Smart speakers are very much in vogue. The essentials of a modern home. And a potential barometer for smarter life choices. You get to choose which corner you wish to be in. Set up your smart home experience around Amazon’s Alexa virtual assistant or rely on the Google Assistant in the Google Home and Google Nest line-up of smart speakers. A bit like the Android vs iOS and Windows vs macOS debates we have had for ages, though perhaps not in that intensity. Just yet. Amazon has an extensive line-up of Echo smart speakers, starting right from the Echo Dot all the way through to the brilliant Echo Studio. All price points covered. Google also has the Google Home and the Google Nest Mini (2nd gen) speakers on sale in India. Herein hides the biggest difference, in terms of approach. While Amazon constantly updates and adds to the Amazon Alexa assistant powered smart speakers, Google hasn’t really done much in this time. Including not bringing the Google Home Max to India. This means as a user, if you wanted the Google Assistant powered smart speaker in your home, the choices were limited. And to be honest, music lovers wouldn’t really appreciate the limitations of either, as far as the sound performance is concerned. And third-party choices, such as speakers by Marshall, Bose and Harman Kardon, are leaning towards Alexa. There is now an option for you though. The new Xiaomi Mi Smart Speaker.
The Xiaomi Mi Smart Speaker is priced at Rs 3,499 and that immediately pits it against the Amazon Echo Dot (3rd gen) and the Amazon Echo Dot (3rd gen) with Clock which is priced around Rs 4,499. Then there is the Google Nest Mini (2nd gen) which also costs around Rs 3,999 and the competition landscape is complete. Rather, quite incomplete. What’s common in all the three options that I’ve listed? For all their prowess and capabilities elsewhere, such as letting you call an Uber or letting you turn on the smart lights, these are very limited in terms of the music experience. Extremely limited. Remember, when you spend on a smart speaker, the ‘speaker’ bit is often quite ignored in the Echo Dot and Nest Mini devices. In fact, the Xiaomi Mi Smart Speaker actually sounds much better than the Google Home speaker (around Rs 8,999) and you also spend significantly lesser to buy one.
Audio Hardware That Could Have Cost A Lot More
Let me give you a better illustration of what I’m on about. The Xiaomi Mi Smart Speaker is, in terms of size, significantly wider than an Amazon Echo (around Rs 9,999). In comparison, the Amazon Echo Dot family and the Google Nest Mini resemble much smaller pucks. And as far as physics goes, it is impossible to expect speakers of this size to deliver anything resembling a decent music experience. The Amazon Echo dot has one 1.6-inch speaker while the Google Nest Mini has a 1.5-inch audio driver. In comparison, the Xiaomi Mi Smart speaker has a 63.5mm audio driver, which works out to 2.5-inches. With speakers, bigger is usually better. In a way, the Xiaomi Mi Smart Speaker gets close to the larger Amazon Echo, albeit without having a separate woofer in the mix. How Xiaomi has achieved this, at a price point that is significantly lower in comparison, is quite amazing.
Under the hood is the Texas Instruments’ TAS5805M audio processor that eventually has a very positive bearing on what you hear.
Powerful Sound Yet Very Versatile: Do Not Fear, This Isn’t Bass Heavy
That translates into excellent real-world performance as well. The Xiaomi Mi Smart Speaker sounds really good out-of-the-box, even before you have got the EQ tweaks in place. It has room-filling sound. Mind you, the design may give you the impression that this is a 360-degree firing speaker, but it isn’t. Yet, the sound fills the space with absolute ease. Be it in the bedroom, a study room or a larger living room space, this really just feels at home everywhere you keep it. You are left in no doubt that the 63.5mm audio driver doing the duty inside the Xiaomi Mi Smart speaker is extremely powerful. The loudness is one thing and what really impresses is the clarity that is on offer, as you move up and down the volume levels. The speaker doesn’t feel sharp with vocals, and the lower frequencies don’t linger on any longer than they have to. Bass is adequately powerful, mind you, which is a significant upgrade over its rivals that are coughing and spluttering by this point.
It won’t make the windows tremble, or the speaker won’t vibrate on the table it is kept on, but you’ll feel the powerful rendition of the music you are listening to. On certain tracks, mid frequencies do tend to get a bit overshadowed, but really, I wouldn’t classify that as anything even remotely close to a worry. Tracks including, We Are The World by ReOrder and Bo Bruce sound really powerful while the multiple elements in Made Of Love by Ferry Corsten and Betsie Larkin are reproduced with the sort of detailing that I honestly didn’t expect.
This is when the audio EQ settings in the Google Home app came in handy. Dialed up the bass in increments of 0.5 all the way up to level 5 out of 5. Post level 2, I half expected every increment to introduce either some vibration or distortion as the driver struggled to keep up—but that wait never ended. The Xiaomi Mi Smart speaker handled the bass output at max and with up-tempo Trance tracks playing, with absolute ease. Even with this lopsided EQ setting, the higher frequencies still retained their sparkle and yet never overcompensated with sharpness. Safe to say, the Xiaomi Mi Smart Speaker will be able to handle the “V” equalizer settings too, something a lot of people tend to arrive at for their music listening needs—the merits and demerits of that aren’t up for argument.
A Lot Of Credit Goes To The Tuning Efforts
Having the right hardware is just half the job done though. Xiaomi clearly have spent a lot of time tuning the Mi Smart Speaker, and the results are there to see. The placement of the speaker is front facing and the grille design which includes as many as 10,531 sound holes, has been done in a way to reduce dust from entering the speaker itself. In fact, this is a 0.7mm metal mesh—did you see what happened there? This speaker isn’t made of plastic, so no cost cutting there as well. There are what Xiaomi calls ‘advanced multi-band dynamic response control algorithms’ at play here, and well, they work. Simply putting that out there, without complications. The DTS Professional Tuning adds another versatile dimension to the Xiaomi Mi Smart speaker—these tuning add-ons are usually reserved for speakers upwards of the Rs 10,000 price point, more often than not.
Ok Google, Why Are You Taking A Bit Longer To Respond?
Adjacent to the touch controls for volume, play/pause and turning off the speaker’s listening prowess for however long you want it, are two far-field microphones placed near the top of the speaker. To be fair, I would have expected more from the Xiaomi Mi Smart Speaker, which will most likely also find a space in a larger room. My fears were confirmed to an extent that if you have some noise in the background, such as a TV or someone talking on the phone, this may struggle to catch exactly what you said. Happened with me. I asked it to play a trance music playlist on Spotify, it instead made me listen to some of the Pope’s guidance on life, humanity and religion. Secondly, when I do call out with “Ok Google,” the beautiful LED light array does take a second before it lights up and then the speaker is ready to listen to you. I haven’t noticed that delay in the Google Home or the Google Nest Mini speakers when I had reviewed them. The number of microphones shouldn’t have a bearing on the speed of activation when the hotword is said, which means it can perhaps be something that can be sped up in a software update.
The Other Goodness
While the Xiaomi Mi Smart Speaker is a smart speaker with the Google Assistance being just a voice command away, you can use this for the simpler Bluetooth streaming as well. Simply say “Ok Google, pair Bluetooth” and the speaker will go into the Bluetooth pairing mode—connect it to your phone or laptop, and that’s pretty much it. Oh, and you can speak with Google Assistant in English and Hindi, whether it is to check up on the news, weather, sports scores, check your calendar or simply ask it to play some music.
From what I experienced, apps such as Spotify had absolutely no problems detecting the Xiaomi Mi Smart Speaker on the same Wi-Fi network and that allowed me to stream the music from an Android phone or the Apple iPhone directly. This is quite useful too, because often, you may simply be searching for new music on an app and would want to play music from there directly and instantly. It would be purely cumbersome to call out and give a voice command to play the music track you want to listen to at that time. Incidentally, this isn’t something a lot of smart speakers do very well, hence full marks to Xiaomi for getting this absolutely right.
Last but not least is the ability to pair two of these Xiaomi Mi Smart Speaker as a stereo pair. I have not been able to do this, since I have just one of these speakers—and I really wouldn’t have the knowledge to comment on the setup and the performance as a stereo pair. Theoretically though, two of these speakers working in sync as the left and right audio channels could be great news for your TV, for example.
The Last Word: You Must Believe The Unbelievable Price
As it stands, the Xiaomi Mi Smart Speaker is really taking the smart speaker experience up a couple of notches, particularly keeping its competition in mind. It is significantly better than the Amazon Echo Dot and the Google Nest Mini, irrespective of the family of voice assistants, with regards to the overall audio experience. If you need a smart speaker primarily for music, you really shouldn’t look much further than the Xiaomi Mi Smart Speaker.