Thursday, 29 June 2017 17:58

Sony EXTRA BASS SRS-XB40 – serious bass and a light show (review)

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Sony’s EXTRA BASS portable Bluetooth speakers deliver, well extra bass, and put on a pretty good (light) show as well.

The new SRS-XB range comes in XB40, XB30 and XB20 and they don’t mind showing off – replete with coloured light lines and the top model has flashing strobes as well.

EXTRA BASS (EB) means just that – a button to enable reinforcement of the 20Hz plus band. It is not like a subwoofer that moves massive volumes of air to push out thumping bass but more laying on layers of bass that emanate from the front/rear bass port.

Sony makes good gear and this is no exception – a durable, rubberised coating on the exterior, and a smooth metal grill on the front.

The external housing, depending on the model, is available in red, blue, white, green, and black.

Specifications – SRS-XB40

Sony seems to be following the trend of not publishing comprehensive specifications. There is a lack of Watts RMS, THD, Battery mAh, etc. A plea from a tech site – we need these.

  • Speaker: 2 x 61mm (2.45”) drivers for Left and Right stereo
  • EXTRA BASS: from a passive radiator port on front and rear – in the middle
  • Handsfree phone: Yes, as well as potentially OK Google, Alexa, Siri, Cortana, Skype when app updates are released
  • Top controls: Play/Pause, Power/pairing, volume +/-, speaker pair/party chain, play/pause, handsfree, EXTRA BASS/Light control
  • Comms: 3.5mm AUX, Bluetooth 4.2 EDR LDAC lossless audio streaming to 10 metres
  • Codecs: SBC / AAC / LDAC
  • Charger: Dedicated 9.5V/2.2A charger plus a USB-A charger port for smart device
  • Battery: 24-hour battery life (estimate with lights turned off). Tested with lights at 15 hours
  • Frequency response: 20 Hz - 20,000 Hz (44.1 kHz sampling) claimed
  • Size/Weight: 279 x 100 x 105mm (W x H x D) x 1.5kg
  • IP Rating: IPXR – splash proof
  • Bluetooth: 4.1 with pairing to iOS, Android, Windows or MacOS
  • Lights: RGB LED light syncs to the music – outer band changes hues and the inner lights flash to the beat
  • Stereo: it is a stereo speaker or add a second speaker for added separation or “party chain” up to 10 speakers in mono
  • Price: $299

Sony xb40 strip

The app

Sony XB40 appThe Android SongPal app allows you to fine-tune the audio in a way that can't be controlled on the speaker itself. SongPal is for many Sony music products as well as the newer USB-C to 3.5mm dongles with a DAC.

For example, there is an Equaliser that gives granular +/- 10 settings for Bass, Mid, and Treble, you can pre-set for flat or EXTRA BASS, there is a DJ effect, Illumination mode (Rave, Chill. Random Flash, Hot, Cool) and it can stream directly from Google Play.

The Fiestable app allows you to set the LED band to a custom colour, or to put it in Party Flash mode (or turn it off completely).

iPhone app not tested.

Sony lights up my life

Sony xb40 fiestThe XB20 has lights around the edge, the XB30 has additional strobes, while the XB40 adds LED on the speaker cone itself.

The lights can be intense – dual bright LEDs on either side of the grille take turns flashing on and off, while the colourful outer band switches hues to the beat, and the drivers illuminate. There is some logic to matching the beat to the lights and you can play with this in the Fiestable app.

How does it sound?

Before we start let’s go over “Sound Signature 101”: There are only six basic sound signatures that describe the natural state of a speaker. Of course, you can have a combination of two or more, and many devices have an equaliser (EQ) and sound profile (pre-sets or apps) that can change the signature entirely. The signatures are:

  1. Analytical: (bass/mids recessed, treble boosted)
  2. Balanced: (bass boosted, mids recessed, treble boosted)
  3. Bass: (bass boosted, mids/treble recessed)
  4. Warm and Sweet (bass/mids boosted, treble recessed)
  5. Mid: (bass recessed, mids boosted, treble recessed)
  6. Bright Vocal (bass recessed, mids/treble boosted)

Look at the graphic below for possible combinations.

Audio signatures

As it comes out of the box without EXTRA BASS turned on it provides an Analytical sound signature – that is good as it gets for a Bluetooth speaker because you can use the SongPlay app to bring up the treble even further (to verge on Bright Vocal) or add a bit more bass for a more Balanced sound – perfect. This is what all Bluetooth speakers should aim for.

I found it needed a tad more mid and treble and the speaker turned to Bright Vocal which is great for Beach Boys but not so good for a Beethoven Concerto. For that, you need to recess treble and increase mid and bass (Warm and Sweet).

But here is the Catch 22. If you play with the settings and mix in EXTRA BASS, you could get Frankenstein’s monster. Let me explain.

To be fair, Sony has invented EXTRA BASS to address the criticism levelled at 99.9% of smaller Bluetooth speakers – not enough bass for heavy music tracks. That may suit head thumping heavy metal and dance party music, but it loses too much in the clarity and crispness stakes. EXTRA BASS delivered, but the effect on test content was a muddy sound because the bass boost was at the expense of diminished mids and high range.

In my opinion, the average user just needs pre-sets – Vocal, Music, Movie and Bass. Other brands do this very well and some allow you to access a pre-set by simply pressing a button on the speaker – for ease of change. My advice is to use EXTRA BASS sparingly when you the music style suits.

Pros

  • Lots of volume
  • Good EXTRA bass when you have content that needs it
  • NFC Android pairing
  • Good Android NFC pairing app adds functionality
  • Pairing with another for stereo or 10 for partychain
  • Will charge a smartphone as well as play music
  • IPX5 Water resistant

Cons

  • EXTRA BASS is not like a sub-woofer bass and seems to recess mids and treble
  • Speaker phone average
  • Non-standard charger

Sony xb40 partychain

Summary

"It is a Sony" means something – quality and innovation to be sure. While I see where it is coming from, I would have preferred the EXTRA BASS button to cycle through pre-sets as it would have been easier than going via the app.

Throw in IPX5 rating and a solid build and it’s a keeper. Certainly, the flashiest Bluetooth speaker you will see.


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Ray Shaw

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Ray Shaw ray@im.com.au  has a passion for IT ever since building his first computer in 1980. He is a qualified journalist, hosted a consumer IT based radio program on ABC radio for 10 years, has developed world leading software for the events industry and is smart enough to no longer own a retail computer store!

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