On the surface, the X-Mini II capsule speaker looks like worse value than the iRule competition. After all, instead of a stereo capsule speaker system you're getting a single, monaural speaker, and unless you like listening to the original version of Pet Sounds or early albums by the Stones, going from two channels down to one is a bit of a sacrifice, right? Not necessarily. For one thing, there's not actually that much benefit from stereo when you're talking about tiny speakers you can only place about a foot apart. Secondly, the X-Mini II instantly feels like a more solid, better built and designed proposition. At 83g its significantly heavier than the 58g iRule modules, and as anyone who knows much about audio gear will tell you: weight often goes hand-in-hand with quality.
In design terms it's broadly similar to the individual ViBR8 Xtreme modules. When closed you get a squashed-down sphere a little smaller than a tennis ball, though the styling here is cleaner and the rubberised plastics feel a little more refined. With the cut-out X-Mini logo and the bright red driver underneath, you might even describe the X-Mini II as swish. Twist to open and you get the same concertina arrangement, albeit with a heavier base section this time around. XMI call it an extendable resonator, but in practice it seems to work in much the same way as the Xtreme ‘Vacuum' tech. You get extended bass and an awful lot of vibration. This time, however, Mr Blessed has a bigger megaphone, he's been out for a liquid lunch and HE NEEDS TO SHOUT!
As with the ViBR8 Xtremes, the X-Mini II has a lithium ion battery which charges via a mini-USB to USB cable. Battery life is quoted at eleven hours, and from my observations that's pretty much on the money. The capsule has a couple of other interesting features. First, while it still has a standard 3.5mm line-in, it also has a built-in audio cable, about 4 inches long, that clips neatly into the base. Second, and more importantly, you can use the plugs and sockets to daisy-chain a series of X-Mini II modules together, which is handy if your mates have them too and you fancy making a big noise on the beach or at a party. Socially responsible? No. Fun? As long as I'm not listening, probably, yes.
However, none of this would matter were it not for one thing: the X-Mini II sounds an awful lot better than it has any right to. My rational mind tells me that this is the result of a larger 40mm driver, a better designed capsule, a more powerful 2.5w output and a heavier base keeping it (just about) anchored on the ground, but - frankly - it could easily just be the case that this is alien technology which has been dragged from an alternative dimension by Reed Richards of the Fantastic Four. Okay, it's maybe not quite that incredible, but it really is astonishingly good.
For one thing, the sound has much more bass and body than you get from the ViBR8 Xtremes, and while the X-Mini II doesn't go quite as loud, it's plenty powerful enough for personal listening or a reasonable sized room. It's great for quiet, acoustic material (I'm listening to Neil Young's Live from Massey Hall album as I write this), but the little devil can handle dance music, pop, electronica and even jazz without too many problems. The sound is a little too congested in the mid-range to put in a great performance with heavy rock, but provided you have sensible expectations the results are still listenable.
The bass is still light, but it is there, and while the output is more brittle than you'd get from a decent, larger speaker, there's a warmth and roundness to the tone that you can hardly expect from such a small module. In fact, I've heard full-sized, £50 speaker docks that sound far, far worse than this. Elbow's Mirrorball from The Seldom Seen Kid shimmers in approximately the way that it should. Justin Timberlake's LoveStoned throbs with energy. AC/DC's Back in Black just rocks. It's not Hi-Fi as we know it, and classical is probably a no-no, but the X-Mini II puts out a really entertaining noise.
This isn't a serious bit of portable audio kit. Put it against a £70 speaker dock or even a £20 set of headphones and there's no way that you could seriously compare the output. However, at £20 the X-Mini II doesn't need to be serious; it's the sort of thing you can buy on impulse, lug around, and make friends, colleagues and family members chuckle. And if you wanted a portable system to listen to in hotel rooms, then it's hard to think of anything better or more practical that doesn't cost a lot more dough. Take it from me - this little beauty is a winner.
The sound isn't incredible, but it's an awful lot better than you'd expect from anything so small. Solid, cute and practical, the X-Mini II is a genuinely lovable mini-speaker.