Sony knows a thing or two about speakers and it has a speaker at practically every price point. The newest offering comes in the form of the Sony SRS-XB32, an update to the previous XB31. At around $115 at the time of this post, this speaker is packed with features ranging from high-quality Bluetooth codecs to strobe lights (seriously). With so many great speakers available now for under $100, is the Sony SRS-XB32 worth spending the extra cash on?
Who is the Sony SRS-XB32 for?
- Party people. If strobe lights and colorful lightstrips are your thing, this is the speaker for you.
- Beach go-ers. As long as you keep the rubber flap on the back closed, the Sony SRS-XB32 is sealed against water and even dust thanks to the IP67 rating. So this is a great option to bring to the beach with you.
- Anyone going camping. If a campfire is your only source of light, this is going to look really cool in the darkness. Plus, it gets loud so it will scare away the bears (hopefully).
What is the Sony SRS-XB32 like to use?
The Sony SRS-XB32 comes in at around 22.8 x 10 x 10 cm and weighs close to 907 grams (or two pounds if you’re in the states). Thankfully, it is still fairly portable and I had no problem stuffing it in my backpack on a quick weekend trip. Still, the speaker isn’t particularly small, so if you’re a hardcore outdoors person and are looking for something portable you might be better off with the JBL Clip 3 or the UE Wonderboom 2. However, if you’re going to be in a single location like the beach, pool, or a campsite: then this might be the speaker for you.
The speaker is made of hard plastic with a rough fabric covering the drivers inside. It features dual 48mm full-range drivers along with dual passive radiators to get the most out of the low end. Plus, you can give it a little extra oompf at your next get together thanks to the extra bass feature. There isn’t much to know here and the button works exactly as it sounds. You can switch between live mode or extra bass mode which gives just a little extra emphasis to lower notes. I found this helped with making the music audible when you’re outdoors.
Speaking of which, if you’re going to be outside this speaker is up to the task. Is rocking an IP67 rating which means that it’s completely water and dustproof. I don’t exactly baby speakers like this when I review them, and I had no problem throwing this thing around in the dirt. It even fell about three feet off a picnic table at one point and came away completely fine. Whether or not that level of abuse will eventually catch up with it is hard to tell, but I had no issues in my use.
Up top, you’ll find all of the playback buttons which have a nice click to them so you get immediate feedback that it worked instead of accidentally clicking twice. Then around back there are the inputs and a few more buttons under a protective waterproof flap. There’s also a USB output so the speaker can double as an external battery pack and charge up your devices on the go.
Lining the speaker is a colorful light strip that you can control via the Fiestable app. You can choose which color you want it to be or you can decide to turn them off entirely and save some battery if you want. On the front are two tiny strobe lights just flash to the music as well because, why the hell not. The Sony SRS-XB32 also borrows a weird and unique feature from some other Sony speakers that lets you use it as an instrument. Enabling the “Party Booster” makes kick drums, snares, and cowbell sound just by tapping it to the beat. Basically, if you’re going to be having a party: all of these features really take this speaker to the next level. Turning all these features off will let you enjoy a longer battery life.
How is the connection strength?
The Sony SRS-XB32 has Bluetooth 4.2, so the range is pretty standard at around 30 feet in any direction. While testing outdoors with nothing on the way I was even able to get to around 50 feet before the connection started stuttering. It also has NFC which lets you easily pair to the device just by tapping your compatible phone to the NFC logo on the top. I haven’t seen too many new speakers make good use of NFC and I had forgotten how helpful it is for pairing. I was all set up and playing music in seconds. However, if you have an iOS device you’ll still have to go through Bluetooth settings as NFC isn’t as open on iOS. Still, connecting to more than one device is not obvious or easy—and I ended up repairing multiple times.
The Sony SRS-XB32 also features both AAC and Sony’s own LDAC codec for high-quality streaming. While neither codec is perfect, they’re still higher quality than the standard SBC codec that all Bluetooth devices use, even if the highest LDAC setting does risk an unstable connection. Still, if you’re streaming music from a service like Apple Music or Spotify, none of this really matters anyway. I doubt anyone is going to tell you off at your next backyard rave because of the sound quality.
As I mentioned before, you’re going to want to download the app to get the most out of this speaker. From there you can control the light strips and decide if you want to turn on the “Party Booster” mode or the “Live Sound” mode, which Sony claims will angle the sound to simulate a 3D experience. I found that it just made the music sound like it had a little more reverb, which was nice at times but still not anywhere near what a live show will sound like. You can also daisy chain up to 100 of these wirelessly by pressing the Wireless Party Chain (WPC) button underneath the flap on the back, though I don’t see how this is a practical feature for the average person and I’m willing to bet that this feature has been used exactly once in some random Sony testing lab. Besides that, there’s also a 3.5mm input if you want to hardwire in devices which is nice, but to access it you’ll have to expose the ports under the waterproof flap so keep that in mind if you’re near water or sand.
What’s the battery life of the SRS-XB32?
Sony claims a battery life of 24 hours of constant playback, but that’s only if you turn off all of the lights and turn off extra bass mode. Considering all of those things are turned on by default, I opted to test battery life with everything turned on to get a more realistic gauge for how long it will last. With all of the lights and extra bass mode turned on, Sony claims about 14 hours of constant playback. In my testing, it lasted a respectable 11 hours and 5 minutes of constant playback, but it wasn’t the 14 that Sony claimed.
Even worse than not hitting the mark on battery life is the fact that the Sony SRS-XB32 speaker charges via micro-USB. We’re too far into the reign of USB-C and all its promises for me to let it pass anymore, and it’s a bummer that if you get this speaker you’ll likely need to carry a separate cable with you to charge it. On the bright side, it does have a standard USB-A output so you can charge your devices on the go, though you should expect the battery life to take a hit.
Let’s talk sound
Usually, I expect good things from Sony products when it comes to sound quality, but that isn’t the case with their extra bass line of products. While they don’t sound bad, the extra emphasis on the lower notes just isn’t for me sometimes. The SRS-XB32 is one of those times. The lower notes are just slightly too overdone for my liking and while listening to my favorite YouTube Lo-Fi stream (you know the one) I found that more often than not, the bass completely overpowered the other elements of a track. That extra bump in the low end could be a good thing if you’re a bass lover, but there’s another more practical reason for it which is to help when you’re playing music outdoors. Lower notes tend to dissipate quicker into your surroundings if there’s a lot going on in your area, and that extra emphasis helps you hear them outside even if you’re at a loud backyard bbq like I was.
While vocals weren’t hard to hear, they also weren’t super clear due to the emphasis on the bass. At times I found vocals could be somewhat masked by the lower frequencies and differentiating background instruments is not easy. Notes in the high end were similarly lacking in clarity with the cymbals and hi-hats in Generator ^ Second Floor by Freelance Whales sounding slightly lower in volume than other instruments in the background.
While the Sony SRS-XB32 won’t be knocking anything off our best waterproof speakers list, it still has its place. Particularly if you like the idea of having a speaker that can party as you do when you go to the beach or to the pool this isn’t a bad option. It’s a fun speaker that gets loud and can add some extra flair to your party. It’s not as large or as loud as the SRS-XB41, but it’s also not as expensive. The SRS-XB32 fills a certain niche for a certain kind of person and a certain use case. Unfortunately, that person isn’t me. I’d much rather save the extra money and pick up a tough little speaker that costs less. But if strong bass, flashing strobe lights, fun features, and a tough waterproof build is what you’re looking for then that person might be you.