Review: Mondo Mint Digital Music Station DMS300
Pros: A novel iPod speaker system with separate, user-positionable speakers, a powerful amplifier, and twin iPod docks - one wired, one wireless. Impressively clean, Apple-styled design for all of the components, and relatively easy to use wireless dock functionality that permits listening to contents of an iPod docked even several rooms away. Includes all the parts needed to enjoy its varied functions, including a remote control and quality speaker cables.
Cons: Despite high price, sound is overly bassy and lacks in the mids, with no equalization to adjust levels; doesn’t equal or surpass top-rated $250-$300 iPod speakers on sound. Remote offers no control over iPod tracks from a distance, and only connects with wired dock; you’ll need to sit or stand near wireless dock and place iPod inside to have iPod track or other navigation control.
With hundreds of iPod-ready speaker systems on the market, it takes good pricing, great sound, and looks that kill to make an impression these days. Aesthetically and conceptually, Mondo’s new Mint DMS300 ($349) system makes a major impact, delivering a cleanly-designed package with separate speakers and two iPod docks—one wireless—but sonically, the system’s not especially impressive for the price. It’s a good but not great package overall, spared from our limited recommendation-level rating only by the novelty of its wireless functionality.
At first blush, Mint seems like an appealingly novel idea: you can listen to your iPod or another line-level audio source connected directly to the first dock, which also contains a 140-watt amplifier, or use the wireless second dock to broadcast music from an iPod situated up to 100 feet away. Mondo gives you two slick double-driver speakers, each with nice rounded edges and made from piano-finished wood, with detachable fabric covers that hide 1” tweeters and 4” woofers, plus 4.9-foot binding post/banana-style connector cables.
The wired dock and amplifier looks great. It uses Mac mini and Apple TV-inspired styling to great effect, with a combination of true metal edging and white plastic that looks as if it could have come straight from Apple. An Infrared sensor in the front can be used with an included 8-button remote control. Then there’s the square wireless dock, which sits on a diagonal and has only one port on the back, for power. Mondo also includes USB and twin power cables for the setup, as well as Dock Adapters. You can install four rubber feet on each of the speakers yourself.
Mondo scored most of its points on those cosmetics and simplicity of Mint: with the included cables, you can place the two speakers nearly 10 feet away from each other, dock your iPod in the center, or operate it from roughly 100 feet away. Using the iPod in the wired dock is just about as easy as one would expect: after the cables are connected, which is simpler than with some component systems thanks to the nice included cabling here, pressing the Power and iPod buttons gives you immediate access to whatever your iPod’s playing. Volume buttons on the wired dock, and on the remote, work exactly as you’d expect. A mute button’s also there if you want to stop the sound altogether. You can also use the wired dock with USB 1.1 audio devices, such as computers, and with the line-in port, both of which have their own separate buttons on the top of the Mint amplifier.
The wireless dock works similarly, with volume and mute buttons on top. We initially had no problem getting it to connect with the Mint amplifier and speakers, but twice lost connectivity and had to re-pair the system. Without even consulting the manual, we figured out that a Connect button on the wireless dock’s bottom re-initiated pairing with the base station, and thereafter, switching from the wired to the wireless dock with the Wireless Audio button was painless. If there’s anything wrong with the wireless dock, it’s that you’re again tethered to a power outlet when you’re using it; Mondo could have offered a portable, iPod-draining transceiver with a detachable charging cord to achieve more useful results.
On a related note, there are some noteworthy functional hiccups and omissions in the Mint design. Mondo’s included remote control isn’t exactly brilliant, as it’s useful only with the wired dock, and then not really all that useful. It has power, mute, and volume buttons, but no iPod controls: the other four buttons are just toggles between Mint’s audio inputs. Want to change iPod tracks? You’ll have to get up and walk over to your wireless or wired dock. Want to change the volume when you’re not near the wired dock? Keep the wireless one near where you’re sitting or standing. If ever there was a system that cried out for an RF-based remote with superior iPod control, or the aforementioned portable transceiver, Mint is it.
Then there’s the subject of audio quality. We’ve tested over 100 iPod speaker systems at this point, and there are certain expectations we have developed for each $50 step up the ladder, taking into account extra features such as radio, wireless, an alarm clock, or portability that a given speaker may offer. What Mondo’s assembled is a $350 speaker system with roughly $200 worth of raw sound quality, which means that you’re not going to hear sound as impressive as Logitech’s less expensive AudioStation, but it’s in the ballpark.
The good news is that Mint’s sound is comparable, though not identical, between the wireless and wired docks, so long as the wireless dock isn’t too far away. Slight distortion of the audio signal becomes evident as the wireless dock moves further from the base, but in an unusual twist, while the speakers emit a tiny high-pitched sound whenever the iPod is connected to the wired dock, that sound is missing when the iPod’s connected wirelessly. We were generally pleased with the unit’s wireless performance, but for the lack of control we had over the wireless dock without being right next to it.
Unfortunately, Mondo’s speakers aren’t anything special. Though we give the company considerable credit for designing speakers that look nice and incorporate dual drivers that, when properly tuned, can deliver great frequency response, Mint’s have been tuned in a more classic boom and tizz fashion, with fine highs but overbearing lows and weak midrange. Listeners comparing Mint to other iPod speakers, such as AudioStation, noted that something sounded like it was “missing” from the Mint’s sound; the speakers are more boomy than warm, and tended to render music with lots of presence but little definition. As expected from their size and construction, they did better than many all-in-one iPod speakers at high volumes, and could be repositioned for superior stereo separation, but more conservative companies would have tuned them for a less bass-heavy, more balanced sound.
As with many bass-heavy speakers, Mint does a better job of rendering certain types of music—at least, in certain ways—than others. We were generally fine with rock tracks we heard, though instrumentation tended to obscure vocals, and rap or dance songs with big beats tended to sound even bigger when heard through Mint. The consequence, though, was an over-pronunciation of bass in test tracks such as Lata Mangeshkar’s Wada No Tad, which made certain parts of deep drums sound far too prominent relative to properly-adjusted systems like the AudioStation. Whether you view this as bass distortion or bass exaggeration depends on your perspective.
Admittedly, there are some users who prefer bass-heavy speakers, and if boominess and volume are all it takes for you to feel comfortable with audio quality, you may find Mint’s sound to be acceptable. In our view, however, when the heavy-handed sound signature is coupled with the system’s lack of any adjustable equalization, Mint isn’t a system we’d use ourselves—a reason we were on the edge of B- and B ratings for the product, despite its good looks and novelty. Mostly because of its wireless functionality, which adds considerably to the unit’s component costs and is a rarity in iPod speaker systems at the moment, we felt that the package is just well executed enough for $350 to merit our general-level recommendation rather than a limited one. But at a price like this, it’s our strong feeling that control, bundling, and audio tweaks could and should really improve a next-generation Mondo offering, if there is to be one.