I've had this thing 2 years now and use it almost daily - battery life is still impressive and, whilst I was never a believer in the whole 'burn in' thing, the sound does seem to have opened up with age (and hammering!). I stand by my initial feeling - unbeatble sound for size format and largely industrutable but light on bass and gets very confused with low dynamic range material i.e. recent/remastered rock and any current club/dance stuff. That said it can really surprise you with older, pre loudness wars material. It is a fantastic companion for spoken podcasts and sounds very akin to the Ruark DAB, and also works really wwell with a pico/pocket projector. It is however now overpriced at £150 (for a lithium battery, digital amp, 3" driver and bit of alloy tube). Half a grand for the full 2.1 system (e.g. stereo plus the sub)? Really??!!!
This is my second attempt at a review for the Minirig. The first one I posted on Xmas day with a one star rating as the MR didn't work out of the box - turned out to be an open circuit on the shield of the supplied cable. I wasn't impressed by the company's response. If you're remotely interested it's all explained at the end of this review.
You'll notice that there are an incredible amount of 5 star ratings for the MR and some contain some really impressive claims about what it's capable of. This review is intended to give a REALISTIC view of what to expect - what it can do and what it can't.
So firstly, unboxing. The MR is stylishly presented in a black tube - kind of like a Cheeselets tub if it was designed by Bang and Olufsen. Pop the black Beo-cheeselets lid and two clear bags are revealed - one with the (infamous) audio cable and the other a usb charging cable. Don't lose the charging cable as it's unique in its use of a round DC jack to connect to the MR. The audio cable also looks distinctly designer with alloy jack housings and the MR logo printed along it's cable length. Now we pull out the MR itself - it's housed in a padded black cloth gig bag with double zipped top. The stylish presentation continues with grey MR logos on the side and top with matching grey zip. The fabric feels tough and rugged and you get the impression it will withstand a bit of abuse. Unzip the lid and beneath the black tissue paper padding you'll find a little net pocket for storing the cables in the bag lid. There's a lot of thought gone into this.
So to the MR itself. Not overly weighty nevertheless it feels solid with a low centre of gravity - clearly the Lithium Ion battery and (suspected) T class amplifier are nestled at the bottom of its alloy body. The rig looks sharp - clean, slightly utilitarian, it has a whiff of aircraft engineering about it for some reason. The whole thing is symmetrical being capped each end with MINIRIG embossed black rings. It looks like it could withstand a lot of travel and reasonable impacts. Bizarrely it also looks a bit like an ashtray - watch out for smokers on your travels!
"Fire up the Quatro"
So, assuming your cable works, the first thing you notice is there's no power switch - power is controlled by inserting the cable jack into either low or high gain socket. This is normally accompanied by a)silence b) a pop c)an alarming thud. There is no way of knowing whether you'll get a, b or c. It seems to be affected by how fast you plug the jack in, whether the audio source is already connected to the other end and whether you've just swapped from high to low gain or vice versa. If you get c it tends to make people sat next to it a little nervous. It's a contentious point among a few reviewers including myself. It should have a separate power switch.
"What does it sound like... first impressions"
You'll have seen the word "loud" pretty much in every review and it's justified. For what, a half litre enclosure? and 3 inch driver it's capable of some serious Sound Pressure Levels (SPL). I'll wager the first thing every new owner will do will be to go for high gain at full volume. And they'll be impressed by the sound levels - especially in a confined space it is %^&*ing loud. It's brash and brutal. If there's one thing the MR does exceptionally well for something so small, it's volume.
"As good as/better than an XXX dock..."
Once you get over the "%^&* me that's loud stage" you settle down to listen at reasonable levels. You'll have seen reviews saying that the MR is equal to or better than various docks up to and past £200 such as BOSE etc. etc. and matches/exceeds component HiFi speakers. This is complete crap. Just utter rubbish. Any half decent 2.1 system will outdrag the MR in terms of sound quality - I have a 14 year old Yamaha 2.1 system (YST MS30) that destroys the rig in terms of sound quality and bass extension. OF COURSE IT DOES! It's a totally unfair comparison - but I didn't make it, other reviewers have. The YSTMS30 system is using 3 separate drivers and has access to a much greater supply of power - in short it's got much more under the bonnet. Whilst at maximum volume you'll still hear the MR shouting over the Yamaha - and it is shouting - the quality is a world apart. What some people are claiming of a 3 inch driver in 0.5 litre enclosure is physically impossible. PASCE have tested the MR down to 100hz +-3db against the rest of its frequency response, however, when you're driving it at decent levels with the driver starting to reach maximum excursion and the limiter kicking in, the response is further constricted. Ignoring the graphs for a minute, in reality, at 2/3rds volume and over the lowest you'll perceive is around 150hz. There's a few tracks I've played where it simply can't deliver the bassline - ZZ Tops "Gotsta get paid" is one. BUT let's be clear here, PASCE have NEVER made any claims that it matches high end docks or HiFi speakers - I'm just challenging other Amazon reviewers here - the fact PASCE are about to release an add on MiniRig subwoofer tells you they know full well it doesn't have any pretentions to serious bass extension. In short (ignoring the size restraints of the MR for a minute) the sound quality is good - it's not "hi-fi" and it never could be nor is it intended to be - it's intended to give a decent rendition within physical limits of it's very small cabinet and this it does. Re-introduce the very small footprint factor and the sound it delivers is very impressive keeping this firmly in mind. Some have called it punchy and this is a fair description - it does have a tendency to harshness when driving at max levels but what else could you expect? (assuming you ignore those over-hyping reviews). As others have said the minirig does respond well to placement on the floor in the corner of the a room and this helps project the bottom end a bit.
I've used the minirig a lot with a pocket projector indoors and outdoors and have to say it excels with speech/dialog - very clear and the limiter works to it's advantage levelling some of the ridiculously peaky dynamic range of some film soundtracks. Perfect for cinema on the go then. It actually sounds quite like a Ruark R1 but without the bottom end the Ruark has. If you listen to a lot of podcasts the minirig is an excellent choice irrespective of size.
"It doesn't distort..."
Something else claimed in some of the 5 star reviews - it doesn't distort. Yes. It will. There's been a few bass lines that have got the MR in a flap - not on full tilt either btw (a Rush track off "Power Windows" was one) - and it finds fast transients e.g. isolated kick drums particularly challenging. The limiter seems to struggle with these and I wonder if the attack and release rates aren't yet optimised. You'll hear it flapping as either the driver is hitting maximum excursion or it's clipping the top power rail. But, by and large the limiter does a decent job of covering this up although every so often you will hear it, and not necessarily at high volumes. It's by no means all the time and is entirely source dependent - again this is challenging other Amazon reviews, not any claims by PASCE.
"So your point is...?"
My point is... be sure you're buying the MR for the right reasons/usage. Don't be drawn in by some of the over hyped claims of amazing 5 star reviews. If you can, and this will prove difficult I appreciate, audition one first and give it a run at comfortable listening levels for a decent amount of time - don't just do the full volume for 30 seconds "I gotta have one" test. I got suckered in by the reviews when I really should've known better about the claims some are making. It's not audio nirvana... but it will play Nirvana very loud.
"Is it for you?"
If you want the smallest, longest battery life, highest SPL from an exceptionally portable and rugged mono speaker to take on your travels - congratulations, you've found your ultimate gadget! Other travellers you meet will likely want one too after you do the "high gain, max volume" demo. If you listen to a lot of podcasts/spoken word or want a companion for your pico projector again - this is a great choice for you.
If, however, it's rarely going to leave the house, or you're not so worried about space constraints but put outright sound quality (full frequency response) over volume there are other products that will better suit your needs.
So, pound for pound nothing will out punch the MR, BUT if you're happy to carry around more than a pound there is better out there and that's the honest truth.
"A word on the minirig sub"
It is impressive, very impressive - no doubt about it - if you like lots of bass and run loud with high gain you will notice the limiter much more than you ever did with the minirig on it's own but try and remember the sub is about extending the frequency response not necessarily making a massive bass hump so maybe go with the low gain after you've done the "impress your mates" high gain sub setting. In fact the extension is quite incredible for the size of the package - really fantastic bit of design with the folded horn. I hate IT buzzwords but PASCE seem to be practising "agile development" (euch!) - release the product and up date/fix along the way. Prime example of this is the neat access slit in the sub protective case to access the power and input sockets without removing the case which the stock minirig bag would also benefit from. They are also working on a splitter cable to allow single on/off control without removing the cables - again very welcome and a clear sign they are listening to their customers feedback.
Bear in mind a full stereo setup with the minirig sub will cost you £350 and you find yourself in the exceptionally impressive territory of the Arcam cube, Klipsch KMC 3 (for real bassheads) etc. Yes the minirig schtick is it's modular 'take what you need' design but be honest, if you've splashed on the sub and two minirigs you're not going to leave any of them at home are you?
"OK, what was all this about the 1 star review then?"
Well I was ^&%$ed off because it was Christmas day and this is a premium product costing nearly £100 supplied with a duff cable - luckily I'm tech savvy and luckier still, I had another 3.5mm jack to jack cable in the house, other people may have been totally stuffed, some may have even had to go to all the hassle of sending the product back. To my surprise the manufacturer replied to my review almost instantly. On Christmas day. Wow! Did he try to recover the situation by profusely apologising, acknowledging this was especially unfortunate at Xmas but that he really wanted me to enjoy the Minirig so promise to send a replacement out at first opportunity? Nah, he said it was unfair to blame him for a third party supplied cable and I quote "at the end of the day we make the Minirig, NOT the cables, so we don't get to test the cables and they are not made by us". What? You supply the whole package, it's in your name, you control quality processes and choose not to test the cables yet it's not your fault??! That's like Toshiba blaming an obscure chip manufacturer in some remote Chinese proverb when your TV goes wrong - "It wasn't me!". Very unprofessional. In fairness he did offer to send 3 replacement cables if I sent my one back for them to "take a look". That's why they got one star and why I, in turn, got a bit of a mauling from the Pro PASCE lobby from north of the border! The one star was harsh. I have changed that. I look forward to receiving a working cable. Ho-Ho-Ho Merry Christmas! ;-)