Manufacturers will do anything to put a different spin on their iPod docks – from using halo-shaped speakers to building party games into an orb. Mint’s 220 iPod speaker dock falls onto the far less gimmicky side of this spectrum by introducing a much more useful feature: wireless music streaming from a PC or Mac. Using a thumb-drive-style USB adapter, the 220 pulls music from any computer, allowing it to serve double duty as both a pair of wireless computer speakers and an iPod stereo.
The Mint 220’s high build quality and relatively understated design stood out as definite highlights in a field crowded by chintzy throw-away gadgets and flashy eyesores. The piano-black cabinet may be plastic, but its seamless finish and dense feel definitely make it feel worthy of placement on that knurled oak desk or next to the humidor. We also appreciated its clean lines and rounded corners, which reminded us more of the type of speaker you might buy in a high-end audio boutique and less of a gadget fished out of the bargain bin at K-Mart.
While Bluetooth speakers that require a Bluetooth adapter and a painful pairing process are common, the Mint 220 dock uses it own proprietary transmitter and receiver to make the connection, stripping some of the steps out of setup. Just plug in the dock, plug in the receiver, and they’re connected. Although Windows may need permission to search for drivers for the adapter, it will find them automatically, and there’s no need to drop in an install CD or visit Mint’s Web site for drivers. The system even turns itself on and switches to wireless operation when it detects that the USB adapter has been connected. This is as plug-and-play as wireless gets.
Since the Mint 220 can handle music from an iPod, analog line-in device, or wireless computer connection, three indicator lights on the front indicate which source is active, along with whether the equalizer is on or off. They can be switched manually from the side with an input button, or from afar using an included remote. Though it’s a small touch, we liked how the device smoothly ramped the volume up and down between sources and when turned on, eliminating the abrupt blare you might usually get.
Image Courtesy of Mint
One of the major selling points for all of Mint’s audio products has been the company’s “Di-Fi” audio transmission, a completely lossless alternative to the more standard Bluetooth algorithms that pack bitrates down and degrade sound quality in the process. While we doubt most people notice Bluetooth compression, we did notice that the Mint 220 delivered equal quality sound from an iPod or wireless source, reinforcing Mint’s claims.
The dual 3.5-inch drivers sound acceptable under the type of listening you might normally do in a room with other people, but quickly fall apart and distort at higher-than-average volume. The same thing can be said of many iPod docks of the same size, but this should be no ordinary dock, for the price. When you snag a cheap dock for $50 without so much as a sale, we would expect one that runs for $180 USD to deliver some serious kick. But the Mint 220 wimps out far before it will wake the neighbors – or even someone sleeping in the next room.
The equalizer function was a nice thought, but mostly a wash given its limited on/off operation. We didn’t find that it significantly changed the music at all, and would have preferred even the basic handful of presets that most MP3 players offer.
For the $180 USD price tag, we might have excused the Mint’s modest sound quality if the company had included a handful of other extras to put it on par with what many other docks offer standard. For instance, Altec Lansing’s cheaper iM600 dock manages to throw in a lithium-ion battery for wireless operation, an FM tuner, and even a digital display. The Mint 220 lacks all of these features. While its wireless operation adds a useful and worthwhile twist, it’s not enough to excuse the complete lack of other bells and whistles, given the price.
Of these missing extras, we were especially disappointed in the lack of a battery power option from the 220, which, coupled with its wireless streaming audio capabilities, would have made it exponentially more useful. Our dreams of seamlessly moving a wireless stereo from room to room while we streamed tunes from a central computer were strangled by the Mint’s unfortunate 120-volt leash.
Although the speakers have advertised range of 45 feet, we found 35 feet to be about the maximum usable distance with no walls, and experienced some flakiness around 25 feet. Naturally, walls and other objects degrade this performance even further. So while you’ll probably get away with broadcasting to adjacent rooms and through floors, don’t expect whole-house reception unless you’re living in a tiny Manhattan apartment or happen to have paper walls.
Mint’s proprietary Di-Fi transmission uses the same popular 2.4GHz frequency as Bluetooth, many cordless phones, and even some RF remote controls. Fortunately, even in an office loaded with gizmos, we didn’t experience any interference.
The included remote, while pocket-sized and clearly marked, offers dismal control of the device from anything more than 15 feet. The slightest obstacles renders it unusable, and even with a clear line of sight, clicking a button might offers about 50/50 shot of the device actually responding from that range.
We’ve always been wary of Bluetooth’s simple premise, but confusing and often aggravating execution. Mint’s 220 sound system offers all the benefits of a pair of Bluetooth wireless speakers, but with better signal quality, simpler setup, and a built-in iPod dock. Unfortunately, Mint hasn’t bothered to throw much else into this otherwise remarkable speaker system, and the final price doesn’t reflect that. For users who need dead-simple operation and who aren’t picky about audio quality, the Mint 220 delivers, but others should weigh their other options carefully.
• Simplest wireless setup you’ll find
• Sound quality disappointing for the price
• No extras
• Unreliable remote