Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Travel Speakers (MP3 Players/Laptop etc)

I would not normally veer off topic on this blog (in that what I post generally has some specific relevance to either being in or moving to Penang) but I did find one small piece of kit (in addition to the essential iPhone/Google Maps combo) very very useful for listening to music in the hotel room from both my iPhone and a separate iPod I keep for the gym (and to avoid having my phone tied up by wires for when it rings, which I found it did regularly).

There are all manner of docks and speakers you can get for MP3 players and countless Apple specific ones (and I don't care where the critics say, for me, if you want 3rd part peripherals Apple is the way to go, but it's all a matter of choice) but many of them do tend to be quite bulky and will surely help to fill up and add weight to your bag/case, especially if you like to travel light.

After looking at literally dozens of devices I opted for the XMI X-Mini II (2nd Generation) speaker which looks rather like a large golf ball. It really is a cracking little device. Powered by a rechargeable battery giving around 8-11 hours of use it comes with a three way USB charging cable (allowing you to connect the speaker to the power and your MP3 player via the 3.5mm jack-plug at the same time) and a small protective cloth carry bag. If the device does not need charging you can also connect the device to your MP3 using the much shorter jack-plug cable which built in to the bottom of the device.

To use the device you merely twist it to open it up, turn on and presto. There is a volume control (the advice always with these things is to have your MP3 set to maximum or at least 75% of volume and control the volume with your speaker, otherwise you find you are draining the speaker battery trying to turn up the low volume output from the Mp3) and a small blue power LED which glows blue when fully charged and fades, as a rough indicator, as you hit low power. This LED also glows red when the device is charging, changing to blue when complete. To charge you can either plug the device into the USB port on your computer/laptop or, as I do, I just use a USB wall charger similar to that which is supplied with, and can be bought as a spare for the iPhone (and all manner of other devices). For me the volume of the device is ample for my needs and would I'm sure be fine for the vast majority. If you turn the device to full (which is VERY loud) you will get more distortion. If you simply must have more volume you can actually string these speakers together using the jack-plug cable in the bottom of the speaker. The only note of caution is to make sure you get the '2nd Generation' version of the XMI X-Mini II as there were some battery issue with 1st Gen models. The 2nd Gen models are more easily distinguishable from the Amazon UK site than the US but it would be easy to see which is which by looking at both sites and ordering accordingly. At $22 from the US and around £15 from the UK this is a cracking buy and will certainly accompany me on my travels within and from Malaysia.


One other option made it to my short-list of two and this was the Altec Lansing Orbit Speaker. Of only a slightly larger size the sound is said to be better (there are a number of reviews including this comparison test) than the XMI Mini-II but I have to say that even being a bit of an audiophile, I find the X-Mini II fine for the job it needs to do. The one thing that put me off the Orbit is that it runs off AAA batteries and that for me was a no-no because it means you either have to carry a supply, buy locally when they run down (and battery life will likely be the same as the X-Mini II) or carry at least two sets of re-chargeables and a charger. No thanks. Clearly though it would be very suitable for campers and such like who will not be near to mains power at any stage (or indeed for those who just prefer the changeable AAA battery approach), provided you take enough batteries. Priced at $17 in the US and around £16-22 in the UK the Orbit can be slightly more expensive for UK buyers as they can sometimes be hard to find at the lower price.

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