Bluetooth seems like it is the future for we audio nerds, doesn’t it? It also really feels like the market is flooded with off-brand, no name, nonsense BT products and that there is no escape from…curtains for us all, so to speak. Sony sent me their adorable little BT Speaker for review, but can their little cube stand up to the competition?
Build and Design
For starters, this thing feels like a solid chunk of metal. Great sign off the bat and into first base with build. The housing is a very hefty and dense feeling aluminum that comes in various colors, so I’ve opted for the blue one. Beyond that, the buttons have a rubber coating on them and exude a satisfying click when you press them. Pretty much everything feels excellent and of a higher standard than most little speakers I’ve played with in my time. I am a little peeved that the unit didn’t come with a 3.5mm to 3.5mm interconnect, but I am thankful it at least came with the needed USB charging cable. Overall, due to the very small size of this product, nothing more really needs to be said. It is very small and cute, so I am happy to see that component skimping isn’t taking place with the very solid design. At 2.4 inches by 2.4 inches, I would expect this product to be fully plastic in build, but instead we received a nice, aluminum chassis.
Bluetooth and Phone Calls
Admittedly, I love taking showers with some music playing via speakers somewhere in the bathroom and I’ve even swapped my condo’s bathroom fan for a more powerful one that sucks out the steam and such just for that reason. Normally, would bring a lower end Dap with me to connect to said speaker, but in this case I really don’t have to do anything but pair the X11 to my home computer. Connection via a source is easy enough and all of my Bluetooth enabled devices paired quick and easy with the X11. I use an Azio ($8.99) Bluetooth USB dongle for usage with my computer, which is paired to the X11 via toggling the settings menu on the Bluetooth software for Windows 7, pressing refresh and then long pressing the Add button on the X11. After a few moments, the PC will recognize the X11 and sync to it.
If you have paired a different speaker or device previously, all of them would appear in that little software window, so you’ll need to disconnect anything currently synced to your Bluetooth source, then activate the X11. Sadly, I am not aware of any BT sources that will sync to multiple devices at once, maybe they are out there, but I’ve not heard of one. Hopefully, that is something someone will cook up in a lab for me sometime soon, as I find it immensely annoying having to pair one device at a time and deactivate everything else just for the new guy to work.
The connection is strong and I’ve never once lost a connection with the X11 when paired with my phone, AK120 or my computer. It gets a little funky and glitch when I reach a distance of about 25 feet, cutting out for a fraction of a second, but generally the connection feels solid up to that point and without any issues. Thankfully, my listening room with my source is less than 25 feet from my bathroom, so I am free to get naked and dance in the shower to my heart’s content with this BT setup.
I’ve been using it daily in the shower, sometimes twice, for roughly a month and subjecting it to lots of steam…so far the speaker hasn’t lost a step and hasn’t yet failed. I’ve known cheap speakers to crap out around this point, so I am happy to say the X11 seems resilient. True, I’d not recommend you do this and you should keep it away from steam, but for the sake of the review, I’ll suffer through being forced to listen to great music while I take a shower. I know, I know. It is very difficult on an emotional level to read that…I apologize if I’ve caused you psychological trauma.
Phone call taking is also a breeze when paired with my Samsung smartphone; I’ve not had any issues so far and never had a drop out after 10 trial calls were made for testing. However, I’d found that if the person on the other line is in a loud area, traffic or an office situation, the call quality was greatly diminished and I could not fully understand that person without strain and guess work. Due to the lack of detail and abundant bass, the mid and treble in the background of the call tends to get clustered to a point that I could almost not understand what is being said. However, in a normal, house like area that the recipient may be in, the call sounded normal and I could understand the other person without issue.
Note, the battery life of the unit hits a consistent 10 hours for me and not the quoted 12 hours on the product website.
Upon first usage, my initial thoughts were “Damn, that thing feels rock solid on the low end. I didn’t expect it to sound that weighted and firm.”
You might see that as a positive quality, normally it would be if the speaker sounded very nice, but it doesn’t. It is what you would expect a Bluetooth speaker of this size to sound like: warped, supremely thick, muddy and lacking texture. Sadly, clarity on the low end is pretty gross to me and I’ve heard a load of $50 or so and larger speakers that sound better. However, I’ve not heard a single speaker that houses such a massive, weighted appeal to the bass either. So, it seems like it’s a win/win and a lose/lose at the same time with regard to the bass experience on the X11. I am not sure if I can rate this well just because it is a $50-60 BT speaker, yet also very small as well.
Is it really fair to judge this harshly? I am absolutely conflicted as to what the fairest path to judgement would be in this case. Should I judge based on a general sound quality that takes all products into account, or do I judge based on $50 or so small speakers and nothing else? On one hand, the speaker is Bluetooth and has a 3.5mm input to be used with normal music devices, it also has a lot more oomph that I’d ever have expected on the low end. On the flip side, the sound quality just isn’t good. The X11 dishes out abundant quantity, but lacks severely in clarity and purity. For that reason, I have to give it low marks for not offering a grand deal in the age of amazing audio products and spotlight deals that nobody saw coming. Sadly, the X11 is all bark and no bite, opting for a good amount of solidity that is unlike most other tiny speakers sub $100 that I’ve heard, but also roughly the same in clarity to those lower end speakers as well.
I am very heartbroken to report that this speaker’s midrange follows suit with the bass experience, mirroring it perfectly in terms of a quality to quantity ratio. I admit to being a snob when it comes to clarity and I feel like price shouldn’t be the deciding factor on if a product is well rated…but, this X11 sounds quite flat to my ears and lacks a midrange experience that pops enough to do itself justice. Due to the more than plentiful low end, the midrange and vocals end up drowned out a bit in physicality. The only way to get that midrange to come alive is to drop the low end EQ off your source into negative levels, 0dB isn’t enough. I had to extend to -5dB before the hardcoded bass quantity died out enough to really be able to judge just how well the midrange in the speaker could perform.
My findings were that its fine, as well as that I’ve not heard another speaker this clean in the midrange before for this price. This is absolutely the best midrange after EQ was dropped on the low end to be able to hear it properly, no doubt. However, once again it lacks that life and sparkle that I desire, that midrange bloom effect you may want in a speaker is missing. Summed up, it sounds too linear when compared to the treble experience, as if the midrange and treble were twins and standing right next to each other without either offering anything really great or standout-ish.
The upper end of the speaker is a surprise and I’ve not detected any sibilant tendencies, although and again, the treble is in near perfect alignment to the midrange. Due to that, the entire experience sounds beyond boring and lackluster. Nobody will be saying this is a great speaker at a party, or who may be strolling along past you as you sit in the grass doing your homework on the college campus grounds, or perhaps the robber in your house just behind the bathroom door who is listening in on you using the X11 in the shower. One positive quality that I enjoy about the speaker is that the lack of snap and slam, this product has nice impact levels and doesn’t sound overly snappy to me.
You should be able to use the speaker for hours without fatigue, never wincing when someone screams or slams a high hat on the drums. The top end lacks a vivid brightness that I would want in most situations, especially so for podcasts and general YouTube viewing. I’ve found that the X11 lacks engagement across the board, top to bottom, left to right. Sadly, the treble lacks definition and oomph like the speakers low end offers in abundance, so the end result ends up feeling like an overly muted upper end when that bass is left alone on your source. With the low end dropped off a bit, things end up sounding nicer and more like I would want it to.
At that point, the experience in the mids and treble is highlighted and of course the bass is severely lacking. The stock version of the X11 sound is the reverse of that: mids and treble lacking, but with plentiful bass. So, there really is a no win here. When I use this outside, the wind and rustling of trees seems to counter the lacking treble and made it feel like it’s a total wash out and a haze of nothing but undiscernible sounds up top at times. That is due to that lack of definition that I was speaking of before and this is especially true when you leave the EQ alone and allow the bass to flood the entire spectrum.
Well, as if it wasn’t bad enough at this point, the imaging of the X11 offers almost nothing beyond what you would expect. Some speakers are small and put out a large sound field, but this X11 isn’t one of those. That stage sounds like it is being emitted directly from the speaker in a normal fashion. That means that the stage feels like its limits are the edges of the speaker case of the X11, they don’t extend beyond and fill the area. What you see is what the staging property feels like to the minds/ears eye so to speak and there is no perceived vaster sound to what you your eyes see when you look at the device. This isn’t a problem for a number other speakers that are a bit larger, but I am not sure if this is due to that smaller size of the X11. Is that a normal phenomenon with speakers? Tiny speakers like this putting out a small sound and not being able to make the imaging properties feel like they are larger if you’d close your eyes? I can’t really say, I’d need a ton more speakers of a similar size to accurately judge that, but for now what I can say is that the staging properties sound small and do not fill my 20×15 bedroom.
Depth of field, width and height are a non-factor here, as again the stage feels like it doesn’t extend beyond the exterior of the speaker very much. However, the physical definition of the midrange helps this out and I do consider the vocal/spoken word more than satisfactory in terms of a weighted appeal, as well as how densely and nicely formed they are. Podcasts from Roosterteeth, my favorite Youtube channel, sound and feel decent to my ears through the X11. The problem occurs when someone yells or when multiple people speak at once, which causes the speaker to sound flooded and lacking dimensionality in the most severe sense of the word. However, when things are calm and normalized in conversation, the experience is enjoyable at the very least. This is especially true if you are doing house work and listening in to the conversation, or want background music to pass the time.
Audiophiles will hate this speaker, but I think general consumers who want something to pass the time, something extremely well built or something to relax with outside or in a small room should pick one of these up. My mom loves this speaker and uses it every morning to listen to her radio before she goes to work, so I think the general population will hear this speaker and go wide eyed at the nice midrange and hefty bass that is offered. It is unlikely the speaker will get damaged with a small leap off a table, so those who need a portable speaker or who travel often should absolutely pick this up. For $50, you can’t really go wrong.
I was in a serious bind as to how to rate this speaker, but I have to be fair and judge it on sound quality alone first and foremost. Ignoring the price tag, the sound offered is only acceptable for seasoned audio enthusiasts and we would use this as a beater, something to be tossed in the bag and listened to now and then if we’ve nothing else on hand to use. However, I think normal people, who aren’t insane when it comes to audio products, will enjoy this.
With regard to price to performance, the X11 falls very short when stacked up against normal $50-60 speakers out there. But, the market isn’t filled with cube speakers at the moment so there isn’t really a reference point to start with when rating this. The truth is that it offers a $50 sound to me and that I didn’t enjoy it. It sounds muddy on the low end and too linear for me in the mids to treble. Despite what I think of it, I think college students and normal people looking for something to pass the time should invest in this speaker. It really seems aimed for those types and not the serious listener.
- Approx. 1.77 in diameter x 1
- OUTPUT POWER 10W
- BATTERY LIFE 12 hours
- INPUT AND OUTPUT TERMINALS: Micro USB terminal, Stereo mini-jack input
- AIRPLAY: No