Sony is a recognised name across multiple areas of electronics and with a good reputation. That reputation is for quality products that produce excellent sound. The SRS-XB23 is set to continue some of those points but there are a couple of areas where it’s not quite what you would expect from Sony.

What is it?

It’s a pretty basic (i.e. no really outstanding party tricks) Bluetooth speaker. Despite it’s simple feature set, it’s not a super budget option like the BlueAnt X2 we previously took a look at but it stacks up pretty well. It’s a standard look, at roughly the same dimensions as most other speakers of similar specs. It too has a simple control set with media playback buttons for play/pause, volume control and power.

Thankfully we’re now in a place where manufacturers have — for the most part — seen the light and are providing USB-C charging for everything where practicable. This results in faster charging and for users like myself, a reduced need to carry a mixed bag of cables.

Over the last 12 months or so, portable Bluetooth speakers have really grown on me. I’m now at a point where I feel like something is missing if I don’t have one with me, so the question that hit me straight away is – Can the Sony de-throne my current daily use device?

Setup and Specs

Setting up the SRS-XB23 is really easy and there are several pathways to doing so. I took the simplest and most direct pathway, by simply pairing via the Bluetooth settings on my phone. The pairing was fast, easy and re-connection when turning the speaker on was near-instant.

Straight off the bat, there were a couple of areas I really liked. The presentation is really interesting compared to some speakers, the design means it can be stood on end or on its side without detriment to the sound production. The second — after a day for steady listening — really struck me, the battery life is exceptional. I got 2 – 3 days of continual playback (between 8 am and 4 pm, with chunks of evening playback also) from the speaker at varying volumes.

One of the points setting this out among the crows of speakers is the IP65 rating, where many are “splash proof” or perhaps IP56. That to me is a real bonus given I’m out and about with my kids a bit, in the weather and often in places where electronics aren’t happy to be. Do be careful though to ensure that the cover for the charging port is properly seated. I’m pretty sure that water in the charging port isn’t going to do this thing any good!

The Sound Quality

Out of the box, you’ll be met with a really good sounding speaker. You’ll get clear, crisp audio that meets most of the markers you’d expect from a speaker that costs about the $160 mark, particularly released by a name like Sony. It just felt like it was very capable across a broad range of listening straight out of the box.

As is my won’t, I threw a lot at this thing and it handled my daily listening well. Podcasts, Rock, Metal a bit of classical and even a touch of pop — I blame my daughter for that — all produced some pretty good sound. But it wasn’t perfect as I did find after a day or so that I was noticing a few particular songs where the lower register sounds were lacking a bit of punch… But there’s an app for that!

Sony Music Center

The Sony Music Center app is simple to use but has a significant impact on the capability of the speaker. There are audio adjustment options for the novice to just allow the app to make adjustments, or a — still fairly simple — EQ that allows bass, mid and treble adjustments to your ear and listening habits.

For something of a mainstream comparison: The Sony SRS-XB23 didn’t just hold its ground, but powered past my Google Home (non-mini) speakers for sound quality. It’s not going to compare to a decent, audio focused speaker like a Bose portable home speaker or the Sonos Move – but they’re nearly five times the cost.

I really only found any issues with sound when the speaker was running at full volume. There was a bit of muddiness to the sound where the balance of the sound was lost to the drive for pure loudness. Sony’s website says that you can take the party with you carrying one of these, honestly, I agree. Sony has delivered a portable speaker that is very capable across a range of environments. It’s an all-day, everyday use item that I’m going to be sad to send back now this review is online.

Is it lacking anywhere?

We’ve already covered a lot of good points about this device, the audio is great, the battery life is exceptional and it can deal with pretty much any use or abuse you throw at it. But what about area’s that need improvement?

Most of my criticisms are born of personal preference rather than any technical fault identified. I want speakers to be Assistant capable, not because I need it but because I want it to work. Without that feature, it feels a little like a step backwards with the world we’re living in. It’s not something I need, but it’s something I want from a speaker if I’m going to invest my hard-earned dollars in it. Yes I know I could get my phone out of my pocket, but what if my phone is charging inside, or far enough away that I’m not going to get to it in time?

Following a software update to the speaker, the microphone is working well for calls and for Google Assistant integration. You will need to manually trigger the assistant by holding the play button for three seconds, wait for the tone then trigger your request. Call handling is just as easy with a tap of the play button you can answer and hang up on calls.

My other, perhaps larger concern is the covering of the speaker. It looks good, it feels like it should handle daily use and the speaker is IP65 rated, but I worry that over time that cover will weather badly and the speaker will look a bit trashy. I’d argue that it will still sound great so that probably won’t matter.

Should you buy one?

I’m yet to find a portable Bluetooth speaker that compelled me to buy it. The Sony SRS-XB23 is the closest thing to me needing to buy one. It’s not a cheap option and there’s plenty of them around, but you wouldn’t expect Sony to compete on a budget.

Where Sony have set themselves apart is the great battery life, great sound that can be tuned to your needs and a chassis that will almost certainly take a beating. Coming in at $159.00 it’s a great investment for someone looking for a really good, portable speaker without spending the earth.