There are lots of Bluetooth speakers out there, but all compromise in one way or another -- they're too big, have terrible battery life, or just don't sound very good. It's refreshing, then, when there's a viable alternative, even if you have to pay a bit more to get it. Bose's newest, smallest Bluetooth speaker is actually one of the best you can buy, despite its relatively high price tag.
What Is It?
- Waterproof: No
- Bluetooth: Yes (4.0 LE)
- Wi-Fi: No
- Playback Controls: Yes
- Battery Life (claimed): 10 hours
- Charging: yes (microUSB 2.0)
- Ports: microUSB 2.0, 3.5mm stereo analog audio
The $299 SoundLink Mini II is a new portable Bluetooth speaker from the big-sound-in-small-speakers audio wizards at Bose. Available in both dark-grey-plus-black Carbon and light-grey-plus-silver Pearl, the speaker is crafted out of tough, scratch-resistant anodised aluminium and sturdy rubberised plastic, with a finely perforated front grille -- with Bose logo, naturally -- that hides two front-facing full-range drivers and a larger, oblong mid-bass speaker driver. Around the back, an unadorned but similar grille hides a passive bass radiator.
The SoundLink Mini II speaker's sides are mostly unadorned apart from a small section on its right, where you'll see a microUSB 2.0 charging port and three-pole 3.5mm stereo analog audio cable. The top is more interesting, because that's where you'll find the soft-press power button, volume up and down, Bluetooth pairing toggle and a central multifunction play/pause/skip button and the SoundLink Mini logo. The bottom of the Mini II is mostly its rubberised foot, along with a small rectangular four-pin contact that'll charge the SoundLink Mini II whenever you place it in its included charging cradle -- a fantastic and genuinely useful accessory for a portable device that negates the need to plug in charging cables all the time.
You can connect the SoundLink Mini II to two devices simultaneously over Bluetooth, with each one taking over from the other as you start and stop audio streams. Auto-connection info for eight devices can be stored within the Mini II's brains, and importantly the speaker will announce which device(s) it's linked to with a series of synthetic voice prompts, which gives you the Mini II's remaining battery level and the Bluetooth name of the smartphone or tablet that's currently connected and has audio playback priority. And, of course, if you plug in a 3.5mm stereo analog audio speaker it'll automatically get playback priority.
Pictures can't adequately show just how solid and sturdy the SoundLink Mini II feels, because it doesn't look rugged. Like a unibody aluminium MacBook Pro, it's just very carefully constructed and precisely put together, as well as being weighty -- at a hair under 700 grams -- and all that contributes to the Mini II being a speaker that just feels like a high quality device and one that will stand up to the rigors of everyday use and of regular business travel. If you want to protect it from scratches, there are bumper-style silicone covers available for $30 each. The speaker's solid build also contributes to the way it sounds -- there's no annoying rattles or vibrations even during heavy bass hits.
What's It Good At?
And heavy bass hits is exactly what the Bose SoundLink Mini II is good at. That internal mid-bass driver and its rear passive bass radiator mean the Mini II has a decidedly un-mini sound, with a full range and well-rounded sound that blows any speaker of its size and internal volume -- the UE Roll, say -- completely out of the water. Speakers of the SoundLink Mini's size rarely have any quantifiable lower-frequency oomph, but there's enough bass from this little pocket rocket that it genuinely does make music more fun to listen to than its size-for-size competitors. Maximum volume is also impressively high for its size -- it's competing with the physically significantly larger UE Boom in this way.
That charging cradle, too, is a revelation for something so simple. If you're going to be using this speaker a lot, and using it on the daily -- something you probably will be, given how good it sounds and given the fact that you spent $300 on it -- then you'll be charging it relatively regularly, even despite its much-improved 10-hour battery life at moderate volume over Bluetooth. Charging through the dock is super simple if you have it set up on a work desk or bedside table; just drop the SoundLink Mini II onto the dock and it'll tell you its current battery power level whenever you next turn it on.
Making the SoundLink Mini II genuinely more useful than its predecessor is the inclusion of internal microphones that let the speaker function as a handsfree speakerphone. There's unfortunately no way to answer calls by simply speaking -- you'll still need to tap your phone or the SoundLink Mini's multipurpose central button -- but voice quality is actually pretty damn good despite not being officially HD Voice compliant like some other speakerphones out there. If you can bear the indignity of pressing a button to start and stop calls, you'll get a far better experience than using your smartphone's piddly external speaker.
The design of the SoundLink Mini II deserves some attention just for how refined it is. Looking a bit like you should be talking through it to give a mission to Charlie's Angels, the Mini II is small and sleek and sharp-cornered without being boxy and bland and squat. I can't decide whether I like the Carbon or the Pearl (tested) more, and that's a very good thing -- they both look great. The materials used are top notch, the rubber feels smooth and like it'll last, the shadow-effect Bose logo on the grille is almost invisible in some light and easily seen in another -- it's just a speaker that I'd be absolutely comfortable showing off to a friend or coworker.
What's It Not Good At?
It is expensive for its size and volume, if not for the quality of sound that it produces. When you're competing against something like the UE Roll which is half the price even before it goes on sale -- something that Bose devices generally don't do -- it's hard to justify the SoundLink Mini II's $299 price tag, especially considering UE's speakers have extra value hidden away in their bundled smartphone and tablet apps. Similarly, there's no way to use an app to pair two Bose SoundLink Mini II speakers and play different stereo channels through each one, something that Ultimate Ears' Boom and Megaboom excel in.
Speaking of that, there's no bespoke Bose app to fine-tune the SoundLink Mini II's sound, to check on its battery level, and so on. This is a bit of a pity, although it's not strictly necessary, but Bose's competitors are quickly creeping up on it in adding fancy extras at no cost that make Bluetooth speaker convenient in other ways; it'd be nice if you could turn the Mini II into an alarm clock that started playing Spotify at 6AM to wake you up, for example. Of course, you get value in different ways, like in the SoundLink Mini II's voice prompts, and that bundled charging cradle.
The only real complaint I have about the SoundLink Mini II's sound is that there isn't a huge amount of stereo separation; you can't really distinguish left and right stereo channels within any given music track. I know Bose doesn't have the greatest reputation for quality at any given price tag -- "buy other speaker equipment", "bad or sad experience", et cetera -- but like the QuietComfort 25 noise-cancelling headphones, the SoundLink Mini II is so worth its asking price. There is a genuine and quantifiable improvement that you get over other speakers of its size. You are paying more, but you're also getting more. (Thank god.)
Should You Buy It?
The $299 Bose SoundLink Mini II is an amazing little Bluetooth speaker, purely because of the amount of sound it produces for its diminutive size. It's still a near-field listening device, to be sure, but it'll fill a small room with sound at a pinch if you're holding an impromptu office or apartment party. I think it is, for its size, the best sounding portable Bluetooth speaker you can buy -- thanks to that surprisingly strong and present mid-bass response and the equal weighting it gives to nicely detailed treble.
Having a charging dock in the Bose SoundLink Mini II's retail package, though, is an absolutely killer added extra. Want to use it by your bedside for podcasts and night-time tunes? Go ahead. Want to take it out for a picnic day or sit it on your work desk for a full day? Why not. Taking it on a short international or interstate holiday or work trip? Sure thing -- it uses the same charger as your Android phone. Voice prompts, like in other Bose gear, let you know exactly how much battery is left and what you're connected to.
It's a directional speaker, too, unlike the 360-degree Boom, and that might affect how you use it. But it produces excellent sound within its directional sweet spot, and the new addition of a very useful speakerphone -- although it's not HD Voice compatible --further contributes to its overall utility. And, as always, having a 3.5mm stereo analog input (with priority for audio playback) is super convenient when you don't want the hassle of adding an additional Bluetooth device temporarily, even though the SoundLink Mini II can take it.
It's also very well built, and very nicely designed -- although those sharp corners and fine metal grille may tarnish and scratch after a while if you're going to be travelling with it. It's quite heavy for a portable speaker, being a full 150 grams heavier than the half-kilo UE Boom, but I'd be more than happy to put up with that extra weight for the boost in sound quality that the Bose SoundLink Mini II offers.