The iPad mini is a great product, but the inclusion of stereo speakers on the bottom didn't solve the problem of directing the sound forwards, towards the user. Customers still find themselves cupping the edge of the iPad mini to redirect and amplify the sound. The Sabine passive sound amplifier for iPad mini solves that problem.
The issue here is that the original design of the iPad 1,2,3 and 4 had a monophonic speaker on the bottom. In portrait mode, with the iPad sitting in your lap, the sound will be muffled. A set of earbuds is needed, especially if one wants stereo sound. In landscape mode, for example watching Netflix, some users would cup the iPad so as to bring the sound more towards them instead of directed to the side.
The subtext here is that Apple seemed to be suggesting that the monophonic speaker was a backup strategy only and that earphones were de rigeur. The problem with that is multiple user sessions in, say the classroom, or video sessions in Skype or FaceTime make headphones inappropriate. Or perhaps the working environment makes headphones a hassle, and the user just wants to hear the sound directly from the device. This approach, by the way, is promoted by Apple's tablet competitors who generally have better external speaker designs.
Classic use for the original product for iPad.
Against this technological dilemma, Tommy Reed who works as a project engineer at a major defense communications company and Aleksey Matyushev who is an aerodynamicist at a major general aviation manufacturer teamed together to solve the iPad audio issue and do it with style and elegance befitting the design of the iPad. They started Kickstarter campaign to launch the original Sabine for iPad, and it was enormously successful. (It's shown in the photo above.)
Sabine for iPad mini
The iPad mini is slightly different in that it has paired stereo speakers on each side of the lightning connector. But on the same side. And indications are that the iPad 5 will have the same configuration. Recently, Mr. Reed and Matyushev launched the iPad mini version of Sabine. Mr. Reed told me that thanks to the production experience with the original product, even if the Kickstarter product for the iPad mini version doesn't make its goal, they still plan to sell it commercially.
The Sabine for iPad mini is a piece of flat, anodized aluminum, matching the aluminum that Apple uses for the iPad's back. It's curved on the end, and attaches to the bottom of the iPad mini with a special gripping material. The gripping material attaches without an adhesive to any hard, smooth surface. If it loses its grip, one can just wash it off, let it dry, and reattach it. The curved surface redirects the sound forward.
Sabine for iPad mini (Pink version)
7decibels chose aluminum both because of its matching aesthetics with the iPad but also because, according to the team's research, aluminum is six times better at reflecting sound than plastic. Mr. Reed told me that sound lab measurements with the iPad mini, using white noise and the sound at 50 percent volume that the sound level increased by 15 to 20 dB. (For the full-size iPad: 20-25 dB.) Regrettably, both stereo speakers on the iPad mini are on the same side, an issue that only earphones can deal with, but it does allow 7 decibels to sell just one piece of metal to solve the redirection problem.
The Sabine iPad mini (passive) sound amplifier comes in black and silver to match shipping iPad minis, plus blue and pink.
Using the Product
I found the attaching surface to be good enough to hold it in place, but not so strong that it's guaranteed to stay in place with modest buffeting, say, during travel. You certainly don't want to grab the iPad mini by this piece of aluminum; the attachment mechanism isn't strong enough to support the mini's weight. My recommendation, even though there is a stowed position, to keep track of it and use it when needed.
During my initial testing with repeated attaching the separation, perhaps a dozen times, the attachment surface did lose a little grip. As the instructions indicate, I washed it off, cleaned the iPad mini just in case, but it seemed to me that the grip just wasn't as good. Mr Reed told me that the iPad should also be free of any dust or small debris, and it bears cleaning as well.
Also, I think, when cleaning the Sabine, one has to rub it vigorously with a clean finger and let it dry thoroughly. Instead of waiting for it to air dry, I used a hair dryer to both heat it and dry it, and that improved the adhesion quite a bit. However, unlike some adhesives, the stickiness doesn't improve the longer it's attached.
I placed the iPad mini next to my Kindle Fire HD n a table and tested with and without the Sabine. The observed sound amplification made the iPad mini a (new) pleasure to listen to, on par or slightly better than with the Kindle Fire HD.
One thing the instructions forgot to mention is that, as shipped, there is a very thin layer of plastic, as protection, applied to the attachment surface. That needs to be carefully peeled off before use.
Compatibility with Cases
The attachment surface will stick nicely to any hard, smooth, non-porous surface. Of course, the best surface is the clean, bare aluminum of the iPad mini. I tried it on a soft gel case with no luck, and it certainly won't stick to the soft, rubbery back of a Kindle Fire HD, for example. But it did adhere nicely to the Speck HandyShell that I previously reviewed for the iPad. Soft leather portfolio cases won't have room to attach the Sabine, but hard-surface cases that wrap around the back, like the HandyShell will. Of course, it works nicely with Apple's case because that wraps around the front face and doesn't get in the way.
My take on this product is that it fits into a middle-ground between using earphones and high-mobility, extra heavy-duty protection by leather portfolio cases. It's probably best used in a static situation of long term audio use, say, watching a movie with a child in your lap. Or perhaps in a learning environment where the iPad mini is propped up and one is watching an educational video, say exercises, that precludes the use of attached headphones. Or perhaps, as I once did, one wants to set it on the table and listen to music while paying bills. A headphone cord would be in the way, especially if one is getting up and sitting down often to retrieve various items.
A good use is to set it on a table or stand and enjoy the sound.
Image credit: Netflix: House of Cards
When not in use, one can slide the Sabine towards the iPad before attachment. The curve matches the edge of the iPad, so it's a form fit, and it can be carried there, I think, so long as the iPad is enclosed in a carry bag of some kind -- so that it doesn't fall off and get lost.
I don't think this product is for everyone. It's an add-on that affects the aesthetics of the iPad, and one must have a special interest in listening to better audio in this fashion. The adhesion is not strong enough to keep the Sabine from being accidentally knocked off, so it's a static-use kind of thing, and one must be mindful not to lose it. However, what it does, it does very well. And for those occasions when you need it, you'll enjoy what it does for the iPad's audio.
The Sabine for iPad mini is estimated to ship to the public by the end of September. The Sabine for standard iPads is available now.