Review: Harman Kardon Esquire Mini Bluetooth Speaker

They say you can’t judge a book by its cover. True that. However, you usually can assume quite a bit by that cover. When I first saw the Harman Kardon Esquire Mini portable Bluetooth speaker ($150), I knew it was something special. Very few speakers can compete with the looks of this one; and on an executive’s desk, looks do matter.

Just slightly larger than the new iPhone 6, and substantially smaller than the iPhone 6 Plus (5.3” x 3” x 15/16”), the Esquire Mini is a sleek, elegant speaker system. It’s about half the size of the original Esquire. Encased in a durable ceramic-coated grille on one side, real leather on the back, and an elegant aluminum strip surrounding the sides, it oozes style. My review sample was black, but it also comes in white, brown, and an absolutely gorgeous champagne metallic finish. In the box is a matching carrying lanyard and a tangle-free flat USB charging cable. There is a small metal kickstand that snaps open when you want to use the system upright, complete with a tiny rubber foot to keep the unit from vibrating or slipping.

The Esquire Mini isn’t just a playback device. With dual microphones, echo and noise cancellation, it makes business phone calls simple and easy. The volume control, located on teh top, can easily be hit to mute either music playback or the microphone during a phone conversation; a red indicator lights up when muted so you can safely makes jokes about your boss without fear of him hearing you. Connecting via Bluetooth is simple enough—power it up and it’s instantly ready to pair. There is also a 3.5mm input for non-Bluetooth connectivity.

The Mini boasts an 8-hour playtime via the built-in lithium-ion battery, but it can also be used to charge your playback devices via its own USB output jack. I almost wish that carrying lanyard could be used to strap my phone to the Esquire Mini for a neat little compact charging system. Alas, a rubber band will keep them together in my backpack.

Inside, the Esquire Mini has two flat speakers and a bass port. The speakers are 27mm (1.1 inch) full-range drivers with a total of 8 watts. Frequency response is rated at 180-20kHz. Given the thin profile of the Mini, it’s no surprise that the bass response is a bit lacking.

I paired it to my iPod Nano and checked out a new release from HD Tracks (converted to 44.1 WAV files.) Eric Clapton’s The Breeze features a variety of guest artists, and one of my favorite tracks from the album has John Mayer singing “Magnolia.” This clear, clean acoustic track really showcases the performance quality of the Esquire Mini. Mayer’s voice has a wonderful clarity and the detail between him and Clapton’s backing vocals is quite pleasant. As mentioned, there is little bass response but what low-end there is remains clean. I would rather have no bass than bad bass. The acoustic guitars have an accurate, natural sound. An album such as this shines on the Mini.

The Esquire Mini stands out in a sea of portable speaker systems, if you can overlook the lack of deep bass. There is an increasing number that offer charging capabilities, but few do it so stylishly, or in such a compact form. This system looks spectacular, and is easily going to become a go-to travel companion. Note to Harman Kardon: release a ruggedized version of this for the cycling community—the size is perfect for a jersey pocket. For now, it’s also the perfect size for a jacket pocket, purse or briefcase. The Esquire Mini almost makes me wish I had a 9-5 desk job. Almost.