extra watts into its sound, putting out glass-rattling bass with maxed-out volume. While we encountered distortion from the Bluetooth connection, the mini-headphone jack corrected that problem. It's also a standalone, rechargeable unit that doubles as a noise-canceling speaker phone.
But we didn't want to call our super. We wanted to rattle him out into the open just for giggles. And the foxL ultimately did the job, though the Sonar and X-mini probably helped soften him up. In the end, it's clear that (if you want maximum performance in a mini-speaker) the foxL is a solid choice. But, if you want at least comparable and acceptable performance in a cheaper model, either the X-mini or the Sonar fits the bill.