For all this talk of neat design and features though, there was still some doubt as we came to test the Venturi Mini. Its reliance on using the in-car power socket means it's somewhat at the mercy of the dashboard layout, which could cause the microphone to be placed too far away or simply make it impossible to fit the unit properly.
And, as it happens, the car used to test the Venturi Mini - my £500 Citroen ZX - has the power socket/cigarette lighter placed in the bottom corner of the dash, far closer to the passenger than the driver. It also has appalling sound proofing, so the combination made for a decent challenge for the Venturi Mini and its noise cancelling microphone.
Happily, after using the Venturi Mini for a while now, the performance is a good deal better than you might first imagine. When travelling on B roads at normal speeds calls are easily audible at the receiver's end, though there is naturally some compression due to noise cancelling DSP. Vice versa, this is the same in the car, where it's easy to adjust the volume on your stereo to ensure that you can hear the call properly. Moreover, whenever you do receive a call any music that's playing is automatically switched off and the ringing tone is played through the speakers, ensuring that you're always available to your friends and colleagues.
It's on motorways, however, that one would expect this easy to use system to struggle and where it surprisingly doesn't. There's still a level of compression caused by the noise cancelling, but when driving at around 70mph on decent quality roads (i.e. not concrete) calls are still audible and conversation flows easily. This came as no small surprise and though it's not going to be as crisp and clear as a headset or a custom installed system, it's nonetheless sufficient and quite impressive for what is a genuine plug and play device.
This record is, however, tainted when it comes to MP3 playback. When using an MP3 player we found that the audio kept on switching between mono and stereo output, which became quite annoying and obviously had a negative effect on sound quality. This remained the case using several different unoccupied frequencies, despite the fact that other FM Transmitters we tried had no problems in this respect. One can only conclude that the transmitter in the Venturi Mini isn't quite as powerful as it should be, making it one of the few disappointments of the device in general.
Is it enough to put us off, though? No, not really. As you might have guessed by now we really like the Venturi Mini. It combines two very simple and accessible technologies in a way that's well implemented, well designed and generally great to use. If you want hands-free in your car but don't want the tedium of installation this is a great option, providing unparalleled flexibility and capable performance. Thus, though not perfect and moderately pricey at £75-£80, this is definitely worth a close look.
Combining wireless and in-car hands-free into one smart system, the Venturi Mini is wonderfully intuitive and well thought out device. It performs admirably too and though there are a few quirks here and there, it makes for a great quick solution to your hands-free needs.