For some, music is deeply linked to memorable and momentous occasions in their lives. The sound of a specific song can bring with it vivid thoughts of a moment in the past, a place visited or a loved one. Whether you are seated in contemplation on top of a secluded peak, or drunkenly dancing around a campfire drinking your stove fuel with some friends, I feel that music can make a backpacking adventure all the more special. It is for this reason that I decided it was about time to get a portable speaker to take with me hiking.
My priorities were in no particular order: weight, sound quality, battery life and cost. I decided against those that use disposable batteries because it would be more expensive, wasteful and there wouldn't be much of a weight saving anyway. Two aa batteries weigh 1.62 oz which is almost as much as one of the lighter speakers. For greater battery life I would simply take two speakers. This would also mean greater versatility since they could also be used simultaneously or hooked up to provide stereo sound.
So, choices, choices. A search on amazon reveals that there is a bewildering array of options available. Many of which can be ignored due to their weight. Sifting through reviews and specs helped slightly, but in the end I decided to simply buy three of the lighter and most popular options in order to compare.
X-mini v1.1. 2.4oz, $19, 6 hour battery. The smallest and lightest of the three speakers. Good low end, mid is slightly lacking, high end is great. Sounds slightly more muffled compared to the other two. Has a plastic cover over the speaker which protects the speaker slightly. When flipped up, this cover directs the sound forwards slightly which in general I would see as an advantage. Could be removed to save weight. Begins to distort at 80% volume. Bass is not great at high volumes. Jumps and vibrates at 80% volume+
Kinovo ZX100. 3.4oz, $18.45, 6 hour battery. This speaker is the largest of the three. Most balanced overall sound with good treble, great mid and good low end. Where to begin on the negatives for this speaker. The treble does sound very slightly more tinny than the x-mini II. Only one of the three which had issues with that characteristic beeping noise from cellphone interference - this was a constant annoyance. Additionally, the moment the speaker is connected to any audio device there is a loud and unpleasant clicking noise caused by some peculiarity in the speaker's circuitry. There are further unpleasant noises occasionally if the speaker is moved slightly. The volume resets to 50% whenever the speaker is turned off and on again. The on button needs to be held down for 3 seconds to switch the device on which is irritating and unnecessary. The volume and power buttons are loud and uncomfortable to press. The slot which the wire fits into on the bottom of the speaker is square in shape. Won't explain why in detail, it takes 3 times as long to fit the wire back in place than with the other speakers. There is a stupendously bright blue led on all the time reminding you the speaker is switched on. I find this supremely annoying when listening in the dark. The other two speakers have led status lights, but they are cleverly placed on the underside of the speaker so they do not disturb you. Begins to distort at 80% volume.
X-mini II. 2.9oz, $21 and 12 hour battery. Middle in terms of weight and size. Very balanced sound overall with best low end, great high, but the mid is not as good as the kinovo. My only real complaint is that the speaker begins to jump around and vibrate at 80%+ volume. Begins to distort at 85% volume.
In conclusion the X-mini II is the clear winner for me with truly impressive volume, audio clarity and excellent battery life. If you want a lighter, smaller and more easily pocketable device then I would go for the x-mini I. I would not recommend the Kinivo by any means. It is the best sounding by a very small amount, but with noisy intermittent crackling sounds, cellphone interference and irritating features it is generally a very disappointing device.
Would be great to hear your opinions on music in general on the trail. Do you listen to music while hiking and what type of music? Also if you know of any better/lighter speaker options out there please share with us all.