REVIEW: Midland Radio SPK100 and SPK200 Speakers

Photo By: Chris Bradley

Quick Take: The new Midland Radio SPK100 and SPK200 speakers bring crisp, clear, and powerful audio to your existing radio setup. The SPK100 is a simple plug-and-play upgrade that installs in minutes and puts boosted sound where you want it and at a very attractive price. The SPK200 has a couple additional tricks up its sleeve with its advanced active noise cancellation and powered speaker.

With our rigs, there are often times when we sacrifice a little function for convenience or aesthetics. In my own case, I’ve often mounted my radios with remote faceplates (or controls on the handset) under one of the front seats to get the body of the radios out of the way. Similarly, a close friend recently did a very clean install of his Midland radio using a custom steel mounting case to place it just right of the center console. In my case, that’s left the radio’s body-mounted speaker under my seat and, in my friend’s case, has the speaker firing directly into the side of that steel mounting box. Neither solution has produced great audio quality, but it’s been a shortcoming worth living with. Add some road noise, a window down, or the radio going, and you have a few more “what?”, “huh?” and “repeat that…” transmissions than our fellow travelers probably appreciate.

The Midland Radio SPK100| All photos by Chris Bradley

When Midland announced their new SPK100 and SPK 200 external speakers, I jumped at the chance to see if they could solve our audio foibles while keeping the cleanliness of our installs.

We started first with the SPK100 speaker in my buddy’s Jeep JK. This iteration of the new offerings is pretty straightforward. It’s exactly as you would expect – a larger, better-quality speaker than what’s in the stock radio body, placed in a weatherproof, external enclosure. As with most things, the devil is in the details. Midland did a great job with their industrial design. The unit is robust without being heavy, the design detailing is very clean, and the aesthetic blends easily with modern vehicle interiors.

Getting the speaker up and running is stunningly simple. Without exaggeration, it took longer to open the box and get everything out of the package than it did to plug it in and have the first sounds emanating from it. Of course, it took longer once we set about the permanent cable routing behind the dash, but fundamentally, it’s dead simple – which is my kind of installation.

While no speaker designed for vehicle comms is likely to make the cover of Stereophile, I certainly appreciated the speaker quality. It was head and shoulders better than the speakers built into the GMRS body and a lot better than the handful of external radio speakers I’ve tried in the past. The sound is clear, punchy, and makes it far easier to hear a radio transmission above all the competing road and engine noise. It did exactly what it was supposed to do and did it well. If anything, I found myself turning down the volume a couple of times.

The Midland Radio SPK100

With the SPK100 up and running in the Jeep, we moved on to installing the SPK200 in my 4Runner. At first glance, the SPK200 looks nearly identical to its less expensive sibling. The two speakers share the same enclosure and seemingly have the same speaker inside. Clues to the differences emerge as one notices the large aluminum cooling fins on the back of the unit and the active noise cancellation button on the top – both of which were absent on the SPK100.

Where the SPK100 requires just a single 1/8″ audio jack to be plugged into the back of the radio, the SPK200 is an entirely different beast. Installation was easily twice as difficult, requiring both the audio jack to be plugged into the radio AND a whole separate cord to be plugged into a cigarette lighter to provide power. Thankfully, detailed instructions were provided, and I was able to get some help from a few friends.

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Joking aside, the manual is excellent, and it is needed when forgoing the cigarette lighter and wiring for permanent power. While not difficult, it entails splicing into the radio’s power cable and possibly adding two inline fuses, depending on the wattage of the radio you are using. Now, if you’ll humor me, a brief rant: I’ve had the displeasure of trying to install a number of high-wattage accessories over the years using incomplete and ambiguous instructions with unclear graphics or photos. Invariably, I’m left frustrated and wondering if my rig will turn into an inferno or, worse, if the stereo will stop working in the middle of a long drive. The SPK200 installation instructions should be required reading for the troglodytes all too frequently hired to write installation instructions. Midland’s instructions are simple but detailed, clearly written, in logical order, with complete and grammatically correct sentences. The diagrams are large, easy to read, and clearly labeled. It’s almost enough to bring a tear to your eye. If you haven’t had the displeasure of installing an electrical something in your rig from crummy instructions, this all probably sounds a bit over the top, but if you know, you know. /end rant

The Midland Radio SPK100

Active Noise Cancelation

The true differentiator between the SPK100 and the SPK200 is the latter’s built-in active noise canceling – the same technology built into most mid and high-range headphones and earbuds these days. A DSP built into the speaker analyzes the incoming signal, determines what is extraneous noise, and filters it out. If you have spent much time on Midland’s website, you know that their offerings are targeted to markets beyond just overlanding and offroad. You’ll see industrial, agricultural, and construction applications, as well as the side-by-side world. These are all high-noise applications – exactly what the ANC was intended for. As I was reading up on the speakers, I noticed that there were a number of tractor owners who had received advance review copies and were absolutely raving over how good the ANC was at filtering out tractor noise. If you’ve ever spent any appreciable time around a tractor engine, you’ll know that there are few things as aurally obnoxious and difficult to carry a conversation around.

With this in mind, I had hoped to torture test the speaker’s ANC with some agricultural equipment, but sadly, Jeremy Clarkson isn’t returning my calls anymore, so I was left with diddly squat on that front. From there, I dragged out my trusty old CB radio, long since abandoned for GMRS. While the CB bands were quiet as a cemetery since no one was using them, the radio does have the WX band, which still gets NOAA weather broadcasts. Lucky for me, it’s a terrible signal where I live, with a horrific signal-to-noise ratio.

The Midland Radio SPK200

With the ANC turned off, the broadcast was nigh unlistenable. Someone may as well have been crinkling aluminum foil into the handset. Turning on the ANC to its lowest setting rewarded me with about ten seconds of near silence that had me wondering if the speaker had stopped working, only to have the signal return with a punchy voice announcing the barometric pressure. As it turned out, those moments of silence were the ANC chip analyzing the signal using whatever dark arts some silicon wizard parted with his soul over in order to nearly completely transform the NOAA signal. The active noise cancellation identified what was the digital weatherman’s voice, was able to boost that portion, and then filtered out most of the radio fuzz. Like a kid with a new toy, I ended up turning the ANC on and off for about a half hour, just listening to that little bit of modern magic kick in – it’s a pretty cool bit of tech.

The unit offers three different levels of ANC intensity, but I didn’t notice a ton of difference between the settings. In my testing, all three levels worked well. I ultimately set it to one – the lowest setting – and have left it there ever since. While few of us here drive a tractor or spend the day listening to the NOAA station from too far away, most of us have been the recipient of hard-to-understand radio transmissions from our traveling companions. Whether the person talking is driving a particularly noisy diesel, insisted on driving with the windows down at eighty miles per hour, or was simply transmitting a noisy signal, the SPK200 is the antidote to these kinds of issues. I’ve come to appreciate having the ANC as an option on the trail when I need it.

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Takeaways

If you are looking to add some oomph to your in-vehicle radio sound, the two new Midland speakers are great options. They tick all the boxes for quality construction, durability, and performance. If all you need is a little extra volume, the SPK100 will do the trick. If you occasionally find a radio transmission unclear, pony up for the SPK200 and its active noise cancellation. You’ll appreciate the new tech as much as I did.

The Midland Radio SPK200

What to know:

SKP100 External Speaker
  • Dimensions (H x W x D): 5 1/8 in x 5 1/16 in x 4 in (not including mounting bracket)
  • Power: 20 watts
  • Connection: 3.5mm audio
  • Resistance: 8 ohm
  • Water Resistance Rating: IP67
  • Warranty: 1 year
  • MSRP: $69.99
SKP200 External Speaker
  • Dimensions (H x W x D): 5 1/8 in x 5 1/16 in x 4 in (not including mounting bracket)
  • Active Noise Cancellation
  • Power: 20 watts
  • Connection: 3.5mm audio
  • Resistance: 8 ohm
  • Water Resistance Rating: IP67
  • Warranty: 1 year
  • MSRP: $129.99

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