It’s nothing less than the best sounding wireless system that Ash Kramer has heard for less than 1K. Yes, even better than its stunning smaller sibling.
IT’S CONFESSION TIME again – Cambridge Audio’s (CA) Minx Air 200 wireless music system languished sad and alone in its box for over a week after it arrived for review. The smaller Minx Air 100 (reviewed here) was the first unit to be tested because it’s always nice to be pleasantly surprised by the way a bigger, more expensive speaker system sounds compared to the smaller one, rather than going the other way and be disappointed.
The 100 sounded really good, with excellent dynamics, tight bass and the capacity to easily fill a reasonably sized room, so the idea of a bigger unit seemed like an over the top exercise in brinkmanship. Eventually, however, it occurred to me that that’s not the way CA usually plays the game. So the 200 was removed from its box and fired up for a full review.
Features & Construction
The two Minx Air units are like peas in a pod, it’s just that the one pea has grown up a bit – the 200 is bigger in every dimension and slightly heavier to boot. The prosaic styling is more pronounced on the bigger unit, and that front panel is an even larger unbroken expanse of battleship grey, which is alleviated only occasionally by the silver surround in the right light. There’s plenty of versatility under the lid though, and connectivity options include AirPlay and Bluetooth with wired Ethernet, RCA and 3.5mm line-in inputs on the rear panel.
The 200 can be controlled in a number of ways – there are ten illuminated controls on the top panel giving access to power, volume, Bluetooth pairing, analogue source select and five of the 10 preprogramed internet radio stations. Then there’s a small, full function remote control, which controls more of the preprogramed internet radio stations and gives remote bass control. There’s also a free app that more or less duplicates the remote, but also allows the internet radio selections to be changed by the user.
Like the 100, the 200 is equipped with Balanced Mode Radiator (BMR) drivers, which combine the characteristics of pistonic cones and flat panel drivers. Where the 100 uses two full range 100mm units, the 200 contains two smaller 57mm BMR drivers in its resonance free body, and it augments the bottom end with a 165mm “subwoofer”, which is a conventional cone driver. The 200 is also powered by an abundance of Class D amplification; in this case a massive 200 watts, which should be enough to send the thing into orbit if it were ever to be unleashed in full.
Set up was as painless as it was on the smaller unit. Push a button on the back, run through the set up process on a nearby smartphone, tablet or computer and you’re away. Heck, if that’s not easy enough it’s entirely possible to have the 200 playing music in well under a minute via Bluetooth, which involves no more than the press of the pairing button and letting your phone figure out the details. It’s hard to overstate the importance of this aspect of the unit’s performance – Plug and Play is vital considering how difficult some branded equivalents are to get up and running, not to mention how unsavvy the average consumer is. Both the Airplay and Bluetooth connection proved to be stable once set up, with no drop outs and no hassles establishing a connection on start up from a powered off state.
If the smaller Minx Air 100 was impressive, the 200 is a step ahead in sonic terms. The bass is bigger and even tighter, not to mention more articulate, the midrange is more open and the top end even clearer. The 200 isn’t quite as dry as the 100, which means it’s a touch warmer and sounds more natural. The 200 isn’t quite as coherent as the 100 and its full range drivers, and it does take a bit of time to find the right balance between the BMR drivers and the woofer. Too little bass and there’s a noticeable sense of a suck out between the drive units, but once that bass control is set in consideration of the unit’s location in the room, the overall balance and linearity is excellent.
The soundstage is wider than the one set up by the 100 but it’s still no substitute for the wide soundstage set up by a pair of small speakers. Consider the all-in-one nature of the 200, and you’ll find that the soundstage width matters not one iota.
Working through hours upon hours of Gov’t Mule on Pandora led me to Warren Haynes singing ‘One (Live)’ from Live At Bonaroo, a song that let the 200 show off its strengths. There was an amazing amount of insight into the recording; far more than expected from wireless music system playing a Pandora stream via an AirPlay connection from my antiquated smartphone. The searing vocal and crisp acoustic guitar notes sounded more like they were coming from a proper small hi-fi system. Again, it’s tough to reconcile the clarity and extension of the treble with a driver layout that doesn’t include tweeters, but the smaller BMR drivers in the 200 are even more capable at the top than the units in the Minx Air 100. The extra power is also obvious because you really do need to push the volume way up (as in way, way up) to get the 200 to lose its composure.
The 200 does an outstanding job with low quality files but the higher the incoming file quality, the better it sounds. Fed with a 320kbps stream of Live at Radio City by Dave Matthews and Tim Reynolds, I had to wonder how the CA engineers pulled off the trick of making this unit sound this good at the price. Reynolds’ guitar notes on ‘The Maker’ sounded more like they were coming from the floorstanders on either side of the comparatively small CA speaker system, with abundant detail and a genuine sense of air and space to the instrument.
It’s worth noting that where the 100 is spookily capable at keeping resonance under control thanks to its BMR drivers, the 200 behaves pretty much like any other piston driver equipped unit. The anti-resonance body mitigates this to a degree, but the movement of the 165mm woofer can still be felt on whatever the 200 is standing on. How much this actually matters is down to each user but in my case, the 100 is perfectly at home on my bedside cabinet, where the 200 sets up something of a resonance with the volume up. The 200 is entirely happy on my coffee table, though.
The way the 200 delivered ‘Soulshine’, from the Live At Bonaroo album (which features Warren Haynes with the amazing Vusi Mahlasela), made me think that the bigger unit would be worth additional cash just to have the extra transparency.
A back and forth comparison between the two units with the same tracks and source proved this to be the case. Cambridge Audio’s Minx Air 100 is a superb little wireless audio system that sounds bigger than it is, but the Minx Air 200 sounds better in every respect than its smaller sibling. Anyone buying a 100 will likely be totally happy with their purchase, at least until they hear a 200. So if you can find the two hundred bucks, move up the range and you’ll never look back. Long story short – this is the best sounding wireless speaker system I’ve heard in the sub $1000 category, and it could give a few higher priced music center options a good scare. ASHLEY KRAMER