I believe they call it convergence. This is why Swiss Army knives are so fantastic; they serve multiple purposes and come with multiple tools, all without having to be all that much bigger. We already experience this with our smartphones, which have come to replace our cameras, PDAs and MP3 players, so why not take the same kind of approach to all of our mobile accessories too? Why only do one thing when you can do many things?
The team at Creative must have been thinking the same thing when they came up with the Sound BlasterAxx AXX200. You might think that it's just another Bluetooth speaker that you can use to share your tunes, but this "intelligent wireless sound system" is so much more than that. They've thrown everything at it but the kitchen sink, but does it really work?
More Than a Bluetooth Speaker
There are many characteristics that would set the Sound BlasterAxx AXX 200 apart from the countless other Bluetooth speakers on the market like the Rosewill R-Studio AMPBOX. This isn't to say that the other speakers are bad, but they are primarily focused on one or two functions. They play music, through either a wired or wireless connection, and they might be used for handsfree calling. That's about it.
The AXX 200, aside from being vertical rather than horizontal in orientation, serves that purpose too, but it does more. First, it has a quad microphone array that allows for 3660-degree teleconferencing. But you know those mics? They can also be used for on-board voice recording, saving directly to the microSD slot. That same memory slot can be used to load songs, allowing the AXX 200 to function as a standalone MP3 player.
It has mics and speakers, so the Sound BlasterAxx AXX 200 has also been outfitted with a megaphone feature. You speak into the rear mics and it amplifies your voice out via the front-facing speakers. This feature can be combined with the on-board MP3 player to create a karaoke-like experience. The internal battery powers the AXX 200, but you can even use this device as a portable power bank in a pinch via the USB port. That's a lot of functionality baked into a single mobile device.
A Sound Blaster Through and Through
You can use the on-board speaker in the AXX 200 if you'd like or you can connect external speakers through the 3.5mm output too. In either case, you gain access to the SB-Axx1 chipset, a multi-core audio processor that "enhances all your audio in real time, giving you a dramatically superior listening experience for your music, movies and calls."
Adding to the fun, you also get the voice-altering effects that we saw (or heard) in the Sound Blaster Evo Zx headset too, letting you sound like an ogre or robot or what-have-you.
The Complete Audio Experience
To test out the audio capabilities of the Sound BlasterAxx AXX 200, I tried using it as a standalone MP3 player, connected to an external audio source via a stereo cable, and connected to my computer via USB. In all cases, I found that I left the SBX Pro mode activated the entire time. This "intelligently improves the quality of your audio." In my experience, audio with this mode turned off sounded comparatively flat and dull, but SBX Pro really did amp it up both in terms of volume and complexity.
The vertical orientation of the AXX 200 appears to be more conducive to filling the room with sound compared to conventional "horizontal" Bluetooth speakers and the audio quality was generally acceptable for a speaker of this size, but unsurprisingly, the sound did start to distort at higher levels, especially with more bass-heavy tracks. That being said, the AXX 200 can be surprisingly loud, even at about 60-70% volume.
A Bit of a Control Freak
Part of the problem with having so many different features and functions is that you need a way to control all of it. On the more basic end of the spectrum, you can handle most of the controls through the touch-sensitive top panel. This is where you can adjust the volume (via the "slider" in the middle), activate SBX Pro mode, answer Bluetooth phone calls, mute the mic and so forth. This is mostly quite elegant.
The hardware buttons on the rear, however, aren't nearly as elegant. It's not that they are confusing -- their respective functions are reasonably labeled -- but this look does otherwise detract from what is mostly a slick product. Short of adding yet another fancy touch panel, though, I'm not sure how else they could have gone about doing this.
MEGATechie Sound BlasterAxx Axx Baby or MEGATechie Should Get Axx'd?
When we first saw the Sound BlasterAxx AXX 200 at CES 2014 earlier this year, we were surprised by just how much it could do. It looked nice, but it had all sorts of functions to back up that beauty. The naming scheme could use some work and I'm not sure about all those buttons and sliders on the back, but this could be the start of an intriguing product line from Creative.
Whether you're looking for a Bluetooth speaker, teleconference microphone, voice recorder or compact megaphone, there's something for you here in the AXX 200. The MSRP may be $300, but you can usually find it online for $150 or so, which is close to what you'd pay for any one or two of the features, let alone all of them. It's a great value proposition worth considering.