The Sony SRS-XB501G Google assistant speaker hides a lot of functionality under it’s exterior. For $399 you get a speaker that is Google Home Max’s portable lit up partying cousin.
As part of Sony’s EXTRA BASS range the speaker’s default setting emphasises Bass but with some tweaking of the equalizer it can sound quite good for music, radio and podcasts.
Underneath the party image the Sony has given the SRS-XB501G a lot of versatile capabilities.
Setup & Optimisation
Set up was easy as any other Google assistant speaker. I opened the Google Home app on my phone and stepped through the usual process.
Note this not an optional step. You cannot use the SRS-XB501G speaker just with Bluetooth, it has to be set up and linked with a Google account before you can do anything. No AUX input means you have to send audio to the speaker via Bluetooth or Chromecast, you can’t connect your phone directly via an audio cable.
Similarly if you don’t use the Sony Music Center app you miss out on most of the SRS-XB501G customisation capability.
The Sony Music Center app allows fine tuning of speaker features eg lighting and sound preset modes. It auto discovered the speaker when I turned phone Bluetooth on near it.
Definitely use this app otherwise you’re missing out on a lot of the speaker lighting features and ability to change between Extra Bass, Live and standard sound processing preset modes.
If you don’t use the Music Center app, the speaker only has two sound presets available by button: Extra Bass is default and Live Sound when the LIVE button is pressed on. It would be so much better if this button could cycle through Extra Bass, Live Sound, ClearAudio+ and Standard equalizer settings.
Live Sound increases the volume and width of the sound stage and Standard is a neutral equalizer. I preferred ClearAudio+, which according to Sony:
“Is a special sound mode that detects the music track that the user is currently playing, then selects the best sound field to deliver the best possible sound listening experience. Hence, you may hear a different sound effect whenever a track with a different audio format is played”.
Default lighting is RAVE, which is too active for me so I changed it to CHILL or RANDOM FLASH OFF.
If you turn the speaker off it returns to the same lighting and sound presets once powered on again.
What It’s Good At
Home and Away
With the capability to be charged via mains power or USB-C the SRS-XB501G can be used at home as well as balcony or at the park.
In fact you can also use it as a big battery to top up your phone as the USB-C functionality has 2 way charging support.
The carry handle means that although it is a solid speaker it’s easy to carry with you to social occasions.
Don’t worry about getting it dirty because the SRS-XB501G is IP65 water resistant and dustproof.
Unless you plan on partying for 24 hours straight you should have ample battery life to last with a quoted 16 hours. I managed to get it to last a few hours more, though it should be noted I listen at 40% volume.
Extensive Button functionality
The play/pause button does a lot more than you think. Obviously press once to play or pause. Pressing twice skips the track, pressing 3 times plays the previous track again and long pressing activates Google Assistant without having to say “Hey Google”.
Sound and Light Show
Whether you’re hosting an Adults party or playing Wiggles for your kids, the SRS-XB501G has plenty of lighting options to enhance the fun.
Ability to Fill a Room
Listening to a playlist of tracks that have been featured in The Orville sci-fi series the SRS-XB501G did an excellent job filling my apartment with sound without distortion, whether it was playing Billy Joel’s Don’t Ask Me Why, Weezer’s Buddy Holly or Gene Kelly’s Singing in the Rain. Like most Google Assistant speakers once the volume passes 50-60% you have to go near it to say commands or the mic won’t hear you above the music.
What It’s Not Good At
Needs the Sony App To Function Best
If you don’t use the Sony Music Center app to tweak the equaliser the SRS-XB501G is too bass heavy for listening to more mainstream non-party music, radio and podcasts.
For Home Use Only, Consider Google Home Max
Unlike the Google Home Max the SRS-XB501G cannot be paired with another SRS-XB501G to get true left/right channel stereo seperation.
The SRS-XB501G is designed to be rugged and practical, not good looking. So it doesn’t fit well into a nicely designed living room compared to better styled options like the Google Home Max.
Should you buy the Sony SRS-XB501G Google assistant speaker?
The Sony SRS-XB501G beats any Ultimate Ears speaker I’ve tried while also being a Chromecast and Google assistant built-in speaker so you can talk to it to give commands.
It’s fun, Wi-Fi enabled, Bluetooth, Chromecast, has NFC pairing, you can charge other USB C devices from it and it has a tripod mount. About all that it’s missing is an AUX port and ethernet port which will not be an issue for most people.
The SRS-XB501G contains 2.1 speakers (125mm subwoofer plus 2 x 45mm Satellites. It’s IP65 rated, portable or able to be powered from mains electricity, has Google Assistant and has built in light effects you can turn on/off.
However if you never plan to use it outside you might prefer a Google Home Max.
I wasn’t expecting to like the Sony SRS-XB501G but it’s capabilities surprised me and I think it will suit most people who aren’t audiophiles and only want one decent sounding affordable smart speaker in their kitchen or lounge area.
My one big caveat is that the default sound emphasises Bass too much for day to day listening. Once I connected it to the Sony Music Centre app on my phone and changed to ClearAudio+ the sound improved a lot.
The Sony SRS-XB501G has an RRP of $399. For a while around Christmas time the retail price dropped to $269 so if you want to purchase it, have a go at negotiating the price down from RRP as sales people are probably able to discount it a fair bit.
Sony has allowed Ausdroid to retain this speaker for further testing as part of a Chromecast speaker group, paired with speakers I have purchased incl B&O Play M5