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January 12, 2014

Opening Pandora's Box: SonicGear Pandora Wireless Bluetooth Media Player Series

I am expecting to have speaker reviews soon but never have I expected the first ones to be Bluetooth speakers. Nevertheless, thanks to Leapfrog Global for providing the SonicGear Pandora series where we'll unbox and take a spin on the Pandora Micro, Pandora Mini and Pandora 3. If you have never heard of the brand SonicGear before, head on over to their website to check them out.

We'll have a combo unboxing and review this time around so I do apologize if this article is a bit longer than usual. 


Pandora Micro

Starting off we have a green version of the Pandora Micro, the smallest of the three that looks quite 'cute' that would appeal to the ladies. It also comes in grey, black, blue and pink as well. The Pandora Micro comes in a small package with blister packed plastic shell around the product. The front described the Pandora Micro as a wireless rechargeable speaker with a simple list of some of the features available to the unit and appropriate logos and branding.


The back listed the specification of the Pandora Micro in a number of languages and also a 1 year warranty badge. The blister pack continues here as well which allows users to fully inspect the unit for any defects before heading to the checkout counter. You may find the full specification on the micro-site.


Opening the package, you'll find the Pandora Micro unit, a USB to micro-USB cable, a micro-USB to 3.5mm audio cable and a user manual.


The Pandora Micro is rather small, about the size of a can of soft-drink. Construction is solid and it is rubberised all over which feels pleasant to touch. Though being an ultra-portable, one might have trouble keeping the surface pristine, especially in our Malaysian climate.

The front grille hides the two 40mm driver speakers and the lower middle is the Pandora Micro badge that glows blue when switched on. The unit also chimes when it's switched on and plays a flute tune when connected to a Bluetooth device.


At the back, we find the 'purely aesthetic' speaker grille; this is also where a Micro-SD card slot which enables you to play songs loaded into a Micro-SD card instead of a Bluetooth playback. There is also a micro USB port that served as a charge port for the Pandora Micro or you could plug in a media device for music playback via the provided micro-USB to 3.5mm audio cable.

The power switch have two levels as pushing it to the middle will enable Bluetooth connectivity and pushing it all the way to the left will enable playback from the Micro-SD card or Micro USB connectivity. There is also a small LED indicator which lights up for a brief moment switching on the unit, other than that, there is no indication what other purpose it served.


The top is the touch-sensitive playback and Bluetooth buttons and a built-in microphone for answering calls (if you connected a mobile phone).


The Pandora micro is supported by four small rubber feet that does it's job very well indeed. You;ll also find some branding and product information here.


Pandora Mini

Similar to the micro version, the Pandora Mini is packed in a blister packed plastic shell which is only slightly larger in size. Available in black, grey, pink, green and blue, the Pandora Mini would also appeal to most looking for a portable wireless speaker. Spec-wise, the Pandora Mini is much the same with the smaller Pandora Micro but with an hour longer playback and it will also function as a powerbank, the full specification can be found at the micro-site.


Note the similarities in the packaging with the Pandora Micro.


The contents are slightly different with the Pandora Mini packing a 3.5mm audio extension cable instead of a micro-USB to 3.5mm audio. Other than that, it's pretty much the same package as with the Pandora Micro.


The Pandora Mini is also wrapped in rubber except for the front mesh grille. The slit opening housed the woofer unit and extends all the way through the unit, though you would still find two 40mm drivers as the main sound engine.


Power switch, Micro-USB port, an indicator LED, Auxiliary-in, 'Check' button and a USB port is placed at the back of the Pandora Mini.


The unit will play a 'Ding' note when turned on and will an LED hidden behind the front grille will flash in blue. When paired with a Bluetooth device, the blue LED will stay illuminated. This changes to white when you plug in via the Auxiliary port. The micro USB port is for charging the unit while the full sized USB port is where one could charge your device via the Pandora Mini's 1800mAH battery pack. The indicator LED lights up white when the unit is turned on and glows blue when the 'Check' button is pressed, though I have no idea what those indicate as it wasn't written anywhere.



At the top is where the playback controls are, however, instead of touch sensitive sensors, you get actual buttons which clicks loudly when pressed, not the most pleasant thing to do on this unit.


You'll find some product information at the bottom of the Pandora Mini etched to the rubber surface instead of printed text like the Pandora Micro.


Pandora 3

The Pandora 3 is the largest unit here. Packaging is somewhat traditional, a white rectangular box with a picture of the product and some description of the unit. Note that SonicGear highlighted the Blurtooth chipset from CSR, which claims to be the world's most popular choice and that it has the lowest power consumption and best RF performance.


Another picture and description of the product behind the box. Nice to note that it has dual bass reflector drivers, will see how it sounds like in a while. You can see all the awards of SonicGear got lined up at the bottom.


Apparently, this unit is a limited edition pack that has the i-Rez included. It's practically an angled stand for your mobile phone or Bluetooth device as depicted at the side of the box.


The accessories that comes in the box includes a power brick, the i-Rez, a 3.5mm extension audio cable and a user manual.


The Pandora 3 unit itself reminds me of a small radio that's missing a tape deck / CD tray. Construction is mostly plastic except for the front grille that housed the two 2" sound drivers and a 3" woofer. You can look at the full specification at the micro-site.


The back of the unit you have the power switch, DC-in, Auxiliary in and two dials to adjust the bass and volume. The grille at the back would be one of the two bass drivers.


The media controls at the top is a simple affair, you have the play button, two LED indicators (Power and Bluetooth) as well as two buttons to switch to the song before or skip to the next one. The built-in microphone is also at the top, right at the lower edge in the middle.





At the bottom of the unit, we can see a down-firing 3" woofer speaker along with some product information and QR codes on both sides. The four rubber feet is rather small but it gets the job done.


Testing

Pairing via Bluetooth is an easy experience thanks to the clear-cut user manuals of all three units. Just a small hiccup with the Pandora Micro where I need to rescan sometimes to pair it to my phone. You'll be glad to know that the Pandora Micro and Mini are charged out of the package, convenient to say the least and their small size makes them easy to pocket and you'll be sharing your music in no time at all. Aside from that, the Pandora Mini would be able to charge your mobile device via it's 1800mAH battery pack. 


Unlike the other two, the Pandora 3 needs to be plugged into a wall socket for power as it does not have it's own power source making the Pandora 3 more to a home entertainment system instead. Though I do say that if the Pandora 3 were to have a built-in power pack, it'll be damn heavy, hence defeating the purpose of mobile sound system as well so the wall socket approach is a better one.

Operating the units was simple enough, the only thing to note is that the play/pause button on the Pandora Micro and Mini is shared with the Bluetooth button in the middle while the skip track(s) and volume control are quite intuitive.

I have just gotta say that the Pandora Micro's touch-sensor for the controls are applaud-able, it is also somewhat troublesome, particularly with the volume controls as I couldn't know if I have pressed the button or not. Track skipping and pausing is okay though as the Pandora Micro chimes when those are pressed. No such problems with the Pandora Mini or Pandora 3 as these incorporated physical buttons that you could press, though they are a little loud when actuated.

There is a notable difference in sound quality between the three units, and with obvious reasons, the Pandora 3 is the best sounding followed by the Pandora Mini and finally the Pandora Micro. Not at all surprising considering that the Micro doesn't have a dedicated bass driver and the Mini shares the same 40mm sound driver albeit the additional bass driver. 

But it's not that the Pandora Micro and Mini are any slouch as the sound quality is still far above those of a modern day smartphone or laptop, can go surprisingly loud on full volume and has a playback rating of 5 hours and 6 hours respectively. This makes them very versatile on the go for media presentations, movie sharing or who knows?, maybe a short flash-mob event.

Conclusion

The SonicGear Pandora Wireless Bluetooth Media Player Series are essentially instant speakers upgrades for the myriads of devices we use everyday. You'd probably be surprised to find out that the Pandora 3 is the cheapest of the three at RM149 SRP with the Pandora Micro and Mini at RM179 SRP and RM279 SRP respectively.

For its ultra-mobile size, the Pandora Micro earned the Tech Critter Bronze award.

For it's versatility and performance, the Pandora Mini earned the Tech Critter Silver and Recommended awards.

For it's sound performance, the Pandora 3 earned the Tech Critter Silver award.




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