Mondo+ Review: Where Internet Radio Meets Chromecast

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By John Anon August 07, 2017, 11:01am
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If you are looking for a true all-in-one audio streaming unit, the Mondo+ is it

A lot has changed in the last few years in the music world. One of the most important developments of course, was the ability to stream audio tracks either from the internet or from a nearby device. This has led to various new products, services, and apps, as well as resulting in more traditional products evolving to take advantage of these new advancements. In fact, that is exactly what the Mondo+ is all about. As at its core, this is just a radio and not much more. Although, it is one that comes with many, if not all, of the trappings you would expect from a modern music player. Essentially, bridging the gap between the old and the new. For reference, the Mondo+ is now available to buy and priced at $199.99 in the US.

In the box

You do get everything you need in the box to be up and running with the Mondo+ in no time. Besides the actual Mondo+ unit, in the box you will also find the mains power lead, a dual RCA lead, a remote control, batteries for the remote control, and of course, the user manual.

Specs

The Mondo+ is essentially a Bluetooth speaker and one which makes use of Bluetooth 4.1 to establish a connection. Although, it is also a speaker that is Wi-Fi-enabled, and one which also includes Google Cast technology. In addition, the Mondo+ comes equipped with a 3.5-inch display. As for the actual speaker specs, the Mondo+ comes loaded with a 3-inch woofer, along with a 1-inch tweeter. Unfortunately, full details on the frequency response, Sigal-to-Noise ratio, and so on, have not been provided as of yet.

Hardware & Design

The Mondo+ is actually a follow up device to the original Mondo and in most instances, the design has seen little upgrading, if any. So the Mondo+ overall looks nearly identical to the original Mondo. In fact, you would be hard-pressed to immediately tell the difference between the two models when presented side-by-side. So for those who liked the original Mondo, then this will seem as though it is a like-for-like replacement, with the exception of the feature upgrades.

For those unfamiliar with the original Mondo, the Mondo+ is largely a plastic affair. Which both results in some clear positive and negative design traits. On the positive side, the Mondo+ is extremely light, which will be great for when the unit needs to be moved. Although as this is sold as a wall-connected unit, how often you will be moving it remains to be seen and so the portability benefits might not be a selling point in their own right. It is worth noting though that Grace Digital does sell an accessory which essentially turns this into a portable (no wall connection needed) unit - but this is an optional additional purchase. Out of the box, there are no battery features or benefits to speak of. On the other hand, the plastic build quality does result in a unit which does not feel greatly durable. Instead, it would be fairly safe to assume that this is not a unit that is designed to withstand the day-to-day bangs, scrapes or drops, that other portable speakers offer. Which is another point that seems to reiterate that while the Mondo+ can be modified to be used as a portable (or outside) device - it is not the ideal.

The front of the unit is largely where all the action is. On the left hand side (when looking at the unit), the Mondo+ houses its main speaker and tweeter, underneath a speaker cloth. In contrast, the right hand side is where you will find the 3.5-inch color display, along with most of the controls, such as the power button, the menu selector (dial knob), back button and general menu and navigation controls.

Separating the two sides, is where you will find all the radio-typical preset buttons. As this is a unit where you can preset your favorite stations and then just hit the corresponding button for quick recall. On that note, there are ten presets available, although only through five different buttons with a shift button acting as the bridge between the two sets of presets. The top of the unit is largely uneventful with the exception of a sleep button and a rotary dial volume controller.

The sides and the bottom also remain largely untouched, although on the right hand side of the unit is a 3.5 mm headphone jack port.

Speaking of ports, on the rear of the device, you will also find twin RCA (line out) ports, along with a USB port, an AUX IN port, and the mains power socket.

In addition to a cutout portion which acts as a carry handle.

Overall, when it comes to the design of the Mondo+, this is a unit which sticks so close to the form factor of the original, that is hard to really separate the two on looks alone. That is not to say that is a negative, as the design does work resulting in a very light and portable unit. Although, the plastic build and general design does raise some concerns over the Mondo+'s durability.

Sound Quality & Performance

To cut to the chase with the sound quality, the Mondo+ is not a bad sounding unit at all. The sound provided comes courtesy of a 3-inch woofer along with a 1-inch tweeter which are powered by a 12-watt amplifier. Unfortunately, the frequency range has not been disclosed by Grace Digital, although the range seems to be one which is in line with a number of products of this size. For instance, the bass end is there, although not prevalent to any notable manner. Likewise, the top end can be heard, although again not to a significantly level. Where the real downside seems to be is in the lack of mids - which makes sense due to the unit including a dedicated woofer and tweeter. So while the sound is good overall, it does lack in the middle portion somewhat. Which is another aspect that is highlighted through the unit’s built-in EQ - as it only allows you to adjust the top or bottom end and by + or - 5.

One area where the unit does perform very well is in the volume department. In spite of this being a physically small unit (with a small woofer), the top volume is surprisingly loud and will certainly fill most average-sized rooms. Of course, due to the makeup of this system, as the volume increases you do lose sound quality somewhat with the the top end suddenly becoming very overwhelming. Likewise, the bass really does start to suffer at the top volume on bass-heavy tracks. So while the volume is there, this is probably not a feature you will want to be using that often.

Another audio output downside is that this is a forward-firing system. So you really do have to be positioned in front of the speaker to make the best use of the sound output. Standing anywhere else will see decreases in the quality and breadth of the sound output and frequency range. For example, being right in front of the speaker and simply turning it 180-degrees (so it is facing in the same direction as the listener) results in a fairly noticeable decrease in volume and quality. That is not to say, that you cannot hear or enjoy the sound other than standing directly in front of the unit - it just means that this speaker does have a very clearly defined and optimal listening area.

Moving past the sound quality and the general performance of the Mondo+ is flawless. This is a unit that obviously builds on the technology from the previous unit so there is little to find fault with. The internet radio side of the unit is excellent with Grace Digital suggesting upwards of 30,000 stations can be accessed. During testing, the Mondo+ performed very well in this respect with stations sounding as clear as you would expect from a digital radio. Likewise, the navigation of the internet radio is also pretty well executed and especially considering there is no keyboard or advanced methods of input/control. The software has certainly been tweaked in small ways to ensure navigation and selection is made a little easier.

The system allows you to quickly find local stations, as well as search for specific stations by name or by genre. While those looking for stations from further afield, the Mondo+ also allows you to search by location - starting with continent and then filtering by country. Once a country has been selected, stations are grouped automatically by genre and displayed alphabetically.

Which is where one of the criticisms can be leveled at the navigation. if you are looking for a specific station via the location option, you also do need to be able to identify beforehand what genre the station is considered to be. While this might not sound like a big issue, it is still an issue if you are looking for a station and not a specific genre-station. Of course, while you can use the search by name feature to find specific stations, due to the sheer number of stations available and the nature of radio stations typically using fairly common names (Heart, Star, Kiss, etc), a fair number of results come back for most searches.

These are fairly minor criticisms though and generally speaking the interface and navigation is fairly well put-together. In addition to the quality of the received signal being excellent. Of course, most of these features are the same as those offered on the original model, which brings us to the one clear and distinct feature that the Mondo+ offers that its predecessor does not, Cast-connectivity.

This is a unit that comes with Google Cast (aka Chromecast built-in) included, so in addition to the wide variety of internet radio stations available, you can also cast on-demand content from any Cast-enabled device, including your smartphone. The other benefit to Cast, is that you do not need to connect your smartphone to the Mondo+ via Bluetooth (although you can if you want), as you can just fire up a Cast-enabled app and then send the signal over to the Mondo+. In reality, Cast is a fairly consistent feature across devices now and so there is not a great deal to comment on this in terms of the Mondo+ specifically. The fact that it has the feature included is what matters, as it works perfectly and significantly opens up the unit to a more varied and personalized listening experience. In short, the Mondo+ will give you access to just about every radio station you can think of, as well as access to all of your favorite streaming Android apps.

Of course, for extra added-value, the Mondo+ is also able to connect to a number of dedicated music services, such as SiriusXM, iHeartRadio, NPR, BBC, and more. Which is also in addition to the unit able to act as a media player in its own right, thanks to its ability to play music files directly from a connected USB port, or through devices connected directly to the unit’s analog ports.

Connectivity

Speaking of which, the connectivity is certainly the main selling point with the Mondo+. As this is a device that comes with just about all the connectivity routes you could think of. In the most common instance, the Mondo+ is equipped with Bluetooth v4.1 which allows direct connection to a Bluetooth-enabled smartphone or device. In this instance, the unit works as a normal Bluetooth speaker does. In addition, this is a Wi-Fi enable device which is how the unit is able to connect to the internet radio stations in the first place, while also being the technology underlying the Google Cast support. On the topic of Google Cast, due to this being Wi-Fi and Cast-enabled, there is nothing stopping the user from connecting the Mondo+ to other similar Cast-enabled speakers and creating a multi-room system throughout the home.

As already mentioned, adding to its connectivity options, the Mondo+ is also equipped with a USB port which in turn, offers two clear additional features. The first is that local files on a USB stick can be connected and played. While the second is that the USB port is able to act as a power bank and charge connected devices. On a last connectivity note, the Mondo+ is also able to make direct cable connections with devices via the 3.5 mm jack port and the twin RCA ports, both of which can be found on the rear of the device.

Another aspect worth discussing is that the Mondo+ does also come with a remote control. Like the main unit, the control is not a massively advanced piece of hardware. Once again, it is plastic-based and generally feels quite light and limited. However, it is a very nicely-sized remote control (and especially compared to the very small remote controls which often come with high-end Bluetooth speakers and devices). So this is one that you are less likely to lose or misplace.

However, while the remote control can do everything you can manually from the unit, the response of the remote control is not quite as good as it could be. So while it can do everything, it does so a little slower. Which means the fastest way to navigate the system is to simply interact with the system’s main controls. Although, Grace Digital does have an Mondo+-compatible app that is available from the Google Play Store, the Grace Controller app.

In general, the app provides access to just about everything you need, including accessing what is essentially the same menu found on the Mondo's interface and navigating the menu in much the same way. As a result, the app is probably the easiest way to interact with the unit. As not only can the app link to your Cast-enabled apps like Google Play Music (so that these apps can be launched from within the Grace Controller app), but the actual functionality proves to be much easier as well. A prime example of this is when searching radio stations by name - as searching through the Mondo+'s on-board interface can prove to be a long process due to the nature of the controls. The app in contrast, allows you to quickly type in the name and search. Generally speaking, while the app works pretty well, it does at times have some teething issues. One such issue is that it does not always bring up an as substantial list as what is found when searching directly on the main unit. However, for a quick fix solution to controlling the Mondo+ (and without having to go over to the unit all the time), the app works pretty well.

The only real downside with the Mondo+’s connectivity is that this is not a unit that can be used away from a wall socket out of the box. As noted already, Grace Digital does sell a battery pack for $39.99 which will allow the Mondo+ to become a portable option - with the battery lasting up to 12 hours before needing to be recharged. While it is a shame this is not included in the asking price for the Mondo+, it seems to be the same battery pack as that used with the original Mondo. So owners of the previous version will not need to buy another pack if they decide to upgrade to this latest model. It is also worth keeping in mind that as this unit is primarily designed to be used over Wi-Fi (radio and Cast), then when used away from a Wi-Fi signal, it will effectively resort to being a standard Bluetooth speaker.

Wrap Up

In many ways, the Mondo+ is not a product for everyone. As what it offers, is already available via other products. However, for those who are looking for one centralized unit that does not necessarily rely on any additional devices, the Mondo+ is worth considering. After all, in addition to being just a radio, it is also a Bluetooth speaker, a Cast-receiver, and even a power bank. A combination which although will not appeal to everyone, does make this a unit that has at least one feature that will appeal to everyone. So in reality, the price is likely to be the big determining factor here. As $199.99 is a lot to pay for a Bluetooth speaker (even one which does come with all the features this one does) and you will certainly find much better quality Bluetooth speakers for half the cost of this one. But that is only if you view the Mondo+ as just a Bluetooth speaker, or as just a radio. As the sum of the Mondo+ is much greater than any of its single features.

Where to buy the Mondo+?

The Mondo+ is currently available to buy from a number of places online including from Grace Digital directly and Amazon, and is currently priced at $199.99. However, Amazon currently has the Mondo+ available for $174.99. It is also worth noting that the Mondo+ is available in a variety of different colors, including black, grey, red, and white.

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August 07, 2017, 11:01am
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