Gizmo review: Linking you to the music


Music doesn’t sound the same anymore. With apologies to Don McLean, the day the music died was when the infernal personal music device was invented. No, not the Walkman, which at least used some sort of analogue input in the form of the cassette thus deterring total ubiquity, but the MP3 player. When music became portable enough that you no longer needed anything more than a memory stick or an electronic drive of some sort in your mobile phone or personal music player — or worse, the cloud — to store it and lug it around: Yes, that’s when music died.

Apart from revealing my near-geriatric age, the pronouncements above would have also drawn some indignation from you, dear reader, especially if you belong to the age group that carries its music along with it wherever it goes and listens to it through fancy devices such as Airpods, earbuds or huge hideous headphone headsets. Yes, you who go through life in your noise-cancelled cocoons, oblivious to how silly those horn-like appendages you wear on your head in public makes you look, those appendages that scream out names such as Beats, Skull Candy, Sennheiser and JBL in bold letters like they were fashion brands.

What would you know of the joys of traditional, two-channel, stereophonic audio? When two boxes fed by a drawer-shaped device called an amplifier, in turn fed by signal from another drawer-shaped device called a CD-player, provide a room-filling, soul-warming, reverie-inducing aural experience that no earbud or headphone, however much noise-cancelled, could ever dream of.

Alas, in this day and age, such sensual pleasures are a thing of the decadent past… or are they? Just when you least expect it, at least one brand has kept the music alive: Bose. Testing the Bose SoundLink Mini II, one of the smallest offerings from the brand, I was struck by the effort the company has made to provide good, clean, balanced — and above all sweet — sound to listeners.

When our test mule arrived, I hummed and hawed, pulled a face, suppressed a scowl and just got on with experiencing it, expecting nothing more than the loud, cacophonous jamboree of noise that all portable Bluetooth speakers dish out these days, the music a muddled mixture of sounds drowned out by an overblown bass note. You see, in my quest to regain and recreate the great musicality that my carefully curated components system with pre-millennium technology had once spoiled me with — separate pre-amp and amp, separate CD player and transport, separate independent channel equalisers, all connected to a set of Tannoy floor-standing speakers — I had been sampling speaker after portable Bluetooth speaker. And coming away disappointed every time.

Whether they be tall, cylindrical floor-standers with multi-coloured flashing lights or small, cuboid table-toppers in bright neon hues, whether it be an American, Japanese, European, Korean or Chinese brand, most Bluetooth speakers you can buy in the market today offer similar characteristics. The treble is tinny, the mid-range muddled, the lack of separation shocking, the clarity confused, crispness cut short and the overall sound shrill even though the bass is booming out of proportion. It’s as if someone banged the foot pedal on a drum kit and hit a cymbal and these twin sounds kept reverberating and enlarging, swallowing up every nuance of the music in-between.

But not the Bose SoundLink Mini II. In terms of sound output, this pocket rocket really stands out. And I’m only mildly surprised. For, if you can expect one mass market audio company to still uphold some semblance of allegiance and fidelity to discerning audio reproduction, you’d wager it would be the company that bears the name of Amar Gopal Bose. After all, the company’s eponymous founding father was such a stickler for high-fidelity that he famously created his own speakers, and then his illustrious speaker company, after his audiophile ears were insulted by the underwhelming music reproduction of a top-brand speaker of his day.

Of course, Bose broke with tradition to go about his task of reinventing the speaker, opting for a multi-channel output instead of stereo, but the quest was the same: finicky fidelity-finding. No surprise, then, that despite the demise of the doyen of multi-channel home audio, his company preserves some of that DNA in its products — and the SoundLink Mini II is a case in point.

But before we discuss the finer points of its sound reproduction, let’s get the more mundane things out of the way — the features. Firstly, pairing the speaker with my devices was a breeze. It’s like the SoundLink Mini II has its own Bluetooth wizardry, eagerly connecting to my phone or laptop as soon as they’re in range. I even tried connecting multiple devices, and the speaker seamlessly switched between them without a hiccup.

When it comes to battery life, the SoundLink Mini II boasts 10 hours of play time at mid-volume levels on a full charge. Playing it at high volume settings, however, drains the battery quite quickly, so if you’re thinking of a weekend beach party at full blast, it’ll be a short party. I took it on a camping trip to the desert and, since my musical tastes are more subdued, the battery lasted all night and more, which was just as well, because listening to Debussy on the dunes in the darkness at a mellow volume with the stars twinkling overhead was such an ethereal experience that running out of battery would have really been a tragedy.

The speaker’s portability is helped in heaps by its compact dimensions, making it fit into any bag to make a perfect travel companion. It does weigh a bit, though, for its size and dimensions, and while weight is a trait shared by most good speakers, you do feel it swinging around in your bag. In terms of durability, too, it is not as robust as some competitors, though it overall feels solid and well-constructed. While I wouldn’t recommend throwing it off a cliff, our test piece has survived a couple of accidental falls from my table. And while it has proved it’s not a delicate diva by continuing to function as if nothing happened, some of the metal edges did sustain a few dents and loss-of-shape — something that speakers of other brands did not exhibit upon similar handling.

But where its matters, the Bose SoundLink Mini II deserves a standing ovation — in the sound department. This pint-sized powerhouse is musically capable beyond expectations. The treble is clear and precise without sounding pinprick-sharp or sibilant. The bass — that bugbear of most of its competitors — is not booming; instead it’s punchy, rich and packs a thump. And that not only makes a huge difference in the sound quality but is also difficult to achieve.

What’s truly impressive is that this speaker doesn’t sacrifice clarity for its thumping bass. The musicality of any speaker is decided by the mid-range, which in the case of this Bose is beautifully balanced, creating a harmonious blend that makes every instrument and vocal pop. The SoundLink Mini II creates an immersive audio experience that’s like having your very own concert hall. At times it beggars belief that a speaker so small could paint a soundstage so rich, immersive, detailed and voluminous. Whether its Handel or Hendrix, K-Pop or Kishore Kumar, you’ll find a taut, true and terrific output that is not troubled by the gonging bass its competitors throw out that drowns everything else save for the highest frequencies. This Bose is all about musicality and balance.

So will it replace my Tannoys and the good old two-channel stereo set up? No, it won’t. But this Dh729 Bose has replaced all its competitors in my book. Pity, then, that its battery is good for only 300 charge cycles, after which it will have to be used as a fixed speaker, connected to the power socket. That’s around five years of portability with normal daily listening habits. Yet, with its precision, clarity, balance and musicality, the Bose SoundLink Mini II is the link between the sounds of tradition and modernity — and a speaker I will keep way past those five years.