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Review

The Harman/Kardon Esquire Mini: mini footprint, maxi appeal
 
Audio enthusiasts worth their salt know and respect the Harman/Kardon brand – it’s got a pedigree that many other brands can only dream of attaining.
 
While it’s not perfect, the Esquire Mini Bluetooth speaker is a product that’s well worthy of bearing the Harman/Kardon logo. It’s an eminently portable and versatile speaker set that also happens to sound great and sips power – and it’s classy and stylish, too.
 
We’ve put a test unit through its paces, and here we tell you how it did.
 
Styling, features and initial impressions
The Esquire Mini doesn’t come with very much in the way of accessories. Slide open the drawer-style box (by tugging on either of two fabric tabs, a nice touch) to reveal the unit resting on a bed of black foam. Beneath it is stored a flat charging cable, a leather lanyard or handstrap, and the speaker’s manuals and documentation.
 

Pick up the device and take a look at it from different angles. We’ll go so far as to say that this speaker set is a relative design tour de force, especially when compared to most of the competition. No ifs, ands or buts – this speaker set is head and shoulders above most of its peers thanks to restrained design that only continues to impress the more it’s stared at.
 
Our black test unit’s speakers were covered by a nicely designed front speaker grille that protects the device’s innards while not obstructing the sound. The device’s edges are gently chamfered where the grille’s edges meet the device’s brushed-aluminum side – a nice, classy touch. The back is covered with a matte leather-like plastic, and front and center is a shiny chrome “kickstand” that coincidentally looks like the forward-slash in the Harman/Kardon name. Altogether very nice and distinctive.
 
This is a small speaker set – a bit shorter than 6 inches long and 3 inches tall – and it’s not a heavy one either, weighing in at around half a pound. It can fit nicely into a jacket or suit pocket, and maybe a left or right front pant pocket if there’s nothing else inside.
 

Now for a quick run-through of the Esquire Mini’s feature set. It boasts dual 4-watt speakers; a range of features that enable it to take calls wirelessly when connected to a smartphone via Bluetooth (dual microphones and built-in echo and noise cancellation technology); and a plethora of ports (full-sized USB, micro USB, 3.5mm auxiliary). A pleasant surprise is the device’s ability to function as a external battery pack – it can charge other devices that are plugged into, say, its full-sized USB port. How’s that for versatility?
 
Button-wise, users get four, all right atop the device itself: a power switch, the Bluetooth key, a button to switch the unit to speakerphone mode, and a nicely-executed rocker-style volume-adjustment key.
 
User experience
So the Esquire Mini is a major looker and boasts quite a few cool features. But how is it to use?
 
Sound quality. The Esquire Mini truly excels as a speakerphone. The sound is appreciably crisp and clear – a bit more than when using a smartphone on handsfree mode – and almost true-to-life. The people with whom we spoke could hear us perfectly well even in noisy situations, both ours and theirs. We conducted group chats and one-on-one conversations with equal ease and aplomb.
 
When used as a music player, the Esquire Mini shines too. First, though, we have to mention that it’s a small unit and as such the sound it pumps out can fall short of what louder speakers can provide. This is most evident when listening to music with moderate to heavy bass – this unit just can’t manage to pump out very much bass.
 
That being said, this speaker set doesn’t sound tinny, not at all – the sound is clear, compelling and almost distortion-free, even when the volume is pumped up. It’s actually more than a match for quite a few speakers that cost more and/or which are larger in diameter. We were pleasantly surprised. An impressive performance if you don’t care too much for bass.
 

We also liked that with the kickstand extended, the Esquire Mini is tilted at what seems to be a great angle for listening to music while a listener is seated and has the speaker on a table in front. Of course a multi-position kickstand would have been even better, but this default setting appears to have been chosen with care.
 
Switchgear and indicators. The buttons are excellent – the buttons aren’t hard to push and they’ve got excellent tactility. The keys also feature dual functionality; pushing volume keys at once will mute the sound, for instance, and hitting the phone button when listening to music willl pause the music (and resume it if repeated).
 

Regarding indicators, there’s an LED up front that’s hidden behind the grille. It glows white when the unit is activated, and blue when there’s an active Bluetooth connection. There are also five little dot-shaped LEDs off to the side that function as charge and battery-level indicators.
 

Battery life. Harman/Karmon claims that the Esquire Mini will last eight hours on a single charge. We found that count to be more or less accurate – more if the volume is set to low (we eked out about 10 hours of music and calls that way), and less if the music source is plugged into the speaker set, because the unit will charge said music source and will draw down the battery more than usual.
 
All in all, for how most people will use this unit, the battery is more than adequate, especially since a more powerful battery would have made it heavier and thus less portable.
 
Final words
The long and the short of this review: the Harman/Kardon Esquire Mini is one of the best-designed portable Bluetooth speakers on the market today. It’s a pleasure to pick up and play with.
 
And when it’s put through its paces, the Esquire Mini still doesn’t really disappoint – it sounds terrific for such a small and portable device. True, it might be a bit light on the bass, but we still do think this is a speaker set that you should consider if you want or need something you can take around and don’t want to compromise too much on sound quality.