Microlab MD312 Portable 2.1 Bluetooth Speaker System Review @ ModSynergy.com
Over the past couple of reviews here at ModSynergy, you might have noticed that we've been focusing much more on portable Bluetooth speaker solutions than ever before, and for good reason; they are becoming very popular and quickly becoming ever present in the marketplace. These are great gifts to give away for birthdays, boxing day, Christmas holidays. These Bluetooth speaker solutions have been popping up all over the place being offered in many different sizes, shapes, colors, quality, and with many different features and technologies embedded inside. Part of the reason why these Bluetooth speaker solutions have been popular is because they offer wireless audio along with the practicality of portability meaning you can just pick it up and go to the park, beach, and have some fun listening to music.
The main reason for this growth in portable Bluetooth speaker solutions have been because of the high demand of Bluetooth enabled devices such as the Smartphone, Apple iPad, iPod, and more. The cell phone industry is a hot commodity, more so than ever with the booming popularity of Smartphone's in everyone's hand it seems. The continued rise is expected to grow even further within the next couple of years and shows no signs of slowing down. Even the Chinese are helping the cause by bringing low cost quad-core Android Smartphone's that have surprisingly respectable and growing performance to the masses.
Most if not all cell phones on the market today come with Bluetooth technology, even the cheap ones have it. It's a wireless technology and feature we all love because it allows the convenience of hands-free calls for example, which has been an ongoing problem with distracted driving. Bluetooth can and is also used for transmission and streaming of music wirelessly to a Bluetooth speaker, and everyone with a cell phone has come across the infamous issue with their phone speaker not giving them any depth and enjoyment.
This is where Bluetooth accessory makers are clamoring for your hard earned money. The iPhone and iPod were the first ones to really push the idea of a speaker dock with great success. With these speaker docks you could finally enjoy music coming from the iPod because it's being outputted through a larger speaker designed for music. The drawbacks to these speaker docks are that they are simply stationary and not portable, they become impractical for on-the-go use. Bluetooth speaker solutions aim at solving that issue.
Back in 2009 and 2010 I reviewed two audio products from relatively unknown audio manufacturer Microlab. Microlab was established in 1998 by a group of audio enthusiasts and have since then become a major professional speaker manufacturer in Asia, Europe, and increasingly more in North America. I was surprised they managed to snag away world famous European acoustics engineer Peter Larson and make him their chief consultant between 2003-2009, his work and influence was easily showcased and implemented in Microlab's lineup at the time and one could see that clearly in the SOLO-6 he helped produce.
I looked at their SOLO-6 Stereo Amplified Speaker System and also their MD333 2.1 iPod Audio Docking Station, both coming away mightily impressed at their sound quality performance, quality construction, and overall execution. I could already feel with the SOLO-6 that Microlab was destined to do great things and that their audio quality, MDF construction was on par if not better than more recognized brands on the market place, Microlab was a sure hidden gem. I mentioned in the past that Microlab were one of the numerous companies who have gone under the radar, though now in 2013 that has pretty much changed.
Today I get to re-visit the Microlab brand 3-years later and see the fruits of their labor with one of their latest portable Bluetooth speaker systems called the MD312. The MD312 sports a unique Moon-shaped shell design offered in multiple color choices, offers 4-Watt of RMS continuous power, a replaceable rechargeable Lithium-ion battery, and comes in a 2.1 configuration for fuller sound and better audio inside the single compact sound box. Read on to see and know more of the Microlab MD312 portable Bluetooth speaker system, its performance, its pricing, its package, and what it can do for you.
Established in 1998, Microlab began with a group of audio enthusiasts. Within two progressive years, our innovative skill and design expertise are recognized as a major professional speaker manufacturer worldwide.
Products after products, we set the trend and standards in the speaker industry. Microlab continues to lead in groundbreaking audio products with quality and performances.
These past years, we have been steadily progressing as we grew in product range, categories and strength. Today, Microlab offers a full range of home theater system entertainment products. Ranging from desktop PC, notebooks, LCD TV, CD/DVD players, iPod, iPhone or game console, to wherever they are…be it in the living room, bedroom, or in the kitchen, you will find Microlab product, a perfect match for your playback devices. Plug it in and immediately listen and feel the differences. A perfect companion to transform your playback audio device to Hi-Fi quality entertainment.
Microlab MD312 Product Overview
MD312 speaker is a high-end home-use speaker designed by Microlab. It integrates a compact 2.1 sound system and Bluetooth pairing function in a single box. With this speaker, you can enjoy the high quality music in the living room, kitchen or bedroom very easily.
Uniquely designed 2.1 speaker system in a single compact sound box. Aesthetic in design, it fits into most room types such as bedroom, kitchen or even your studies.
Connects wirelessly to your Bluetooth enabled mobile phone or media player. Enjoy music without any messy cables from the music source. Listen to your favourite music from your mobile phone, tablet, or notebook. Alternatively you can connect to traditional 3.5 mm stereo music source through its AUX in connector.
Highly portable, this system features rechargeable battery and hand grip that lets you use it almost anywhere.
Microlab MD312 Product Features
Microlab MD312 Product Specifications
Today I get to re-visit the Microlab brand 3-years after my last experience with them and see the fruits of their labor over the years. Needless to say I was anxious to see how far they have come.
The Microlab MD312 portable Bluetooth speaker comes in a square shaped corrugated box measuring about 10" x 8.4" x 4.6" (LxWxH) and is colored white throughout. A plastic handle is at the top for easy carrying after purchasing. The design is simple yet effective with the white background and real product shot placed in the middle. The red Microlab logo and slogan is situated top left, product model lower right and some product features listed lower left. The rear is exactly the same as the front. The features on the lower left corner are Bluetooth technology, Multimedia usage, 3.5mm AUX-IN jack, and that the MD312 is battery powered.
The left side mentions some of the usages that the MD312 can be used for such as the laptop, iPod, iPad and any Bluetooth enabled device or 3.5mm enabled device. Some features it mentions are the Bluetooth, strong bass effects and clear treble, front panel controls for playback and Bluetooth pairing functions, comes with alternative 3.5mm stereo connection to most media players and computers, and the rechargeable battery powered for portable use.
The Microlab MD312 portable Bluetooth speaker system is VERY competitively priced at only $58.18 USD through Amazon.com (you can use my Amazon link at the bottom of the review). If you recall my past Genius SP-960BT portable Bluetooth speaker review, that had a list price of $69.99 and was much smaller in dimensions. The Microlab MD312 seems to be very aggressively priced against the competition.
Open the corrugated box to find the contents of the MD312's bundle which includes the following items...
I had to start out first by speaking about the Lithium-ion battery the Microlab MD312 portable Bluetooth speaker comes with because it's not very common to see a replaceable battery in such a product, most on the market are all integrated making it difficult to replace.
This alone caught me by surprise because it's an interesting choice by Microlab, a good one in my eyes considering the fact that they chose to utilize a very common Nokia cell phone battery readily available worldwide. The BL-5C Lithium-ion battery is the same battery in my old and trust Nokia candy bar cell phone (interchangeable with BL-4C -- lower capacity) and replacements can be found very cheaply for about $5.
So I've got to give Microlab some credit for choosing to go this route making it very easy for the consumer to replace the battery physically and financially. Great decision Microlab!
One of Microlab's regional site claims the MD312 is able to last up to 4 hours, but I've been seeing runtimes quite longer than that which leads me to believe that is likely incorrect information. But since the BL-5C battery is so inexpensive to begin with, if you require longer battery life, simply buy a few more batteries so you don't have much down time.
Edit: So far at about medium volume level, the MD312 has been churning out Bluetooth streaming music for over 6 (not 7 -- calculation error) hours. I don't know why one of Microlab's regional sites have up to 4 hours for battery life as that is surely wrong.
The MD312 that was sent to me was the white color version. Microlab offers the MD312 in several different colors and combinations that include white, silver, black, silver and black, red, blue, orange, green, yellow, and metallic grey. It's great that they offer such a wide selection of colors to suit different personalities and moods, all come in a glossy paint finish.
The first time I lay eyes on the MD312 it was quite different than many other Bluetooth speakers I've seen and honestly the MD312's design is different than just about any other speaker out there. They call its shape a Moon-shaped shell, but it reminds me of an astronaut's helmet! To me it looks quirky and fun, a possible discussion piece when you have people over.
The front contains a metal grille painted the same as the body (in other regions a cloth grille) color. This cannot be removed. Depending on how you look at the speaker, you can see the two 2" drivers (high frequency tweeters), single 3" woofer (low frequency), and bass reflex port on the right side to enhance the bass even further. Everything aside from the front panel and rear panel is glossy and looks fantastic in my opinion, that means only the sides are glossy.
The front control panel on the MD312 doesn't contain too many buttons, it has only 3 buttons. We have the volume up, volume down, and dual function Mute and Bluetooth pairing button. Below the buttons is a black face with Microlab logo and a pinhole which is where the bright blue/red/green LED indicator status light is located.
MD312 is constructed out of hard quality plastic and workmanship is very high, it's weighty, but when you shake the unit, there are no weird noises or unexpected gaffes.
On my digital scale the MD312 weighs 2.117lbs, a little lighter than the almost 5x more expensive Samsung DA-F60 Bluetooth speaker I just reviewed.
Coming to the back of the MD312, we find that it stands upright on its flat bottom that is sealed with a rubber pad that prevents the Bluetooth speaker from slipping, falling, and unwanted vibrations during operation. The rear of the speaker is matte rather than glossy. The rear of the speaker is simple enough.
At the back we see a few ports that include the 3.5mm AUX-IN jack for a direct audio connection, DC 5V USB mini-B charge port where you will recharge the Lithium-ion battery with the included USB wall charger, and lastly the ON/OFF power switch. The included wall charger is rated at a 5V 1000mA charge rate.
At the top is where the handy hand grip is located and allows for easy portability of the MD312. All four fingers can be placed inside, unless you have massively oversized hands...
What is inside?
Microlab is very clear on what is inside their MD312, they do a much better job than other Bluetooth speaker manufacturers. MD312 offers 4-watt of RMS (continuous) power through its single 3" woofer rated at 1.25W and two 2" drivers rated at 1.5W each. Frequency response for the MD312 is capable of 40Hz - 18kHz. Signal to noise ratio is greater than 65 dB, though that seems a little lower than I'd like, but we'll see if that number makes any discernable difference to its audio performance.
The best way I can explain or illustrate what signal-to-noise ratio is would be that it is an indicator of how loud external noises are introduced (crackle, hum, hiss, etc) relative to how loud the volume of the music is. Or you can look at it as how well the BT speaker manages to prevent background noises from entering into the music up until it reaches a specific decibel.
The two 2" tweeters are 4 Ohm spec and have a total rated power of 2 Watt, while the single 3" woofer are 2 Ohm spec and have a total rated power of 5 Watt.
Streaming Music Through Bluetooth...Some Background Info
First of all let me start off by saying that streaming music wirelessly through Bluetooth is very convenient. However, music that is streamed wirelessly always ends up compressed to a certain extent. This is more true if you have a FLAC music collection on your device, it's almost pointless in a sense as to expect the true FLAC bit-rate to be broadcasted in its entirety...it's not happening. Therefore as to talk about sound quality through Bluetooth, that's a hard thing to point into words because at the end of the day sound will be degraded to an extent over Bluetooth. I'm not sure how hardcore Audiophiles can cope with this as they are meticulously obsessed with sound quality!
This is almost (but not quite) the same thing if you've ever used an FM transmitter, where signals can leak from one frequency to the next affecting the sound quality. However, the biggest difference is that Bluetooth is digital while FM is analog, Bluetooth by nature of being digital can transmit more data. Unlike leaking frequencies in FM transmissions affecting sound quality, none of that happens (very rare) with Bluetooth because of something called SSFH or Spread-Spectrum Frequency Hopping. SSFH makes it very rare for any two Bluetooth devices to be transmitting on the same frequency channel at the same time and they are ever changing.
Don't get me wrong, music can sound excellent via Bluetooth, it's significantly and vastly improved over an FM transmitter solution in every regard. Though all I'm saying is that it depends on so many variables, for example your Bluetooth device. Cheap Smartphone's broadcasting music over Bluetooth versus good Smartphone's make a difference to the sound quality, loudness and clarity, believe it or not. I've personally experienced this using a cheap Chinese Smartphone versus a decent Samsung Galaxy Smartphone, there was a clear and noticeable difference and it was not placebo effect.
Factors such as the quality of the Bluetooth speaker and its transmitter/receiver components, other Bluetooth devices transmitting nearby that may be interfering, distances between the two BT devices, signal-to-noise ratio, these all affect the sound quality.
The Microlab MD312 on paper has a disadvantage compared to the other Bluetooth speakers we've already reviewed, that is that the MD312 only supports Bluetooth 2.1 specification instead of Bluetooth 3.0. The main difference between the two specifications are increased data transfer rates for 3.0, meaning large files will be transferred quicker with Bluetooth 3.0 than they would on Bluetooth 2.1. Whether or not this will make a difference in audio quality, we'll know shortly.
How to pair Smartphone with Microlab MD312
Pairing to the Microlab MD312 with your Smartphone is very simple. With my Android Smartphone I was able to pair with my Samsung Galaxy under 15 seconds, obviously your results will vary depending on the device used.
With Bluetooth already enabled on your device, turn on the Microlab MD312 and wait until it gives an audible tone notifying you Bluetooth and the unit is turned on. Now you simply search for BT devices on your Smartphone, the MD312 being found as MD312. Press OK and the unit is now paired and the process is complete.
In the event that you are asked for a PIN, it is simply 0000. In the event that you need to enter manual pairing mode on the MD312, just hold the Bluetooth/Mute button down for about 3 seconds where the Blue LED will start blinking rapidly.
You only need to pair the first time and after that the Bluetooth speaker will automatically connect each time your Smartphone's Bluetooth is enabled.
Using the Microlab MD312
When the Microlab MD312 is turned on for the first time, the bright blue LED indicator status light turns on letting you know the unit is turned on and that BT is activated and actively searching for nearby devices. This blue LED blinks slowly for about 20 seconds searching for paired devices automatically. After the first 20 seconds it restarts a new pairing sequence for 3 minutes.
When the AUX-IN connector is used, the MD312 LED indicator light illuminates and blinks green in 5 second intervals.
When recharging the MD312, the LED will illuminate a solid red color during the course of recharge. Once fully completed, the red LED will disappear.
How does it sound?
This may very well be a strange way at answering this question, but I cannot believe Amazon.com has the Microlab MD312 Portable Bluetooth Speaker System selling for under $60USD, the value for what you are receiving in return is just unbelievable! The Microlab MD312 sounds very good considering the price, you usually hear me complaining that the price is too high, well this is one of those rare occasions when I wouldn't have complained if the price was twice the price! That's how surprisingly great the MD312 sounds!
The Microlab MD312 is not perfect (nothing is perfect) but it gives even the more expensive (almost 5x more) and impressive Samsung DA-F60 portable Bluetooth speaker I just previously reviewed a run for its money and even beats it in certain areas!
The Microlab MD312 offers clear crisp sound with great detail. Though, I would have preferred that its sound felt a little warmer than it is, I think the type of sound being showcased from the MD312 is due to its plastic construction, it feels a little bit hollow/thin (for lack of a better term) in a sense, it lacks some personality. Though it's not as bad as I may have described it, the MD312 still has very good vibrancy to its sound signature making it feel detailed, the sound quality is at a high level and it's pleasing and enjoyable listening to. It simply outclasses the smaller Genius SP-960BT portable Bluetooth speaker and is less expensive to boot! The Microlab MD312 is obviously a great deal superior in every way.
I have to agree with Microlab as they state on the actual box, Strong bass effects and clear treble. It's precisely as they haveadvertised.
The Microlab MD312 excels in vocal clarity making it very revealing to the ears. The high-frequency range on the Microlab MD312 is very good allowing you to hear subtle details and nuances other speakers often leave muddled and unclear. I find that MD312 does a better job than the more expensive Samsung DA-F60 with its high-range when listening to powerful singers such as Celine Dion. She has a voice that will take a high-frequency tweeter to a limit, and whereas the Samsung DA-F60 almost teetered on the very edge of being piercing and discomforting with Celine's high vocal range, the Microlab MD312 did a better job at preventing that from happening. They are very close though in terms of vocal clarity, I will have to say that the Samsung does have the edge on vocals, it's simply a bit more illuminating and colorful, could be due to its aptX decoding codec technology offering higher bit-rate music to be streamed, but does that alone justify it being almost 5x more expensive than the Microlab MD312? Not to me.
The Microlab MD312 also bests the more expensive Samsung DA-F60 in terms of bass, and I was quite pleased with the Samsung, that says a lot. The Microlab simply hits harder, is more impactful, and the bass reaches down lower than what the Samsung can do, the woofer is simply better than the one in the Samsung, there's absolutely no question which is best for bass, the Microlab MD312 with its wider width wins this battle with ease frankly. This is the first real Bluetooth speaker I've tested that actually has satisfying and impactful bass, even to the point that I was watching a movie with the MD312 as the lone audio source and was not disappointed. With the Samsung, you had to activate the Power Bass function but it took away from the other ranges of the speaker and it could not resonate down lower than the MD312 for certain bass heavy songs, the difference is easily felt and apparent between the two.
Bass Rating (From 0-10, 10 being the best): 6.5/10
Mid-range is good on the MD312 but the Samsung is better at this range without the Power Bass function enabled. I would have liked the mid-range to be more revealing and a little bit clearer, but it's still good.
The 4W RMS power on the Microlab MD312 is plenty enough to allow the speaker to belt out loud.
For the best sounding audio, the AUX-IN connection remains the best way to enjoy audio.
What I feel is missing from the Microlab MD312 is a manual setting dedicated for adjusting bass and treble, it would have been great if these features were added, but that was not the case. You'll just have to live with adjustments made to the sound in the software equalizer on your device.
About the only feature that could have set the Microlab MD312 over the top would have been an integrated microphone which would have allowed it to act as a speakerphone when picking up phone calls and being able to communicate with the person on the other line for a truly hands-free, no use for the Smartphone experience. However, that was also not the case.
Bluetooth Range - How Far Can It Go?
Microlab does not specify any ratings or expectations on wireless range of the Bluetooth enabled MD312. Though pretty much all Bluetooth speakers have a wireless range of 10 meters or 33 feet.
With my Samsung Galaxy Smartphone playing music in my room wirelessly to the Microlab MD312, (in the second floor of a 2-story 3000 sq ft. home) I left the phone there, shut the door and headed down past the first floor and then went straight to the basement. The Microlab MD312 continued to play without any change to the volume, without any skipping, without any abnormalities. It was only until I opened the door to the cold room and stepped inside that the Microlab MD312 portable Bluetooth speaker began to completely stop its music playback.
Mind you the basement cold room is surrounded by super thick concrete that is essentially the foundation to a home. I would estimate that from my room to the basement cold room was at least between 10-15 meters, which makes reception from the Microlab MD312 excellent. It can definitely meet most people's wireless range requirements without much issue. Considering that the signal travelled through wood, metal, a variety of materials, that's super impressive. As always your mileage may vary depending on your Bluetooth device, I was using a Samsung Galaxy Discover Smartphone.
Where To Buy
The Microlab MD312 has an aggressively competitive price of $58.18 USD selling through Amazon.com with free shipping.
Again for that price the Microlab MD312 is such an amazing value for what you get in return with its audio performance. I wouldn't have complained if it was selling for over $100, frankly for how it sounds it should be selling for more. The product is sold by and shipped directly by Amazon (no third party) so you can buy with confidence. I love Amazon and their service.
If you are thinking of purchasing the Microlab MD312 portable 4W Bluetooth speaker system, please use our Amazon link, it will help us out greatly.
Some Amazon Deals That May Interest You!
The Microlab MD312 is an incredible value that I'm not sure why it's not selling for more! The audio performance is at a high level, the bass is the best I've experienced so far in a portable Bluetooth speaker solution, it hits hard and is truly impactful considering the size of the MD312. It may not have the level of features that the almost 5x more expensive Samsung DA-F60 has such as the ability to recharge your Smartphone or NFC technology, but are those few additions worth almost 5x more money? I for one do not believe so.
I also love the fact that Microlab has made it easy for the consumer by offering a replaceable Lithium-ion battery that happens to be a Nokia cell phone that is readily available and very inexpensive at $5 bucks a battery. Most other manufactures have internal Lithium-ion batteries that are not replaceable or readily available.
The Microlab MD312 in my opinion is a must buy at this low of a price, it's simply fantastic and sounds more like a higher priced product! As the motto emphasizes, Just Listen.