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Singapore-based X-mini is known for great compact capsule speakers such as the Kai 2 , so I was excited to learn it's branched out with the Clear, a portable Bluetooth speaker. Much like the Bose SoundLink III or the Logitech UE Boom , it's meant to play music from your smartphone or tablet. It boasts a 10-hour battery life and the ability to charge your device while it plays music.
Priced at $199 in the US, AU$299 and €199 (around £160) in Europe, the Clear ships to the US, Australia and the UK and is available via the company's website.
The Clear measures 22 by 9 by 11cm (8.6 by 3.5 by 4.4 inches) and weighs 920g (32 ounces). It doesn't feel as heavy as it sounds -- it's pretty portable. The 20W, 2.1 system packs two 40mm ceramic drivers, similar to those found in the company's capsule speakers, and a 70mm active subwoofer.
Unlike the industrial looks of the Bose SoundLink III or the funky style of the Logitech Boom, the Clear has a retro design packed with curves and a transparent rear -- hence the name -- that's very easy on the eyes.
Because the rear is clear, you get to look into the speaker's innards, which reveals plenty of air, a circuit board and the 6,600mAh battery at the bottom. There are LED lights inside and while this may sound tacky, you can adjust the settings to either strobe the lights based on the music or emit a more soothing glow for a romantic evening.
Instead of the physical buttons found on other speakers, X-mini has gone with touch-sensitive keys to keep the design minimalist. While it certainly looks great, I wasn't too pleased with the functionality. It took me a while to figure out how to turn on the mood lighting -- you have to leave your finger on the the light button for around 2 seconds and hope you didn't accidentally toggle the auxiliary input key instead.
If you did, good luck trying to switch back to Bluetooth, as you'll need to find the exact spot to get it to toggle back -- this took me a few tries. You can control your music via the play, forward and rewind keys. There are volume controls as well, but I noticed the Clear doesn't seem to retain your previous volume setting, so if you had it at max level, you'll need to turn it up again once you turn it on.
Besides Bluetooth, if you own an Android phone, you can also use the Clear's NFC feature to easily pair your device. There's also a USB port for charging your phone while you stream music.
The Clear uses Bluetooth 3.0 and supports A2DP Stereo, AVRCP v1.0 and HFP v1.5. Sadly, there's no aptX support, as that would have been great for devices that use the standard. Pairing is really easy: just turn on Bluetooth on your device, select the Clear and voila, it's paired. You can also use the Clear as a conference call speaker, since it has a microphone built in.
X-mini has made some interesting tweaks for the Clear. Instead of focusing on the bass, the company is aiming for clarity and has made sure the Clear does best on the mids and highs. Bear in mind that since it's using Bluetooth, sound quality can be an issue, since it compresses your music in transit.
To put the Clear to the test, I pitted it against the more expensive Bose SoundLink III, the Logitech Boom and Creative's Sound Blaster Roar. To be fair, the SoundLink III, with its four neodymium transducers and dual-opposing passive radiators, had better volume and sound, but it is slightly more expensive and bulkier.
The Logitech Boom, with its funky circular design, was capable of delivering a louder sound, but didn't feel as clear compared with X-mini's offering. Creative's Sound Blaster Roar easily outshone the X-mini Clear with its clearer sound stage and better bass (though you may not like the emphasis on bass), and is cheaper to boot, at $130, £129 or AU$150.
X-mini has chosen to focus more on the mids and highs and this pays off really well in jazz tracks -- Olivia Ong's "All Out of Love" sounded great. But because it lacks bass, certain sounds such as the timpanis on the Star Wars "Imperial March" don't have the same impact as they do on the Roar or the SoundLink III.
The Clear handled pop songs such as Roxette's "Spending My Time" well, but it's just not as full-bodied as the Bose or the Logitech Boom because it's missing some of the bass. For The Eagles' unplugged version of "Hotel California," the different instruments in the intro were clearly separated, but the whistles from the audience weren't very sharp or clear -- they seemed too close to the background cheers compared with the Roar or the Bose, which were piercingly sharp.
While it's not the volume monster that the Roar is, the Clear is able to easily fill a room and manages to avoid distortion, but that's only because it doesn't have a strong bass to worry about. It sounds best at about 75 percent volume.
Honestly though, X-mini's speaker performs pretty decently, particularly if you don't like your bass too heavy,. That said, Creative's Sound Blaster Roar does offer better sound (even without the extra bass function) and costs less. I think the X-mini looks better, however, and its audio quality certainly doesn't let it down.
Good sound can be quite subjective -- there's likely different opinions among listeners about just how good a speaker is compared to the competition -- but having listened to four very different models I believe the Clear does shine for what it can do. It's a great first-generation product from capsule speaker makers X-mini, and while not the best of the lot, it's good enough to justify its price tag.