Portable wireless speakers are so common today. They come in a huge range of sizes and styles, and with a variety of features. Sony has been at the forefront of this market, and has numerous portable Bluetooth speakers. I’ve reviewed many Sony products, including previous incarnations of Sony’s SRS-XB or EXTRA BASS speaker line.
New this season is another trio of speakers under the SRS-XB line: the compact SRS-XB21, the mid-sized SRS-XB31 and the full sized SRS-XB41. This review will take a look at each of the speakers, their differences, and how they sound.
Setting up Sony SRS-XB21, SRS-XB31 and SRS-XB41
Setting the speakers up is pretty straightforward. Power on by pushing and holding the power button. That will put it into pairing mode, which will be confirmed with a verbal prompt. Go to your phone or device’s Bluetooth menu, select the speaker and tap to connect. I went through this numerous times with several speakers and it worked perfectly every time. With Bluetooth you can connect to one speaker at a time, but it is possible to connect multiple speakers. More on that in a moment.
Common features in SRS-XB lineup
Though there are some differences between each speaker, they do each have some common features.
What is Sony Extra Bass?
Sony’s Extra Bass technology is the key feature of these speakers; it’s what they’re named for, and what the “XB” in the name stands for.
EXTRA BASS technology essentially lets you get more bass out of your music. The Sony EXTRA BASS headphones and speakers use what’s called an Electro Bass Booster to make the lower tones of bass lines more prominent. This battery-powered enhancer digitally increases low-frequencies in the music and maximizes the deep, punchy sound and rhythmic feel. The feature can be turned on or off to suit your mood.
What is Sony Live Sound?
Live Sound is another feature of these portable speakers. They’re designed with a special angled cabinet which folds and spreads sound out so it reaches across a wider area. Sony says this provides a more three-dimensional sound experience, and creates, “a festival vibe, wherever you are.”
Activating this function is done with the touch of a button on the SRS-XB41. I thought this mode sounded terrible. It changed the sound of the music from nice and full to hollow and raspy and seemed to amplify the high end while making the bass sound more hollow. Not my favourite setting.
Sony SRS-XB line is rugged, durable
The Sony SRS-XB21, the SRS-XB31 and the full sized SRS-XB41 are all rated against water and dirt penetration. They have the rating IP67, which means it’s fully protected from dirt and dust and can withstand the effects of immersion in water to depth of up to 1 meter.
How to use Sony Party Booster
Party Booster is available with SRS-XB41, SRS-XB31, SRS-XB21 and when it’s enabled, the speaker will make sound effects when you smack it; “makes the party atmosphere more exciting,” according to Sony.
There are several kinds of sound effects, which can be enabled or switched with the “Sony Music Center” app, or you can hold the volume up and down buttons simultaneously to turn this feature on and off.
To enable via the app and change the settings, go into the app and select your speaker, then choose Settings> Party Booster. Here you can select different different sound configurations, like Drum Kit (sounds: Synth-Kick, Hi-Hat, Cymbal, Synth Snare and Synth Tom), Percussion (Sounds: Cowbell, Conga High, Conga Low, Rom-shot and Shaker), and Custom which has a variety of otherworldly sounds.
When you hit the speaker the lights flash too as the sound is made. You can use these sound effects either while the music is playing or on its own. You do need to hit the speaker firmly to generate the effect. Lighter taps don’t seem to register.
This was kind of a fun feature, and I think kids and teens would love it, though I was over it pretty quickly.
Change lighting effects & colours in app
You can customize the lighting effects and colours in the Sony Music Center app. The XB21 has just a few options, while the XB31 and 41 have lots of effects and colours to choose from.Just go to Settings> and select Lighting Mode. You can choose the frantic “Rave”, the less seizure-inducing “Chill” on the XB21, or there’s up to a dozen choices and colours in the XB31.
How to connect multiroom audio with Party Chain
These speakers have a feature called Party Chain, which essentially lets you connect and group multiple speakers to the same source. With compatible Sony devices, you can connect up to 10 speakers in the chain.
Follow the detailled instructions here, but in essence, you’ll have previously paired each speaker top your phone using Bluetooth. Then makes sure all the speakers are turned off.
Turn on the first speaker and wait for it to connect (you’ll hear a beep and the Bluetooth light will stop flashing). Then press the WPC (Wireless Party Chain) button inside the cap on the rear, you’ll get two more beeps and the Bluetooth light will flash again . Turn on the second speaker, wait for the connecting, then press the WPC button in that one. Do the same with subsequent speakers. You may need to wait about 20 seconds for everything to connect. You’ll then control the speaker group by selecting the first speaker you connected and selecting your music or source in the app.
To control the speakers individually, you’ll need to ungroup them. Do this by going into the app, selecting your group, and clicking “ungroup”. I couldn’t get the speakers to unpair, so I had to power off the other speakers I wanted want to disconnect.
There are some other differences between the speakers:
USB charging: only in SRS-XB31 + SRS-XB41
There’s built in USB charging so you can keep your phone juiced up. It’s only available on the SRS-XB 31 and 41 models.
Party Lighting modes
Each of the speakers have a different level of lighting built right in:
- SRS-XB21: simple coloured light, matches colour of speaker.
- SRS-XB31: LED piping around speaker, plus 2 small front strobes.
- SRS-XB41: Large white front-facing lights, small thumbail size strobes, plus LED piping all around the speaker
Battery Life on Sony SRS-XB21, XB31, XB41
- SRS-XB21: 12 hours battery life
- SRS-XB31: 24 hours battery life
- SRS-XB41: 24 hours battery life
Sound Quality: Sony SRS-XB21, XB31, XB41
There’s very little to say about the sound quality of these speakers. Sony does sound well and I’ve rarely been able to find fault with how their products sound. These speakers sound great and even the smallest XB21 is very clear, vibrant and loud. Head up the line and obviously sound quality and power increases, but overall there’s a lot of bass and you can feel it in the table or surface.
Vocals sound clear and the overall sound is nicely balanced. Only high fives here when it comes to audio quality of these speakers.
Overall thoughts on Sony SRS-XB speakers
There’s something in the SRS-XB lineup for everyone; whether you want power, disco lighting, size and portability or a fun colourful option, there’s lots of choice here.
I liked how easy they were to set up and to link together and overall they’re durable, portable, fun and should give you exactly what you need in a portable wireless speaker.
If I were buying one of these, I’d pick the mid-sized, mid-priced SRS-XB31; I like the size, the sound quality is outstanding and it’s plenty powerful enough for me, and I like that it has the LED piping with colour changing and more configurable lighting and sound effect options.
Nonetheless I recommend all of the speakers in this line. They’re fun, functional and made for summer.