When an audiophile-centric company like Cambridge Audio makes a go at the wireless-speaker market, it can be tough to tell whether it's just hoping to make a quick buck or has a worthwhile new take on the category. The Minx Air 100 ($450) falls into the latter category, with a tasteful, reserved design that immediately distinguishes it from the more eccentric speakers on the market. It supports both Bluetooth and AirPlay, plus it can stream Internet radio directly, making it possible to stream tunes even when you don't have a mobile device on you.
What's disappointing is that the Minx Air 100 doesn't sound as rich as I'd like for its price, especially with tough competition from similarly priced systems like Peachtree Audio's Deepblue ($400) and Klipsch's KMC 3 ($400). For less critical listeners (or fans of lighter music) the Minx Air 100 is an solid overall package that feels well-made for the price. Audiophiles will want to look elsewhere, however, or at least at the Minx Air 100's larger step-up cousin, the Minx Air 200.
Design: Classy looks
The Minx Air 100 is one of the nicest-looking Bluetooth speakers to enter the CNET offices. It has a plain, white plastic cabinet with a gray speaker grille, giving it a Sonos-like appearance that looks good pretty much everywhere I put it. Its understated figure is a welcome departure from the goofy designs that are increasingly common with AirPlay and Bluetooth speakers.
The top has two series of mushy rubber buttons that give a satisfying click when you press them down. The buttons on the right are used to control volume, pairing, and play/pause, while the numbered buttons on the left give you one-touch access to your favorite Internet radio stations. Standalone Internet radio capability is a particularly nice plus over other AirPlay and Bluetooth radios, since it allows you to quickly get some music playing, without having to grab a smartphone or tablet.
The Minx Air 100 also includes a remote, but it's an afterthought. The thin, cheap clicker sports bubblelike buttons that are laid out in a grid without much organization. However, I rarely found myself wanting to use a separate remote, since you'll do most of your controlling from your smartphone or tablet and the speaker itself has controls on it too.
AirPlay speakers all face a similar conundrum; they need to get on your Wi-Fi network, but they lack a screen and keyboard for entering a password. The Minx Air 100's workaround is a little more difficult than most, requiring you to connect a laptop, smartphone, or tablet to a temporary network created by the Minx, then set your browser to 192.168.1.1 to select your home Wi-Fi network and enter your password. It's simple enough for those who've tweaked network settings before, but a guided setup through the Minx's app would have been a lot better. (Bluetooth syncing, as always, is much simpler.)
The Minx app does let you configure the Internet radio preset buttons on the top. The app works reasonably well. You can browse by the typical categories like genre and location, though it's much easier to find something worth listening to if you know a station to search for. Unfortunately, only "true" Internet radio stations can be set as presets, so there's no way to program a button to play a Pandora, Spotify, or Rdio stream, for instance.
Features: AirPlay and Bluetooth, but no battery
The Minx Air 100 is one of the more flexible speakers in this price range thanks to its supporting both Bluetooth and AirPlay. Bluetooth allows it to wirelessly stream from the majority of smartphones and tablets on the market, albeit with (theoretically) compromised sound quality. AirPlay lets iOS devices stream without any audio compression, although it requires the Minx Air 100 and the iOS device to be connected to the same Wi-Fi network.