Sony has been a real supporter of the high-resolution revolution, and the SRS-X9 wireless speaker is one of the most exciting additions to its high-res range so far.
Three years in the making, it’s certainly been worth the wait to get it as good as this.
Combining quality with convenience, the SRS-X9 is capable of streaming files wirelessly via aptX Bluetooth and AirPlay, packs DLNA for wireless networked streaming and is, of course, capable of high-resolution 24-bit/192kHz playback via the speaker’s USB-B port.
It supports DSD files too. As for other inputs, there’s a line-in and standard USB port around the back, plus an ethernet socket for hardwiring to your router.
Quite the box of tricks then, and it has been designed to look the part too, with its premium minimalistic styling.
Its glass-top panel features a number of touch-sensitive buttons for controlling volume and source, with a proximity sensor that will only light them up when you get close to them.
If you prefer to make your selections from afar, you can always employ the long, thin remote, which duplicates all the controls that you’ll find on the unit in the box.
Behind the removable aluminium grille is a large, centrally placed woofer and two supporting passive radiators, two of Sony’s midrange Magnetic Fluid drivers and two tweeters, with two more located on the top panel to help disperse the sound.
These seven drivers are supported by an eight-channel S-Master HX digital amplifier, which Sony has developed specifically for high-res audio, aiming to reduce noise across a wider frequency range.
The result is an output of 154W, which just pips the B&W A7 for pure on-paper power.
Connecting to the speaker is really easy. There’s a WPS button for a quick connection with compatible routers, but Sony has also created an app called Songpal that helps you get your SRS-X9 speaker onto your wireless network in a few easy steps, as well as control the music you’re listening to.
To do this, you’ll first have to connect to the speaker via Bluetooth, which is a simple case of searching and pairing (or via NFC with compatible devices), then boot up the app to share your wireless network details.
It took us less than five minutes to be up and running, and that’s when the fun started.
Once you have a track playing, you’re then able to control playback, volume and equalisation through the app.
We’d say that anyone considering the Sony SRS-X9 should certainly download Songpal to really get the most from their speaker.
There isn’t a file format you can’t throw at this thing – AAC, MP3, WMA, WAV, AIFF, FLAC and DSD will all play nice, so you shouldn’t have a problem playing your whole digital music collection.
We first hooked up our laptop to try out the headline high-res capabilities, and were instantly surprised by the sound that this reasonably compact speaker is capable of.
There’s a lot of power here, and those tweeters on the top really help to disperse the sound – we tested it in a reasonably large room and it had no problem with making its presence known.
The sound is an impressive one too, with a great sense of scale and a rich, full-bodied tone that is instantly likeable.
In particular, the SRS-X9 shows an expert handling of the lower frequencies, reaching really deep into any bassline without ever compromising on precision and detail.
More after the break
It’s got a decent sense of rhythm too, and is able to switch between tempos and genres with aplomb.
Listen to Billie Jean by Michael Jackson at 24-bit/176.4kHz, and that famous pulsing bassline is packed with warmth, punch, texture and weight, and is never heavy-handed.
In fact, the Sony is pretty well balanced across the board, save for an occasional brightness to the treble when really pushed in the volume department.
Playing a 24-bit/88.2kHz FLAC recording of The Rolling Stones’ Gimme Shelter, for example, we found the opening guitars and percussion to have a slightly harsh edge.
Knock the volume down just a few notches from the top though, and the problem is largely solved for most recordings.
There is a difference to be heard between high-res and more compressed formats, despite the built-in DSEE HX digital sound-enhancement engine, which Sony says will upscale compressed music to near high-res.
We found 320kbps streams from Spotify lacked the subtlety, dynamic handling and timing of higher-res material.
That hard treble rears its head a little more often at this quality too.
That’s not to say things sound bad at this level – far from it.
The SRS-X9 offers a seriously listenable, enjoyable sound across the board of file formats and sample rates, but compared with high-res music over a wired connection, there are always going to be some sacrifices to be made for that wireless convenience.
We’d say the B&W A7 just pips the Sony for rhythmic handling, but then the SRS-X9 does much more for £100 less (the A7 is AirPlay only).
All of a sudden, that £600 price tag doesn’t seem so bad.
The Sony SRS-X9 speaker wasn’t three years in the making by accident. It’s a carefully considered product, and a multi-talented one at that, all wrapped up in a stylish package.
When you buy it, you’re not just buying into high-res but into a superb wireless speaker than can pretty much play whatever you want, however you want, and sound superb in the process. It really is a true wireless wonder.
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