Cambridge Audio Minx Air 200 review: A jumbo AirPlay speaker with a less sizable sound
When a Bluetooth or AirPlay speaker crosses the $500 mark, you expect to be impressed. Yes, it has to sound good, and yes, it has to look good, but it also has deliver just a little something extra to make you throw out reason and spend more than you probably should on a wireless speaker.
The Cambridge Audio Minx Air 200 ($600) is an undeniably nice speaker, but it doesn't quite feel worthy of the asking price. Its strongest suit is its refined design, with a clean look that blends into most decor without drawing attention to itself. The Minx Air 200 also has a particularly good set of features, including both built-in Bluetooth and AirPlay, plus the option to tune into Internet radio presets with just a press of a button on the top.
Where the Minx lets you down is its sound quality. It's an average-sounding speaker with an above-average price, and audiophiles should note that cheaper (but without AirPlay) models like the Peachtree Audio Deepblue ($400) and Klipsch KMC 3 ($400) deliver a richer sound, especially in terms of bass. If you're less picky about sound quality and don't mind paying for the Minx Air 200's tasteful looks, it's worth considering, but for most buyers, you'll get more bang for your buck from alternatives.
Editors' note: The Minx Air 200 is very similar to Cambridge Audio's smaller Minx Air 100, therefore the reviews are similar.
Design: Classy looks
The Minx Air 200 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 looked 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.
It is, however, bigger than you'd expect, measuring 17.7 inches wide, 8.7 inches high, and 6.9 inches deep. Unlike the smaller Minx Air 100, the Minx Air 200 will likely dominate whatever furniture it's placed on.
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 200 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.
Setup: Trickier than you'd think
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 200'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 200 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 200 and the iOS device to be connected to the same Wi-Fi network.
This flexibility can be useful even if you're an iOS-only household. AirPlay might work better in your home, but Bluetooth allows you to quickly start streaming in other locations where you might not have a Wi-Fi network to connect to.
Ports on the back are as limited as you'd expect from a wireless speaker: Ethernet, minijack, and analog input. That should be enough for pretty much every purpose, especially considering its wireless support. There's also a USB-like port, but it's labeled "Service" -- in other words, don't expect to connect your iPod or phone to this speaker, for charging or for music.
The back also features a convenient handle, which ironically highlights one of the Minx's shortcomings; it's not a portable speaker. The system is just small enough that you can imagine dragging it outside for patio duty, but there's no built-in battery, so it always needs to be plugged in.
Sound quality: Good, but not $600 good
I had the Minx Air 200 set up directly next to the Klipsch KMC 3 and Peachtree Audio Deepblue for listening tests, and while it held its own, the sound was thinner than you'd expect considering the price.
The punishing bass line from Queens of the Stone Age's "Medication" packed a punch on the KMC 3, but on the Minx Air 200 sounded noticeably less powerful. Led Zeppelin's "Moby Dick" sounded alive and aggressive on the Deepblue, but the Minx Air 200 just couldn't muster the same kind of energy. The Minx Air 200 certainly stacks up better than the Minx Air 100 did compared with the same speakers, but it still can't rock out on harder music.
The Minx Air 200 fared better with jazz and softer tunes. Thelonious Monk's "Brilliant Corners" had a nicely balanced sound, although switching back between the two other speakers revealed them to have a fuller sound. It's not the kind of difference you'd notice without direct comparisons, though, as the Minx Air 200 sounds pretty good in isolation.
The real problem is that both the KMC 3 and the Deepblue are significantly less expensive and the Minx Air 200 doesn't obviously trump them in sound. If you care enough about audio quality to spend $600 on a wireless speaker, you're going to be disappointed to know you can get better sound at a fraction of the price.
But like the smaller Minx Air 100, the Air 200's strength is creating a more laid-back sound that doesn't demand your attention, so if you're interested mostly in background tunes, the Minx may be a good fit.
Conclusion: Pretty, but not worth the price
On its own, the Minx Air 200 is an overall solid package, but it loses a lot of its luster once you consider its price and the performance of some of its competitors. If you're looking for a mellow speaker and don't mind paying for it, the Minx Air 200 is worth checking out; otherwise the alternatives generally offer a better value.