808 Audio HEX Encore XL review

Bluetooth speakers have become a party focal point. They make it easy for anyone to play music. After all, everyone has a smartphone. Some wireless speakers have upped the party ante by adding an LED light show. We may have reached the pinnacle of these trends with the HEX Encore XL. This is a towering Bluetooth speaker that takes everything to extremes from its one metre height to the quad driver output—each with 100 Watts of power.

HEX Encore XL speaker reviewFirst Impressions: This Looks Like a Single Tower Speaker

Most Bluetooth speakers adopt what is basically a horizontal rectangular form factor. That lets them put a little distance between drivers to make the sound stage seem a little wider. The HEX Encore XL stands upright and is designed to look like a tower speaker. There’s no grill, instead the drivers are on full display.

If you had two of these, they wouldn’t look out of place hooked up to a receiver.

Many Ways to Play Deejay

I keep referring to the HEX Encore XL as a Bluetooth speaker, but that’s selling it a bit short. yes, it offers Bluetooth connectivity, and that’s probably how most people will connect to it. After all, pretty much everyone carries a smartphone and chances are that’s either loaded with music, or its connected to a streaming music service like Spotify. Like most wireless speakers, this one also includes a 3.5mm AUX input jack, for those few sources that don’t have Bluetooth.

HEX Encore XL speaker review

But the HEX Encore XL goes a lot further with connectivity. It has not one, but two full-sized USB ports. You can plug in a thumb drive and play MP3s through either of these, and they also do double duty as charge ports for mobile devices. There’s an SD slot that can accept memory cards loaded with MP3s. For USB and SD card, you simply select the appropriate source, using a dial and LED display on the speaker, then use the built-in control pad for playing and skipping tracks.

The HEX Encore XL also includes FM radio, which is a rarity in speaker systems these days.

Along with the many ways to get music to the speaker, there are also generous controls for optimizing the sound. A big, red Bass Boost button does as advertised, adding serious thump to already bass-heavy output. There’s a five band graphic equalizer, along with presets for various genres including Rock, Pop and Jazz (seriously, I can’t see this being the centre of a jazz session, but what do I know?).

HEX Encore XL speaker reviewOr Sing Along …

There are also two microphone inputs (and 808 included one microphone in the box with my review unit).

Slide your tablet into the handy slot to display lyrics and you can sing along with the music. Adding to the fun, there’s a volume mixer for the microphone so you can adjust how loud the singing is in relation to the music, and an Echo button that adds reverb.

Besides karaoke, the microphone input also means you could use this speaker as a PA system.

HEX Encore XL Specs

  • Quad driver speaker configuration
  • 4 x 100 Watts maximum power output, 40-level volume
  • Bass boost
  • Integrated multi-mode dynamic LED lighting
  • Bluetooth
  • 3.5mm AUX input, 2x USB input (double as charge ports), SD card slot, FM radio
  • dual microphone inputs (one microphone included), with volume fade and echo
  • 5 band graphic equalizer with presets
  • Integrated source playback controls
  • Built-in holder for tablet
  • Integrated wheels and handle for easy moving
  • 29.5 x 30.6 x 93.0 cm
  • Weighs 13.9 kg

Booming Audio Performance

You don’t buy a speaker this big, with this kind of power and features for the price of the HEX Encore XL, and expect it to deliver audiophile quality sound.

It’s not terrible by any means, but let’s just say audio output isn’t big on nuance. Rock, pop and dance tracks sound pretty good, especially when they’re loud. And there is plenty of bass, even without the Bass Boost button being activated.

Sort of Spectacular Light Show

One of the best features of the HEX Encore XL should be its light show. There are rings of LED lights circling the two biggest drivers. And they do a great job of providing ambient light.

So why do I say they are just ‘sort of’ spectacular? The pre-programmed shows work well, with the big rings of LEDs changing colour in various patterns. But a big speaker like this calls for a light show that pulses in time with your music. The HEX Encore XL does have this feature, but in practice it didn’t work so well (at least with my review unit). The volume had to be very high for it to kick in, and then it didn’t pulse with the music so much as fire lights off seemingly randomly.

I stuck with the pre-programmed light shows …

Be Your Own Roadie

A speaker nearly a metre high and weighing almost 14kg isn’t something you pick up and carry from room to room. Fortunately, 808 stuck a set of wheels on the back, and built in a handle on the front. Tip it back and you can wheel the HEX Encore XL around with ease. Just stick close to the house, though. There is no battery, so you’ll need to be near an electrical outlet.

If you want a more portable version of this speaker with a battery, 808 also makes the 50-watt Hex Encore, with meany of the same features.

So Who is This Thing Aimed at Anyway

I can tell you who the target demographic for the HEX Encore XL is, and I can also tell you that 808 Audio hit the bullseye.

HEX Encore XL speaker review

I have 15 year-old twin boys. They love music, the louder the better. They aren’t particularly discerning about audio quality, so long as it’s loud and, ideally, loaded with pumping bass. Pulsing LED lights? Even better. And they’re not above grabbing a microphone with their friends to butcher a classic song. They’ve had the HEX Encore XL down in their basement gaming room, and it gets turned up loud enough that the floor above is sometimes vibrating. That’s despite a layer of acoustic ceiling tile in between.

If you’re looking for portability or nuanced audio, this isn’t the speaker for you. But if you like to have loud music at the centre of your get-togethers, the HEX Encore XL is worth considering. You’ll be well equipped to play music from virtually any source, with a light show to go along with it and plenty of karaoke potential as well.

If you’re in the market for a new wireless speaker and shopping for portable Bluetooth speakers or multi-room Wi-Fi speakers, check out the selection at Best Buy, where all the top names in audio are represented.

Brad Moon
Editor Computing solutions
I’m a long-time electronics and gadget geek who’s been fortunate enough to enjoy a career that lets me indulge this interest. I have been writing about technology for several decades for a wide range of outlets including Wired, Gizmodo, Lifehacker, MSN, About.com, Kiplinger, and GeekDad. I’m in my 10th year as a senior contributor for Forbes with a focus on reviewing music-related tech, Apple gear, battery power stations and other consumer electronics. My day job is with the Malware Research Center at AI-native cybersecurity pioneer CrowdStrike.