Canton are a well regarded German HiFi brand which have achieved a number of awards for their TV sound bases like the DM55. The diminutive Musicbox XS is their first entry into the portable Bluetooth speaker market and has just been released in the UK.
I saw the speaker at a trade show in September and was impressed – although it’s always difficult to judge in a noisy environment. Canton are entering a busy field of portable Bluetooth speakers, at many different price points.
If you’ve seen a Bose Soundlink Mini II, the Canton looks similar, although less stylised and perhaps more contemporary. The build quality is very impressive with an all metal enclosure and a soft rubber base.
It’s not hugely feature rich which is not necessarily a bad thing. It doesn’t have a speakerphone function or the ability to charge your gadgets. It does have an auxiliary input for your non-Bluetooth devices or if you want to save battery. And it does feature easy Bluetooth pairing via NFC. I’m not able to try this out since although my iPhone 6 Plus has NFC for Apple Pay, it can’t be used for anything else.
Charging is via a dedicated power supply, not the common micro-USB port. Confusingly, there is a micro USB port, but it’s labelled as a Canton service socket – perhaps for future firmware updates.
On top of the speaker, we’ve got buttons for power, auxiliary input, Bluetooth input (and pairing) and volume (mute, vol + and vol -). There’s no way to move around tracks unfortunately.
In the middle of the top is the NFC sensor and a couple of LEDS which feature feedback for the pairing option. With another Musicbox XS, you can create a stereo pair which can work in two modes. The first mode is true stereo, with each speaker playing each stereo channel. The second mode Canton call Party mode, where each speaker plays the same stereo signal. Due to the limited range of Bluetooth (10m), the two rooms would really need to be next to each other so that a connection to both speakers could be maintained! Still, the option is there.
Battery life is quoted as 10 hours, depending on volume. I’ve no reason to doubt this, but haven’t tested it.
Bluetooth pairing is a simple affair, and would be even easier with a NFC device (many Android and Windows phones). You need to hold the Bluetooth button down until you hear “Bluetooth Pairing“. With a NFC enabled device, you can then just tap it on the speaker to pair. Otherwise go to Bluetooth settings on your smartphone or tablet and select the speaker. The speaker then gives a reassuring “Connected” voice prompt. It remembers the connection from then on, and will save up to five paired devices. Additionally, two devices can be connected at the same time – the speaker will pay audio from whatever device you’re using at that time.
The volume is synced between your device and the speaker, so you don’t have to independently adjust the volume on the speaker and your phone. This a is a nice feature that works with most devices connected via Bluetooth, but not when using the auxiliary input.
I found the range very decent – easily the quoted 10m.
I wasn’t able to test the True Wireless mode, where two speakers are paired together, but will report back if I do get to try it out.
This is really why you spend £150 on a portable speaker and the Canton doesn’t disappoint. Of course this is all very subjective, but I can honestly say this is the best sound I’ve heard from a portable speaker.
What’s more, although I’m not sure about Canton’s quoted 60W output, the output is very impressive before even considering its size. It’s not as loud as the Sonos Play:1 but significantly louder than say the Braven 705. And I couldn’t hear much distortion even approaching full volume.
Streaming is via aptX, which although still a lossy format, offers good sound reproduction. Streaming from Deezer, the sound was certainly no worse when comparing Bluetooth to an auxiliary port connection. In fact, I preferred the sound via Bluetooth, and the speaker was actually a fair bit quieter when wired directly to my iPhone (note: the audio is no longer synced when connected via the auxiliary port, so you need to adjust the volume on your mobile device and the speaker).
I compared the sound quality to a Braven 705 (£90 RRP) Bluetooth speaker and a Sonos Play:1 (£169 RRP) mains powered speaker. The Braven is a very decent speaker at its price point, but it’s not is the same league as the Canton. The Canton was actually closer to the Sonos speaker (which has to a be a benchmark when you get to this price point). At 50% volume on both speakers, you wouldn’t immediately notice the difference between the two speakers, unless you listen very carefully. That’s not bad going, considering the Musicbox speaker is battery operated and the size of my hand. I’d still choose the Sonos every time though if I had mains power.
- Beautiful sound from such a small speaker
- Little if any distortion even at full volume, which is surprisingly loud
- Very good build quality and finish
- Volume is synced between speaker and mobile device (not with aux-in connection and some smartphones)
- aptX compression not really noticeable – to me at least
- Possible to pair speakers (not tested)
- Range very acceptable
- No ubiquitous micro USB port for charging. But the speaker does come with it’s own wall charger
- Not possible to control tracks using the speaker itself
- Limited features compared to other Bluetooth speakers (not necessarily a negative!)
- Confusing Canton service port (micro USB)
If you have around £150 to spend on a wireless speaker, I would definitely consider the Canton. It’s the best portable speaker I’ve heard. If you don’t need the battery operation and have just £20 more, I’d go for the Sonos Play:1.
If you have found this article useful please consider clicking on the link(s) below. You pay the exact same price and it’ll enable me to keep these articles coming! Please note, this speaker isn’t widely available so I’m linking to my website on this occasion. But that does not sway my review in any way.
Any questions, please ask away in the comments section below.