Thursday 5 November 2009

XMI Xmini II Travel Speaker

I was watching Channel 5's "The Gadget Show" one evening back in the summer and they ran a Top 5 on travel speakers for MP3 players.

Some of the units didn't really fit the description 'Travel Speakers' for me, being too large to slip in a pocket or hand luggage, but a couple (the winning Altec Lansing Orbit and the XMI Xmini) caught my eye as I sometimes travel on business (and once in a blue moon for pleasure) and liked the idea of listening to music in my hotel room, without needing to wear earphones.

Although the Orbit won, I discounted it for three reasons. Firstly it was a little larger than the Xmini, secondly it needed batteries and thirdly it was about twice the price of the Xmini.

I looked around and found that the Xmini II had been launched to replace the reviewed unit and bought one from for £20 (Amazon are selling them for £14 as I write this).

It arrived while I was working in France, but, as luck would have it, my family came over to spend a weekend, so I took delivery whilst on a business trip. The perfect testing scenario.

The packaging was quite bulky, but the Xmini II is just an 60mm ball, whilst closed down. The finish is mainly matt black plastic, but there's a splash of red which is the speaker cone.

The speaker comes in a small carry pouch which won't protect it against impact, but does protect it from scratches in your pocket or bag.

To use it, you twist the unit's top and bottom and it pops open to reveal a concertina section which makes the speaker about 80mm high.

The, rather short, audio lead is built into the Xmini II's base, so you don't need to carry a cable and the speaker. It simply plugs into the earphone socket on an MP3 player.

There's a power switch which illuminates a small blue light (quite a bright one, so you're unlikely to forget to turn it off at night if it's in the room you sleep in!) and a dial to turn to adjust the volume(you just see the edge, so push one way to increase the volume and the other to decrease).

Obviously the Xmini II doesn't work by magic. Inside there's a rechargeable battery (they claim 12 hours continuous use which seems completely believeable), which is charged with any mini-USB charger (thoughtful as everyone seems to have something with such a charger).

So, it's a neat gadget and looks good, but can a tiny ball deliver anything but a thin, tinny sound?

Happily yes!

Clearly it can't compete with decent speakers on a hi-fi unit, but it's surprisingly clear, deep and rich (not always three elements that even big speakers balance correctly) for the tiny size and I've used it many times, often for hours on end, without finding the sound disappointing or tiresome.

My very initial feeling was that the sound was a little tinny and quiet, but after some adjustment of the volume of the speaker and MP3 player (and the Cowon iAudio 7 has a very good graphic equaliser too) I was able to get a great sound that didn't sound at all thin in even large hotel rooms.

I suspect, too, that the units need a few minutes playing time to free up properly after shipping.

A neat feature, which I've yet to try (even though I bought my daughter one as well - she uses it at home mainly) is that the Xmini IIs can be 'buddied' together to provide more sound as there is an output socket on each unit. This won't give true stereo, but is said to greatly increase the volume and power.

For £15 or so, the Xmini II is a brilliant little gadget that brightens up those dull evenings in business hotels.

One of my best 'gadget' buys ever!