Apparently, we're all very busy. We're all going somewhere and have no time for tethered entertainment. Smartphones and tablets are packing an endless amount of entertainment for on-the-go (or on-the-deck) use. The one thing that they can't seem to pack into that tiny form factor is decent sound.
There are a lot of manufacturers coming out with wireless devices to make that audio experience a lot nicer. One of the latest is the Sony SRS-BTX500 Premium Bluetooth Wireless Speaker, which pumps up the volume of almost any portable device.
New for 2013, the SRS-BTX500 includes all of the latest wireless bells and whistles you'd want in a tabletop speaker. Well, except for AirPlay; there's none of that here. Instead, Sony opted for Near Field Communication (NFC) technology, as well as AptX and AAC Bluetooth codecs. Also notable is that this is a 2.1 system, which means there's a built-in subwoofer to fill out the sound a bit.
At 4.7 pounds, the SRS-BTX500 feels pretty hefty. It's got a nice, solid build with sound to match. Inside, there are a pair of 1.88-inch speakers, a 3.25-inch woofer, and a bunch of Sony's secret sauce that's known as DMC technology. DMC combines the aforementioned dual passive radiators, magnetic fluid speakers, and clear phase digital signal processing into one super-slim package.
On the outside, this thing isn't just slick-looking; it is hefty... in a good way. It feels like it could cause some damage to your foot if there was some sort of mishap. But assuming you resist the temptation to drop it on your foot, it is wonderfully simple to operate.
The right side of the SRS-BTX500 has buttons for power, Bluetooth pairing, Audio In and the Sound modes, which I will get to in a minute. The back is where you'll plug in the power cord, when needed. It also has an Audio In jack for connecting non-wireless devices, a Bluetooth standby switch, and a DC out port for charging a smartphone on the go. That Bluetooth switch is important, because if you aren't using Bluetooth, the little blue light will keep flashing. Like, it's the type of flashing that will keep you up at night. The top of the speaker has buttons for volume and a button to turn this mutha into one massive speakerphone.
Even more impressive is that Sony has built the SRS-BTX500 to roam, even if that trip is just out to the deck. It can deliver about 6 hours of untethered music if you're willing to charge it up for 4. Of course, you could use that charging time to rock out in a room. Once you're ready to unplug, Sony has included a nice little case for the SRS-BTX500. It's actually more like a wrap, since it's made from cloth and will only protect the device from dust and other debris. It's sort of a downer that it doesn't have an actual handle, since this thing was obviously made to travel. However, it's easy to hold and has a built-in kickstand that doesn't add much to the device's profile. It could easily fit on a slim windowsill with no problem.
Two Peas in a Pod
Pairing devices is literally as easy as pushing a button. First to get blasted out of the SRS-BTX500 was my iPhone 4. Before pairing devices, make sure your phone or tablet is set for Bluetooth. In the case of the iPhone, this can be found under Settings. From there, you can pair the two with one push of the Bluetooth button on the side of the SRS-BTX500. The device almost immediately showed up in my iPhone's list of available Bluetooth devices. Select the device and you're ready to rock out.
Boasting 40 watts of quality wireless sound, the SRS-BTX500 sounds suprisingly good -- and surprisingly loud. It probably won't rock the house, but it can fill the room quite nicely. It could also play over the sounds of my workout sessions, without distortion. Believe it or not, this is a big deal, since I've tested out a few speakers that couldn't deliver any type of decent sound over the squeaks of my elliptical machine.
During my testing period, I played every type of music possible, mostly using my own personal collection, Pandora and Spotify. One of the first selections I tested out was the Pixies album Doolittle, which seemed to be cranking out entirely too much bass. However, the Sound button on the side allows you to tweak using three presets. One push will belt out some Mega Bass, with another opening up the soundfield via the Sound Field Expansion mode. The last Sound option basically kills all of the effects and goes for a flatter, more straightforward sound.
For my tastes, I found that the unit sounded best with sound effects enabled, although sometimes I flip-flopped between Mega Bass and Sound Field Expansion. It really depended on what music I was rocking. Without effects the unit definitely sounds a lot better than whatever your phone, laptop, tablet or portable player can do on its own. However, it's just sort of flat when compared to the other two modes.
Also, as much as I love being able to watch movies and TV through my mobile device, I can't stand the sound coming through the device -- when I can actually hear it. So it was really nice to pair this unit with some of my video apps as well. Now, I found music to sound a lot better than video sources through the SRS-BTX500, but I did run both Netflix and the DISH Anywhere app through the unit and it certainly gave that material a nice little boost in clarity and overall impact.
NFC for Me!
Sony has packed this portable with love for the aforementioned NFC technology. Just in case going into settings to pair the devices is a little too much for you, NFC allows you to pair your phone or tablet to the speaker by simply tapping the portable to your speaker oh-so-gently. Well, sort of. First, you're going to need to download some type of NFC app. In this case, I used the NFC Easy Connect app on the Xperia TL mobile phone that Sony supplied for the review. Other popular devices such as the Samsung Galaxy SIII phone and Galaxy Note II tablet include NFC communication capabilities as well, and will work with the Sony speaker assuming you install the appropriate app (our editor tested it on his Galaxy SIII and reported a successful pairing).
Like Bluetooth, you do need to make sure that NFC support is enabled (and supported) on your phone or tablet before you can expect it to work. Once that's finished, you literally touch the phone to the top of the SRS-BTX500 and the two connect like something very magical. From there, you can stream whatever audio you want, as far as audio is concerned. It is important to note that the speaker still uses Bluetooth for streaming when you use the NFC feature. NFC just allows you to pair the devices to each other with a tap. And when you're finished, tap the speaker with your device one more time to turn it off.
Right off the bat, it would make complete sense that this thing has no remote control. After all, you're going to be controlling the volume and song choices from your Bluetooth and/or NFC devices. However, that doesn't really help if you need to tweak the Sound options or control a tethered device. Some sort of simple remote would certainly add to the clutter, but a companion app would have been much appreciated.
It's hard to stand out in the sea of tabletop speakers out there. Sony has made a nice effort with its SRS-BTX500. It doesn't pack the same power as something like the Sonos PLAY:3, which I think projects slightly better sound overall for the same $299.99 MSRP. But the Play:3 requires a hard-wired connection, while the Sony can crank out tunes without wires for up to six hours.
That said, it certainly holds its own -- in terms of sound quality and functionality -- in a really crowded market. It's one of the best-sounding portable speakers we've seen (and heard). I'm not talking just room to room. This thing would be just as easy to take out of the house, although you probably don't want to carelessly throw it into a suitcase. It would have been nice to have a little love for AirPlay to make it a complete solution.
Manufacturer's Contact Information:
Sony Electronics Inc
16530 Via Esprillo
San Diego, CA 92127
On the web: www.sony.com
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