Last we checked, Amazon returns 6,188 results for a search on rechargeable Bluetooth speakers under $50. That’s ridiculous. Granted, some of those are multiples of the same make and model speaker, just different colors. Still, anything over 100 options seems unnecessary, never mind 5,000.
With that many options, one might understandably look toward a brand they’re familiar with, if only to dial back the glut of options – a JBL, Jawbone, Altec Lansing, or Philips, for instance. That’s usually a safe move, but sometimes it can mean you miss out on something really great from a lesser-known company.
Take Anker, for example. It lacks the brand clout of a JBL, and to be fair, Anker isn’t really an audio specialist – the company makes all kinds of computing and mobile device accessories, only four of which are speakers. But, as luck would have it, the Anker MP141 is actually a great little speaker. It’s one of the best we’ve heard under $50 yet, it sports an incredible battery life for its size, and it’s pretty smart-looking to boot.
First look video
Out of the box
The MP141’s plain packaging belies its simple elegance. The speaker inside (ours came in black, but white is also available) has the rubbery silicone shell material we’ve grown to love. The speaker feels great in your hand, and its matte finish is perfect for keeping it in place on slick surfaces.
The speaker’s heft is substantial enough to let you know you’ve bought no toy, but is in no way prohibitively heavy. You can toss it in your backpack or suitcase and you’ll hardly know it’s there. You won’t find spot to latch a carabiner onto, so if you’re looking to crank some jams while blazing a trail, you’ll need to look elsewhere. Thankfully, the MP141’s clean lines give the speaker a cube-ish shape that keeps it looking classy on a desk or nightstand.
The speaker measures 3.1 × 3.1 × 2.7 – inches and weighs just shy of 10 oz. Anker packages the MP141 with a USB charging cable and a 3.5mm stereo auxiliary cable for use with non-Bluetooth devices.
Features and design
The MP141 sports only three control buttons, all of which are lined up vertically along the speaker’s face. Just above the buttons is an LED that glows blue when the speaker is powered up and blinks while the speaker is in pairing mode. A series of tones indicate when the speaker has successfully paired to a Bluetooth-enabled device.
On the cube’s right side you’ll find a power switch, an auxiliary input and a micro USB input for charging.
You can toss it in your backpack or suitcase and you’ll hardly know it’s there.
The MP141 uses a 4-watt digital amplifier to drive a 2-inch speaker, which has been ported to help fill out bass response. There’s also a speakerphone microphone hidden at the bottom of the speaker, just below the control buttons, for hands-free conversations.
The one thing the MP141 won’t do that bigger Bluetooth speakers will, is charge your device – you’ll need to pick up one of Anker’s external battery chargers for that (we have, and so far our experience has been positive).
We’ve not reviewed many speakers in this product category, and there’s a reason for that: most of them sound pretty terrible. We did check out the Philips SoundShooter which, at around $33 on Amazon is a little less expensive at the moment, more rugged, and designed to clip to nearly anything. There’s also the Matrix Audio Qube2 which runs about $68 at Amazon, is easy to tote around, but not particularly rugged. Finally, there’s the Westinghouse Unplug, a speaker that punched well above its weight, comes in right at $50 these days, but is increasingly hard to find.
The Anker MP141 won’t blow your doors off with how loud it gets. What it does best is sound natural and full.
While there’s at least one thing to like about all the aforementioned speakers (and most of them sounded decent for their size) the Anker MP141 beats them all with an impressive combination of battery life and sound quality.
The Anker MP141 won’t blow your doors off with how loud it gets. Compared to the Westinghouse Unplugged, the MP141 is neither as loud nor bass heavy, but it is more compact, more attractive and more portable, which puts it ahead in our book.
What the MP141 does best is sound natural and full – far better than you would expect from any speaker in the under-$50 category. This is likely due in part to the speakers’ use of a quality driver (its surround looks more robust than most others in this segment), a larger enclosure and a well-tuned port.
The speaker even worked well as a speakerphone, keeping us sounding more-or-less natural to callers on the other end of the line without a bunch of echo or room noise getting in the way, even from about 8 feet away.
We’ve got a stable of Bluetooth speakers at the ready for any time we might need to travel – and we do travel often – and although many of them sound bigger and can play louder than the MP141, we find that the occasion when we need that much output is rare, indeed. For most applications, the MP141 is perfect for our use. We can play music in the morning while getting ready and take any unexpected phone calls without having to put anything down, we can play a little music at our desk while getting some business buttoned up, and it even works well as a substitute for poor laptop speakers.
It’s hard to imagine wanting or expecting more out of a speaker under $50 than what the MP141 offers. To get any appreciable improvement in fidelity, you really need to double the price point and move up to the UE Mini Boom, which adds as many connectivity extras (apps, stereo pairing, etc.) as it does additional sound output. But for most users, we think the MP141 is going to offer the perfect balance of battery life, portability, sound quality and affordability.
- Sounds full and natural
- Excellent battery life
- Good wireless range, stable connection
- Simple operation
- Looks great
- Doesn’t play as loud as some others
- No way to clip to a bag