Bose® SoundLink® Mini Bluetooth® Speaker Review

Rating:

Wireless, rechargeable Bluetooth speakers come in all sizes and price points these days. But there is a huge difference in sound quality (and volume) between a tiny $25 impulse-buy speaker and some of the more high-quality Bluetooth speakers from companies like Jawbone, Sony, Logitech, and others.

Of course, Bose is no stranger to high-quality audio products, having sold speakers, Wave Radios, CD players, and other products for decades. The company has a reputation for high prices, and its Bluetooth speakers certainly aren’t inexpensive, with the larger SoundLink Bluetooth Speaker III priced at $300, and the smaller SoundLink Mini we’re looking at here priced at $199.

But if you’re looking for a device that outputs a stunning amount of clean, clear sound while taking up very little space, you’ll be hard pressed to find a better choice than the SoundLink Mini Bluetooth speaker. It’s ruggedly built, with a thick metal shell, rubber buttons, and comes with a well-designed dock that makes charging as easy as dropping the speaker into the slim cradle.

The speaker’s only downside, aside from its fairly high price, is its lack of extra features. There’s no speakerphone for taking calls from your phone when it’s paired with the speaker. And there’s no remote or built-in NFC chip for easier pairing.

Battery life also could be better, but is far from short. The company claims you’ll get about seven hours between charges. If great sound output and a small footprint is what you’re after, the Bose SoundLink Mini certainly won’t disappoint.

Compact, Rugged Design

At 18cm wide, 5cm high, and 5.8cm deep, the SoundLink Mini doesn’t take up much room on a table or shelf. But at .67 kilograms, it’s surprisingly hefty. Apart from its internal drivers, a chunk of the speaker’s weight comes from the single piece of aluminum that wraps around four sides of the case.

The speaker certainly feels like it could sustain a few drops and dings, and a large rubber base assures it won’t slip accidently off your desk or rattle around when it’s cranking out tunes. But if you want even more protection for you investment, while giving the speaker a splash of color, Bose also makes rubberized covers that come in seven shades and sell for $25.

The SoundLink Mini’s rubberized buttons are all clearly labeled on the top of the device. The volume buttons are smartly raised to make them easier for your fingers to find, while the power, mute, Bluetooth (for pairing), and Aux buttons are slightly recessed.

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The latter button lets you use the speaker to connect non-Bluetooth devices to the SoundLink Mini. But to do that, you’ll first need to plug your device into the speaker via a standard 3.5mm audio jack found on the right side, above the power connector.

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The fact that the SoundLink Mini charges via a proprietary connector (which can be plugged either into the speaker itself or the included power dock) will make the speaker less travel-friendly for some. Many Bluetooth speakers charge via a standard Micro USB connector (the same used by most smartphones other than the iPhone). With Bose’s speaker, you’ll have to bring an extra power adapter with you. But the included adapter has plugs that fold flat, and it’s thin, so it won’t take up much space in your bag. The speaker does have a Micro USB port on the bottom, but it’s used solely for upgrading the speaker’s firmware, not for charging.

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The SoundLink’s charging dock is also quite slim, at about 13mm. When you set the speaker down into the slightly recessed area in its center, the speaker beeps to let you know that it’s charging. There’s also a slow pulsing battery light atop the speaker which changes from green, yellow and red, letting you know when you need a recharge.

Sound Quality

Like most Bluetooth speakers, pairing devices with the Bose SoundLink Mini is simple. Power on both the speaker and your tablet/smartphone/computer and make sure Bluetooth is enabled on the device you want to pair with the speaker. Hold down the Bluetooth button on the speaker until it pulses blue, then open the Bluetooth devices window on your device and select the Bose SoundLink Mini from the list. Once that’s done the first time, pairing between the two devices should happen either automatically, or with a quick press of the Mini’s Bluetooth button.

Unless you’ve spent time with a fair bit of cutting-edge, high-end audio equipment, you’ll likely be pleasantly shocked by just how much sound the Bose SoundLink Mini can emit for such a small device. How much sound? We held a sound level meter about a foot in front of the speaker and recorded a maximum of 89 decibels. That’s the same maximum volume reading we got when doing the same test with Creative’s Airwave HD, which is roughly the size of the SoundLink Mini. The Airwave HD costs a lot less, but while the two speakers output the same amount of sound, the quality of the audio between the two speakers is very different.

The Bose SoundLink Mini sounds very clean, with pleasant highs, a powerful midrange, and a low-end that’s palpable (sometimes too much so, but that’s a matter of taste). The SoundLink Mini’s bass doesn’t deliver the kind of thump you’d expect from a large dedicated subwoofer, but it’s very deep and powerful for a speaker you can easily hold in one hand.

The Creative Airwave HD, however, delivers much less low-end, despite its larger size. And at maximum volume, the Creative speaker outputs some noticeable distortion, with grating highs. That’s not the case with the Bose speaker. It sounds clear and pleasant, even when cranked all the way up. But unless you’re using the speaker outdoors or in a very large room, you won’t likely feel the need to have the SoundLink Mini at full volume.

Price and Competition

At $199, the Bose SoundLink Mini is more of an investment than most portable Bluetooth speakers. And its lack of extra features (especially a speakerphone, which can come in very handy) means it’s not the best choice for everyone. Jawbone’s Jambox is similarly sized, delivers good sound, can function as a speakerphone, and is rated for 15 hours of battery life, rather than the SoundLink Mini’s seven. It also sells for less than the SoundLink Mini, at $150. But the Bose SoundLink Mini delivers more bass and cleaner audio at maximum volume.

Likewise, the Ultimate Ears (now a Logitech brand) Boom delivers excellent audio (with a bit less bass than the SoundLink Mini), a built-in speakerphone, and a claimed 15 hours of battery life. The UE Boom is slightly larger, but it’s also water resistant, which makes it a better beach companion than the Bose SoundLink Mini. The UE Boom sells for $200, just like the SoundLink Mini.

Conclusion

The Bose SoundLink Mini is light on extra features that some will miss. But it has surprisingly loud output, deep bass (for its size), powerful midrange, and clear highs that will please those who want great sound in a tiny package.

If you want a portable speaker to take to the beach or on long trips, you may want to look elsewhere. And if you want to fill more than one room, a larger speaker (like the Bose SoundLink III) is worth paying more for. But the SoundLink Mini is an excellent choice for those looking for a high-quality speaker to carry from room to room or take out on the deck or patio. It’s expensive, but you won’t likely find a speaker this small that outputs more sound without skimping on the bass or distorting the high notes.

Included in the Box:
Bose SoundLink Mini speaker
Charging Dock
Charger
User Guide
Safety and warranty documents

Summary
Review Date
Reviewed Item
Bose® SoundLink® Mini Bluetooth® Speaker Review
Author Rating
3
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Matt Safford

Matt Safford spends his days testing gadgets and writing about technology. He has written for Popular Science, Smithsonian, Consumer Reports, and Wired.

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