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Category: Hardware review

For The Vinyl Lover Who Has Everything

The Vylümi Shine Pro.

What? Vylümi Shine Pro safely backlights colored vinyl records allowing you to display them like works of art.

How much? Vylumi Shine costs $60 and the Shine Pro is $120 plus shipping.

Conclusion? It won’t fit in a Christmas stocking but get it anyway.


Black Is Beautiful

Looking for that elusive gift for the record collector who has everything? Before we get into the details of this device that illuminates colored vinyl, a little background is in order.

Records are made with PVC pellets (which are naturally slightly milky-white in color) that have been mixed with black carbon which is gives them their shiny black color. The black carbon also fills in imperfections and adds strength and rigidity which makes the record last longer. This is important because, unlike a CD, cassette tape, or digital music file, a record album degrades each time you play it.

Another thing basic black has going for it is that the quality of black vinyl records tends to be high because it’s the industry standard…they’ve been producing them that way since the advent of the vinyl record. As a result, the quality of black records is remarkably consistent. The black color also makes it easier to spot imperfections during quality control inspections.

Color Me Impressed

Colored vinyl, on the other hand, uses PVC pellets mixed with dyes. In addition to records made using a single, non-black color, there are variations on the colored vinyl theme like multicolored, split color, smoked, marbled, and splattered. Yes, I’m talking about records, not meat or cheese. By the way, don’t confuse any of these variants with picture discs which are a whole other story and tend not to sound as good or last as long as colored or black vinyl.

A Little History

Colored vinyl records didn’t start with the vinyl LP. Some 78 RPM titles dating back to 1917 were colored, starting with a Vocalion Records release that was a reddish-rust colored shellac. Perhaps not the most appealing color choice, but it served its purpose of making their records stand out. I believe the first prolific use of colored vinyl by a major label was RCA Victor’s introduction of the 45 RPM single in 1949. To give the new format a little extra excitement, each genre had its own color. For example, country music used green-colored vinyl, classical used red, children’s recordings used yellow, while pop music stuck with basic black.

The Sound of Color

There’s a school of thought that says not all colored vinyl is created equal. That is to say, certain record colors may not sound as good as others upon playback, or as good as your standard carbon black record. It’s strange to think that color could impact sound, but it can. In fact, one could argue the more colors present in the vinyl, the worse the sound might be because of all of the foreign ingredients. There are even glow-in-the-dark records, though I don’t know anyone who plays their records in total darkness. I’ve read these are noisier than their black and colored brethren, but I can’t personally attest to that since I don’t own any. It would follow, then, that a transparent clear record would sound better than a colored vinyl record (except for black).

Do You Hear What I Hear?

If I played a colored vinyl record for you, immediately followed by the identical recording pressed on black vinyl, would you hear any difference? I suspect most people wouldn’t, but if there was an overt difference, it could just as well be attributed to the manufacturing process rather than the color of the vinyl. If the record plant doesn’t have much experience pressing colored vinyl, that won’t help either. Regardless, most record enthusiasts don’t buy colored vinyl records because they think they sound superior. They buy them for their unique appearance and collectibility, especially since many colored vinyl titles are produced in limited batches.

Price Check

A limited-edition colored vinyl record from Newbury Comics. Photo by Peter Skiera.

Speaking of limited quantities, that, along with the cost of the dyed pellets, tend to make colored vinyl titles more expensive. So, you’re paying more for a record that technically probably won’t have the same longevity as less expensive black vinyl and possibly not as good sound quality. Mind you, there are plenty of black vinyl titles that can be quite pricey in their own right.

In Living Color

If you want to add some colored vinyl to your collection you don’t need to search very hard. Some record labels specialize in colored vinyl like Third Man Records, Real Gone Music, Enjoy The Ride Records, Sundazed Music, Wax Mage, and WaxWork Records. Major retailers like Barnes & Noble, Urban Outfitters, and Newbury Comics sell colored vinyl, some of which are exclusive to them. Even record clubs like Vinyl Me Please and Vinyl Moon release titles on colored vinyl. Yes, Virginia, there are record clubs.

Doritos: The only love triangle you need. Image from Romanus Records’ website.

If you want to go off the deep end, you’ll find records that go way beyond colors. Romanus Records, for example, has pressed records with different kinds of material sandwiched between the 2 sides including kitty litter, razor blades, sand, gunpowder, colored liquid, LEDs, and even pieces of Doritos chips! I wonder how some of those records would look with colored lights behind them. I was delaying this article to be able to display my “snow globe variant” Scrooged LP soundtrack I ordered more than 6 months ago. It contains a clear liquid with sparkles inside. I decided to go forward with my article rather than continue to wait. Such special releases require more time since they’re much more complicated to produce.

The Vinyl Verdict

You’ve heard the saying, “Once you go black, you never go back.” Somehow, I don’t think that phrase was about records, but it might be equally applicable. The absence of black carbon likely means colored vinyl records won’t have the same strength and longevity as their black counterparts and may not sound as good. That said, unless they’re abused, most colored vinyl records should last long enough and sound good enough for the average record enthusiast. If sound quality is of the utmost importance, you’re probably better off playing it safe with good old, boring black vinyl. On the other hand, if seeing colors and patterns spin on your turntable puts a smile on your face and you’re enthralled by the art, go for it. After all, records have the potential of being the most visual of all music storage formats.

Show Off

Colored vinyl is meant to be seen and heard. If you’ve got an album you especially love the color of, why hide it inside a cardboard jacket? Sure, you could frame it, but that’s not very exciting, and it prevents you from being able to easily play it. What if there was a product that allowed you to safely display your colored vinyl, backwash them in light, and easily access them for playback? Well, there is.

My splatter-colored LP brought to life by the Vylumi Shine Pro. Photo by Peter Skiera.

Let There Be Light

Vylumi Shine and the Shine Pro do just that. Andrew Boudreau came up with the idea and had his final design completed in 6 months. He hand-assembles each one out of his home in Atlanta, Georgia and sells them on his recently revamped website and on Etsy. The two models backlight a record to make its color(s) pop. Simply place the record over the center nub and turn the light on. Voila! Instant glowing artwork. The record “floats” so you don’t have to worry about it making contact with the surface and getting scratched. And the LED that illuminates the record never gets hot enough to warp the record, so no worries there. The result is beautifully mesmerizing.

Andrew Boudreau preparing to glue. Photo from Vylumi’s Instagram page.

I got in touch with Boudreau to ask him some questions about his unique invention:

Peter: What gave you the idea for Vylumi Shine?

Andrew: It all started in late 2021 when I picked up my first picture disk. I was searching online for ways to display it since it’s widely known the audio quality on all of them are notoriously bad and I couldn’t find anything that didn’t have a massive picture frame as part of the display. I knew a good friend of mine had a 3D printer so I ran him through an idea of what I now call the ‘Nub.” It’s a very minimalist design and is simply a rod the size of the record spindle that angles up to safely keep the record in place and that’s attached to a base plate. I was using a simple command strip to test hanging a few on the wall and while I was thumbing through my collection I thought: “I wonder what else would look good hanging on the wall,” so I grabbed a copy of Cowboy Bebop that I knew had a nice colored marble to it and hung that on the wall to see how it looked. It looked okay, but a bit lifeless, so on a whim I brought it over to an outside window to get some light on it and it came to life! That’s when the light bulb(s) went off (dad joke, apologies). It just dawned on me that I had so many of these color variants in my collection, and they were just spending their lives tucked away in their sleeves on the shelf. So, I built my first prototype out of cardboard, a battery powered LED light string, and the nub and just started putting records on it to see how they looked. It was very basic, but the idea worked. 4 prototypes later I had a design I was really proud of and started showing people in February of 2022. Everyone I showed wanted one for themselves so I started making a few. I opened the Etsy store in March of 2022 and my own website in June. So far, I’m at 300 units sold worldwide and I can’t explain how proud and fulfilling it is to see my customers showing off their collections on social media.

Peter: You source the parts and assemble the units by hand in your spare time? 

Andrew: The electronics I source through two separate companies and I’m trying to narrow that down to one moving forward. I do that for a few reasons; First, it allows me to be more nimble when new technologies emerge. Secondly, after putting in an inquiry with a product design company, I learned that it would take about $200,000 just to get custom electronics and molds designed and the same, if not more, to actually get them produced. I’m very proud that the structural materials are all made here in Georgia. Very early on I had run this idea by my neighbor, as he likes to tinker and is generally handy. I came to him with the problem of properly diffusing the light to see if he might have any ideas. He operates a company that specializes in large scale vinyl wraps and signage projects for conventions and airports, so I thought he might have some ideas and I recalled that he had a few CNC machines that weren’t getting a lot of use because Covid had really hit their business pretty hard. I drew some designs on some printer paper and he cut those out on the CNC machines, and to this day his company cuts all of the structural parts. As mentioned above, a friend of mine makes the nub on this 3D printer and I’m able to pay him a fair price per batch he prints. But to the other part of your question, after I get my daughter to bed and my wife settles into a book, I head to the basement and assemble these by hand still. I’ve had to make a few tools to speed up assembly and help to standardize the sizes of a few components, but I can’t explain how much I love doing this!

Peter: Does it work with picture discs? 

Andrew: You can certainly display a picture disk on a Vylümi, but sadly, picture disks are all opaque and won’t let any light through. 

Peter: You have a Patent pending? 

Andrew: I do!  I have both Trademarks and Patents pending for this as of this last summer. 

Peter: Do you own a lot of colored vinyl or records in general? What’s your favorite-colored vinyl title? 

Andrew: I’ve been trying to catalogue my collection and I think I have about 1,000 in my collection right now. I’ve been building a vinyl collection since 2008 when I invested in my first Hi-fi setup and started to get into finding color variants 4-5 years ago. Color variants are probably 10% of my collection and I didn’t get into collecting the more boutique pressings from Wax Mage and others until I came up with this idea and found them through my research. My favorite though? That’s like picking your favorite child! My recent favorite is a pressing from Glory or Death Records by Great Electric Quest (which is actually his band). It’s a beautiful party monster and really transforms with the Vylümi to look like a sheet of elegant stained glass…It also glows in the dark as a bonus!

Peter: What’s the rarest or most expensive record you own? 

Andrew: This little invention has introduced me to a lot of amazing people in the industry. Pretty early on I contacted the folks at Wax Mage/Gotta Groove, Wax Vessel, SlyVinyl, Heathen HandMade Records, Romanus Records, and Plastikat Deviations to get their feedback on my idea and early products since they make the hand-crafted art my audience is collecting. Recently, Matt Ortt at Plastikat surprised me with one of his liquid-filled records that is a complete one-off. It was made for the owner of Glory or Death Records and is the first liquid filled that has two separate chambers of liquid in it. A portion of that liquid is black, so when it’s on the turn-table spinning, it spreads out pretty evenly with centrifugal force that it just isn’t awesome eye candy like the rest of his stuff. He put it on his Vylümi and it just transformed. He dropped me a note that said this album looks best when lit up, and we (he and Buddy from Glory or Death Records) thought you should be the rightful owner of it. That about made me cry, I am so honored to have it and it is by far the most-rare album I own. 

Peter: What brand and model turntable(s) do you use?

Andrew: For my 40th [Birthday] I was able to purchase a Rega P6 and have a Dynavector 10×5 with a ruby cantilever and optimized contour nude contact line diamond tip from Sound-Smith after bending the original cantilever in a cleaning accident 3 months into owning it. That one hurt the soul, but I can’t speak highly enough of the crew at Sound-Smith and their craftsmanship they put into repairs and upgrades.   

Peter: What’s your professional background? 

Andrew: My day job is and has always been in technology sales. I get to be a nerd all day long and I have to constantly learn about what’s new in the market, and my customers are always bringing me difficult problems to solve. It’s a pretty demanding, high stress job, so sitting down to spin a record at night has always been my way to unwind. I’m certainly not an engineer or someone who is crafty/handy, so the fact I was able to come this far with an idea is a miracle unto itself.  

Peter: What kind of music do you usually listen to?

Andrew: My tastes are certainly firmly on the rock side of the spectrum. I can be found listening to your typical classic rock albums, but spend most of my time reliving my high-school days with grunge/Alt music from the 90s.  

Peter: Anything else to add about the Vylumi Shine/Pro? 

Andrew: I would just like to thank everyone for their kindness and support (!), and thank you Peter for taking the time to talk with me.  This has been an unintended and amazing journey. I never thought this idea would take off in the way that it has and all of my customers have been so patient and understanding of the fact that I’m a one-man shop doing this in my spare time. The vinyl community has been very generous to me over the years and I’m so thankful I can provide a little something back. Thank you all for the support and I can’t wait to see where this journey goes! 

Picture This

An Instagram photo of the Vylumi Shine in action.

I found splattered vinyl to look the most impressive with Shine Pro. Colored vinyl that’s all one color looked like a giant-colored spotlight. As it turned out, I only had one splatter-colored record in my small LP collection. Its base color was transparent which meant I could make it whatever color I wanted with the Vylumi Shine Pro’s light, which was very cool. You can see more impressive Shine Pro-worthy pictures on Boudreau’s website, Instagram, tiktok, Etsy, and Facebook (links provided at the end of this article).

Size Matters

If you happen to have a few colored 45 RPM singles or 10″ records in your collection, Boudreau has you covered. For $20 you can get a set of adapters that fit both of those sizes, though the adapters can only be used in conjunction with the “dust cover” which is an additional $30.

Ask The Manager

As a Product Manager, part of my job involves finding problems with a product before it goes into production and coming up with ways to improve it. In the case of the Vylumi Shine Pro, I have a couple of suggestions for improvements and enhancements.

To start with, being able to anchor the base or give it some weight would be great, as the base is very light weight since it’s just a thin, empty plastic case with LEDs. If you use the wired remote instead of the app as I did, you must be very careful not to accidentally yank the base.

Getting my record off of the center nub was rather difficult. I had to pull the record to the point of bending the sides of the LP. Due to the nub being a black or dark brown color, I didn’t notice until later that it’s actually positioned at an upward angle instead of straight so the record doesn’t fall off easily. Had I known to pull upward instead of straight, it would have been a bit easier to remove the LPs. Still, Boudreau has since modified the nub in production to make it a slightly smaller diameter. I’d also suggest putting a radius on the nub. No sharp edges in close proximity to records!

It would be nice if at least the Pro model could be wall mounted. Boudreau told me one can easily glue a saw tooth hanger on the back but the problem is the dangling wires from the combined wired remote control/power supply. His first-generation models were battery powered and could thus be wall mounted. I assume a built-in Li-Ion battery rechargeable version would be too expensive to make.

What I would really like to see the Pro do is what records are supposed to do- spin. Seeing colored vinyl come alive through light is amazing, but having the record actually rotate (not necessarily at 33 1/3) would be very cool and more engaging, especially if the record was liquid-filled. Without a doubt, this would push the cost higher, perhaps to the point of turning most buyers off. If you’re tempted to manually spin your record on this device, Boudreau warns users against this or else the 3D-printed nub will eventually become sawed off.

Don’t Try This At Home

The Shine Lite sells for $60 while the Pro goes for twice that plus shipping (the Pro is on sale as of this writing). Frankly, both models look remarkably simple. Being the cheap and creative guy I am, I tried to think of a less expensive way to accomplish the same thing, which is also part of a Product Manager’s responsibilities. Since I was a kid, I’ve had a bit of MacGyver in me…spontaneously creating things out of duct tape and tampons, although nothing explosive. I remember one Halloween I secured rope from the kitchen window of our second-floor apartment down to a chain link fence adjacent to the sidewalk in front of our house. I cut a small hole in the top of a white pillow case, slipped the top of a metal coat hanger through the hole, and drew two eyes and a mouth with a black maker to make it look like a ghost. I tied a second rope onto the hook of the coat hanger in order to slide it up and down the main rope. As a final touch to my crowning achievement, I hung a flashlight from the coat hanger inside the pillow case to illuminate my ghost, hung it on the rope, and slid it up and down as the trick or treaters made their way in and out of our apartment house. I was quite proud of my creation and the costumed, candy-hungry visitors appeared equally impressed. A few years ago, I saw a very similar contraption in a catalog, albeit much more refined. That guy probably owns his own island now. But as usual, I digress.

My MacGyver-inspired record light. Photo by Peter Skiera.

Returning to my MacGyver LP light, I took a cheap picture stand that was collecting dust in a drawer and placed one of my colored vinyl records on it. I then backlighted the record with a Remon 25-watt LED spotlight I bought two years ago on Amazon for $29 (which has since been discontinued) to light my vintage aluminum Christmas tree. The light included a remote control that allows the light’s brightness and colors to be adjusted similar to the Vylumi Pro’s remote, although it doesn’t have a built-in microphone to flash to the beat of music like the Pro can. My color contraption created a similar effect as the Pro, but the stand could be seen behind the record, it risked scratching the record, and the spotlight got hot enough to make me concerned about the record possibly warping. It also sent the light all over the place rather than containing it just to the record itself. The Lite and Pro each cost significantly more than my Frankenstein light, but they accomplish the task more effectively, safely, and elegantly.

Wow. Photo from Instagram.

If you don’t need the additional control the Vylumi Shine Pro provides, like thousands of color options, 100 dim levels, a remote, free app (by a 3rd party), a timer, the ability to group other Pros, and Siri/Alexa compatibility, you can save some dough and stick with the more basic Shine. Either model is a fun and safe way to display and share your beloved-colored vinyl. If you’re looking for a gift this holiday for the vinyl lover who has everything, this should do it.

I didn’t get my review sample for free and I don’t receive any commission if you buy either of these models, so if you enjoyed this article, please consider supporting by becoming a Patreon supporter for just $1. As a thank you, you’ll received my Recommended Station and Hitchhiker Station every month in your in box and you’ll be helping to support articles like this.


Shine & Shine Pro





Bluetooth Speaker Round-Up

If you’re like me, you can’t be away from your tunes for too long, especially when you’re outdoors. Whether it’s hosting a backyard cookout, gardening, or just washing the car, having my favorite music playing nearby is always high on my checklist. With the weather improving every day, now’s the time to start thinking about a portable Bluetooth speaker for outside listening or when you’re on the go.

There’s a glut of portable Bluetooth speakers of all shapes, sizes, and price points. Just about any company can make a Bluetooth speaker and it seems just about every company does these days. Bluetooth speakers have come a long way as far as sound quality and battery life are concerned, but making one that sounds good and is fun to use is not easy. For this month’s blog post I undertake my first-ever hardware review…a roundup of four fun portable Bluetooth speakers…some old, some new, all under $160, and all providing musical fun in the summer sun.

That’s no optical illusion. The M90 Mini Blaster is really that small. Photo by Peter Skiera.

Model: M90 Mini Blaster

Brand: New Wave Toys

Sound: 7/10

Fun Factor: 10/10

Playback time: 40 hours

Bluetooth Version: 5.1

Warranty: 100 days

Price: $159.99

The M90 Mini Blaster by New Wave Toys in North Hollywood, CA is the newest model of my roundup. New Wave is known for their accurate reproductions of classic video arcade games. Their arcade games are considerably smaller than the originals that inspired them, but they look incredibly authentic and they actually work!

Almost 2 years ago, the company threw their miniature-sized hat in the crowded Bluetooth speaker ring, launching a Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign for their M90 Mini Blaster and M90 Micro Blaster (an even smaller version Bluetooth speaker). I was one of over 2,700 backers to receive my M90 Mini Blaster about 2 months ago and despite some issues, I haven’t been able to put it down.

Back To The Future

Rather than make a ho-hum-looking Bluetooth speaker, New Wave stuck with their 1980’s theme and designed a faithful reproduction of the legendary JVC RC-M90JW (known as “the king of boomboxes”) from 1981, albeit on a considerably smaller scale. I own a couple of working vintage boomboxes including the JVC RC-M90, and I can say with authority the company is to be congratulated on the job they did emulating the original boombox. New Wave must have invested an enormous amount of time studying the RC-M90 (presumably thanks to the boombox museum they reference in the user manual) to achieve such remarkable detail in the M90. The Mini Blaster may be small but it’s a big blast (from the past).

What’s In A Name

Don’t let New Wave Toys’ name fool you. The M90 Mini Blaster is no toy. In addition to Bluetooth 5.1, the 30-watt stereo M90 Mini Blaster houses two 3” full range speakers (the drivers in my version have “limited edition” blue-colored cones), a decent FM tuner with dual telescoping antennae (AM was disabled due to significant reception problems), a 3.5mm analog stereo input, a USB-A for playing music from a thumb drive or charging a smartphone, and a Micro SD card input. Frankly, had I been the Product Manager for this model, I would’ve left off the Micro SD card input and added other features that would’ve been more widely used and appreciated. But I’m not done. With it’s built-in microphone, the M90 Mini can be used as a good quality speaker phone. I tried it and the party on the other end commented that I sounded better than when I use only my phone. You can also pair two M90’s together to achieve true wireless stereo (TWS). A USB-C is on tap for charging the internal 20,000mA battery. That kind of battery capacity is unprecedented for a Bluetooth speaker of this size and price. According to the company, the M90 will play up to 40 hours on a single charge. The M90 Mini Blaster is indeed the Tesla of Bluetooth speakers.

The M90 Mini Blaster on the basketball court with spray paint at the ready. Photo by Peter Skiera.


New Wave made the M90 Mini Blaster even more special by including some very sweet accessories. There’s a mini wired remote control that works (also based on the original JVC wired remote), gnarled, aluminum knob expanders to provide a better grip of the very tiny bass, treble, and balance knobs (which actually work), and an adorable faux iconic Memorex cassette tape complete with blank stickers so you can label it “80s Mix Tape” (the cassette deck isn’t functional but the door opens to accommodate the tape). There’s even an optional soft, sleek, black custom carrying case in which to store your M90 Mini Blaster when you’re not using it (which I assure you won’t be very often).

“According to the company, the M90 will play up to 40 hours on a single charge. The M90 Mini Blaster is the Tesla of Bluetooth speakers.”

I’ve Got Issues

When a company that’s not an audio company dares to enter the audio field with their first audio product there are bound to be issues. The M90 is no exception. There’s prominent white noise in the background and the volume control isn’t gradual. The level choices are basically zero, medium, and high and nothing in between. Disappointingly, New Wave never apologized for the problems and actually told users to turn down the treble control if they found the white noise objectionable! They ended up issuing a firmware update in an attempt to improve the volume behavior, though the user feedback I’ve read on their campaign page isn’t favorable, including several units being rendered non-functional after the update, so I’ve refrained from updating mine. New Wave certainly never would’ve shipped their arcade games if they all had problems with their displays. Likewise, the M90 never should’ve shipped with these audio problems. To New Wave’s credit, they’ve voluntarily offered refunds to any Kickstarter backers who are unhappy, which they aren’t required to do. Even with these problems, wild horses couldn’t drag mine away from me.

There are other scalp-scratching decisions New Wave made like omitting a headphone jack, placing the Bluetooth status light on the back instead of the front, omitting a power light, leaving off a Loudness control like the original JVC boombox had (and which the M90 would’ve greatly benefited from), and always defaulting to Bluetooth mode rather than to the last mode used. Oh- and those cute little Vu meters on the front…they’re not load-bearing. I’ve said it already, but it bears repeating…I won’t allow these things to get in the way of me enjoying the M90 Mini Blaster.

One final bone of contention I’ll raise before stepping down from my soap box has to do with New Wave’s 100-day warranty which is standard for their product line. My 2-slice toaster made by a Chinese company I never heard of before, and which cost me a lot less than the M90, came with a 1-year warranty. The other models in my Bluetooth roundup cost quite a bit less than the M90 Mini Blaster, yet they all come with a one-year warranty. New Wave should have enough confidence in their own design and engineering, and respect for their customers’ hard-earned money, to stand behind their products for at least 12 months. I’ve worked for numerous audio companies including two small startups and none of them offered less than a 1-year warranty.

Suds and sounds: The M90 Mini Blaster. Photo by Peter Skiera.

To be perfectly clear, the M90 sounds good, but there are other good sounding Bluetooth speakers on the market without audio issues that cost less. None, however, evoke 80’s boombox nostalgia like the M90 Mini Blaster. You simply won’t find anything else like it because no other company is crazy enough to try to do it. An original, working, vintage JVC RC-M90JW boombox will set you back several thousand dollars, but you can get this incredible smaller simulation for $159.99, whenever New Wave Toys gets them back in stock that is. Summer just got a whole lot funner.

The Wild Mini’s charm will rope you in. Photo by Peter Skiera.

Model: Wild Mini

Brand: Muzen Audio

Sound: 7/10

Fun Factor: 10/10

Playback time: 8 hours

Bluetooth Version: 5.0

Warranty: 1 year

Price: $109

If you require a very small Bluetooth speaker without a lot of bells and whistles but still want acceptable sound quality, here’s a different Mini to consider…the impossibly adorable Wild Mini by Muzen. Muzen makes a number of different Bluetooth speakers, including one resembling a miniature table radio from the 1950’s. The Wild Mini, on the other hand, is designed with a military style in mind. It indeed looks like it could be standard issue for the US Army, including its hard-sided carry case with retro Sergeant stripes. Too bad Muzen didn’t complete the military theme by offering a Wild Mini camouflage version including a dog tag with the unit’s serial number stamped into it.

A Case To Be Made

In addition to its novel size, the metal housing (the only speaker in my round-up sporting a metal case) and horizontally rotating volume thumb wheel make it stand out from the pack, not to mention a delight to use. I find myself always going for the Wild Mini’s clicking volume wheel instead of my smartphone’s boring volume button. A small plastic wheel on the right provides next and previous track control. There’s even a small, integrated, 3 LED flashlight on top that can be switched between a high or low solid beam and flashing S-O-S like a navy signal lamp. I should also mention the convenient built-in bar allowing the Wild Mini’s owner to clip it to a backpack, belt loop, hang inside a tent, etc. The Wild Mini is dope. If you hang it then I guess you could call it dope on a rope. Sorry.

The Wild Mini singing in the rain. Photo by Peter Skiera.

Don’t Add Water

Muzen’s website states the Wild Mini is rated “IPX5 waterproof” and claims if you accidentally drop yours in the pool you shouldn’t fret. It’s the only model in my Bluetooth roundup with such a rating. IPX5-rated products can withstand sustained low pressure water spray but they’re not waterproof. My Wild Mini has gotten wet but I would never submerge it no matter what Muzen says. I also try to avoid leaving it in strong, direct sunlight for any extended period of time to avoid the zinc alloy metal case from potentially heating up.

The Wild Mini: A tune with a view. Photo by Peter Skiera.

Military Bass

Firing up the Wild Mini and playing music via its Bluetooth 5.0 never fails to raise my eyebrows. The sound from this diminutive speaker is clear and crisp, and it will get as loud as a Drill Sergeant (keeping with my military theme). According to Muzen’s specifications, the bass response extends down to 80Hz which is more than I would expect from such a compact speaker, but it certainly isn’t going to cause ripples in your glass of water like an escaped cloned dinosaur would. The Wild Mini would produce a more open sound were it not for its restrictive metal speaker grille. Presumably Muzen felt protecting the 36 mm diminutive diameter driver was more important. It would’ve been even more wild to be able to pair two Wild Minis together for true wireless stereo.

“I find myself always going for the Wild Mini’s clicking volume wheel instead of my smartphone’s boring volume button.”

Original Or Extra Crispy?

As with the other models in this roundup, the Wild Mini has a built-in Li-Ion battery…800mA to be more precise. That will get you about 8 hours of playback time which should more than suffice for most trail hikes and campfire singalongs ( or special ops missions). I should point out there’s a more recent version of the Wild Mini that uses a 1,000mA battery and has a few other new features including a multi-colored light and a wheel in front of the driver that rotates (Muzen calls it a “fidget spinner”). I guess it’s the Wild Mini Wheel of Fortune Edition. Frankly, I consider these “features” a step-down and hardly worth the $50 up-charge. I prefer original recipe over extra crispy.

I can’t resist a Bluetooth speaker in uniform. One look at the Wild Mini and I just knew I had to have one even though I already own more Bluetooth speakers than I need. I guess you could say its appearance is disarming. With its rounded edges and measuring just 3” x 2” x 1”, the Wild Mini is easily the cutest Bluetooth speaker on the planet. Whether you have a proclivity for military-styled things or not, you’ll quickly surrender to it. Getting one means you’ll have to drop and give Muzen 109. No, not 109 pushups, but $109, though I’ve seen it on sale for as low as $90 on Amazon. Should you get one? Sir, yes sir.

A little retro Poison. Photo by Peter Skiera.

Model: EP203 Poison

Brand: Lofree

Sound: 8/10

Fun Factor: 8/10

Playback time: 6 hours

Bluetooth Version: 4.2

Warranty: 1 year

Price: $119

Larger than the Wild Mini but smaller than the M90 Mini Blaster is Lofree’s retro-styled Poison. It’s a rather odd name for a portable Bluetooth speaker. Perhaps Lofree named it that because it resembles a giant pill and it’s sound is killer.

Ace Of Bass

Smaller-sized Bluetooth speakers might be cute and convenient, but let’s face it- many of them don’t sound very good. For a plastic speaker measuring 7” x 4” x 2.75” with only 10-watts of power, Poison sounds very good indeed. In fact, it’s the best-sounding speaker in my round-up. Lofree says Poison’s frequency response goes down to 60Hz. No doubt the passive bass radiator that takes up a good portion of its behind is responsible. You can see the woofer in action as the music plays. Baby got back. It’s a good thing Poison has prominent rubber feet to couple it to the surface of whatever it’s playing on, because without them, the speaker would dance all over the place. If I’m looking to impress someone visually, I take out my M90 Mini Blaster or Muzen Wild Mini, but if I’m looking to impress acoustically, I dish out some Poison.

The Poison isn’t waterproof but I couldn’t resist resting it on its face and using a little water to demonstrate the rear-firing woofer. Photo by Peter Skiera.

For radio enthusiasts, there’s an FM tuner on board, though reception is so-so and the tiny tuning dial is a challenge for the eyes. Even with my glasses on (which served as the prototype for the Hubble Space Telescope) I couldn’t see what frequency I was tuning. I bought my Poison through a friend in China and its FM dial is lightly back-lighted. Why Lofree left this feature off the US version I have no idea.

Poison fits in nicely just about anywhere. Photo by Peter Skiera.

The Queen’s English

Some Bluetooth speakers, like the M90 Mini Blaster, use sounds to confirm when the source has been changed. Others, like Poison, use a spoken voice confirmation. The female voice used for Poison’s confirmations speaks with an Asian (Chinese?) accent. The voice Poison uses is pleasant enough but the accent screams “made in China”. It’s a small but important detail. Ordinarily, the manufacturer has the ability to record a different voice instead of whatever comes stock on the Bluetooth chip. A female voice with a British accent would’ve been my choice. A British accent always adds a little sophistication to any occasion.

It’s A Looker

Poison makes just as strong a visual statement as it does with its sound. Retro styling is great, but overdo it and your product risks resembling a cheap plastic toy. In this case, the design is just enough to give it that 50’s retro appearance without making it look goofy or cheap. It’s available in tasteful shiny colors, too, including “Milk Tea”, a kind of very light beige color with just a hint of pink or orange from what I can tell. There’s also a cool chrome dome on the top that changes color depending on the source mode it’s in, though it can be difficult to see the light in bright light conditions.

Make A Wish

On my Poison wish list, I would’ve preferred the top controls and prominent front grille be made of metal instead of plastic. It wouldn’t have added much to the cost and it would’ve given it a more quality look and feel. I also wish Lofree had included an AM band along with the FM, at least for US customers. Alas you can’t have everything.

Poison’s compact size makes it quite comfortable to carry in one hand, though chrome bars are integrated on either side to accommodate a carry strap. My Chinese market version came with a nifty carrying case that resembles a child’s vintage suitcase. Here again, I don’t understand why Muzen failed to include this with the US version.

Li-Ions, Tigers, and Bears, Oh My

Playback-wise, expect about 6 hours from the 2,000mA Li-Ion battery. That’s on the short side but it’s probably due to the bass which tends to be power-hungry. As with most of the speakers in my roundup, Poison doesn’t have a user-replaceable battery. When the battery is exhausted (hopefully not until six or more years from now), shipping the dead unit both ways to its China factory for battery replacement and back again will be costly, assuming the factory will even service it. It will probably cost the same or less to just toss it out and buy a new Poison if they’re still being made then. This isn’t the best solution for the environment or your wallet, but it seems to be the inconvenient truth for many lower-cost portable Bluetooth speakers these days.

“…the design is just enough to give it that 50’s retro appearance without making it look goofy or cheap.”

Poison is priced at $119, not quite half way between the $160 M90 Mini Blaster and $109 Wild Mini, though if you sign up on Lofree’s website, you’ll get emailed a discount code to save a few bucks. By the way, in case you’re wondering, Lofree’s name is a combination of the words “Love” and “Free”. Poison isn’t free, but you’ll love it.

Bumpboxx in a box. Photo by Peter Skiera.

Model: Microboom

Brand: Bumpboxx

Sound: 5.5/10

Fun Factor: 6.5/10

Playback time: 8 hours

Bluetooth Version: 5.0

Warranty: 1 year

Price: $99

Bumpboxx makes very impressive, full-sized Bluetooth boomboxes sans the cassette deck. I’ve never owned one but I do own their Microboom. Microboom is the smallest and least expensive Bluetooth speaker in my roundup, measuring only 5” x 4” x 2”. It’s a Bluetooth wearable that comes in different shiny colors (including a recently-released, swanky gold-colored version) and includes a 24” stainless steel gold-plated chain to complete the 1980’s image. Bumpboxx also makes a portable Bluetooth speaker that resembles a vintage pager, but I was instantly drawn to the Microboom.

Worth It

Bumpboxx says Microboom “seamlessly blends fashion and technology.” I say Microboom is the bomb, albeit a very basic bomb. There’s no FM tuner, no auxiliary input, and no headphone output, though a Micro SD card input is included on its backside. As with the M90 Mini Blaster, had been the Product Manager for this model, I would’ve left off that input in favor of something more conventional. There are small push button controls on the front for basic functions like power, Bluetooth pairing, track control, volume, and play/pause. The center “display” features a tiny white Bumpboxx logo which illuminates when the unit is powered on. That’s cool, but what would’ve been way cooler is an actual tiny color display that showed artist/song metadata. Of course, that would’ve used more battery power and raised its price, but it so totally would’ve been worth it. Totally.

Bumpboxx’s Microboom will put a smile on your face. Photo by Peter Skiera.

Go Topless

The Microboom lives up to its name in more ways than one. It’s a micro boombox and it has very little boom despite Bumpboxx managing to shoehorn a passive bass radiator behind the dual 1.2” diameter full range speakers. Wearing the Microboom definitely makes a statement, and it also reduces its bass since the rear woofer’s meager output gets smothered by your clothing. Perhaps Bumpboxx prefers we all go topless. That said, it sounds better than I expected for a 3.7 oz plastic speaker on a chain. One big thing about the little Microboom is it can get fairly loud. It’s only 10 watts max, but this baby boomer(box) goes to 11, and it’ll crank for about 8 hours until its 500mA Li-Ion battery wants a re-charge.

Me and my Microboom.

“…what would’ve been way cooler is an actual tiny color display that showed artist/song metadata.”

Bumpboxx’s website is long on features but short on specs. I couldn’t find out simple details like what version Bluetooth the Microboom used, the frequency response, or even if it was stereo. It took several emails and over a week with their customer support to learn the Microboom uses Bluetooth 5.0. I never got a response to my frequency response or stereo questions, so I used a simple app on my phone to at least verify it’s outputting 2-channel stereo. However, with the speakers being in such close proximity to each other, it’s effectively mono. Perhaps sensing that, Bumpboxx made it possible to pair 2 Microboom’s together for true wireless stereo, with one Microboom being the right channel and the other the left.

You can get your own Microboom on Amazon or from Bumpboxx directly for $99, which strikes me as a bit on the expensive side compared to the prices of the other models I’ve covered in my roundup. Be that as it may, there aren’t many audio devices you can wear that play loud and look wicked cool. Hang a Bumpboxx Microboom around your neck and be prepared to get stopped on the street by impressed strangers wanting to know what it is and where you got it.

Which Version?

You may have noticed the different versions of Bluetooth used by the models in my roundup…5.1, 5.0, and 4.2. What does it mean and why don’t they all use the latest Bluetooth specification? To give a quick comparison, Bluetooth 5.1 and 5.0 include BLE, or Bluetooth Low Energy, which requires less power and thus yields longer playback time than Bluetooth 4.2. Both versions also provide more bandwidth (allows simultaneous connection of 2 different Bluetooth devices) and a much longer range. Bluetooth 5.1 pairs faster than 5.0 and 4.2. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean you should cross out anything on your list that uses older versions like 4.2. The Poison Bluetooth speaker uses Bluetooth version 4.2 and I’ve never experienced an issue using it.

One major drawback to Bluetooth is that Bluetooth IC’s can’t be updated, meaning whatever Bluetooth version your device has is what it will have forever. If a device has Bluetooth 4.2, there’s no way to update it to something more recent. That’s the nature of the beast, and you can bet Bluetooth technology will continue to evolve as it has over the years. So, even if you buy a Bluetooth speaker with the very latest Bluetooth specification (currently 5.2), it’s only the latest until the next version comes along. The good news is devices with older version Bluetooth chips will still work with sources having newer versions. For example, if you own a Bluetooth speaker with Bluetooth version 4.2, but stream your music from a smartphone that has Bluetooth version 5.1, your speaker will still work and sound fine.

I should also like to point out that none of the Bluetooth speakers in my round-up support aptX, a technology that claims to preserve the quality of the music. I don’t consider that a big negative because portable speakers are often used outdoors, which isn’t the ideal environment for audio reproduction. Moreover, in Apple’s wisdom, the iPhone doesn’t support aptX, so at least half of all users wouldn’t be able to take advantage of it anyway.

The sexy Shargeek Storm2 (colored LEDs not included). Photo by Peter Skiera.

Juice Me Up

If you do a lot of streaming from your battery-powered smartphone or laptop to your battery-powered Bluetooth speaker, you don’t want your devices running out of power and ruining the vibe. A portable power bank will give your devices a boost when their tanks are nearing empty. Up until recently, most power banks were nondescript devices that sort of resembled those geeky aluminum wallets you see on late-night TV commercials. Enter Shargeek. They designed a portable charger that gets the job done and looks sexy while doing it. I wish I could say that about myself.

The Storm2 boasts a whopping 25,600 mAh of power from its 8 rechargeable, high-density Lithium-ion batteries. It provides four (count ‘em, four) power outputs (USB-C x 2, USB-A x 1, DC x 1) to fast-charge up to 3 devices at once, from phones to drones. It’s also the first portable charger to use a transparent housing exposing the power plant as well as the electronic components mounted on the PCB. Illuminated output jacks would’ve been extra cool, but now I’m really exposing my geeky side. Anyway, you haven’t heard the best part yet. There’s a small, crisp, color display that shows the input/output power, battery pack voltage/current, battery/PCB temperature, charge-discharge cycles, and DC voltage adjustments! OMG. I think I just experienced arrhythmia.

I used a blue light to highlight the components inside the Storm2. Photo by Peter Skiera.

With great power comes great responsibility, and Shargeek takes safety seriously. They’ve built-in protection against short circuits, high voltage, and extreme temperatures. The transparent plastic chassis is fireproof and the Storm2 is rated safe to legally carry onto airplanes should you wish to take yours with you when you travel.

Roughly 3 months ago, Shargeek came out with a new power bank model called Storm2 Slim since it’s approximately 50% smaller than Storm2. It supports 130W high speed power delivery (vs. Storm2’s 100W) and is lighter weight than its big brother, but only includes 1 x USB-C and 1 x USB-A output. An optional, fold-out solar panel keeps the Slim itself charged when electricity isn’t available. Both models retail for $199, though they’re sometimes discounted on Amazon.

We’re all geared up to get outside and enjoy the summer. It feels like it took forever for it to finally get here. Enhance your summer enjoyment even more by bringing your favorite tunes with you. Whether you invest in one or more of the models in my roundup or decide on a different one, know that a portable Bluetooth speaker that makes listening fun in the summer sun is priceless.

Full disclosure: I don’t make a commission if you buy any of the models I recommended. I purchased all of these devices myself and did not receive any free review samples or special discounts. The advantage of this is I can be honest and not feel beholden to any manufacturer. The drawback is it’s a very expensive way of doing reviews! Accordingly, please consider supporting my website blog and Internet radio station by becoming a Patreon supporter (link below) for just $1.

Trivia: According to Wikipedia, a hands-free mobile headset introduced in 1999 was the first consumer Bluetooth device. The Ericson T39 from 2001 was the first Bluetooth mobile phone. Also launched in 2001 was the IBM ThinkPad A30 which was the first notebook with Bluetoooth.


New Wave Toys M90 Mini

Muzen Wild Mini

Lofree Poison

Bumpboxx Microboom

Shargeek Storm2


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