There are dozens of Bluetooth speakers available in Australia today that follow a standard template: internal rechargeable battery, Bluetooth, microphone for handsfree calls, and a set of mono or stereo speaker drivers to make the best use of that precious remaining chassis space. Harman Kardon's Esquire Mini doesn't pack the outright punch of its bigger brother, but it's significantly more portable and makes a great hotel room companion for those short overseas trips. (OK, get your mind out of the gutter.)
What Is It?
- Bluetooth: Yes (3.0)
- Inputs: 3.5mm, microUSB
- Outputs: USB 2.0 (5V 1A)
- Speakers: 2x 1-inch
- Battery: 8 hours
The $229 Esquire Mini is a super-compact Bluetooth speaker. It measures a mere 140x75x25mm, weighs a reassuringly solid 238g, and is almost entirely composed of a single repeating cut-metal grilled on its front. In the four available white, black, tan and brown leather finishes, both the grille colour and the colour of the leather back change, but one element that remains consistent is the chrome-plated diagonal kickstand.
Around the edge of the speaker, there's an anodised aluminium rim that contains all the outputs, inputs and buttons. Beyond that rear kickstand and leather finish, the rest of the Esquire Mini is that lovely coloured metallic grille.
With the Harman Kardon Esquire Mini in its regular, upright configuration, there's a central Harman Kardon logo and a grand total of five buttons on the top bezel. You get an on/off power toggle, multipurpose Bluetooth and multipurpose phone buttons, and the lengthened volume up/down rocker -- I actually thought it was a sliding switch when I first opened the Esquire Mini's box.
On the left side is the Bluetooth speaker's battery level display -- five white pin-prick LEDs, each of which disappears as you continue to use the Esquire Mini along its rated 8-hour battery life -- and a sizeable cross-hatch metal grille, behind which are hidden two microphones for the Esquire Mini's excellent integrated handsfree calling. At the other end, a microUSB port for charging is joined by 3.5mm analog audio input, a recess for attaching the complementary leather wrist strap, and a full-size USB port.
That USB port lets the Esquire Mini charge any mobile device that you connect it to -- we're talking smartphones, Wi-Fi hotspots, and tablets (although you might have trouble getting enough of a charge into a tablet or large-screen smartphone like the Huawei Ascend Mate7). It'll drain the already-small battery of the Esquire Mini pretty quickly, but having the ability to charge a phone -- even slightly -- is a useful extra feature to have.
What Is It Good At?
With the caveat that it doesn't hit the loudest volume I've ever heard from a Bluetooth speaker, the sound that the Esquire Mini creates is actually quite pleasant to listen to. It's not super-beat-driven bassy like the Beats Pill 2.0, nor especially expansive like the UE Boom Mini, but the quality of the sound is really nice. The two one-inch speakers and passive radiator means plenty of clear and sweet treble -- maybe not super crisp, but warm and involving -- and a nice measure of bass that doesn't have a great deal of kick but that definitely adds a rounded dimension to music.
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Maximum volume is not especially high, but the sound that the Mini produces remains consistent all the way to that maximum. You can play it at half power or at full blast and you'll still get the same sound signature -- sweet treble, muted but present mid-bass, and beautiful detail in the mid-range. If you're in a hotel room, or relaxing in your home office or study, the sound that Harman Kardon's speaker creates is enough to fill that kind of space. It runs out of puff in louder and more expansive environments.
Battery life is pretty good considering the slim aspect of the speaker -- you'll get near 8 hours, if not all the way there (but more on that below). Having the 3.5mm audio jack will come in handy for the traveller that might need to connect a few different devices over the course of a trip -- over the next couple of days I'll be using the Esquire Mini's Bluetooth from both phone and tablet, but on my Windows laptop I find it much easier to use the headphone jack directly to the speaker's audio input.
I want to give special mention to the Esquire Mini's speakerphone and integrated microphone. That side-mounted mic does a fantastic job of both picking up the speaker's voice (or voices) very clearly and cancelling out any extraneous outside noise, and the design of the speakers themselves are well suited to the frequencies of a mobile phone call. If you want to place a call but need a little more oomph than your handset's internal speaker can manage, the Esquire Mini is a really solid performer.
What Is It Not Good At?
The Esquire Mini's battery is not massive. Despite the relatively low maximum audio power of the speaker itself, and listening at a moderate volume, I struggled to get a full 8 hours out of the Bluetooth speaker over a couple of different recharges and listening sessions. And you have to remember that if you're charging an external device through the full-size USB, that battery will disappear even more quickly. It's no different to a big-screen smartphone, but you'll have to get used to charging the Esquire Mini regularly and topping it up wherever possible.
That little kickstand looks beautiful, but it can be a pain unless you're using it on a completely flat and level surface. Because it's positioned on a diagonal angle, too, it's a little more complicated to position if you're placing the Esquire Mini on a less-than-perfect platform. I had plenty of times where I'd pop out the kickstand and place the speaker somewhere only for it to immediately fall over, almost comically frustrating when it happens more than once. It is beautiful, though -- you don't get this kind of craftsmanship on other Bluetooth speakers.
Beyond that, my complaints with the Esquire Mini are all minor. There's no battery level button to quickly check your charge -- you have to power it up, wait for those LEDs to glow, then power it back down again. The grille is prone to picking up dust and lint unless you carry the Mini in its included leatherette carry case, which actually looks a bit naff. The middling maximum volume is similarly slightly annoying but not exactly a dealbreaker.
Should You Buy It?
If you travel a lot, but not enough that you're going extended periods without access to a USB charger for both your phone and the speaker itself, the Esquire Mini is a great little purchase. It's quite a bit more expensive than its sound quality alone gives it credit for -- that's the Harman Kardon brand name hard at work -- but if you take on board its design, with the beautiful grille and the soft leather back, it becomes a convenient tool for the executive traveller.
The stand looks beautiful but, like the original Microsoft Surface Pro, there are times when it can be a little more trouble than it's worth. If you're using the speaker on a flat and even surface it comes in handy and the positioning improves sound quality slightly, but thankfully for the most part the Esquire Mini also sounds good facing directly upwards. It runs out of puff as soon as you move it into a medium-sized room, of course -- this is a speaker for close listening.
And, naturally, there's that premium price to contend with. Harman Kardon is a brand with history and has a good track record, but the Esquire Mini is more expensive than comparable products from smaller and less boutique marques. It's suited to the executive traveller -- and thankfully, with its solid speakerphone and great vocal reproduction, it's an equally capable Bluetooth handsfree speaker and impromptu hotel-room audio system at the same time.