Maxell MXSP-BT3100 review

Batteries may have been the initial staple for the Japanese Maxell corporation, but for many people the Hitachi spin-off company was best known for its blank audio cassettes, and latterly optical discs.

Now the company has jumped on the budget speaker-dock gravy train, issuing a TV soundbar, portable wireless speaker and this, the snappily named MXSP-BT3100 Bluetooth Docking Speaker with Lightning Connector. At least spelling out the name saves us having to explain what the product is billed to do.

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It’s a one-piece stereo speaker – as opposed to one-box, a description less fitting since there’s no box as such. Instead you get a concave shaped horizontal reflector which forms the top sound radiator. This is inset with two mid/treble drivers behind a perforated black grille.

Technical details of the product are scant, although it seems that two 60 mm speaker units are powered by a 25W stereo Class D amp. Our listening initially led us to wonder if it was in fact not Class D-based as despite the thin tone our interest was held better.

This is a three-source system, firstly by enabling audio from any docked iPhone or iPad that has a Lightning port.

You can also plug in the back of the dock with a minijack for best sound, or use the Bluetooth wireless audio option. This gives the weakest sound of the three inputs, with music downgraded by the SBC-only option here.

You control the speaker up close from a row of buttons running along the front which handily gives you direct switching between sources, volume + and – and power standby. The buttons are particularly stiff and cheap-feeling, requiring some pressure before they work.

As frustrating was the way the speaker would switch itself off after a few minutes disuse, and require fiddling with the Bluetooth connection to resync.

There’s a mini remote control included which adds simple tranport control of playing music from docked iDevices. Build materials and feel is plastic all the way, and our sample’s front grille was not correctly glued down in places.

Maxell MXSP-BT3100 review: Sound quality

The ’BT-3100 has a reedy, plasticky tone, far from high-fidelity – and yet can add a certain lightness of touch to music. The mid-fi was not as bad as most Bluetooth speakers we’ve tried, since it could still convey some of the subtle cues of a recording or a venue’s acoustic which are normally lost to Class D amplifier designs.

There was just enough bass to give some footing to music which could trip along merrily enough, and this bass was not altogether tuneless as we could still get a reasonable sense of pitch too. But that bass is very limited in depth and weight.

At the treble end, there was too much sizzle and spit to cymbals that proved esecially wearing on the ears when played louder. But at gentle low volumes and with simpler music the Maxell speaker could be surprisingly engaging.

Wound up with more than background levels we found even classical music could aggravate, with harpsichord getting the Stylophone remix, and solo violins that would tear your ears off. It could sound quite distressed at these volumes, evincing an annoying buzzy drone like a vuvuzela.

But budget bedroom speakers like this are not built to party, and with the volume in check the ’BT-3100 was nowhere near so dreadful as some. Voices were intelligible, if somewhat cardboardy and with gross sibilance that gave some vocalists a pronounced lithp.

Like some other wireless speakers the Maxell speaker would emanate faint buzzes and whistles, clearly heard in the intervals between music stopping and the unit switching itself off.

OUR VERDICT

The Maxell MXSP-BT3100 is around half the price of the circa-£300 competition, which makes it look better value. But £170 is still no small outlay and we’d expect better quality and a less plasticky or spitty sound for the money. Against some higher priced wireless speakers we’ve reviewed, it doesn’t look such bad value.

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