Summer’s here, so as the incomparable George Michael once proclaimed: let’s go outside in the sunshine.
Listening to music in the sun is one of life’s great pleasures and, once you’ve settled into a sunny spot, you’ll need something to bring it to your ears... The market for portable speakers is burgeoning with box-fresh contenders ready to be slung into your bag or packed for a quick getaway. And a Sony Bluetooth speaker could well be just the ticket.
Whatever your Bluetooth portable listening desires, Sony aims to have them covered within its Extra Bass speaker range. A trusted name in terms of headphones and assorted listening gear, Sony has a 13-strong Extra Bass (or XB) line-up, with retail prices ranging from the cost of a small round (SRS-XB01 and SRS-XB10 for example), to a slightly more generous round (SRS-XB21), to the cost of a long-weekend away (XB501G) means there’s bound to be something of potential interest if you’re looking.
Searching for something super-easy to connect? Need a durable speaker that’s easy to carry, waterproof, dustproof – or all three? Is a 24-hour battery life paramount? Ideally, you'd probably like a combination of the above. Or maybe you’re just after something that comes in green – because you like green.
What follows is a list of the Sony XB key players, what they can and can’t offer, where to find the best deals and, ultimately, if you should buy one.
The XB10 is the smallest and most cheerfully budget-conscious of Sony’s Extra Bass Series. It’s about the same width as a can of Coke, but half the height.
It comes in various colours and has an NFC chip - relatively unusual for a speaker this price and size - that allows one-tap Bluetooth pairing with a music device.
The removable plastic ring supplied with the speaker can double as a stand, so it won’t roll away if you want to angle it towards you at your desk.
You can pair two of them in stereo, there’s a 16-hour battery, and it’s water-resistant. Also, and perhaps most crucially, it’s a 2017 product. Yes, deals abound online for this little baby. A quick price-scan reveals that some retailers are charging less than a third of the recommended retail price for one.
Sony XB21, XB31 and XB41
Let’s get this party started! These funky fresh speakers feature Live Sound, a sonic presentation supposedly suited to outdoor gatherings. With the XB31 and XB41 models, there's also light-up panels that you can customise in terms of colour and, er, flashiness, via the Sony Fiestable app.
The Party Booster function isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, perhaps, but if grabbing hold of the unit and tapping (or whacking, for a louder response) it on any of its sides to produce 15 different, customisable percussive sounds as the music plays seems like a fun idea, the XB21, XB31 and XB41 all offer this feature.
If we're partying, let's have it large. The XB41 has dual 58mm drivers and weighs in at 1.5kg. It's also the heaviest of the three models above on lighting features, with speaker lights that illuminate to the beat of your music, two flashing strobes just outside of those and that colour-change line light.
It promises to keep going for 24 hours, is water and dust-proof and has a built-in grip to make dropping it on your toe while dancing a rarity.
Want another great feature? You can actually use the XB41 to charge your phone, thanks to a USB output.
The XB21, the smallest and newest of the party-happy trio, is small enough to fit in the bottle-holder of your bike, so if pedaling your own mini festival around town feels like your bag, the XB21 could be the one.
Another feature of the range is the battery button located underneath the input cover of the speaker. Push it, and a soothing robotic voice will announce the percentage you’re at in terms of juice.
The XB21 is fully waterproof, dust-proof and, while it can be beaten for battery life, it promises loudness and EQ functions via the Sony app for competitive money.
Sony recommends a £100/$100 price-point, but it isn’t difficult to find the XB21 available for less than half that.
The slightly bigger XB31 is a 2018 model (the XB32 is its 2019 update) and features a longer battery than the XB21, promising up to 24 hours’ use. Again, you’ve got all the party features of the XB21, plus flashing lights in addition to the panelled light display – and there are plenty of deals online.
This summer 2019 Sony model has almost the same dimensions as the XB31 but a slightly tweaked design, with more rubberised plastic than the older model.
If you know your JBL speaker range, the XB32 is the same size as the popular JBL Charge 4. As with JBL’s ecosystem, you can pair up to 100 Sony speakers together, but while JBL’s units need only be pressed once to find each other and sort the rest, Sony’s wireless chain set-up means you need to press each unit and then go in through the app to arrange pairing.
That said, JBL doesn’t offer basic EQ alterations via its app, where Sony offers a plethora of sound enhancement and bass options. If you prioritise a customised sound over multi-pairing, a Sony XB speaker might be the wisest choice of the two.
From July 2019, you’ll be able to buy a fully waterproof and knock-proof cylindrical wireless Sony Bluetooth speaker with Alexa built-in. Again from Sony's Extra Bass Series, the Sony XB402M has that same light-up panel design, an outdoor boost party-friendly function and, this time, Spotify Connect embedded as well as Alexa. Could it be your new smart-home hub? Well, not quite: Alexa voice calls probably won’t be supported, and a few other Echo exclusives will probably be unavailable. But you’ll be able to bring Alexa out to the party, get her to take care of the playlist and even complain to her when it starts to rain, if you like.
Sony recommends a £250 price-point, which puts the XB402M in direct competition with (and slightly cheaper than) Apple's five-star HomePod, but more expensive than the Alexa-supported Sonos One – another five-star product in our tests.
Should I buy a Sony XB speaker?
On paper, Sony XB speakers offer quality build and plenty of features at competitive prices. We've yet to get the range in to thoroughly test that extra bass claim (an especially bold assertion considering one is the size of a stubby Coke can), but the app's EQ functions plus the various light shows represent great value for money in a speaker - if you like that kind of thing.
Other Bluetooth portables at similar price-points may boast a longer battery life, but remember that they often fall away for features. Turn those lights off via the app and you'll doubtless get a speaker that'll keep going for longer.
While we can't vouch for the sound quality here, Sony has historically been a sonic stalwart across hi-fi and headphones, so we'd reasonably expect nothing less than a competitive performance.
If you'd sleep better at night knowing you definitely had one of the best sounds for your pound, though, and aren't set on flashy (literally) features, you may want to play it safe and consider one of our tried-and-tested, five-star Bluetooth speakers.
The best Bluetooth speakers 2019 include a range of Ultimate Eats speakers. The UE Roll 2 (£86 / $85 is an Award-winning speaker small enough to fit into a bag, while the bigger UE Blast (£80 / $89) is all-action in terms of both sound and durability. The larger Ultimate Ears Megablast (£129 / $165) expands on its sibling's fun and energetic sound and boasts Alexa voice control.
For those with heartier budgets (and an inclination towards everything retro), we'd also heartily recommend JBL's boombox-like Xtreme 2 (£199 / $219.49), which is tough and rugged and has fun and excitement written all over it.