Creative Labs has been around the block. As a company, they’ve been pumping out PC sound cards since the golden age of adventure games. In geek speak, that’s the early 90’s. That’s contestable but I’m sticking to it. Getting tired of conquering the PC gaming arena, Creative Labs branched out to personal media players, desktop speakers and now they want to take over pretty much every living and recreational space you interact with on a daily basis. “How?” you ask? Why, with the AXX 200 of course!
At a glance, the AXX 200 looks like an unassuming Bluetooth speaker. How droll. Take a closer look and you’ll notice a whole array of buttons – far more than you’d typically see on a Bluetooth speaker. These add a variety of functions that set this apart from the rest. In addition, the angled glass top is actually a light-up touch sensitive control panel. The speaker unit also sports a rechargeable battery which can provide up to 15 hours of use. Battery tests are of course subjective but even 10 hours would be impressive in my book.
The main speakers are located toward the front of the AXX 200 which is covered by a grille. Below that are three little LED lights that indicate the battery level and a blue LED can be found at the top indicating that the radio is on. That pretty much sums up the entire front of the unit. Like so many fun things in life, all the action is located in the back.
The rear of the AXX 200 sports a whole bunch of buttons, toggles and ports that really show off the features that helps the AXX 200 stand apart from its competitors. Let’s start from the bottom up. The very first thing you see is a micro USB port which you can use to charge the AXX 200 or, get this, use it as a sound card for a laptop or a desktop PC. Above that is a pair of 3.5mm jacks – one for headphones and the other, microphones. The next feature is a full sized USB port. What’s that for you ask? It’s actually there so that you can charge your other mobile devices such as phones and media players on the road. Continuing our journey north, next stop is a micro SD card slot. If you’re a big battery miser, you’ll be happy to know that the micro SD card slot will allow you to play music directly from the card instead of via Bluetooth radio which will allow the battery to go longer between charges. In addition to reading music files, the AXX 200 can be used to record your voice and the file is stored in WAV format on the card. The next feature is a tube which allows the woofer to move air and provide a bit of “oomph” to whatever you’re enjoying – being portable shouldn’t mean completely sacrificing low range right? Above the tube you’ll find something you’ve most likely never seen in a Bluetooth speaker, a megaphone switch. In this case, it’s called the Super Megaphone. That’s exactly what it is. Slide the switch, and speak (or scream) into the microphone up top to let the world (or room) know you want their undivided attention or to simply serenade them.
There are more buttons leading up to the very top of the speaker but they’re fairly common so I’ll just simply glean over them. Two toggle switches allows you to mute the microphone or enables repeating and shuffling when playing tracks off the micro SD card. The rest of the buttons are record voice, playback, next track, previous track, play/pause and power button. The power button is interesting as it behaves differently depending on how long it is held down. You can press it once to go into standby mode or you can hold it down for two seconds to start the pairing process. If you hold it down longer, it shuts off the unit completely. The microphone rounds out the panel.
Slightly off to the side, one panel over to the left, you can find a smallish logo. The logo is the location of the AXX 200’s NFC radio. That radio allows for extremely easy pairing. If you have a phone that comes with a NFC built in, you can simply enable the transmitter, tap it to the logo and Bluetooth pairing automatically kicks off saving you the headache of manually setting it up through a series of menus on a phone.
The bottom of the unit has “feet” made of soft rubber which provides some additional traction when placed on flat surfaces. In addition, it is supposed to provide vibration dampening as well. If you take a closer look, there is a rubber cap that is located on the bottom center of the unit. It can be removed to reveal metal contacts. Incidentally, there is an optional docking base that Creative Labs has release alongside the AXX 200. If you find it a real pain to constantly plug in the AXX 200 to recharge the battery, you can simply place the speaker on the docking base to recharge it. Whether that’s worth it for you or not, is up to you because it’s optional, and it’s kind of expensive for what it does. The MSRP for the dock alone is $59.99 which in my honest opinion, expensive for what it does. The dock also provides a wider base for the speaker to rest on which leads to less toppling for the speaker when the surface is jostled.
Now for the top! The top is made of what looked like a glass panel. It’s very smooth and reflective so when I started using and exploring the touch controls, it felt natural, like using a smartphone. If there was ever a reason why all the hard buttons were clustered in the rear it’s because of the touch control panel. From the front, the AXX 200 is beautiful and simple. When powered up, it looks absolutely gorgeous.
The Noise Reduction button limits background noise during phone calls. Incidentally, it can be used as a speakerphone when paired with a phone or even used as a conference call devise like a fancy Polycom unit. Next up is the SBX Pro Studio button. Enabling SBX allows for enhancements that the Sound Blaster audio processor has to offer such as SBX Bass, Smart Volume and SBX Surround. You’ll most likely have this on pretty much all the time. The button also doubles as a VoiceFX toggle button. During phone calls, or when using the Super Megaphone, you can morph your voice to sound like an alien, orc, or a robot. The Voice Focus feature allows the AXX 200 to create an acoustic zone around the device which picks up only on the voice of the speaker. I ran into a funny issue however when testing out some of the features. When using Noise Reduction and Voice Focus together, I found myself leaning toward the AXX 200 just to have a phone conversation as my voice was described as muffled and quiet at the other end. I wasn’t leaning in to be included in the Voice Focus zone but rather to speak directly into the microphone as if I was talking into a handset. Turning off the Voice Focus feature cleared that issue right up.
Real Life Testing and Performance and Apps and Stuff
I really enjoy having the AXX 200 in the living room. I don’t own a high end amplifier or floor speakers. I usually do all my listening at my desk using headphones and built-in amplifier on my sound card. It’s nice but sometime I just want the freedom to walk around without being tethered to my desktop or a laptop. The AXX 200 provides the perfect compromise. It doesn’t take up room in my entertainment center. I don’t have to worry about floor speakers toppling over on my daughter’s head or my clumsy foot. However, regardless of the portable speaker’s lack of considerable size and weight, it fills the entire room with music without distortions. I was immediately impressed from beginning to end. Pairing the AXX 200 with my phone and took about 20 seconds. In addition to that, the AXX 200 is capable of pairing with two devices simultaneously which is neat.
Music aside, I also decided to take the AXX 200 for a spin as an external sound card for my fancy gaming laptop. The process was relatively painless although it took a little while for the installation to complete in Windows. It was pretty cool being able to make the AXX 200 pull double duty as a sound card while gaming since it added much needed bass to the sound coming from the games that I ran. Laptop speakers have always been notoriously tinny due to the inherently small size of the laptops so if you’re one of those users who has a mobile desktop like an Alienware M17X or a 18 inch Sager, using an AXX 200 may be a good alternative to being stuck with using headphones for a much more enjoyable aural experience.
Once you grow tired of reaching for the AXX 200 to adjust the volume or enable SBX, you can always turn to your favorite tablet or smartphone to do so. Creative Labs has published an app for the AXX 200 in both iOS App Store and the Android Google Play Store. As long as your device is paired with the speaker, you can just open the app and control the AXX 200 as if you were holding it in your hands with the exception to the Super Megaphone switch. Within the app, you can even adjust the sound through a graphic equalizer and apply Rock, Classic or your own custom settings.
Conclusion – PROS, CONS, and Stuff in Between
If you’re in the market for a Bluetooth speaker, you have a literal mountain of brands and models to choose from. They come in various sizes and colors. Granted, some do come with features that help them stand out a bit but none come even close to the number of features and options that the AXX 200 touts. Especially taking the current price of $149 into consideration, it’s a must buy if you’re in the market for a Bluetooth speaker. It’s a decent sized speaker, doesn’t weigh all that much – a little less than 2lbs. I wish I could say the same for the docking base however. Coming in at $59 it’s a hard sell in my opinion. If the convenience of drop and charge is worth it, go for it. Keep in mind that the price of the dock is relative since the AXX 200’s original MSRP is $299. Even with my reservations regarding the docking base, the AXX 200 is a great buy.
1. Great sound
2. Can be controlled via app
3. Can charge your mobile device
4. Great battery life
5. Can pull double duty as an external sound card/speaker
6. Built in microphone
7. Can be paired with two devices at once
1. Optional dock is expensive
2. Only available in white
3. No app available for Windows phones (I’m not joking here, I really like Windows Phones)
4. Requires some tweaking – using both Crystal Voice and Noise Reduction causes your voice to sound muffled at the receiving end during phone calls
5. When docked, the unit cannot be turned off
The best feeling in the world…seriously.