Review: Sony SRS-XB41

This Is the Weirdest Bluetooth Speaker I’ve Ever Tested (And I Like It)


April 4, 2018 Reviews By Photo by Chase Pellerin

The Sony SRS-XB41 is the largest portable Bluetooth speaker in the company’s 2018 Extra Bass series. Compared to last year’s Sony SRS-XB40 speaker — which you can now buy for $178 on Amazon — the new SRS-XB41 comes with significantly upgraded features. It’s more water and dust resistant, with an IP67 rating, so you can wash it off with a hose if it gets muddy and not have to worry about ruining it. It’s more powerful and has three times the wireless range of the SRS-XB40, too. And it has a ‘Live Sound’ mode so that, by pressing a button on the top of the SRS-XB41, you boost the soundstage of the music so it fills the room more and it feels like you’re in a concert venue of sorts. It has some other DJ-esque and “party booster” features, which I’ll get into below. The speaker costs $250 and is available now.

The Good: The fact is, the Sony SRS-XB41 sounds excellent especially at high volumes. And it gets really loud. It’s super easy for anybody to use, with simple pairing and volume buttons on the top of the speaker. It works well in outdoor situations and there’s no need to worry about people spilling water on it or getting it dirty. You can customize the color and the flashing of the LED lights in myriad ways. If you don’t like the lights, you can shut them off. Like its predecessor, it has a USB-A port the speaker can act as a portable power bank to charge your phone. You can link up to 100 Extra Bass speakers and have them all playing simultaneously, although I’m guessing not many people will have a reason to link more than two.

Who They’re For: Anybody can use this speaker and appreciate it, and I imagine it performs will for backyard barbecues or dorm room raves. However, it’s really geared for party situations. The lights, the loudness, the bass-heavy tunes and its ‘Live Sound’ mode are really for people listening to music together. Also, you have to be okay with navigating a separate app to control the speaker’s lights and quirky features. For kids — think high-school or younger — the party features might be interesting.

Watch Out For: Lets get into these quirky features. The Fiestable app lets you control the party features — changing the color of the lights, DJ scratches and customize noise effects and using motion control with your phone (you can shake your phone and a cowbell will ring on the speaker, for instance) — and it all works well, to be honest. However, many of these features make the speaker feel pretty gimmicky, like a child’s toy. There’s also ‘Party Booster’ feature you can access through a second app, Sony’s Music Center, that enables you to hit in specific places on the speaker, and like a Bop It, certain percussion or drum noises will play. It’s hilarious, but in a ‘who the heck is going to use this feature kind of way.’ Again, maybe kids will like it. The other thing is the speaker’s ‘Live Sound’ mode isn’t very good for anything else than EDM and party tunes. A lot of the midrange audio, which encompasses important instrumentals and vocals, feel muted — it’s just not great for normal listening conditions. I left ‘Live Sound’ off for the majority of the testing period.

Alternatives: If you’re looking for 360-degree sound and not a front-facing portable Bluetooth speaker, I’d suggest the UE’s Megaboom ($250) or Bose’s SoundLink Revolve+ ($300). Neither has bright LED lights like the Sony SRS-XB41, too. On the flip side, you can get last year’s Sony SRS-XB40 speaker ($178), which costs less and comes with many of the same features.

Review: The Sony SRS-XB41 has grown on me over my two week testing period, admittedly. The majority of my time listening was spent in the office, amongst my colleagues, and most of us felt its appearance — the bright lights and quirky features — was “too loud.” But one of the good things about the SRS-XB41 is if you don’t like its lights, you can just shut them off in the app once and not have to worry about them ever again; I left them on because, well, I kind of liked them. The DJ- and Bop It-like features are reset and disabled every time you shut off the speaker, so you have to go out of your way too use them. And I like that.

I can imagine some people will like the speaker’s ‘Live Sound’ mode, but it made songs sound hollow to me. It’s not the speaker’s default setting, however, so you don’t have to worry about ‘Live Sound’ mode if you don’t want to. Just don’t press the button on the speaker. Simple.

It doesn’t have a built-in virtual assistant, either, like a UE Megablast, but in my experience Bluetooth speakers not made by Amazon, Google or Apple don’t need them — they only complicate the experience, they’re not as quick to respond and you can only talk to them when connected to wifi.

Verdict: As a standalone Bluetooth speaker, the Sony SRS-XB41 has everything you want. It gets loud. The sound quality is good. There’s a lot of bass, too. And maybe best of all, it’s as easy to use as any Bluetooth speaker. It even has NFC for easy pairing. The point is, you should look at it as a good and loud Bluetooth speaker, with a bunch of fun tricks that some people — mainly party goers and kids — will dig. Still, not everybody is going to want to pay a premium — $250 is fairly expensive — on a speaker with this much personality.

What Others Are Saying:

• “The SRS-XB41 is made for partying, mainly due to the deep and powerful tones produced by the speaker. Enabling its Live Sound mode, you’ll experience the feeling of listening to your favorite tunes live. It’s honestly not for everyone, but if you prefer that kind of style, it undoubtedly delivers with its wide audio distribution.” — John Velasco, Phone Arena

• “The SRS-XB41 doesn’t reinvent the wheel. It is, after all, just a decent-sounding Bluetooth speaker with a couple of extra interesting features. But its colorful LEDs, ‘Live Sound’ mode, and music-making elements are interesting additions, even if they won’t be for everyone. It’s a Bluetooth speaker that knows exactly what it wants to be, and when it comes to something that’s built for convenience that’s enough to make it worth a look.” — Jon Porter, TechRadar

Key specs

Frequency Range: 20hz – 20kHz
Drivers: dual 2.28 drivers
Battery: 24 hours
Waterproof: IP67

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