W A R N I N G !

W A R N I N G !

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Saturday, March 1, 2008

Mini review: X-mini Capsule Speaker

Add: One more con about this speaker. After just one day of twisting, compressing/extending, and travelling, my speaker is already slightly tilted. It shouldn't harm the sound by much, but it sure is unsightly.

I needed some speaker for my PSP. Oops, maybe it wasn't that, I think my brother's laptop deserves something better for sound rather than the built-in speakers.

Or maybe it is both? Anyway, I decided to find a very small portable speaker (like, small enough to bring to camp when I like), and this one came to mind immediately.

(Okay, so I lied about giving it to my brother as his birthday present. But he gets to play with it, provided he returns to the house)

Why did this one come to mind immediately? Firstly, it's darn small, bloody small. You'll see how small it is in the photographs. Secondly, I've heard that it has good sound, particular good bass for its size, from its unique accordion-design.

And so I was deciding between a) Sonic Gear Tatoo 303 (or other very small 2.1/2.0 speaker systems with decent bass), b) Clam-shell design portable speakers or PSP speakers, and c) This, X-mini Capsule Speaker.

a) has the advantage of the best sound as well as better sound for the price, b) has the advantage of being able to be battery-powered, c) has the advantage of size, and better sound than b). At least this is what I thought at first.

a) got eliminated pretty quickly, since there's no way i'd be carrying that around, plus there really isn't any way I can keep it in my bunk such that it's convenient to use and yet won't get stolen. A pity since this option gives the best sound for its price out of the 3.

b) got eliminated as well, after I discovered one thing as I looked through X-mini's specifications on the webpage - it has a built-in rechargable li-ion battery. Now that really beats the 2 to 4 AA batteries that the portable speakers use.

And so c) got a definite win, since it has better sound quality.

But, how did I know c) will have better sound quality? Reason is because I've heard those $10-20+ portable speakers before, and frankly, they suck. Even though some of their drivers are probably ~2-inch.

So I bought this home, but unsure if this thing would live up to my expectations. What I expected was a $32.90 single 1-inch driver worth of sound. It met that easily with lots of change to spare.

It's a small box. But somehow it feels kind of classy. More classy than the usual plastic vacuum wrap packaging you'd find for... about everything else.

For $32.90 (cheapest in South Asia Computers, Funan as I know of, after diggin the web. Challenger sells for $35 member, $39 without, retail was $49 according to sources), what you get is:

The small, cute player itself (red, white or black)
The cable for USB power and 3.5mm sound
Travel pouch

Ooo, cool. There's even a free travel pouch included. Pretty neat for something priced $32.90.

Speaking of which, there's also a China rip-off of this speaker, called the Hamburger or something, saw it once myself too at Audio House. Heard that the sounds totally cannot be compared. Since this is selling @ $32.90 while the Hamburger is supposedly at the same price also (or $36? But still cheaper than $49), there's no reason to go for the Hamburger. The Hamburger, IIRC, is in the vacuum plastic packaging most products use also.

Ok, so how well does it sound?

The X-mini Capsule Speaker in action

It's taller than it is wide

Frankly, I couldn't think of any speaker that's this small, this price, and sound this good. Or any speaker that's twice this size, portable or not. (Maybe my memory has failed me) A direct comparison is impossible, since there's only 3 speakers in this category that I know (the other 2 being the Hamburger and another that looks like a small pager/radio with the accordion at the back, with a restrictive metallic-plastic grill at the front, and selling for $39 (vs $49). Can't sound better I bet), and I only have one of them. But I can compare it against bigger portable and "semi-portable" - small speakers that still require the 5/12V. It still manages to blow some, if not most of them away.

Do not expect a lot from this small thing, the vocals are bright and sharp, typical of such 1-inch drivers, but actually sounds pretty full and not hollow, muffled, or cheap-plastic (for its size and price, or for 2x its size, i'll be using this phrase a lot, so I'll now refer to it as (a)). It simply amazed me.

Plus, the sound have a lot of "space"/"air"/"soundstage" (a). It's as-if the makers implemented some sort of enhancement in it. Think Bose, done in the right situation.

Highs are pretty loud too. The tambourine and closed hi-hats can be heard albeit not very distinct and clear. But it's better than nothing.

The weak point is bass, as it wlways will be for something this size. But, it did a good job already. I can actually hear the bass drum at least. The bass and low guitar is near non-existent. But (a), it's very good.

And the most important question for you fanatics out there, is the sound of this thing worth the $32.90? For me, it's a definite no, since my current speakers only cost me $45 in total when I bought them second-hand, and they can really blast this dinky thing away. But then again, I believe my speakers can even blast anything in the $100+ range away, so this doesn't really say anything.

Can you believe I got this for 45 bucks?

It's disconnected now because something stupid happened, thanks to my mom.

Back to topic, is the sound of this thing worth $32.90? For $25 (used to be $18, sigh...) I can get a Tatoo 303, for $20~30-ish I can get the XFree 222/233 or many cheapo 2.0 speakers (and some other cheapo 2.1). It definitely cannot match the sound of the first 2, but it should blow the 2.0s away, and some cheapo 2.1, if bass is not of great concern.

Aside from sound, there's also the great portability and versatility you're paying for, plus a built-in battery.

So is this thing worth the $32.90?

Definitely. (although if $49 or even $39 it might take a bit of decision) Considering everything it has. Small(est?) size, battery, and good sound and bass (a).

And since speakers below $50 are generall crap anyway, might as well get a crap that's good in its own right, right? I already have decent speakers for listening at home, and decent in-ears for listening outside.

But the things I don't like about the X-mini:

- The outside surface layer/coating is the rubbery thing that will attract lots of oil stains from your fingers. While it does protect it against scratches (good for travelling), it's going to look damn sick in a while. For this, avoid the white version
- It's quite hard to lock and unlock the speaker, you need to press in with force and twist the top and bottom, and with nothing to grab on you'll hold on to the main body. Now see the point above
- The cable is just too darn short if your computer is below the table
- About the cable, it's a special one that combines USB power with 3.5mm audio. If it spoils, good luck
- The on-off/volume switch feels quite flimsy. Heck, the entire speakers feels like it may eventually spoil from opening and closing, since you're twisting and pulling the "vacuum bass". And it's quite hard to switch between the only two volume levels, like what's the point then?
- My model (as well as in other pics online) doesn't extend as much as what the makers' pictures show it should
- No freaking AC-DC adaptor was included. Then don't list DC charging as a feature
- Because of the short cable, the USB and audio connectors are very close to each other. So unless you have a USB hub with extension and a portable device, you won't be charging and listening at the same time

That's about it. Nothing that's too bad.

The good:
- Very compact
- Very good sound for its size
- Built-in battery
- Definitely worth the $32.90

And btw, some people said that the sound is right-channel only in some forum or bbs. But I could hear both the tamborine and hi-hats in a song, even though they are on seperate channels. Maybe that guy is referring to the Hamburger.

Well, I sure hope this post has been useful (especially the where-to-buy and how-much part). I decided to post it because there was not much review done on this gadget, and people were asking where to get in forums and how good it is. I only post things that will become useful as per my policy. :)

And as usual, if you want to know anything more or want to add anything to my incompetent review, feel free to make yourself heard. :)

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