Mint 220 - Wireless Digital Music Station review: Mint 220 - Wireless Digital Music Station
The Mint 220 Wireless Digital Music Station offers us something that we haven't yet seen in an iPod speaker dock. Instead of combining iPod playback with a CD player or AM/FM alarm clock radio, the Mint 220 gives you the ability to wirelessly stream any audio from a PC or Mac. All that's involved in this process is the simple attachment of a USB key.
Before we look at the Mint 220 in detail, however, let's talk about the unit's somewhat confusing pedigree. When we last looked at a Mint product, the DMS300, it was being distributed by a company called "Mondo USA." Fast forward a year later and now Digital Signature, out of Santa Ana, Calif., is behind the reigns of this Mint product, even as the DMS300 appears to be alive and well on the Mondo Web site. That sort of corporate musical chairs doesn't exactly inspire confidence, and may make it tough to get support for (or even locate) the latest Mint product. That's unfortunate, because the Mint 220 fills a nice niche in the increasingly crowded iPod speaker arena.
The 220 is pretty small--about the size of a loaf of bread. It's encased in a glossy black plastic that is quite the fingerprint magnet. Mounted on the front of the speaker is an iPod dock that is compatible with any iPod with a dock connection. Yes, this includes the iPod Touch and the iPhone.
On the dock is where you'll also find all of the 220's controls. Stealthily positioned on the left side of the dock are the power and input buttons, while the volume controls are on the other. Facing front are four blue LED-lit icon indicators, letting you know which function is active--unfortunately, however, these cannot be clearly read from a distance.
Included with the device is a small matching remote control that can switch the 220 between its three modes. The remote will also give you some basic control over your iPod by allowing you to pause and skip tracks.
As mentioned above, the Mint 220 isn't just an iPod speaker dock. In addition to the standard line-in jack on its backside (so you can hook up any external non-iPod audio source), the Mint also doubles as a wireless external speaker for any Windows PC or Mac. Simply attach the included USB dongle to a free port on the computer, switch the 220 to "wireless audio" mode, and you're all set. In our testing we didn't even have to sync the USB key to the 220--pressing a "connect" button on both the key and 220 may be required, though. We should mention, however, that this essentially cuts off your existing sound card. As soon as you pull out the USB key, your PC or Mac switches back to the default sound output.
The USB dongle should autoinstall on newer Windows and Mac computers. And there's no issues with DRM or music restrictions--if you can hear something on your standard (wired or built-in) computer speakers, you'll hear them on the Mint. The manufacturer lists the maximum range at about 45 feet; realistically, we could only go about 25 feet before experiencing dropouts.
We were pleasantly surprised by the 220's sound. While it can't get as loud as you might like, the sound quality is very sharp and clear. Bass is not very well defined, but we noticed that when we enabled the "EQ" setting, we got a wider frequency response (more bass and treble presence). You'll most likely notice this boost in response in rock songs. We used Stone Temple Pilots' "Vasoline" as a test song and were immediately aware of the boost in sound the mode creates. As with most iPod speaker docks, the louder you get, the more distortion is apparent. While the 220 bore out that axiom, noticeable audible distortion was only evident with bass-heavy songs like Rage Against The Machine's "Bulls on Parade."
The Mint 220 is priced at $180. While that may sound a bit high, it's reasonable when you consider that it's doubling as an iPod speaker and a wireless PC speaker. As far as alternatives go, for instance, you might consider the identically priced Sony CMT-BX50BTi--but it's a larger three-piece shelf system, and your PC would need either built-in Bluetooth A2DP support or a similarly equipped dongle for the audio streaming. That said, it would've been nice to see a handful of extra features on the Mint--for instance, a clock/radio/alarm.
Overall, the Mint 220 is recommendable for those who split their digital music listening between an iPod and the computer--especially if he or she uses a laptop as the primary music source. The Mint is a great improvement over the puny built-in speakers on notebook PCs, and its wireless capacity means fewer cables plugged into the laptop.