When it comes to Bluetooth speakers, you pretty much know what you’re going to get.
Chunky sound and decent battery life have become the norm in recent years, and it’s becoming increasingly difficult to decide between Bluetooth speakers without focussing on raw sound quality alone.
The $249.99 (around £185 / AU$320) Sony SRS-XB41 doesn’t reinvent the wheel, but it packs enough interesting features that it’s one that’s worth paying attention to.
Design and performance
The XB41 sits at the top of Sony’s 2018 Bluetooth speaker lineup, and consequently is the largest and most feature-packed of the three speakers.
From looking at it while it’s off, however, you’d be forgiven for not noticing anything remarkable. The speaker features a fabric construction that has an IP67 dust and water resistance rating so it should be able to survive a brief encounter with water.
Things get more interesting when you turn the speaker on. For starters there’s a series of LED lights that illuminate along the front and sides of the speaker and that pulse along with the music. It’s nothing too different from what Sony’s done before, but it’s well implemented and a fun inclusion, especially if you’re using the speaker in a dark environment.
But what really grabbed our attention was the inclusion of what Sony’s calling a ‘Party Booster’ mode, where tapping the speaker from five different directions will cause the speaker to play various sounds over the top of whatevery music you’re listening to.
Yes, it’s pretty dumb, but it’s the kind of dumb we can get behind in a rugged Bluetooth speaker.
Sound-wise the speaker was decent, with punchy bass and a soundstage that had a surprising amount of space to it considering the speaker’s size.
If you want more space, then there’s a ‘Live Sound’ mode that can be toggled on and off. Turning it on audibly spreads the sound wider in both a horizontal and vertical direction to fill the space more. The downside of this is that we felt it added a certain amount of echo to the sound, resulting in a loss of definition in the mids.
If you want to boost sound further than the speaker can be daisy chained together with up to 99 Bluetooth speakers from the rest of Sony’s 2018 lineup.
Considering the price of the speaker is similar to the price of an entry-level Sonos speaker, we can’t imagine this daisy-chaining would ever be the number one reason to buy the SRS-XB41, but the functionality is decent enough if you want to have a speaker with the versatility of being battery powered.
Speaking of batteries, Sony claims the SRS-XB41 will last around 24 hours with the light show disabled – however, it did not provide a battery life estimate for the speaker with the light show operating. There’s likely a discrepancy between the two numbers but we’ll just have to wait to try the speaker for ourselves in our own homes to find out what the difference is.
The SRS-XB41 doesn’t reinvent the wheel. It is, after all, just a decent-sounding Bluetooth speaker with a couple of extra interesting features.
But its colorful LEDs, ‘Live Sound’ mode, and music-making elements are interesting additions, even if they won’t be for everyone.
It’s a Bluetooth speaker that knows exactly what it wants to be, and when it comes to something that’s built for convenience that’s enough to make it worth a look.
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