The portable speaker market is growing, you’ve never had more choice if you are in the market for either a portable Bluetooth speaker or just a good speaker for around the home. However, with choice can come confusion, how do you know if you are getting a good speaker or a tinny box with no battery life?
Let’s start with an admission that individual impressions of audio quality are an immensely personal and very subjective thing, that said there are “bad” speakers and there are “good” speakers. Today we are taking a look at the Sony SRS- XB3 portable Bluetooth speaker. The short story, it’s a good speaker, read on to find out why.
Sony SRS – XB3 – Hardware
The SRS- XB3 is a well made, moderately sized (about 2/3rds the size of a house brick, but only a fraction of the weight) portable Bluetooth speaker. It features an Extra Bass function, which should just be the only mode in my opinion, NFC pairing, splash resistance, hands-free calling and a stereo mode that allows you to pair two SRS – XBS’s as left and right channels. Other specs include:
|Dimentions||211mm x 80mm x 83mm|
|Speakers||2 x 48 MM|
|Input||3.5 mm Stereo mini jack, Bluetooth|
|Bluetooth Specs||v3.0, A2DP, AVRCP, HFP, HSP|
|NFC||Yes – tap to pair|
|Battery||up to 24 hours playback|
|Colours||Red, Orange, Green, Blue, Light Brown, Black|
At $249AUD RRP, these are definitely a competitively priced set of speakers considering the little differences they bring along with them compared to their competition.
From a design perspective the Sony SRS – XB3 features a 21 x 8 cm rounded rectangular front grill housing the two 48mm drivers, all of the sides of the speaker are slightly tapered and features a soft touch rubberised finish that allows you to place the speaker on any edge on almost any surface without fear of it falling off.
On the top you have the power, extra bass, volume up and down, Bluetooth pairing, hands-free calling and second speaker pairing buttons along with the NFC touch to pair tag. Around the back behind a water-resistant cap (which can be a bit tricky to get off) you’ll find the 3.5 mm line in, a 5V USB-A port for powering an accessory (eg a ChromeCast Audio), and the 15V DC input.
Sony sent me a green model, and while the colour might be divisive for some it’s close enough to Android green for me to have instantly fallen in love with the colour. Had I chosen I would have gone black, I’m so glad I got to try the green. With, six colours to choose from you should be able to find on that fits your tastes.
Sony SRS-XB3 – Audio
For such a small speaker the audio quality and volume were surprisingly good. With the Extra Bass mode on the speaker was louder than you would expect from a small speaker, although it did start to distort at the higher settings.
With Extra Bass off the speaker was tinny and soft, and to be honest the only reason to include this feature is to make people think the bass setting was so much better. I can think of no situation where I would turn off Extra Bass. Luckily it is on by default whenever you power on the device.
I used the speaker for podcasts, playing music, as a tablet speaker and for making hands-free phones calls. It handled each of these tasks exactly as I would want it to. Music I’ve listened to my whole life sound authentic and just as I am used to hearing it from my larger more expensive systems.
I took the speaker to the local park for a kids party and even over the noise of the kids and the parents the SRS – XB3 was able to produce clear and sufficiently loud music for everyone to enjoy a game of musical statues or two.
I’ve admitted before I am not a diehard audiophile, I won’t pretend to discuss dynamic range compression in the Bluetooth protocol, or any other overly technical mechanics of audio reproduction. What I will say is I sought out the Sony SRS – XB3 whenever I was able to play audio out loud and used it in preference to other similar devices I already had.
Sony SRS-XB3 – Use and control
One of the great things about most of Sony’s devices is they include an NFC pairing tag. If you have an NFC-enabled device you simply tap your phone on the tag and all of the fiddly pairing is taken care of. No menus, no pairing codes, no pressing volume up whilst pressing next track to enter pairing more. Just tap, and play.
To be honest, it is this sort of tap to pair functionality that I insist on having on both my phones and speakers/ headphones where I can, in fact, I wish more tablets included NFC for this purpose. If you haven’t experienced it walk into a JB’s or HN’s and give it a go on their demo units, it just may change your life!
Once paired however the functionality drops off a little. One of the great features of the A2DP Bluetooth streaming protocol is it allows for command and control inputs to be sent from the playback device to your phone, for functions like play, pause and skip forward and back.
The SRS-XB3 does not include buttons for these controls. It is a shame as having these buttons could well have made this a perfect small speaker. I did find one workaround however, if you press the phone button it triggers Ok Google, and you can use voice control for some functions. A workable but imperfect solution.
The battery life was amazing. During the 2 weeks, I reviewed the speaker I never had to recharge it, despite using it for at least an hour a day and much more on others. I finally charged it before taking it to the park so I never got to truly find out how long it would last, but the advertised 24 hours would seem correct.
The water resistance of the speaker made it perfect for one of my use scenarios, listening to podcasts in the shower. With over 20 podcasts in my PocketCasts list, I sometimes find it difficult to keep on top of the hours of listening that requires. The solution, listen to podcasts in the shower.
Now a few caveats, I never immersed the speaker, and nor should you, I never let the water directly flow over the speaker, and nor should you. With the speaker up loud enough to combat the flowing water and reverberation in the shower, the podcasts were ok, but I think this is a bit of an extreme listening environment so I was very happy with the result, it’s much better than balancing my phone over the shower doors and not really hearing it.
As I only had one speaker I never got to try pairing two of the speakers together to create a left-right stereo pair. I have a feeling that this would be a killer combination for someone looking for a portable and wireless true stereo sound set up. If Sony wants to send me a couple more I’d be happy to test it out!
The speakers do not incorporate GoogleCast into their design. Internally I went back and forth on this, in the end, it seems Sony is targeting these more at the ‘out of house’ market, just because I almost exclusively used them in the house says more about me.
If the SRS-XB3 did include GoogleCast that would necessitate more antennas, and WiFi compatibility and I doubt they would have got near the current $250 price point. With multiroom audio still exclusive to ChromeCast devices I’m ok with these speakers not supporting the protocol.
Sony SRS-XB3 – Conclusion
The Sony SRS-XB3 is a great portable Bluetooth speaker, with easy pairing, deep bass, adequate loudness and fantastic battery life it’s almost the full package. It may lack a few controls however, this was never really an issue for me as I always have either my phone or android wear device to control the playback anyway.
I’ve shown the speaker to many people at both home and work and they are all universally impressed with it, from the great sound, light package and small size it seems this is a very popular device with others as well.
The Portable Bluetooth speaker market is growing as we discussed above, would I recommend the Sony SRS-XB3 to anyone? Yes, in fact, I’m recommending it to everyone. I will be keeping my eyes out for these little guys on sale, I think I need one for my office, bathroom and a few other places as well!.
If you’re in the market for a portable Bluetooth speaker for home, work of the great outdoors you MUST take a look at the $250 Sony SRS-XB3.