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Bayan Audio SoundBook X3 Review
While Bayan Audio is likely at least a somewhat recognizable brand name to our readers in the UK, if you’re reading this from the United States or Canada, the name might not ring a bell. That’s because as recently as a few months ago, the company’s products weren’t available in North America. Now they’ve brought their full range of products overseas, including the subject of today’s review, the Bayan Audio SoundBook X3.
While Bayan makes more than one speaker in the SoundBook line, the SoundBook X3 is the top of the line model. Alongside the now-standard premium features you expect in a Bluetooth speaker — NFC, aptX — this one includes some not-so-standard features, like a built-in FM radio. On paper, it seems great, but is the SoundBook X3 worth its $299 asking price?
What’s In The Box?
On opening the box, the first thing you’ll find is the speaker, though it’s concealed by protective wrapping. Take this out and you’ll find the manual underneath. Everything else — the 3.5 mm audio cable, the AC adapter, and additional outlet configurations for the AC adapter — is located within the box’s secondary compartment.
Build & Design
The SoundBook X3 is undeniably stylish. From the metal wrapping around the top, bottom and sides to the built-in cover to the way the speaker is highlighted in the center — this thing just looks cool. The speaker is available in two color schemes. Our review unit is Silver / Blue, though it is also available in Black / Orange.
Open the cover and the speaker turns on automatically, then just fold the cover under the speaker and it becomes a built in stand. Unlike some speakers with similar layouts — the Bose SoundLink 2 comes to mind — this isn’t optional. The speaker simply won’t stand up without the cover folded beneath.
The SoundBook X3 makes a lot of use of lights for visual feedback. On the top button panel a row of small lights shows you how far you’ve got the volume pushed up, while the front of the device will display which mode the speaker is currently in. This is a small touch, but a welcome one.
Of course, looks aren’t everything. What good is a speaker if it falls apart within a few months? This doesn’t seem like it will be a problem with the SoundBook X3. The speaker has a solid, weighty feel and, while I didn’t toss it at the wall during testing, it feels like this speaker could easily stand up to a few drops or bumps.
Just as the SoundBook X3 automatically turns on when you open the cover, it also immediately enters Bluetooth pairing mode — at least if this is the first time you’re opening it. You can also pair using NFC, but it’s a little cumbersome compared to other speakers, as the NFC logo is located inside the cover, i.e., the part that is normally face down on whatever surface you’ve set the speaker on. This isn’t terribly annoying, but it seems like an odd decision.
If you’d rather not use Bluetooth, or you’re connecting a device that doesn’t support Bluetooth, you can connect via the 3.5 mm audio-in jack on the back of SoundBook X3. In an interesting twist, this speaker also has a line-out jack. At first, you might question why a speaker would have a line-out, but you can use this to, among other things, add Bluetooth functionality to a larger home stereo setup.
The SoundBook X3 is controlled via five buttons on the top panel. The power button in the middle would be a bit of a mystery, considering the speaker powers on and off as you open and close the cover, but this also functions to change the mode the speaker is in. Double tap it to switch between Bluetooth, Aux, and FM radio modes. On the right are the dedicated volume keys, and the left is where the skip forward / backward buttons are, which are also used for tuning when the speaker is in FM radio mode.
The battery life can vary in any Bluetooth speaker, but it’s more likely to vary in the SoundBook X3 due to the various modes in which it can be used. That said, in my testing I found that I got around 10 hours of battery life (give or take a little) each time I used it, which is what Bayan claims. This mostly included listening at reasonable volumes, so if you crank it up, expect less battery life.
A USB port on the back of the SoundBook X3 also allows this speaker to act as a charger for your mobile devices, but of course, expect the battery life to tank when you use the speaker for this purpose. One interesting inclusion is a power saving mode: as you begin to near the end of the battery’s charge, the volume will automatically lower.
Most testing of the SoundBook X3 was done listening via Bluetooth, as this is how the majority of users will spend most of their time with it, though I also listened to the built-in FM radio and lossless music from a computer through a Focusrite Saffire Pro 40 audio interface.
As with all Bluetooth speakers, the surface the SoundBook X3 is resting on while you listen is going to have a lot to do with how much bass you get out of it, but no matter where I placed it, bass was never especially powerful. In some speakers, like Bose’s SoundLink series, upper bass frequencies are boomy to make up for lacking lower bass frequencies, but here that isn’t the case. They’re all subdued across the board.
The midrange is an improvement on the bass, but not by much. While it is certainly loud, midrange is boxy sounding and most of what is happening in the midrange on songs sounded somewhat muffled. How much I noticed this seemed to vary from song to song, but it was always noticeable.
The high frequencies are crisp sounding, but almost too much so. At times I noticed some harshness in the high end, and there was a general ‘crispiness’ to the sound.
Overall, the SoundBook X3 suffers from sounding a little unfocused, and some of this might be due to the built-in compression / limiting I could clearly hear. This might be welcome for some people, as it increases intelligibility in louder environments, but audio purists — myself included — will likely find it annoying.
On the plus side, the SoundBook X3 gets loud. Despite it’s small size, this will easily fill a room, and the sound didn’t seem to get more harsh or break up as I pushed the volume higher. While there isn’t any stereo separation to speak of, this speaker definitely sounds “bigger” than it is.
If the Bayan Audio SoundBook X3 cost around $199, it would be much easier to recommend, but at $299, it’s simply too expensive considering the mediocre sound quality. I really wanted to like this, and in a lot of respects I did. The FM radio and line out are great features, and for some people, this alone could make the unit worth the money, but for most of us, there are better sounding speakers out there that offer as compelling a feature set for the same price or less.
Buy now from Amazon.com ($299.99)