The Sony XB3 is a new series of Portable Bluetooth speakers from Sony that has been geared to take on the JBL Charge/UE Boom market. Sony past models X33 and the X3 were very good speakers that focused as more affordable alternatives to the the Bose SoundLink Mini market, rather than the outdoor friendly market. Sony seems to have made a decision that the outdoor oriented market was a better space, and the new XB series is geared towards this.
The XB3 product replaces the X33 (and X3) speakers, but by the likes of it, it might be a viable option for the very good X55 as well if you want similar audio volume but in a more outdoor oriented packaging.
The XB3 audio hardware layout is pretty much standard for the class, with dual woofers and dual passive radiators. The key factor Sony shouts about is the larger 48mm full range woofers it uses, the audio processing engine to boost bass (megabass) and Sony’s LDAC Bluetooth technology for high-resolution audio streaming.
I have extracted why the LDAC can be important by the following quote from Sony,
“LDAC™ audio coding technology developed by Sony, which allows transmission of up to around three times the data volume of existing technologies, and was the first in the world to offer audio quality in the Hi-Res class using Bluetooth Audio”.
While LDAC is offered by Sony on other more expensive models, the XB3 and XB2 were the first models to feature this in the lower price bracket.
The range 2015/16 range of speakers from Sony maxed out at 20W output for models which operated similar on battery and when on charge, while models that offered higher outputs the X55/X77 etc offered lower outputs on battery but the amp got into full power only when it was being charged. The XB3 is the first Sony where the output is 30W (all models in the past range were max 20W) and works in the same manner on battery or when charged.
EXTRABASS is the new thing with the XB3 and Sony claims the BASS boost has been achieved by a combination of specially tuned woofers and radiators coupled with the Sony DSP processing. Sony also goes on to add that this is particular tuned for modern dance floor and EDM tracks, more about this on the sound test section.
This effectively now pitches the XB3 directly in line with the JBL Charge 3 and the UE Boom 2 on loudness. I did a quick table to compare the XB3 with the JBL and UE speakers (and the older X33 model) and you will how similar the XB3 is now to the competitors, clearly showing Sony targeting the JBL Charge 3 and UE BOOM 2 speakers, as in the past most of the comparisons of the X33/X3 was with the Bose SoundLink Mini I/II. The driver sizes are now pretty similar, and based on RMS output the XB3 seems to have the more powerful amplifier.
With the XB3, Sony also brought in some outdoor protection into its speaker,and its now IPX5 certified (Water resistant).
While it cannot be immersed compared to the rivals which are IP7 and IP67 certified, it can now withstand splashes of rain and drips of water (essentially making it shower, kitchen and pool friendly). Notice the rain in the Sony marketing photos 🙂
The XB3 design is primarily meant to be placed horizontally, the XB3 is also capable of being kept vertically due to its non slip rubber exterior. While this is not going to make it provide 360 degree sound like the UE Boom speakers, you can now use it in smaller places which is a useful design feature.
The speaker also has the NFC pairing, an 3.5mm aux in stereo port and the USB chargeout. Importantly Sony has upgraded the Bluetooth spec to version 4.1 which means lower battery consumption. Range wise the Bluetooth range is still 30ft, and Sony works well even with thick walls without any sound artifacts (unlike my Bose Soundlink III which has issues with big cement walls!). The UE Boom and Anker speakers have a greater Bluetooth range and they say 60-100ft.
A new feature for Sony is the ability to pair two speakers (aka dual pairing) with the speaker ADD button. The pairing is similar to the JBL implementation where you can pair speakers of the same type (two XB3) but you cannot pair different models (e.g. and XB3 with an XB2) as is possible with UE speakers. When paired you can decide if you want the speakers to Double (both play full range) or Stereo (left and right channels play on different speakers).
Like all Sony Bluetooth only speakers, the XB3 does not work with the SongPal application.
Design and Quality
Gone is the Xperia Z phone like smooth external feel we saw with the older X3/X33 models, and we now have a rubbery non-slip exterior. The design still is very conservative its no longer the premium desktop feel speaker, but feels more rugged and outdoor friendly. The shape to me is more pleasing than the JBL Charge and UE Boom which are the two direct competitors.
The water resistant feature means that the aux in, usb charge out, and power are now protected by a flap cover. If you going to using the speaker a lot with the aux in or on charge this can be annoying, but with a very good battery life and outdoor use being the market, i assume most users are not going to be complaining too much about this. It would have been better if each of the ports had their own protective covers rather than one huge flap is my opinion, which is the case with competitors such as the UE Boom. Since my use is mainly indoors, i found this rather annoying compared with the exposed connectors on the older models.
Only the POWER, EXTRABASS and BLUETOOTH buttons have tiny LED lights to illuminate it when using the speaker in a dark location. The volume UP and SPEAKER MUTE buttons have tiny bumps which is useful to identify the buttons, but why there are no LED for the volume button baffles me (same criticism i had with with the X5). Seriously why don’t manufacturers use different colored LED for buttons, specially to differentiate the volume up and volume down buttons at least (red and blue maybe)?
Since the speaker allows pairing two, a nice design touch is the indicators to show if the speaker is the left or right when you pair two speakers and set it up for Stereo mode.
To start of with yes, the XB3 with MegaBASS on is loud, very loud and can easily fill a big room, or be heard outdoors, no question about that. Since i also had the Sony X5 with me (which is a higher up model but older) on battery the XB3 is significantly louder, and when connected it still much louder than the X5. One might say it should be because the X5 when powered is 20W while the XB3 is 30W. But being loud is one thing, the question is how is the quality of the sound and the manner in which it handles highs, mids and lows.
The next point to clear is that without MegaBASS on the volume is significantly lower, and selecting MegaBASS does not simply increase the BASS but also has a profound impact on the mids and highs as well.
Without MegaBASS the speaker lacks the oomph and that also explains why Sony has MegaBASS on by default.
Sony models in the past had a button to enable ClearAudio processing, which enabled more cleaner sound but it also meant lower battery times as this required additional processing. While the XB3 does support ClearAudio, there is on way to disable or enable it, and i assume it is always on which is a good thing, since on the X5 the sound was definitely richer than with ClearAudio on.
Well with MegaBASS being the feature, let me start with the Lows. The XB3 with MegaBASS on handles bass quite well for a speaker of this size, but it also seems to be bass dominant, which is very different compared to the older models which had a more balanced playback. Further while it handles some forms of music well, the bass did sound a bit muddy with certain songs i tried. In many ways the bass for more akin to the type of bass you see with the Bose speakers.
The Sony X5 which has a special woofer to handle bass provides a more richer bass that can handle thumps better than the XB3.
However the XB3 is still a small speaker, and the bass does not have the thump you will get from a larger speaker.
Without MegaBASS on the Mids are well handled, and with MegaBASS on while they are still handled the bass tends to drown the mids.
Compared i found the Sony X5 handled the Mids better even when for songs with heavy bass.
The highs are handled well both with MegaBASS on and off, and sound very clear. The bass does not overwhelm the treble in most songs i listened.
Though the speakers are placed a part, the distance is not that great and you are not going to notice the stereo separation which is also how all other speakers of this type work. However if you want true stereo separation you can pair two XB3 and select stereo mode. I did not have a second unit to try this and provide feedback if it does work as stated.
The XB3 bring a big improvement on battery capacity compared to the older models and essentially doubles the on battery use time compared with the X33. Battery times quoted by manufacturers cannot be taken as fact since they don’t mention the volume. In most cases the volume is at 50% and this maybe rather too low for our usage.
Online reviews and forums are the place to go for this information. I had the XB3 with me for over a week and i used it for 12+ hours without charging, and the volume was usually at 80-90%.