By Mike Riley on Thu, 02/06/2014
With the growing popularity of mobile devices like iPhones and iPads, there has been a flood of high quality wireless Bluetooth audio gear addressing the limitations of iOS hardware built-in speakers. Not to be left out of this expanding market, Creative Labs has improved on their initial wireless speaker design with the release of their Sound BlasterAxx Axx200 sound system. How does it stack up against similarly priced competitors? Read on to find out.
Upon unboxing the Axx200, the first thing that struck me was how clean and sleek it looked. This has been achieved in part by the capacitive touch-enabled top panel used to control speaker volume, microphone muting, audio enhancement and other one-touch functions. The white speaker grill surrounding the front half of the hexagonal Axx200 also gives the product an attractive look while projecting sound from top to bottom.
But the Axx200 offers far more than just another wireless speaker to use with your iPhone or iPad. Besides delivering excellent sound quality, the Axx200 can be used as a conference phone thanks to the quad-microphone array that picks up participant audio seated around the it. Audio can also be recorded, stored, and played back via removable MicroSD cards. This includes MP3 and WMA file formats, making the Axx200 a standalone MP3 player/speaker combination. The Axx200 contains a 5200 mA rechargeable battery, offering up to 15 hours of continuous operation. The battery can also be tapped into via a standard USB cable to recharge iPhones and iPod Touches while on the go (unfortunately, the port doesn’t supply enough juice to adequately recharge an iPad).
In addition to the conference call recording capability, the Axx200 can also be used as a portable recording device. While the built-in quad microphone directional array performs adequately, an external microphone can be plugged into the combination Aux In/Microphone jack for higher quality audio capture. Additional audio enhancements can be applied to both capture and playback, courtesy of Sound Blaster’s variety of SBX Pro Studio signal processing algorithms. Parameters can be individually tweaked via the free Sound Blaster Central program for iOS.
The Axx200 can be plugged into a computer via its microUSB connector and serve as an external sound card. And if that wasn’t enough of a kitchen sink of features, the Axx200 can also be turned into a voice-altering megaphone (eight preset voices that can be further manipulated via the Sound Blaster Center app) and even be used to emit an ear-splitting siren.
After pairing the speaker with my iOS devices (up to two Bluetooth devices can be paired simultaneously with the Axx200), I tested out the conference call quality. With help from the built-in CrystalVoice Echo Cancelation, Focus, Noise Reduction, and Smart Volume sound shaping capabilities, the conversation was, well, crystal clear. Even the recording of the conversation was of decent podcast quality. Next I tried out the Axx200’s MP3 player functionality. While it won’t replace my iOS devices any time soon, the fact that my iPad didn’t need to be paired (or even powered for that matter) to listen to my favorite tunes was a nice, albeit limited, bonus. However, without any display for music title, album, or artist, navigating to a favorite song using the Previous/Next Track button on the back of the Axx200 proved to be too clunky for anything more than a fire and forget party playback device.
Sound quality was on par with similarly priced wireless speakers, though the Axx200 did have a slight edge when it came to clarity and warmth thanks to the aforementioned SBX signal enhancements. Given Creative Labs' years of experience honing sound hardware for computers, this performance gain came as no surprise.
I would be hesitant taking it out on the road or to the beach or other outdoor activity. Its glistening white exterior looks like it could retain dirt over time, and the pristine speaker grill could invite permanent dings and dents as inevitable bumps and tumbles from tables would take its toll. If you’re looking for a highly durable wireless speaker at the expense of sound quality, check out my review of Scosche’s weather-proof BoomBOTTLE instead. And while the Axx200 can hold its own in the volume department, it’s nowhere near as loud as something like IK Multimedia’s iLoud. That said, neither of these competing alternative products offer the depth of features contained within the Axx200. So if you’re looking for a great sounding, high-quality, and feature-rich wireless Bluetooth speaker that looks as attractive as it sounds, the Sound BlasterAxx Axx200 should be on the top of your shopping list.
Price: $299 ($149 for a limited time)
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars