It’s probably fair to say that most people aren’t exactly in the mood for a party right now. But if we are able to have any gatherings over the winter months, the Sony SRS-XB33 could be just the Bluetooth speaker to accompany one.
While lifestyle images on the company’s website show the Sony SRS-XB33 portable speaker set against white sands and sun-drenched swimming pools, its rugged exterior and waterproof features mean it should keep going in any weather – ideal for winters as well as summers, then.
So now is as good a time as any to be testing a speaker whose tagline appears to be ‘party wherever, whenever’. Just as timely, too, is our discovery of one whose performance is so capable of keeping a party going as this.
Build and features
Sony promises its Bluetooth speaker will keep going pretty much whatever you throw at it. An IP67 waterproof rating means it is not only resistant to both fresh and salt water but should also survive a thorough washing if you get it mucky.
Bluetooth version 5.0
Frequency range 20Hz–20kHz
Battery life Up to 24 hours
Dimensions (hwd) 9.7 x 24.6 x 10.6cm
That’s useful because the SRS-XB33 also tempts you to introduce it to the dirt. It’s dustproof, so sand, soil and dried mud are of little concern, and it has undergone extensive shock testing for knocks, bumps and scrapes, meaning you can drop it and it’ll keep working.
Sony claims a whopping 24-hour maximum battery life for the SRS-XB33, with up to 14 hours of action with the volume at maximum and the bells and whistles switched on. Those include some flashing lights – controlled via the Sony Music Center and Fiestable apps – which can also dance in sync with up to 99 other compatible wireless speakers thanks to Party Connect.
Eye-catching as those are, we’re here for the music – and Sony has put plenty of effort into how the SRS-XB33 sounds.
You’ll notice the Extra Bass advertising, which nods to this speaker’s dual passive radiators, but it’s the main driver units that are most interesting. Sony calls this its X-Balanced Speaker Unit, where non-circular diaphragms make for a maximised surface area, and an increase in sound pressure aims for punchier bass.
Sony also says it reduces driver excursion while maintaining the same sound pressure, resulting in less distortion. The off-centre design and optimised weight balance helps enhance clarity and widen the soundstage. And if you want that soundstage widened further still, the Live Sound button is the SRS-XB33’s way of creating what it terms three-dimensional sound, with its angled speakers and DSP technology sending music to a wider area.
Not that this Bluetooth speaker needs the extra help; we connect our smartphone (NFC is available) and immediately the party starts, the SRS-XB33 throwing its voice across the room with real energy and verve.
This is a bold and full presentation, the focus of which is one of its major fortes. While the Live Sound mode opens up the sound, which could be useful for a party, it loses some of the solidity and focus that makes the Sony’s neutral setting so impressive.
We were tentatively concerned by Sony’s boast of Extra Bass, however there’s plenty of low end here for the size without it being overdone. The warbling, flabby and distorted lower registers you often get when wireless speakers try too hard aren’t a problem here.
The other end of the frequency range isn’t quite as rich as we’d hope. There’s a coarseness to the treble that is significantly reduced by a day or so of running in, but it is never sanded down completely.
Capable, but not exemplary, is also how we would describe the SRS-XB33’s level of dynamic expression. This might be a speaker built to shout across busy rooms and fill a space in the infinite outdoors, but we’d still appreciate a little greater subtlety and maturity that would hold our interest better when not in party mode ourselves.
The Sony SRS-XB33 is a horse for a particular course, but there’s no point criticising Sony overly for that. There are speakers around this price, such as the Audio Pro Addon C3, that combine expert rhythm and sensitive dynamics with striking richness and clarity, but these are only built to be portable in the sense they needn’t constantly be plugged in.
If you want to take a speaker with you to the great outdoors, you can do far worse than making the Sony SRS-XB33 your companion.
- Sound 4
- Features 5
- Build 5
Read our guide to the best wireless speakers
Read our Audio Pro Addon C3 review