With a market flooded with small Bluetooth speakers and Logitech’s UE series considered the golden standard, it pretty hard to stand out. One thing the Logitech UE series has against it is price, leaving some room for competitors. One such competitor is Nokia/Microsoft, whom are no strangers when it comes to making Bluetooth speakers, known for their simple futuristic design and forward-looking features.
Frequency response: 30 – 20 000 Hz
Maximum output: 95 dB at 0.5 m
AV connectors: 3.5mm stereo input connector
Charging connectors: Micro-USB
Bluetooth: Bluetooth 3.0 + HS
BT operating range: 10 m
Battery technology: Li-Ion
Primary battery: BL-5C
Battery capacity: 1020 mAh
Battery voltage: 3.7 V
Rechargeable battery: Yes
Maximum charging time: 180 min
Maximum music playback time: 15 h
Operating temperature: -5 – +40 C
UI features: Tones, Charging indicator, Battery level indicator
Operating keys: Power on/off key
LED indicators: Power on indicator, Battery level indicator
Height: 38 mm
Diameter: 84 mm
Weight: 180 g
One example of such a speaker is Nokia’s MD-12, an ultra-compact Bluetooth speaker with built-in mic.. And as expected from just about any Nokia/Microsoft accessories, it includes NFC for easier pairing. It seems like they’ve almost made it a habit to include NFC in just about every accessory they sell and the MD-12 is no exception. The wireless side of things is done using Bluetooth v3.0 + HS, which promises faster data throughput, using the 802.11 standard, just like many Wi-Fi enabled devices. While it is a nice feature to have, I doubt that such a small speaker (aka audio quality) would benefit from the added data bandwidth, and guess what it doesn’t. The limiting factor here is the enclosure size and driver size. As expected from such a small speaker, it uses a single driver setup in a non-ported design. As drivers get smaller, the ability to go loud and deep is diminished, but this can be alleviated by the inclusion of a reflex port. This could have greatly increased output and allow the speakers to go even lower and play louder, but keeping the speaker small may have played a role in dropping the port, and small it is. With a height of 38 mm and a diameter of 84 mm and weighing in at just 180g it’s simply tiny. It can even fit in my pocket. Despite the size they’ve still managed to cram in a healthy 1020 mAh battery inside the unit, good for about 15 hours of continuous playback. The only accessory included was a USB cable to charge the battery. While there’s s a 3.5mm audio jack, an audio cable is not included. Who uses those things, anyways? A charger isn’t included either, but considering it uses the now standard microUSB, your phone’s charger should suffice. And we’re all up for keeping the price low. The speaker comes in various colors, including Orange, Yellow, Green and White. The White looks elegant and should fit in with any décor, but where are the Black or Gray options? The MD-12 would have looked great in Black. But for now I’d say that the White version looks the best out of the bunch.
Design wise, the MD-12 is typical Nokia: clean lines, an almost organic soft feel, futuristic and above all simplicity. Considering this speaker was designed with portability in mind, Nokia made a smart design choice by protecting the driver with a mesh metal grill. Depending on the color of the speaker, the metal grille will have a matching color.
On the front there’s the single multi-purpose On/Off button, which also doubles as the pairing and answer/end calls button.
On the back we find the 3.5mm audio jack and the microUSB port. Despite its diminutive size, the speaker has some heft to it that leaves a good impression and exudes quality. Overall fit and finish is expected from Nokia top notch. One very strange detail is the inclusion of a removable rubbery protective band around the metal grill. It seems like it’s there to protect the speaker, but I doubt it really does that. Why it’s there and what it does, is still a mystery to me.
Interestingly they decided to put the pairing/connection light behind the metal grille, giving the speaker this overall futuristic look. It won’t stay lit, but slowly pulse every few seconds.
The speaker has a rubber bottom to prevent it from moving as we’ve come to expect from these ultra-portable speakers. Overall its designed can be summarized as beautiful, simple and blends in about just about any décor. Well, at least if you take the White model. The MD-12 stays true to Nokia roots providing quality materials and amazing build quality.
The sound produced by the MD-12 is surprisingly good, considering its size and the lack of a bass reflex. But that relatively good sound has one catch; the speaker has to be placed on a hard flat surface. The minute you that, the sounds digs down to the lowers tones, creating a fuller, deeper sound with a surprising amount of bass. It seems the speaker uses flat surface to enhance the sound, adding the much needed lower tones. If I had to nitpick I’d say that voices feel recessed and unconvincing, similar to other speakers in this category, but yet still good considering the size,. The amount of “bass” is surprisingly good, but just don’t expect anything dramatic. Highs are done convincingly well, dynamic and without much effort. The MD-12 is capable of filling a room with sound for a podcast or even music and is many times better what any phone is able to produce, even the HTC One M9. Pick the speaker up and the sound just takes a nose dive, falling flat on its face as all that rich, deep sound that supports voices are completely gone. As indicated earlier, the speaker seems to be designed to use flat surfaces to enhance its sound. Pick it up and the magic is gone. What you’re left is a speaker that convincingly reproduce the highs, but voices sound lifeless and bass is nonexistent. The end result is something that sounds similar to a tiny clock radio. And that’s definitely not how you’d want to describe a Bluetooth speaker.
The MD-12 performed admirably, living up to that 15 hours battery life claim. Its 10 meter or 33 foot range is about average for small Bluetooth speakers and accessories. During my testing, the connection was quite robust, passing my hall of death test. This is very long corridor in my apartment that’s known for its ability to interfere with wireless connection of sorts.
Would I buy the MD-12? Definitely. Would I buy it for the sound quality? No, there are better and more expensive Bluetooth speakers for that purpose, like the Logitech UE series I’ve mentioned earlier. But if you want an all-round ultra-compact Bluetooth speaker, the MD-12 absolutely fits the bill and is highly recommend. It even looks great. It gets a 7.6 out 10.
Simple, elegant design
Sounds good for a speaker this size
Stable Bluetooth connection
15 hour battery life
Fit and finish is top notch
Needs a flat hard surface to sound its best