Review: JLab Audio MiniBlaster Portable Speaker for iPod nano
Pros: A highly convenient pocket-sized speaker system for the iPod nano, complete with a storage chamber for the nano, a matching silicone rubber case, and two extras: a power supply for use indoors, and an auxiliary audio cable for use with other devices. Delivers good but not great sound given its size and price, excelling in volume more than anything else. Runs off of four AAA batteries when you’re on the road.
Cons: Overall sound quality is a little off the mark of less expensive (but less versatile) leading alternative. Access to nano requires turning unit over and right side up while in use. No screen or Hold switch protection for the nano while inside.
There are a few $50 and under speaker docks compatible with the iPod nano, but the best-known is Gear4’s PocketParty for iPod nano (iLounge rating: A-), a set of two speaker drivers inside a stand-like body that runs off a single AA battery. Though it wasn’t cheap at $45, it’s now commonly available for under $35, and a very good performer on audio given its small size. Now JLab Audio has developed an alternative called MiniBlaster ($50), which packs two drivers into an enclosure that’s at least as pocketable as PocketParty and a nano, yet offers more than a few features Gear4 omitted.
Most notably, JLab has opted to actually hold your nano inside the speaker chassis rather than creating a nano stand: the nice part of this design is that you don’t need to carry the MiniBlaster and nano separately, but rather put the nano in a case, then inside the MiniBlaster shell, and carry them both together. JLab includes the case, which matches the white or black color of the MiniBlaster speakers, and offers protection for everything but the nano’s screen and Hold switch. You turn the unit over to reveal the iPod’s face and controls, pick your song or playlist, then turn it around to listen to the music. The nano’s not as easy to control as in Gear4’s design, which will bother some users, but it’s surely easier to tote around. Four AAA batteries power MiniBlaster while you’re on the road.
Unlike PocketParty, the company also includes both a power supply and an auxiliary audio cable that allows the speakers to play audio from other devices - nice additions in our view, given that there will be times when you’ll want to use the speakers at home or with non-nano devices. However, unlike most of the charger-equipped speaker docks we’ve seen, MiniBlaster doesn’t charge the nano when connected to wall power; it makes an electronic connection solely to the nano’s headphone port and nothing else.
Other than its additional expense over PocketParty, which is basically justified by its included charger and iPod case, there are only a couple of small details that take away a little from the unit’s appeal. First is the presence of a volume knob, which might seem necessary if you’re looking to connect non-nano devices to the speakers, but in practice just adds one more thing you’ll need to do before enjoying your sound. Initial calibration requires you to set both the MiniBlaster and iPod nano volume knobs to a distortion-minimizing level, which is a little louder than the PocketParty’s peak. Past that point, and JLab does let it go further, heavy distortion kicks in.
The other issue is sound quality. By absolute standards, PocketParty isn’t a spectacular audio system, but given how small it is, it delivers pretty clean, balanced sound. Even though is can be turned up to a louder top level, MiniBlaster is a little off PocketParty’s mark at average listening levels. There’s a little less stereo separation - PocketParty’s speakers fire directly left and right, aiding a bit in this - and the MiniBlaster sounds a little more distant and radio-like by comparison. In short, if we had to pick one of the units on quality, we’d pick PocketParty overall, but on amplitude, MiniBlaster wins.
Overall, though it could use a few tweaks here and there, MiniBlaster for iPod nano delivers a very good pocket speaker experience for iPod nano owners. Its portable convenience is pretty much unrivaled, though it comes at the cost of making iPod access more difficult than the category’s leader, which costs less but also does less. Consider it an option if you’re on a budget, need something small, and/or like to listen to extended playlists of music both at home and on the road.