- Enjoyable, well-balanced sound
- Attractive curved design
- Lightning dock
- Build quality for the money
- Not many features
- Fiddly remote
Key Features: Built-in Bluetooth; Lightning connector for iDevices; 50W power output; 3.5mm minijack input; Eight-device Bluetooth pairing memory
What is the Maxell MXSP-BT3100?
Maxell’s comeback continues with this nifty-looking Bluetooth docking speaker, which boasts a Lightning connector to hook up the latest Apple devices like the iPhone 5S and iPad Air.
After bursting back onto the scene last year with the superb Maxell MXSP-SB3000 soundbase, which offers excellent sound quality and generous features for a price that undercuts most rivals, we’re hoping the company brings the same value-for-money ethos to this appealing audio solution.
The MXSP-BT3100 is fairly large compared with many Bluetooth speakers, but hides it well with some attractive styling. The black and grey finish is sleek and tasteful, but it’s the shape that makes the Maxell really stand out – the front section is a single panel of grey speaker mesh that curves forward to create a platform for the dock.
The Lightning connector is positioned in the middle of a gloss-black plastic recess. It supports iPod Nano 7G, iPod Touch 5G, iPhone 5, iPad 4 and iPad Mini, but there’s no provision for older Apple devices – for those you’ll have to use Bluetooth or connect using a cable.
In front of the connector is a row of discreet buttons for up-close control. These include power, volume, mode selection and mute. On the back is a 3.5mm minijack input for other portable devices, and a leg that props up the unit on a flat surface. This gets in the way of the socket a little, but isn’t a major problem. You’ll also find two keyholes for wall mounting.
Build quality is disappointingly lightweight, particularly the plasticky back end. The thin support leg feels like it could break quite easily too. We would accept this sort of construction from a £50/$75 speaker, but for over £160/$240 we’d expect something a little more luxurious.
The MXSP-BT3100 sports two 60mm speaker drivers and 2 x 25W power output, with a bass reflex design delivering a ‘high-pressure bass response’. Apart from Bluetooth, there are no other features, which is surprising at this price.
Oddly, the cheaper MXSP-WP2000 (£110.92/$166) boasts a much better spec, including Qi charging wireless charging technology and Bluetooth 4.0 with NFC, apt-X and AAC support – but it’s less powerful.
The MXSP-BT3100’s limited number of features makes it a breeze to operate. There’s no LED readout but the buttons on the front of the unit illuminate or flash to indicate the selected inputs and status.
You get a small credit card-style remote, which sports a bunch of fiddly blister buttons – all too common among speaker docks – but its simple layout means you can learn to live with it.
The volume, play/pause and track skip keys are arranged into a cross at the top, with up/down/enter keys at the bottom for controlling a docked iPod menu. Some Apple devices are easier to control than others though – with our iPod Nano 7G, hitting the Menu key took us back through the menus to the home screen, but there’s no way of selecting anything or browsing songs.
Bluetooth pairing is a quick and trouble-free process, and apart from a few brief blips the connection is robust. There’s even a multi-pairing memory for up to eight devices, so you don’t have to start from scratch every time.
We wouldn’t expect refined, audiophile sonics from a speaker at this price, but what we are looking for is a good balance across the frequency spectrum – not too muddy, not too thin – and the ability to handle louder volumes without distorting.
Despite our misgivings over the Maxell’s build quality, it ticks all of these boxes, delivering an enjoyable sound across a range of musical styles. Its sound is clean and detailed, with a spacious stereo image and decent bass weight.
Flicking through albums on our docked iPod shows the Maxell is at home with a range of styles – Erykah Badu’s Didn’t Cha Know is dripping with soul, from the rich Rhodes chords to the languid, groovy bassline; the wailing guitars and heavy drums on Spies by Coldplay have pleasing weight and authority; while the walking double bass and piano of Zara McFarlane’s Police & Thieves are sensitively handled by the Maxell, providing a evocative backdrop for McFarlane’s velvety voice.
There are hints of the Maxell’s budget origins in the occasionally sharp midrange, and there’s room for more smoothness and detail, but for everyday living room listening the Maxell’s crisp, confident performance is ideal.
Should I buy the Maxell MXSP-BT3100?
The Maxell MXSP-BT3100 is a decent Bluetooth docking speaker offering enjoyable sound quality. It’s attractively styled and easy to use, but the star attraction is the Lightning dock, which could be a compelling feature for owners of newer Apple devices.
However, it seems overpriced. Interesting features are few and far between, build quality is disappointing for the money and some Apple devices are clunky to control. Considering some of the big names Maxell is up against at this price, including Sony, Samsung, Pure and the Bose SoundLink Mini – not to mention Maxell’s cheaper and better-specced MXSP-WP2000 – it would be wise to shop around before taking a punt on this likeable but limited speaker.
Its looks and sound quality are decent, but lightweight build quality and a lack of features blights Maxell’s Bluetooth-equipped Lightning dock.