When we think of smart speakers, the first options that come to mind are Google Home and Amazon Echo devices. These typically home-oriented speakers aren't very expensive, have built-in Wi-Fi to stream music from various online services, and also let you use voice assistants that can give you information or let you communicate with your family and friends easily. However, the lack of a battery and reliance on being always connected to a power socket mean that these speakers are limited in terms of how and where you can use them.
The solution to the portability problem is a classic wireless speaker, which typically relies on a built-in battery to work outdoors or on the move. These speakers connect to a source device such as a smartphone or tablet using Bluetooth to play music, but the downside of this is that you need to control the music on your smartphone, and you're unlikely to have access to streaming services on the device itself. There are exceptions to this — such as the Boat Stone 700A which uses your smartphone to connect to Amazon's Alexa — but these two types of speakers largely occupy their own separate categories.
The Sony SRS-XB402M is a brand new wireless speaker that bridges the gap between these categories. Priced at Rs. 24,990 but available at a street price of Rs. 19,990, this speaker offers both Internet connectivity for online services, as well as classic portability and flexibility through Bluetooth. We review this feature-filled wireless speaker to find out what it's capable of.
Most portable speakers tend to be compact, and are usually small enough to slip into tight spaces such as a backpack. The Sony SRS-XB402M is nothing like typical portable speakers; it's much larger with a cylindrical shape, and weighs a hefty 1.5kg. The size and shape of the Sony SRS-XB402M make it ideal for table-top use at home, but the option of portability exists for those who want it.
The bottom of the speaker is rubberised for grip, while two-thirds of the exterior is fabric-wrapped. The rear-facing third segment is plastic, with a rubber top panel for the buttons and indicator lights. There are vertical strips of lights separating the body of the speaker into three segments, which also add some party effects when playing music. The lights in the strips are multi-coloured, but there is also a single bright strobe light at the top. We personally didn't like the lights much, as we found them distracting and too bright, but we see the appeal of using them in some situations. Fortunately, they can be turned off.
The speaker itself looks good, with typical Sony styling; it's attractive and stands out without being too flashy (assuming you turn the lights off). The back has a water-tight flap that covers the proprietary and Micro-USB charging ports. The speaker is IP67-rated for dust and water resistance, making it suitable for all kinds of outdoor use.
The top of the Sony SRS-XB402M has buttons and indicator lights for power, the Internet link, Bluetooth, and four more indicators for the volume and battery level which only light up when you're adjusting the volume or checking the battery status. The buttons on top control power, the microphone, play/ pause, the volume, and Sony's Live Sound mode which is said to make music sound like it's being played live. The back has a single button that can change the light mode with a short press, while a long press shows the battery level using the four indicator lights on top.
Interestingly, the Sony SRS-XB402M speaks in two voices — the first is the Sony voice which gives audible prompts for core functions on the speaker, while the second is Alexa, which responds in the voice of your chosen language or accent. Of course, Alexa needs to be set up on the speaker for that functionality to work.
The Sony SRS-XB402M has two 53mm angled full-range speakers, and two passive radiators — one at the front and one at the back. The speaker has a frequency response range of 20-20,000Hz, and uses Bluetooth 4.2 with support for the SBC and AAC audio codecs. Wi-Fi connectivity uses the 802.11 a/b/g/n standard for online functions. Apart from Alexa, the Sony speaker also supports Spotify Connect, which uses Wi-Fi to directly stream music from the Internet.
The speaker is ideally charged using the included adapter that plugs into the dedicated charging port, but Sony has also included a Micro-USB port for a bit more flexibility. Aux and SD card connectivity are absent, so music can only be played using online services or Bluetooth.
The Sony speaker is ideally used plugged in at all times, since this allows it to remain always on and listening for voice commands, just like an Echo smart speaker. However, the SRS-XB402M does have a built-in battery for wire-free use, which is handy for when you want to move it to a different room or take it with you on trips. Battery life is claimed to be 12 hours per full charge, and we were able to match this figure in our testing.
There are two ways to listen to music on the Sony SRS-XB402M smart speaker: using Bluetooth, and using Wi-Fi. The former is easy to set up using your smartphone or tablet's Bluetooth pairing settings, while the latter requires the Sony Music Center app (available for iOS and Android). The app is needed to set up Wi-Fi connectivity on the speaker, and once complete, can also be used to configure various settings and enable Alexa. Both the smartphone and speaker need to be on the same Wi-Fi network. You can also see the speaker's approximate battery level in the app.
Once completely set up, the Sony SRS-XB402M works like any standard Echo speaker, with nearly all Alexa capabilities including music streaming and Alexa skills. If you have an active Amazon Prime subscription, you'll be able to access Amazon Music on the speaker. Other Alexa-supported streaming services such as JioSaavn and Gaana also work when enabled.
It's worth noting that like other third-party speakers, Alexa's communications-related functions don't work on the Sony SRS-XB402M, including the ability to make announcements or voice calls to the speaker. For the full Alexa experience, we'd recommend an Echo speaker over this.
Finally, the Sony SRS-XB402M also supports Spotify Connect, which works when your controlling device (your smartphone, tablet, or laptop) is on the same Wi-Fi network as the Sony speaker. The feature worked as expected, and we were able to directly stream music from Spotify on the speaker while using our smartphone as a controller to select songs.
During our review, we used the Sony SRS-XB402M with music streamed over Amazon Music using Alexa, as well as Spotify Connect, and our own files on a OnePlus 7 Pro (Review) using Bluetooth. We were impressed with sound quality on the Sony SRS-XB402M across formats and connection types, but found that the best sound was achieved when streaming music using Wi-Fi.
We started with Shooting Stars by Bag Raiders, and immediately liked the sound the Sony SRS-XB402M produced. When using Spotify Connect, the track was loud and the sound was clean. The XB in the model name signifies that this speaker is part of the Extra Bass series, and this was audible in the sonic signature. The fast beats and punchy bass in the track sounded great, with the Sony SRS-XB402M adding a bit more kick to the sound.
What impressed us the most about the attack in the bass was how refined it sounded. This wasn't unchecked aggression by any means, and was a bit more calculated and measured in its approach. Furthermore, whether it was the low end, mids, or highs, this speaker sounded extremely sharp and detailed. The gentle lyrics in Shooting Stars were never lost in the aggressive beat, and Sony has managed to pull off, in our opinion, the truest way to bump up the bass while retaining the character of the track.
Moving on, Closer by LeMaitre demonstrated the wide soundstage and excellent instrument separation of the Sony SRS-XB402M wireless speaker. This was partly thanks to the unique angled position of the two drivers, while the passive radiators at the front and back helped give some depth to the low end. Once again, the speaker demonstrated unparalleled clarity and sharpness, and we haven't heard this level of detail from any other portable wireless speaker thus far.
We then listened to Lotus by Dinka, a progressive house track with a fast-paced, yet soothing beat. We liked the rumble in the bass notes of this track, and we were particularly impressed with how loud and room-filling the sound was despite the relatively small size of the speaker. The Sony SRS-XB402M produces results similar to proper two-channel speaker setups and has a consumer-friendly sonic signature, all in a small, portable form factor. We also found that the speaker sounded good even at low volumes, and didn't need to be turned up too high simply to improve sound quality.
Alexa's voice assistant features and music streaming for us, and the microphone was able to pick up voice commands easily from across a room. Switching between Amazon Music, Spotify Connect, and Bluetooth was also easy. We did occasionally experience slight lag between giving a command and getting a suitable response. While you do have the option to use Alexa to answer queries or for skills, we found that the speaker was more suited for music streaming, rather than as a smart speaker.
The Sony SRS-XB402M wireless smart speaker is the complete package, as far as small one-box speakers go. It offers the ideal combination of online connectivity and streaming, with traditional Bluetooth playback and portability. A strong dust and water resistance rating, decent battery life, and the flexibility of being in its element whether inside the house or outside makes the Sony SRS-XB402M an excellent device.
The only significant drawback is the price. At Rs. 24,990 (or even the MOP of Rs. 19,990), the Sony SRS-XB402M is much more expensive than most other wireless or smart speakers. Sure, the sound quality and feature set may make it worth this much for some, but this device is definitely a premium product, and does lack connectivity options such as an aux-in port.
Price: Rs. 19,990 (MOP)