Twisted Systems

    From Small Things, Big Things One Day Come

    Issue 161

    No, this is not a review of the great Springsteen-penned and Dave Edmunds-performed tune, although perhaps I will do an article on Dave Edmunds in the future as I just about love everything he ever recorded, starting with Love Sculpture and on through all his solo work including his collaboration with Nick Lowe and the absolutely brilliant Rockpile.

    This is about thinking that something small – a Bose SoundLink Mini Bluetooth portable speaker (replaced by the SoundLink Mini II Special Edition) – could perform, with some very important help, way beyond its pay grade.

     

    Bose SoundLink Mini portable Bluetooth speaker system.

    Bose SoundLink Mini portable Bluetooth speaker system.

     

    I just returned from a month-long vacation in Mexico. The trip was planned and executed by my wife and one of her close friends for the purpose of getting out of the cold, dark, gray Northeast weather pattern of the New York winter. This is something that we had talked about for years.

    “Wouldn’t it be great,” we would always tell ourselves, “if we could ‘get out of Dodge’ for the entire month of March?”

    This was our mantra.

    What was stopping us?

    Fear.

    Fear of what?

    Fear of missing out…on something.

    Fear of being away in case of some kind of family emergency.

    Fear of losing out on some job opportunities.

    Fear of being disconnected.

    But isn’t that the point of going away…to disconnect, and stop reading and listening to the news (among other things)?

    Isn’t the point to really just go to someplace warm, by a beach and do…nothing?

    Could we ever do it?

    And then the question becomes…where would we go?

    Florida and the Keys? LA? Costa Rica? Belize?

    How about Mexico?

    So much has been written about Mexico recently vis-à-vis the drug cartels and the violence. In fact, the area we were looking at (From Cancun down to Tulum) had been in the press recently as the scene of several shootings in and around well-known tourist spots.

    Would we be safe?

    When one rationally asks oneself a question like that when one lives in New York City, it is truly ironic. The news in NYC over this year, in terms of safety, has been pretty bad.

    As a lifelong Manhattan resident, having lived through all the street gangs in the ’60s and the nearly unbelievable violence of the ’70s, I have kept all this in perspective. That doesn’t change the fact that being in the wrong place at the wrong time can happen to anyone, anywhere.

    One must always be careful.

    When the final decision was made – after all the pluses and minuses of other locations were taken into account – to go to Mexico, the next stop was finding just the right Airbnb in the right area.

    My wife Sharon and her friend Andrea found a great three-story condo (at least it looked that way on paper) in the village of Akumal, located between Playa del Carmen and Tulum, about 100 feet from the beach, on a secure, guarded street.

    Cut to the chase, it was the perfect location in a great area.

    We booked it and then the Rolodex of anxiety roiled through me. Away for a month? In Mexico? Possible shootings? Possible food poisoning and undrinkable water? Car rental issues?

    Yes, my friends, all of this mishegoss (Yiddish for craziness, silliness, nonsense) flooded my brain.

    And then, after all this, I realized that I would be leaving my reference audio system for an entire month!

    My system, especially my vinyl playback, has been getting me through the last two COVID-drenched years, in semi-isolation, especially in New York City where so much was shut down. My system sounded so good that anyone who came over was blown away that music could sound so good in a home.

    What was I going to have to listen to in Mexico?

    Well, I couldn’t let this issue get in the way, and so I brought my laptop, which has all my songs and TIDAL and Qobuz apps, my five-year-old Bose SoundLink mini-speaker, and a just-acquired AudioQuest DragonFly Cobalt USB DAC/preamp/headphone amp. I also brought a Wireworld Nano-Silver Eclipse cable to connect the mini-jack output of the DragonFly into the speaker. (The Cobalt plugs into a computer via its USB jack.)

     

    AudioQuest DragonFly Cobalt.

    AudioQuest DragonFly Cobalt.

     

    The condo had an open floor plan on the first floor with a combined kitchen, dining room and living room.

    For whatever reason, the sound from the Bose speaker could ably fill the room. What was shocking, however, was how great the music sounded coming out of the speaker attached to the DragonFly. The music was full, dynamic, and had more complexity than I could have imagined.

    Even if playing non-high-res Spotify or Apple Music from a computer, the improvement using the DragonFly Cobalt is amazing, but with Qobuz and TIDAL, where hi-res options are the reason one uses them, the effect is breathtaking.

    My wife is used to great audio, but her girlfriend Andrea and several guests we had staying with us have no audio history and asked what this thing was (the DragonFly) that was connected to the computer.

    I sarcastically said, “well, what that thing does would have been the size of a computer five years ago and would have cost thousands of dollars.”

    I then removed the DragonFly and connected the speaker via Bluetooth.

    The entire soundstage collapsed and all the fidelity just disappeared.

    Everyone was stunned.

    The thing is, the AQ Cobalt is made primarily for use with headphones to ensure maximum fidelity, but when used with an external cable into a powered speaker (or other device), it works as a great portable DAC.

    The technology in the AQ DragonFly Cobalt includes an ESS Sabre ES9038Q2M DAC chip and can play files up to 24 bit/96kHz. It also has built-in MQA decoding.

    Quite simply, it makes all the music played through it sound better, much better.

    All the guests, who never would have considered upgrading what they listen to at home, ordered one.

    From small things, mama…

    Listening to the music emanating from the Bose speaker, wherever it was placed in the room, just sounded wonderful.

    I bought the Bose, I bought the AQ DragonFly Cobalt, and I bought the Wireworld cable, so this is not a paid promotion in any way. It is important to note that the connecting cables should be of a quality that can let the improvement in the sound quality from the Cobalt pass through.

    List prices:

    • Bose SoundLink Mini portable Bluetooth speaker – retail price about $200.00. The current Sound Link Mini II Special Edition sells for $189.00.
    • AudioQuest Dragonfly Cobalt – $329.95. AQ also offers the DragonFly Red at $229.95 and the DragonFly Black for $119.95.
    • Wireworld Nano-Silver Eclipse mini-jack cable – $225.00.

    The prices of the DragonFlys vary because of the quality of the D/A chips used. All do a great job, however, and you will never go back again to just using the built-in D/A converter in your computer to make music.

    As for my home reference system, as now configured, it comes in at around $130,000. But to get good-quality music from a portable music system that costs around $760 was a no-brainer. It’s a no-brainer even if your home system retails for 3,000.

    My portable setup simply makes on-the-go music portable, musical and…fun. We used it all day, everyday

    And Mexico?

    The place was great; the weather was 85 and sunny every day, the beach was wonderful, the people were friendly. We had a huge supermarket nearby and bought fresh food and veggies, and never got sick (or sunburned) once. It was a 10 out of 10, and I can’t believe I lasted an entire month away from my home, work, and audio system. And I did it happily, in part, with the help of some very small devices.

    From small things, big things one day come.

    Header image: Akumal, Mexico, courtesy of Pexels.com/Samuel Sweet.

    5 comments on “From Small Things, Big Things One Day Come”

    1. I bought the same speaker after hearing it outdoors on the tailgate of a pickup truck. Don’t know how they pull it off. It’s become our traveling companion for years now as well as out by the swimming pool. We stream from Apple devices. I haven’t tried a DragonFly but will. People make fun of Bose, but the products they make for specific applications, like this or the column speaker they make for bars and nightclubs, can be amazing.

    2. Interesting article.
      I have an iPod and a Logitech portable iPod dock speaker and am constantly amazed at the sound that comes out of them.
      For non-critical listening on vacations or on the road it’s great.
      I’ve just started listening to Digital radio via my ‘phone in the camper and that is a pleasure too, after listening to FM since selling my Mazda which had a digital radio and a 10+1 Bose system.

    3. Enjoyed your article. Used to visit Mexico a lot but not in the past 5 yrs. You got me thinking about it again – thanks. But, you paid $550 to connect a $200 Bose speaker to your laptop ?!!?

    4. Great article JJ. I am so looking forward to your article on Dave Edmunds an artist of almost forgotten value. He was like a most valuable utility man and a killer guitar player and fine singer. No wonder people like Springsteen wrote songs for him and he played sideman for George Harrison. And most off all he and Nick Lowe were truly a dynamic duo in Rockpile before their unfortunate falling out. Please contribute the article.

    5. Greetings JJ:
      Wonderful that you were able to spend a month on the beach. Curious what streaming options you had. We are Jamericans and Pandora is simply unavailable.Where we stay is so bandwidth challenged that Tidal and Qobuz are not consistently viable. Spotify is both available and reliable. Any port…
      Cheers

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