Review: Minx Air 200 wireless speaker system
Last month I got the opportunity to spend some quality time with the Minx Go Bluetooth speaker from Cambridge Audio and came away mighty impressed. Since then I've been playing my tunes through its bigger brother, the top of the range Minx Air 200. This wireless speaker is roughly four times the physical size of the Go, is compatible with Apple's AirPlay technology as well as Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, and has a monstrous 200 W amplifier at its heart.
There are currently three Minx family members – the Go portable speaker, a Minx Air 100 wireless speaker, and the flagship Minx Air 200 under review here. The Go has already proved itself more than capable of blowing the wax out of my ears, serving up a tasty treat of surprisingly good stereo separation across a wide soundstage, excellent instrumentation and a very balanced output, with enough bass to satisfy most tastes without hitting the EQ on the source player.
This memorable entrée to the Minx range was only slightly marred by some slight distortion at the highest volume setting on some songs. Needless to say, I had very high expectations for the delicious-looking main course to come.
In the box
- Minx Air 200 speaker
- IR remote (with CR2025 Lithium battery)
- US, EU and UK power cables
- 1.5 m (5 ft) CAT 5 (Ethernet) patch cable
- Quick Start Guide (in eight different languages)
Unlike the Go, the 17.7 x 7.2 x 6.9 in (450 x 220 x 174 mm), 11.2 lb (5.1 kg) Minx Air 200 doesn't have an internal battery, so users will need to consider available wall outlets when choosing its home. The acoustically-damped single piece polymer cabinet with a scratch-resistant, high gloss finish keeps vibration at bay, and includes a carry handle at the back that doubles as bass porting. Two 2.25-inch Balanced Mode Radiator speaker drivers and a 6.5-inch active subwoofer sit behind the curved grille, and combine to deliver a sound that's claimed to be wider and more room-filling than similar-sized traditional speakers.
In a nutshell, the BMR hybrid driver technology in play here makes use of a flat, light and rigid membrane with a Kraft paper core sandwiched between two paper skins that's positioned atop a Neodymium magnet system in a push-pull arrangement. When the drive motor excites the diaphragm, for the most part, the flat panel handles the standing-wave-bending patterns (or modes) at the mid to high end of the frequency range, throwing the sound out front. At calculated points, the flat panel driver's vibrational modes give way to the piston-like action of a traditional speaker driver to take care of lower frequencies.
Reported benefits include substantially reduced crossover artifacts, wider dispersion both horizontally and vertically, and greater output from a smaller setup (doesn't require tweeters, mid-range drivers and subs to offer full-range output). For those who would like further reading on the technology, Cambridge Audio has made a white paper [PDF] available online.
As the name might suggest, the Minx Air 200 has a 200 W custom Class-D digital amplifier at its core, with digital-to-analog conversion and 24-bit Digital Signal Processing in the shape of award-winning MaxxAudio technology by Waves Audio.
It also boasts two 802.11 b/g Wi-Fi antennas, and after first power on, the speaker system will need to be connected to a home network. This is achieved using a Wi-Fi-enabled computer or laptop. After selecting the Minx Air from the list of available networks, a browser interface is used to enter any network passwords. When a flashing status LED to the rear turns to solid green, setup has been successful.
iOS users will now be able to wirelessly connect using AirPlay, and all users will be able to select from the first five of 10 preset Internet Radio stations by pushing down one of the numbered soft-touch buttons on the top left of the Air 200's housing. The choice of stations offered by default represents some Cambridge Audio team favorites, including BBC Radio 1, Jazz FM and FIP.
"These were chosen on the basis of audio quality, and our favorites in the office," explains the company's Emma Pauley. "We fully expect customers to change these stations to their own preferred ones, but wanted the customer to have stations available upon first connection to the network, rather than not getting any sound at all."
Changing the presets, or accessing selections from six to 10, is possible through the free Minx Air app for iOS or Android (more on the apps later). The Air 200 is also Bluetooth-enabled for wireless digital music playback from Android or non-AirPlay iOS source devices, or from Bluetooth-capable home computers or notebooks. In addition to using the standard Bluetooth codec, the system supports aptX (for CD quality playback) and AAC formats too.
Pairing the source device and speaker over Bluetooth is a simple enough affair. After pressing the first of five buttons on the top right of the housing, the Minx Air 200 should appear in the list of available devices when Bluetooth connectivity is enabled on the smartphone, tablet or dedicated player.
Unlike the Minx Go, the Air 200 only "remembers" the last paired Bluetooth device. A new connection only takes a few seconds though, so this shouldn't present too much of a problem (unless you're really impatient).
The remaining buttons on the top right are used to raise and lower the volume, and to power the Air 200 on and off. Then there's the X button. Pressing this once mutes the AirPlay, Bluetooth or Internet Radio music and switches to the analog inputs. The Minx Air 200 has two line-level RCA inputs at the back, which can be connected to an external audio source such as a TV, DVD or Blu-ray player, or Hi-Fi system separates (though you'll need a pre-amp if you want to use a turntable). Next to these inputs is a 3.5 mm aux in jack for cabled connection to a music player. Pressing the X button again mutes the analog source too.
Rounding off the Minx Air 200's connectivity options is an Ethernet port for direct connection to a router. There's also a Service port, but this can be ignored as it's only for use by Cambridge Audio engineers.
The Minx Air app
If you're running low on available smartphone or tablet storage space, you'll need to note that the iOS version of the Minx Air companion app is 4.5 MB in size, and the Android flavor is slightly larger at 4.7 MB. To use either version of the app, the Minx Air needs to be powered on and the device running the app needs to be connected to the same Wi-Fi network as Cambridge Audio's speaker system. Links to step-by-step video tutorials are available during the setup process, though I found it to be fairly straightforward and didn't need to hit the vid button.
The main screen of the Android app features 10 icons, one for each of the Minx Air's available preset internet radio stations. Whether you can see all of them at once depends on the size of the device's screen. The display of my Galaxy Note 8.0 managed a full house, but only six icons made it onto my smartphone's 4-inch screen, with the remainder accessible by scrolling vertically. To the top right, there's a play button that brings up the currently selected station (along with overall volume, bass intensity and EQ sliders), and there's a settings icon on the left.
Selecting the latter slides the station preset screen to the right and brings up a menu that allows users to search for new internet radio station (by location, genre or bitrate), launch the device's default music player or access Shazam. Other menu options include a control for setting the auto power down clock, the ability to search for other Minx Air devices, and a link to the help section.
I found the app easy to use and quite intuitive, but it wasn't all plain sailing. Switching between Bluetooth and Internet Radio presets proved to be somewhat problematic, involving a good many backward steps or complete app restarts to get to where I wanted to be. "The app is more for setting up your presets and EQ preferences, and you really don't need to use it after that," advises Cambridge Audio. "To switch between Bluetooth and Internet Radio presets, the remote is a better option."
After trawling through the vast selection of online radio stations, you can either choose to just play your latest find, or assign it to one of the 10 presets (overwriting what was previously assigned to that location). Since the radio preset information is stored in the Minx Air 200's memory, any changes made using the Android app will flow through to the iOS version when it's next used, and vice versa.
Though six station preset icons also filled my iPod touch screen, access to the other four was by side-swipe. The rest of the layout in the iOS app is a little different too, including a background of dots that changes color. The volume control is always present at the bottom of the screen, and to take control of the bass you'll need to press the EQ button to the right of the slider.
The search icon appears top left, next to which is the button to switch to the default music player. To the far right is a "now playing" button, with settings next door (from where you can search for other Minx Air devices, alter the internet radio search settings, and choose the auto power down time slot).
Though I found the Minx Air app on iOS just as easy to use as the Android app, if I had to plump for a favorite I'd have to place my cross against the Android flavor.
Music to my ears
When I contacted Cambridge Audio about audio specs during last month's Minx Go review, the company said that it didn't give out this kind of information because figures for such a small device would be meaningless. The Air 200 model is certainly no dwarf in the speaker department, so I repeated my request.
"We certainly don't have anything to hide (after all, there's a 200 W amp and a 6.5-inch subwoofer), but we do not disclose the frequency response because it is meaningless on these kinds of speaker systems," Pauley tells me. "Response can vary depending on things such as the surface it is placed on, etc. These are the same reasons that B&W, Bose, Sonos, etc never quote the frequency or bass response."
So, without the distraction of frequency response, signal-to-noise ratio, total harmonic distortion or sensitivity information, let's head straight into subjective listening territory.
Though it should come as little or no surprise given the powerful amp throbbing away inside, the Minx Air 200 is loud. Very loud. What makes this aspect even more impressive is the audio thrower's ability to command every nook and cranny in the room with astounding clarity. No matter how high the volume, I simply could not detect any distortion (except where the fuzz was part of the music of course).
The colorful and vibrant output is spacious and well defined, treating the listener to the kind of instrument detail that can get lost in less capable systems. There's a dial at the back of the device which allows the level of bass to swing from way back in the mix to a chest-pounding thump, depending on personal preference or the acoustics of the room. The middle ground clicks into place and should be enough for most tastes, but even with the bass pumped up to the max, mids and highs never feel drowned out by low end. Volume and bass levels can also be controlled using the included IR remote, or via the Minx Air app.
The bottom line
The simple, clean design of the Minx Air 200 means that it can be placed in almost any room without risk of clashing with the decor. That it has a look of innocence which masks the mighty beast within is just the icing on a very loud cake. I found setting up the various wireless playback options to be quite straightforward. There's a good selection of cabled analog input options, too (though I would have liked to see optical offered as well). The apps have limited functionality, but are easy to use.
I've played every kind of music I could get my hands on through this versatile speaker system and have been genuinely impressed each and every time by how the Minx Air 200 handled everything from sub-bass drone to tinny country-tinged twang. The sound reproduction is first-rate, with a wide bass response that's sure to please even the most demanding of thunder-thumpers.
Of the currently-available wireless speaker systems that offer a similarly arresting listening experience, few have the connectivity options of the Air 200, and fewer still sit in the same price range.
For example, the B&W A7 produces a similarly stunning sound, but is much more expensive, and doesn't sport Bluetooth. Though relatively affordable for a Bang & Olufsen system, the Beolit 12 is still quite a pricey choice when compared to the Minx Air 200. Its output is excellent, but not quite as loud as the Air 200 and there's no Bluetooth connectivity, or RCA inputs. Now in the same price range as the Air 200 is the rather colorful Loewe Air Speaker. Listeners can expect a clean and powerful delivery, with a good bass response, but yet again, this model supports playback from Apple gear only.
As such, the asking price of US$599 doesn't seem too outlandish for such a capable wireless speaker system. Still, if you're looking for an even cheaper way to take advantage of that superb BMR speaker technology, you'll find two such drivers in the Minx Air 100. This model is priced at $449.
Have a look at the video overview of the Minx Air system below.