Pros: •volume-dependent, DSP-regulated bass boost
•great build quality and design
•unreal sound and performance for the size and price
•small size and nice included pouch
Cons: •micro SD slot only for the Asian model
•not for people who listen at high volume levels (some distortion)
•DSP-regulated, volume-dependent bass boost cannot be adjusted/disabled (unless you are using the 3.5 mm input trick)
"So Much for so Little - Modern DSP Technology makes it possible"
A bit more than two years ago, I reviewed a small, elegant and very affordable Bluetooth speaker that was able to convince me in terms of its size, volume and price - no, "convincing" is even a poorly chosen word here, because the Xiaomi Mi Square Box Bluetooth Speaker managed to impress me so much for its size and price, that I was able to get into it without a bad sound quality.
Nevertheless, the loudspeaker, which is pleasantly balanced with only a small pinch of warmth, is not quite perfect and thus has only one multifunctional key (and therefore no volume control of its own, which is not so great with Android devices, since the lowest volume is already very high here) and is not suitable for those buyers who prefer to listen to music at a higher volume level, as the distortion values then increase (at higher volume levels).
Even though the loudspeaker is still available on various platforms on the Internet, it has for some time now had a direct successor, which Xiaomi quite simply officially call "Mi Bluetooth Speaker" on their own website.
Even if the visual appearance on the pictures, at least in my opinion, in comparison to the Square Box Bluetooth Speaker (sometimes referred to as "SBBS" in the following) doesn't look quite as high quality and elegant, the newer Mi Bluetooth Speaker (sometimes referred to as "MBS" in the following) has it in itself, because it offers not only all necessary keys for playback and volume control, but also, depending on the region, a Micro SD slot.
What else the extremely compact and inexpensive loudspeaker has to offer and in particular, how it can hold its own against my ultimate budget favourite, the Xiaomi Mi Square Box Bluetooth Speaker, you will find out in my following review.
Before I continue, I would like to say thank you to GearBest, who gave me the loudspeaker free of charge on request for an honest review without any incentive, specifications or restrictions.
If you notice any passages of the text that don’t make as much sense, it’s because this (rather “old”) review was originally published in a different language and then machine-translated for most parts, which takes a few hours less than a manual translation and re-writing the review (which I usually do/did when publishing a review bilingually).
Price: ~ 35$
Weight: 270 g
Dimensions (L x W x H): 168 x 24.5 x 58 mm
Maximum power output: 2x 3W (4 Ohm, THD < 1%)
Bluetooth version: 4.0
Frequency response (-10 dB): 85 - 20000 Hz
Battery: 1500 mAh, 3.8 V
Playback time: 8 hours (65 dB (A))
The packaging is very simple and only a white cardboard box with the "Mi" logo.
Inside is the turquoise loudspeaker, which, to my pleasant surprise, is securely padded in an extremely practical transport and storage bag.
Unfortunately, one has to do without any charging or AUX cables, as with the SBBS.
I was lucky (or unlucky) to receive the Asian version of the MBS. Accordingly, the operating instructions are also in Chinese.
Optics, haptics, build quality:
You don't really see the low price of the loudspeaker, because its frame is made of a milled and metallic-painted aluminium block, the surface of which feels pleasant and is rather matte. Integrated in the front is the loudspeaker grille, which consists of a large number of small holes drilled into the aluminium block. There is an etched Mi logo in the middle of the lower part.
Only the side panels are made of white matte plastic.
While the uppermost of the four keys has a not quite so good pressure point, the pressure point of the other three keys is pleasantly precise and well defined.
In my opinion, a nice visual element is that the uppermost button is surrounded by a white LED ring, the colour of which changes to red as soon as the battery level drops below a certain level.
Visually, the Mi Bluetooth Speaker doesn't look quite as appealing to me as the "Square Box Bluetooth Speaker" officially named by Xiaomi, but the speaker in Natura still looks good and not less sophisticated and elegant, albeit with a somewhat more "youthful" styling.
By the way, the Mi speaker is also very small and portable and has only about the width of an iPhone 5, with slightly more length.
Buttons, connections, functions:
Unlike the SBBS, the MBS has volume control buttons in addition to the combined button for pausing/continuing playback and turning the speaker on/off. By pressing the volume buttons for a long time, you can also skip the currently played title.
As far as I know, the Micro SD-Slot is only available in the version for the Asian region, so also in the loudspeaker I have here. Playback via an inserted memory card works fine and tracks in different subfolders are also played back. There are no delays or loading hangers.
The control of the playback is done, not much surprisingly, via the side buttons.
The MBS also has a 3.5 mm jack input, making it easy to connect any playback device with an analog audio output to the speaker. The only thing that could be criticized here is that the plug then sits tightly in the socket.
The speaker is charged via a Micro USB input, above which there is a microphone to use the Mi as a hands-free unit.
The Bluetooth range is good at about 10 to 12 meters with a closed wall in between (iPhone 4 as a playback device) and my iPhone 4's screen also shows the battery status next to the Bluetooth icon, which is pretty handy.
One of the loudspeaker's potentially very practical functions is to listen to the battery level, by pressing the lowest of the four buttons for a moment. Since I received the Asian version, the announcement is also in Chinese. This cannot be changed.
If you hold down the key for three or ten seconds, an announcement is also made, the latter is made by another person, but I have no idea what exactly these operations are doing. My guess is that a press for three seconds will disconnect the current connection and a ten-second press will reset the stored connections, because the speaker will automatically connect to the playback device when it is switched on.
A jingle or a short announcement is made when switching on and off and a successful connection is made, but these tones and announcements are not excessively loud or disruptive, even if their volume is constant and cannot be changed.
A synchronous volume control of the loudspeaker is available on both Android (Asus/Google Nexus 7 second-generation) and iOS (iPhone 4), which means that the buttons on the loudspeaker and on the streaming device regulate the same volume instead of two separate control values.
For critical listening I mainly used my iPhone 4 and Asus/Google Nexus 7 (second generation) in cable mode. The sinus sweeps, on the other hand, were wired.
In addition to the two small full range drivers, which play in stereo configuration, the Mi Bluetooth Speaker, like the Square Box Bluetooth Speaker, uses a passive radiator to extend the draught. It sits centrally between the two full range drivers and, in addition to the DSP technology, ensures that the Mi can achieve a decent draft despite its small size.
It is particularly commendable that the loudspeaker does not hiss (as long as it is not placed 3-5 cm away from the ear).
Particularly for the low price is that Xiaomi relies on volume dependent DSP technology in the MBS, which gradually raises/lower the bass range, depending on the volume setting. For example, the speaker has an elevated bass range and root at lower settings, while at higher volumes it is more neutral in the bass.
However, the DSP settings cannot be influenced or changed directly (unless you use the loudspeaker in wired mode, in which the internal volume control with the DSP remains active, but you can still use the volume of the source device, which allows you to change the volume balance of the loudspeaker and source device indirectly by shifting the volume balance of the loudspeaker and source device).
As long as you don't hear music at quite high volume, the Mi has a present kick bass and upper midbass, accompanied by an emphasis on the fundamental range/root. An accentuation of up to approximately 10 dB in the upper bass (depending on the adjusted volume) in comparison to the midrange is sometimes even present, with its peak volume between 80 and 100 Hz.
Interesting and pleasant is the fact that the speaker becomes very neutral and even sounding at high volume levels (or when using the wired trick explained above) which shows what is possible with DSP technology today in terms of neutrality, even with very small speakers in the low price range.
The extension of the Mi Bluetooth Speaker, by the way, is really remarkable in view of its size - at low volume settings, 80 Hz is definitely possible without rolling off, however the level is cut off quite steeply underneath.
At higher volume settings, the roll-off begins about 20 Hz higher.
Even if the accentuation in the lower volume levels of the loudspeaker stays out of the midrange and only elevates the lower fundamental range, styles such as jazz or other genres, in which double basses or bass guitars appear more and more often, sound a little artificial, because these instruments then gain a little too much body and presence (although with pop, rock and electronic music the accentuation does not seem out of place and can even be fun).
At higher volume settings, on the other hand, the fundamental range and upper bass will slowly become more neutral until they even become completely neutral at high volume levels (based on my personally accepted level as someone who listens to music mainly at low volume, this value is clearly too high, which is why I sometimes wish for wireless operation that the DSP value for the volume dependent bass boost could be configured or deactivated if necessary, but that’s unfortunately not possible).
The tonal evenness is very remarkable, apart from the extension which is however still very good for the size, because when performing sinus sweeps, the loudspeaker remains neutral up to the super high frequency range and does not suffer any flaws such as peaks, dips or unevenness. Accordingly, the small Mi also sounds extremely harmonic, natural and realistic. You definitely don't always notice that you have such a small speaker in front of you.
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Like the SBBS, the MBS also impresses with a very high tonal balance and naturalness, but has an additional volume dependent bass boost, which flattens out at higher volume and even turns the small Mi into a neutral speaker then.
The performance of a large and expensive loudspeaker cannot be expected from the small Xiaomi, of course, and even a halfway decent micro-system is clearly not replaceable, but as a portable companion and especially in regards of its price, the size and the use of the two full range drivers, which are supported by a passive radiator in the lows, the Xiaomi delivers an almost surreal performance that you couldn’t dream of in such a small speaker just a few years ago. My little TDK Trek Micro for example, which was still considered to be the best small/one of the best loudspeakers at €50 a few years ago, is easily surpassed by the Mi Bluetooth Speaker.
The sound is surprisingly clean and precise, with a pleasantly controlled bass. In the midrange and highs, details are clearly revealed and well separated from each other. Cymbals are also properly separated and all ranges have approximately the same resolution level, without any advantage or disadvantage for any frequency range.
However, physics are also limited and therefore the loudspeaker sounds a bit compressed at higher volume settings, with increasing distortion values.
The cabinet also resonates noticeably with deep tones, but this is almost unavoidable at the size and extension.
Most small Bluetooth loudspeakers, even if their drivers are connected in stereo configuration, have at best only a very moderate spatial impression, in which the word "stage presentation" should not be used in the first place.
The Mi is no exception, even if it achieves a very small stereo effect with a diffuse mini stage compared to the Square Box Bluetooth Speaker. However, there is no real spatial separation of the instruments or layering here either, and the Mi Bluetooth Speaker does not differ from most other small loudspeakers in terms of spatial presentation.
Compared to the Xiaomi Mi Square Box Bluetooth Speaker:
The dimensions of the Square Box Bluetooth Speaker (SBBS) and Mi Bluetooth Speaker (MBS) are comparable. The slightly newer MBS is slightly longer, while the SBBS is a little wider.
The older SBBS is visually a little more elegant and classically designed, while the MBS is more modern and "youthful". Nevertheless, the workmanship of both loudspeakers is very good.
When it comes to equipment, the MBS is clearly ahead of the pack and, in addition to a volume control, also offers an AUX input and a Micro SD slot (at least for the Asian version).
The jingles on the MBS are quieter and more pleasant than on the SBBS, and the newer speaker also offers a more pleasant volume attenuation range with a lower lowest possible volume. It also connects automatically to the Bluetooth source device.
I wouldn't be surprised if the two loudspeakers were equipped with the same full range and passive radiators, because the two speakers are very similar, if not almost identical
Due to the volume dependent DSP bass boost of the MBS, it sounds bassier at lower volume settings than the SBBS, while both sound similarly neutral at higher volume settings (the MBS even a little bit more, because it lacks the low "canny-ness" in the midrange that the SBBS has to a small degree).
As far as the resolution of the two loudspeakers goes, I see them at the same level – actually even exactly the same. Only the tuning in the bass range is different in the lower volume range of the MBS and therefore changes the perception at low volume settings.
At high volumes, the MBS distorts slightly later than the SBBS, which can be attributed to the fact that the DSP then slightly reduces the bass extension. Nonetheless neither speaker is ideal for people who like to listen loudly.
The MBS has a slightly better spatial representation, even though it is not really a spatial presentation as such.
I already found the older Xiaomi Mi Square Box Bluetooth Speaker to be a very good portable Bluetooth speaker in the price range under/around 50€. This is even more true for its more recent cousin/brother, the Mi Bluetooth Speaker, because it has the same good resolution and tonal linearity, but has got an additional volume dependent DSP bass boost, which makes the speaker sound a bit fuller and bassier at low volume levels. Personally, I however wouldn't mind if the variable bass boost could be deactivated or adjusted.
You probably wouldn't expect the small speaker to perform like this if you didn't hear it, however with the Mi Bluetooth Speaker, Xiaomi demonstrates that this level of performance and sound is indeed possible nowadays even in a small acoustic enclosure and at a low price thanks to modern DSP technology and a passive radiator. The cherry on the cake is the very good workmanship with an appealing choice of material and design.
Due to the size and the sound quality for the price combined with its features, the Mi Bluetooth Speaker even makes it on my list of tops and flops and is a speaker that I personally really love.
So I can only warmly recommend the Mi speaker to anyone who is looking for a small and good-sounding Bluetooth loudspeaker that should not cost much, as well as people who want to enter the world of small portable loudspeakers. Only those who listen at quite high volume levels should probably stay away since physics (small enclosure, small wideband drivers) cannot be bent.