Measuring 2.5 by 6.5 by 2.2 inches (HWD) and weighing in at 1 pound, the Mini Life Jacket 3 is a rugged, rubber-class speaker available in black, blue and black, or red and black models. The speaker's IP67 rating means it is protected from dust, snow, and can be submerged in water up to 1 meter without issue. It also floats, which makes it ideal for poolside scenarios. Behind the black speaker grille, two 1.5-inch neodymium drivers work with a back-firing passive bass radiator to deliver the audio.
Altec Lansing Mini Life Jacket 3 inlineThe top panel houses a power button and plus/minus volume controls (which work in conjunction with your mobile device's master volume levels). The volume buttons also double as track navigation controls if held in, which can occasionally result in an unintentionally skipped track. The power button doubles for play/pause (you hold it to power down, tap it to play), as well as call management for the built-in speakerphone.
On the back panel, a snap-shut compartment houses a micro USB port for charging (a micro USB cable is included), a 3.5mm aux input for wired listening (a short audio cable is also included), and a USB port for charging external mobile devices using the speaker's battery. Altec Lansing also includes a wall socket power adapter (the USB cable plugs into it). Battery life is estimated to be up to 16 hours, but your results will vary with your volume levels and your mix of wired and wireless usage.
A threaded hole for mounting the speaker can be found on the bottom panel. The Mini Life Jacket 3 ships with a mounting kit—the attached mount is shown in the photo above.
Altec Lansing makes no bones about the Mini Life Jacket 3 employing digital signal processing (DSP)—it's mentioned as a selling point on the company's website. That means you can expect some tamping down of powerful bass frequencies when the volume is high, something that will irk purists. On tracks with intense sub-bass content, like The Knife's "Silent Shout," the Mini Life Jacket 3 can distort at top volumes. Dialing it back a bit eliminates most of the distortion issues. The DSP can often make the volume seem like it's dipping on tracks with powerful deep bass when the levels are nearly maxed out—this is simply the dynamics of the mix being controlled so that they don't distort, which doesn't always work. Even when it does, the dipping remains, which can become annoying. It's relevant to mention performance at top volumes because in outdoor scenarios, it's completely plausible that you'd blast the volume—this is a small speaker that, at moderate volumes, might not offer a loud enough audio experience.
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Bill Callahan's "Drover," a track with far less deep bass in the mix, gives a better sense of the overall sound signature. On this track, the drums can sound thunderous on bass forward speakers, but expecting anything resembling a rumble would be counterintuitive considering the Mini Life Jacket 3's size. The drums are reduced to a tapping in the background, and the most noticeable low frequency presence is Callahan's baritone vocal performance. The vocals, guitar strumming, and percussive attacks all get snappy, bright treble presence—ideal for outdoor listening, as the higher frequencies can often get a little lost in an open, wall-free setting.
On Jay-Z and Kanye West's "No Church in the Wild," the kick drum loop's attack gets plenty of high-mid presence to keep it sharp and in the forefront of the mix, but at higher volumes, the attack also causes the DSP dips to occur. The sub-bass synth hits that punctuate the beat are more implied than delivered—you hear some of their lows, but mostly, it's the top raspy notes you notice. All three vocal performances on this track are delivered cleanly and clearly, without too much high frequency presence that can sometimes cause an overload of sibilance. Basically, you have a mids- and highs-focused sound signature, with some decent low-mid presence, but nothing in the deep lows that will satisfy serious bass fiends.
The Mini Life Jacket 3's DSP is not subtle on deep bass tracks, dipping and diving in a way that will irk more listeners than just audiophiles. The positives of this speaker are undeniable, but exist mostly in its rugged, waterproof design, and less so in its average audio performance. If you want a better-sounding Bluetooth speaker in this price range