Review: Cambridge Audio Bluetone 100 Bluetooth Speaker
What a difference a year makes. Cambridge Audio's 2013 release of the $449 Minx Air 100 speaker came at the tail end of Apple's failed experiment with AirPlay speakers — expensive audio systems based on a laggy wireless standard. Now the company has released Bluetone 100 ($299), a less expensive successor that's virtually identical inside and out, ditching AirPlay in favor of the popular Bluetooth standard. What didn't fly at an eye-popping price point is now much more appealing, and worthy of recommending.
Just like Minx Air 100, Bluetone 100 measures 13.7” wide, 6.8” tall, and 4.6” deep, with a curved chassis that recalls Bose’s family of SoundDocks. Currently only offered in black, Bluetone 100 has a matte black plastic body, a wide gunmetal plastic ring around the front edge, and a face-covering fabric grille that from a one-foot distance could be confused with plastic. Unlike Minx Air 100, which shipped with a remote control and Ethernet cable, Bluetone 100 comes with no pack-ins save for three black power cables that include European and U.S. wall blades. The omission of a remote control is noticeable but minor; you’re meant to wirelessly connect your iOS device via Bluetooth, changing tracks and the like from the device itself rather than the speaker or another remote.
Aesthetically, Bluetone’s biggest change from Minx Air is a reduction in the number of rubber buttons on the top surface. What used to be two sets of five buttons has been cut down to two sets of three: “aux,” “MP3,” and Bluetooth pairing on the left, volume down, up, and power on the right. Rear RCA ports are offered for the aux-in connection, and a 3.5mm port is there for MP3 players and other wired devices. While leaving the twin 4” drivers, rear handle-based bass port, and 100-Watt Class D amplifier of Minx Air 100, Bluetone has dropped the Internet Radio tuning and preset buttons from Bluetone 100, a consequence of eliminating Wi-Fi from the unit. We suspect that very few people will care, but if you must have those features, Cambridge has dropped the prior model to $400 with Wi-Fi, AirPlay, and Internet Radio, constituting a $100 premium over Bluetone 100.
In reviewing Minx Air 100, we noted that “most $300 and up speaker systems use four or more drivers to differentially handle sonic highs, mids, and lows; some excellent Bluetooth systems we’ve tested at half that price actually have four to eight drivers for this purpose. By contrast, Minx Air 100 is equipped with only two 4” drivers, which are both unusually large and few in number for a $449 system,” but were “on the large side, which combined with their sturdy enclosure reinforcement leads to superior high-volume performance.” Cambridge describes its two drivers as “balanced mode radiators,” noting that they can atypically vibrate both in and out and from side to side to make sounds, but they’re no substitute for having a collection of small, medium, and large speakers specializing in different areas of the audio spectrum.
Although the same comments apply to Bluetone 100, there’s a big difference between paying $449 or $300 for a speaker system — what wouldn’t be tolerable at the higher price point is arguably reasonable at a markedly lower one. There’s no getting around the fact that Bluetone 100 has fewer and less diverse drivers inside than even the company’s $180 Go V2, a fact that noticeably restricts Bluetone’s ability to reach the highest highs and really sparkle with clarity during playback. But the 4” drivers continue to offer particularly strong midrange and mid-bass performance, producing warm sound, and the inclusion of a bass knob on the back enables you to substantially increase the low end with only a little high-volume distortion as a consequence. We liked the way Bluetone 100 sounded out of the box and with slight bass adjustment; it’s not a pure audiophile sound system, but like Bose systems, virtually any typical consumer would be pleased by its balance without having to fidget with the controls.
Bluetone 100’s star feature remains its ability to reach higher volumes with lower distortion than most of the current crop of $300 Bluetooth speakers. At peak, the unit’s output is far more than enough to fill a small room — it would have been enough sound to be a great outdoor speaker if the unit was weather-resistant or capable of operating off of battery power. The stereo separation is several inches beyond the unit’s edges, though you’re only likely to notice it if you’re nearby; Bluetone 100’s wireless streaming works at well over twice the standard 33-foot Bluetooth distance.
Overall, Bluetone 100 is a good Bluetooth speaker system for the price, and worthy of our general recommendation — a big step up in value from the Minx Air 100. Although the system would ideally have more diverse speakers inside and include a remote for the $300 asking price, it’s a strong high-volume and wireless performer with a nice industrial design. Give it strong consideration if you plan to frequently enjoy music from a room or two away, and will appreciate its ability to maintain a steady music stream at whatever volume level you prefer.