Xiaomi recently added two new products to its audio lineup in India. Their names pretty much describe what they are and leave little to the imagination. The Mi Neckband Pro Bluetooth Earphone is the successor to its non-pro variant as well as the Redmi SonicBass (unless they launch a similar product under the Redmi umbrella). Its claim to fame is getting active noise cancellation (ANC) in the sub-Rs 2,000 price bracket. The second product, the Mi Portable Bluetooth Speaker (16W), is a¦ you know what it is. Time to inspect them from close quarters and see how they perform, and more importantly, if they are worth buying.
Mi Neckband Pro Bluetooth Earphone Review
Mi Neckband Pro earbuds. Image: Tech2/Ameya Dalvi
Redmi SonicBass was the last neckband from the company I tried, and I wasn't exactly impressed with the output. I was hoping the new Mi Neckband Pro would sound significantly different, but alas! Yes, it does have one new feature unseen in this price bracket and improves on the battery backup, but the sound produced by its 10 mm drivers is more or less the same as its more affordable cousin. There's an abundance of bass here, too, overshadowing other frequencies. The bass isn't tight either, and sounds boomy more often than not. Mids lack detail and highs lack the edge, making the overall sound output too soft for my taste.
The build quality seems to have improved a bit and so have the looks, with a combination of rubberised neckband and glossy plastic battery and control modules. Image: Tech2/Ameya Dalvi
Unlike the SonicBass, the Mi Neckband Pro supports SBC as well as AAC codecs over Bluetooth 5.0. There is no support for aptX here, nor did I expect it in this budget, so no issues there. This neckband does offer a feature not expected in this budget either " ANC. But hold your horses, the ANC that you get here is barely functional. It cuts down on some low frequencies and hums, but largely lets other background noises through. So, it is important to keep your expectations in check and not expect miracles from a wireless neckband priced under Rs 2,000.
On the bright side, the build quality seems to have improved a bit and so have the looks, with a combination of rubberised neckband and glossy plastic battery and control modules. The inline control module has three buttons, one of which acts as a power button that also lets you play/pause audio or answer/end/reject calls. The volume rocker lets you jump to next or previous tracks when you keep either of the volume keys pressed for a couple of seconds. There's a fourth button on the other side of the module that acts as a toggle for ANC. All buttons have just the right tactile feel.
The buds feel comfortable in the ear and the silicone ear tips offer reasonable noise isolation. There are three pairs of different-sized tips in the bundle. These earphones are IPX5-rated sweat- and splash-resistant and can be taken to the gym or on a jog, and they do stay in place while you sweat it out. The company claims the built-in 150 mAh battery lasts for up to 20 hours on a full charge at 50 percent volume with ANC turned off. In real-life use, I got close to 15 hours at 60-65 percent loudness with ANC on half the time. Without ANC, the Mi Neckband Pro can go on for a little over 17 hours, which is quite good. It takes about 90 minutes to charge it fully using a standard micro-USB charger. I would have preferred to see a USB-C connector here, since it is 2021 now.
Call quality is another disappointing aspect of this neckband. The person on the other end sounds a tad boomy, and you aren't clearly heard by the other person either. The microphone doesn't pick up a lot of ambient noise when outdoors, but your voice is far from crisp. Almost everybody I spoke to using this neckband asked me to switch to the phone microphone within the first minute of the conversation itself. The wireless range is decent, with the earphones managing to retain a strong connection up to 9 metres with a clear line of sight, and about 4 metres with a concrete wall in between the band and the source.
The Mi Neckband Pro Bluetooth earphone is priced at Rs 1,799 with a one-year warranty. On paper, it is perhaps the most affordable wireless neckband with ANC, and it is great to have the feature at this price point. But in reality, the noise cancellation is barely functional, and at that selling price, I expect much better sound quality - with or without ANC. With the Redmi SonicBass, I was willing to overlook some of its shortcomings in that department as it was priced under Rs 1,000 and there was limited competition, but that is not the case here.
Competition is quite stiff now, with the likes of the OnePlus Bullets Wireless Z and Oppo Enco M31 selling for just Rs 200 more. Neither supports ANC, but the sound output is streets ahead of this Xiaomi product. Even if you like extra bass, the OnePlus neckband does a much better job than this and offers even better battery backup (over 21 hours). The Oppo Enco M31 has a serviceable 10-hour battery life but sounds better than any wireless earphones I have sampled that cost less than Rs 2,000. The presence of ANC is no excuse for mediocre sound quality, and I hope Xiaomi takes note and fixes that in their next release. Incidentally, their true wireless Redmi Buds S have the exact same price tag as the Neckband Pro and sound much better, too.
Comfortable to wear
Good battery life
IPX5 sweat- and splash-resistant
Inline control pod lets you access all playback functions
Support for ANC in this budget
Below par audio quality
Bass is loose and overbearing
Poor call quality
ANC barely makes a difference
Micro-USB charging port
Price: >Rs 1,799>
Mi Portable Bluetooth Speaker (16W) Review
Mi Portable Bluetooth Speaker. Image: Tech2/Ameya Dalvi
While the neckband got a 'Needs improvement' remark on its report card, the Mi Portable Bluetooth speaker easily meets expectations in its category. This 21.3 cm-long Bluetooth 5.0 speaker is a solid device, figuratively and literally. It is IPX7-rated waterproof, feels sturdy and is a bit on the heavier side at 790 grams. You get a USB Type-C charging port, a 3.5 mm Aux input on the side under a rubber flap along with a lanyard cable to carry it around. The blue-coloured unit we got for review looks sporty, but the fabric exterior tends to gather a bit of dust. You can always wipe it clean with a wet cloth or even dunk it in a bucket of water, given its IPX7 water resistance.
The top of the speaker has all the controls, starting with a power button, Bluetooth pairing button, play/pause button and volume controls that also let you jump to the previous or next track with a long press. The volume control syncs with that of the source device, and thus you can control the audio playback without having to reach for your phone. There's one more button other than those above that lets you pair another speaker of its kind wirelessly for stereo output and additional punch. We didn't have a second unit at hand to test this feature out, but that's a good option to have.
The volume control syncs with that of the source device, and thus you can control the audio playback without having to reach for your phone. Image: Tech2/Ameya Dalvi
Pressing the play and volume up buttons together lets you toggle between normal and deep bass equaliser presets. There is little difference between the two, but I preferred the former. This Mi Portable Bluetooth Speaker's output is rated at 16 Watts RMS courtesy of two 8-Watt drivers. Pairing it with the phone was a straightforward process. A voice alert informs you once the speakers are switched on, paired and disconnected. The speaker automatically switches off if there is no activity for a few minutes, and also if you pause the audio for too long. It has a built-in microphone that is handy for calls and also to summon your phone's voice assistant.
This Mi speaker has a punchy sound output and can get surprisingly loud in a mid-sized room and even suffices for a large room. The output is quite balanced, with the midrange frequencies reproduced well with good vocal clarity and noticeable sharpness in the highs. The lows don't fall by the wayside like in the case of several portable Bluetooth speakers. There is a noticeable amount of warmth in the lows and a bit of thump in the bass. Add to that a good amount of detail in audio output across various genres of music. Long story short, it punches a little above its weight in terms of what you expect from a speaker in this size and price class.
The output is loud enough around the 60 percent volume level in a mid-sized room, and is perfectly audible even around the 25-30 percent mark for night-time listening. When outdoors, you need to push it up to 75-80 percent. Beyond that, it seems to lose its tonal balance and sounds shrill and harsh on the ear. The company claims a battery backup of 13 hours when listening at 50 percent volume, courtesy of its 2,600 mAh lithium-ion battery. That number is close to the 12 hours I got out of it at 50 to 60 percent loudness. That is good battery life for a 16 Watts speaker with loud and punchy output. The speaker takes about three to four hours to charge fully using a USB-C charger.
The Mi Portable Bluetooth Speaker (16W) is priced at Rs 2,499 with a one-year warranty. No complaints about the pricing, and it is a good buy given what the speaker offers in terms of sound quality, loudness and battery backup. As for alternatives, a couple of options come to mind " JBL Flip and Soundcore Motion Q. Both have 16 Watts RMS output, IPX7 rating and sound slightly better than this Mi speaker. However, the JBL costs twice as much, while the Motion Q will set you back by Rs 1,000 more than the Mi.
Sturdy and portable
Punchy and loud sound output
Playback and volume controls on the speaker
Good battery life
Can pair two of these for a stereo output
USB-C charging port
A bit on the heavier side
Sounds harsh at high volume (80 percent and above)
Dual EQ modes seem gimmicky
Price: >Rs 2,499