If you’ve held out so far on getting a portable Bluetooth-enabled speaker, 2014 is your year to get one. Not only are they available is all sorts of sizes, colors, and personalities, they pack more features than just your regular speaker.
Jabra has been gaining much attention over the past year or so, due to successful releases of their consumer audio speakers and headphones. The Jabra Solemate Bluetooth speaker, in particular, has been such a huge hit, that Jabra created a smaller version for a sequel!
Enter the Jabra Solemate Mini. It’s got the shape, feel, and tread that we adore, but in a more compact and (almost) pocketable form.
Design & Controls
Why tweak the recipe if it works, right? The Jabra Solemate Mini – to invoke a phrase – is “effing cute.” No shame. It totally is. Not only does the speaker look sharp, with the matte black grill and body, but it’s built pretty solidly too.
Even though it may not be characterized as “rugged” by the description on the box, this speaker can hang with the best of them in outdoor conditions. It’s durable to put up with accidental drops or being crushed up against bigger objects in your bag.
The controls are very straightforward. The NFC panel is on the left, volume and Bluetooth controls on top, and power, auxiliary, and micro USB on the right. Unfortunately, track controls are absent, which is a bit of a shame. But much like the older sibling, the Jabra Solemate, the Mini has a 3.5mm cable stashed in the tread.
When I carry portable speakers with me, I never bring the cable. Why? Because I go with the assumption that it’s Bluetooth wireless all the way, which it usually is. I like to pack light and with purpose; not have every possible accessory tag along. But the Solemate Mini’s tucked-away cable has proven its usefulness more than once.
One such situation involved our home DVD player dying right in the middle of Sons of Anarchy, season 6. Terminal malfunction or not, those episodes were going to get finished (for real). A laptop, HDMI cable, and a few button presses got all the video setup. As for the audio, I snatched up the Solemate Mini because I knew it came with the cable. I didn’t have to go hunt for a cable, or fuss around with voice desyncs due to wireless lag.
Although the Jabra Solemate Mini doesn’t get as loud as some speakers in the same size bracket, it maintains a volume that doesn’t dissipate as quickly with distance. It’s also less prone to distortion, due to the control and restraint with the output.
There are only 7 steps/levels of volume that can be set on the speaker. I’ve found it best to max the volume on the speaker and then use a connected device to manage it from there.
Unfortunately, the volume buttons on the Solemate Mini do nothing unless music is playing. The volume level also has no effect on the powerup noise and voice announcements.
If you’ve read other reviews on the Solemate Mini, you’ve likely come across the complaint of how loud the “Solemate in connected” announcement is, and that people wish there was a way to turn it off. Well, the instructions have always been in Jabra’s online FAQ. So while the speaker is off, simply hold the volume-decrease button down while you turn it on. No more voices, although the power on/off noises still remain (they’re not half as bad).
The Solemate Mini is a great speaker for close-quarter listening. It can suitably fill a bedroom for music or movies. It doesn’t really carry across rooms, halls, or floors, at least beyond a trail of music that gets louder and more distinct as it leads back to the source.
Don’t expect some miraculous soundstage out of this little thing, since the size is ill-equipped to duplicate the kind of imaging larger speakers have.
Although small, the Solemate Mini is surprisingly good at maintaining a decent separation between the layers of instruments. It adds some depth and energy to the music as a whole, keeping everything from sounding flat.
Vocals stand out the most. They’re strong, but tend to trip up on breathy passages, where the Solemate Mini is not able to capture the detailed fluctuations. Although the vocals are presented forward and separate, the instrumental layers tend to meld with each other a bit.
I’m rather impressed with how well the highs sound from the speaker. Perfect? No. But I was pleasantly surprised at how well female vocals and wind instruments sound. On rare occasion, female vocals almost sound like they flatten in the middle. Flutes sound great. Of course, hi-hats sound tinny (as expected), and there is a thin layer of electronic glare hovering over parts of the background instrumentals. But the Jabra Solemate Mini can touch some acoustic peaks without turning shrill. Those highs get bright, but they don’t break.
The mids are (arguably) the best part, when compared against the quality of the highs and lows. Although there is more body than texture to the sounds, what comes out is snappy/punchy and clean, but with a warmness.
Listening to music containing horns or brass instruments highlights this aspect. The biggest weakness the mids suffer is that they’re the first to distort with volume. Once that threshold of ideal volume has been passed, the speaker shoots out a lot of spit and crackle.
As a whole, the built-in woofer adds an appreciable amount of weight towards each track’s overall envelope of sound.
While drums and bass from the Solemate Mini don’t have much depth unto themselves, they surpass many other portable speakers in the same size class.
For something this small, it’s a bit ridiculous to expect miraculous low-end energy. However, the bass keeps up instead of limping through or requiring the crutch of an equalizer to give it some life.
By itself, the bass sounds a little boxy and loose. Beats come out more like a slap, where there is an openness during the decay of each hit (depending on the song). It’s not so bad on some songs, but there are others where the lack of punch and dimension is apparent.
I prefer this kind of bass – a tad on the tame side, yet it works harmoniously with the mids and highs. The end result is better, richer-sounding music. Jabra could have forced some muscle behind the bass (like some other manufacturers do), but that would only have created an ugly, muddy mess.
Bluetooth & NFC
The left side of the Jabra Solemate Mini has the NFC panel. Smack the back of your NFC-enabled smartphone to automatically setup the connection to play music via Bluetooth. It works well. Done.
The Bluetooth signal strength from the speaker is very good for the size. I’ve been able to bring it about 20+ feet away from my smartphone, through a floor and wall both, without having the signal break.
It does suffer from the occasional skips and pops. It happens regardless if there is another Bluetooth device (e.g. keyboard) connected to my smartphone or not. But when it does happen, it’s generally once or twice per song. The consistency of this is strange, in that I can go a day or so with flawless Bluetooth playback, but then suffer through an hour or two of the random noise.
Overall, the Jabra Solemate Mini gets loud and sounds great. Once you turn off the voice announcements, you’ll love it a lot more than most others who never read the FAQ. The Solemate Mini’s volume control versus distortion is commendable, especially since the speaker handles its own without making an entire mess all over itself.
While it’s a shame that the speaker volume can’t be adjusted unless something is playing, I don’t find this to be too much of a big deal (especially once the announcements have been turned off).
The Solemate Mini has a great design, is easy and ready to use right out of the box, and delivers an output that will please all but the most critical few. The compact size is indeed a huge factor, since the music quality and portability are all wrapped up in it. When each of these aspects are taken under consideration together, the Jabra Solemate Mini becomes a serious contender for Bluetooth speakers under the $100 price tier.