There’s a Best Buy store near one of the offices I do some consulting at and I often drop in to test whatever gadgets they have on display. In particular, I like to test out their wireless speakers in order to find the best portable speakers with good bass. Prices have dropped considerably over the years, but it’s still a risk to buy a crappy wireless speaker because you couldn’t demo it in person. It’s also a good way to test the range of the bluetooth speaker distance. If you can connect your own phone to the bluetooth speaker, then you can walk away and see how far you can get before the signal breaks up.
In the first roundup, I narrowed the field down to two Bose products – the Soundlink and the Bose Soundlink Mini. They had the best overall bass and presence, particularly in their handling of vocals. Ultimately, I went with the Soundlink Mini, because it was much more portable.
(Please note – when this article was written, it referred to the Esquire Mini. Now, there is another (larger) Esquire version, so check the Web – although the newer one is about 4 times larger than the mini).
The Bose Soundlink Mini struck me as the best portable speaker at the time and I really appreciated its recharging base, which lets you move the speaker around the room – away from a power outlet – and dock it when it needs more juice. Nevertheless, over time, I began to wish that I had something smaller. The Soundlink Mini is heavy despite it’s size and it added more weight to my carry-on than I would have liked.
On a subsequent visit to the store, I discovered the Harmon Kardon Esquire Mini, another portable bluetooth speaker which hadn’t been available when I purchased the Soundlink Mini. I was really blown away by the quality of the sound and the bass from such a small speaker. Also, the Esquire Mini is very thoughtfully designed. It is sleek, offers a variety of inputs/outputs and has a clever little kick-stand.
The real test, however, was going to be to pit these two speakers against each other.
Audio quality is subjective, so I am not going to try to use some kind of technical means of explaining my preference. I’ll put it like this – if you like the sound of the Bose Soundlink Mini, then you’ll like the sound of the Harmon Kardon Esquire Mini. The latter is just as good but even more portable, far lighter – all of which makes it better in my opinion.
Battery life for portable speakers can be a deal-breaker. Thankfully, both speakers are pretty good and you should expect to get 4-5 hours from each when untethered and you can listen to either of them while they are plugged into a power source. The Bose Soundlink comes with its own docking base station to recharge, whereas the Harmon Kardon Esquire Mini uses any micro-USB recharger.
Overall, there is no comparison. From the standpoint of sound quality, the Esquire Mini sounds just as good as the Soundlink Mini and you will shake your head at times over just how good it is, despite its diminutive size. Also, the Esquire Mini has much better styling and attention to details, right down to the little flip-out kickstand on the back. It comes in additional colours, such as silver, gold and brown leather. It’s a pleasure to use. The Esquire Mini has another feature up its sleeve – it can be used as a call conferencing speaker phone (it has a microphone inside), something the Soundlink Mini cannot do. Finally, from the standpoint of portability, the Esquire Mini is much lighter and smaller to pack.
So, at the end of the day, the Esquire Mini is currently the best portable wireless speaker in the market!
Update: There is a newer Esquire version 2 than the one I originally purchased, which includes a conferencing microphone to turn the Esquire into a call conferencing speaker. However, it is roughly 4x larger and not as portable.