Sony’s 2017 audio range review: SRS-XB Bluetooth Docks, MDR-XB510AS headphones and more

Sony has launched its complete range of Bluetooth speakers, headphones and earphones in India this summer. Here's our review of the Sony SRS- XB40, Sony SRS- XB30, Sony SRS- XB20 Bluetooth docks, as well as the Sony MDR-XB510AS sports headphones.

Written by Swapnil Mathur , Shruti Dhapola | Updated: June 20, 2017 1:45 pm
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Sony has launched its complete range of Bluetooth speakers, headphones and earphones in India this summer. The range tries to cater to all price points and audio listening preferences. Here is our review of the entire range.

Sony SRS-XB Series Bluetooth Docks

In our review, we found that pairing phones/Bluetooth enabled devices with all docks is super easy. If you’ve got an NFC-enabled phone, then just tap to pair. For Bluetooth, just hold the power button down for a few seconds and the dock goes into pairing mode. Over the course of the review, we paired the docks with seven different phones without any issues. All docks also come with some form of IPX rating, making all of them splash resistant.

They all come with a built-in battery, but there is a variation in how they are charged. The SRS-XB10/20 are charged over micro-USB, and do not come with a power adapter in the box. The XB30/40 are charged with the use of a power adapter (supplied), which are not inter-changeable. Another really great feature about these docks is that they can be paired with up to 3 other such docks, for a louder and richer sound experience.

Sony SRS-XB10

The smallest and the cheapest Bluetooth enabled speaker in the extra bass series lineup, the XB10 is not to be underestimated. Powered by a single (mono) 46mm full range speaker and a downward firing bass unit, the XB10 puts out a rather impressive sound for its size. Ideal for placing on your work desk as it takes up such little space, the unit is capable of generating fairly balanced sound up till the half-way volume mark. Beyond that, you start losing the bass and given that the SB10 does not have an Extra Bass button to boost those low frequencies, you’re better off keeping the volume levels low so as to get the most out of this speaker.

While by itself the XB10 is good enough for playing music at low volumes at work, if you want good stereo sound, you could get an additional unit and pair them up to function as a set of stereo speakers. Each unit of the SRS-SB10 costs Rs 4,990 and in fact, if you’re considering the XB20 (which costs Rs 8,990), we’d recommend spending Rs 2000 extra and getting two of the XB10s as that is a far more versatile combination. We wouldn’t recommend the XB10 for listening to dubstep as it just cannot handle basslines that low, but its great for psy-trance, deep house, breakbeats, techno and even the more commercial EDM stuff.

Sony SRS-XB20 Review

Sony SRS-XB20 is the entry-level stereo dock from Sony that comes with 42-mm full range speakers and a soft rubber build, all of which ends up weighing 590 grams. This dock has rounded corners and a single colour LED strip that runs around the front which matches the colour of the dock. After having used all four docks, the XB20 feels like the weakest link in the chain. It is just slightly louder than the XB10, and the bass progressively gets weaker with the rising volume levels.

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We also found that playing deep house and techno on this dock at full volume occasionally resulted in distortion of sound across the sonic-range, and not just in the bass. The only solution was to turn the volume down. This leads us to believe that the dock cant be operated at full volumes, and is therefore best suited for mild listening in a small to medium-sized room. For Rs 8,990, we felt that you’re probably better off spending Rs 2,000 extra and get two XB10 units instead.

Sony SRS-XB30 Review

Sony SRS-XB30 is a fairly compact Bluetooth speaker system designed for people, who like their music with heavier than usual bass. Weighing just under a kilo and about 9 inches long, the XB30 from Sony is not to be taken lightly. The dock comes with two 48mm satellite speakers and a multi-colour LED strip that runs around the front of the speaker. The rubberised finish is extremely nice and helps the dock maintain grip on most surfaces, even those with a modest slope. Besides a play-pause button, there is also volume control and a separate button to activate ‘extra bass,’ the key feature of this dock.

When it comes to sound, this dock is great for a modestly sized living room. At full volume, the bass takes a hit, but it is still impressive. In fact, there were instances where we had to turn the extra bass off because it started to over-power all other sound. This was particularly pronounced with dubstep, although a lot of deep-house tracks from our library also suffered a similar fate. We found that for some tracks, it was just better to keep Extra Bass off and tweak the sound through the EQ on the phone.

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If you want to play other genres of music, you could possibly get away with it, but don’t expect the music to sound balanced. This speaker is tuned to be bass heavy even with Extra Bass turned off, which mostly eats into the midtones. Not a great choice if you listen to jazz or blues, this is not the dock for you. Even under the electronic music umbrella, if you listen to a lot of dubstep (or music with similar bass lines) you are better off steering away from this dock, and towards the bigger SRS-XB40.

Sony SRS- XB40 review

The biggest of the four docks, the XB40 really steps up the sound with two large 61mm full range speakers that offer far better audio fidelity in comparison to the XB30. With Extra Bass turned off, the music is largely well balanced. Once Extra Bass is turned on, however, the speaker puts out deep, rich bass that can be felt across the surface on which this dock would be sitting.

Sony has also pimped this speaker out heavily with not just a multi-colour LED running across the front, but multiple LEDs on the inside as well. They all sync up to the music, offering a pretty intense light show. Fans of electronic music typically tend to also enjoy visuals with their music, and this dock delivers on that front.

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Unlike the XB-30, the XB-40 is able to handle most genres of electronic music, even dubstep. Once again though, we found that it was just better to turn the Extra Bass off in order to prevent distortion, but it’s a minor inconvenience to have in exchange for desk shaking bass. Just like the other docks in this series, the XB40 is not tuned to a flat audio profile and is not the best for other kinds of music besides electronic. You can get away with playing Rock on this thing, provided you setup a custom EQ on your phone. Cumbersome for a few people, but worth it as it allows you to use the dock for more than just EDM.

The dock weighs 1.5 kilos, but is still fairly portable. What’s nice is that the speaker, though designed to be placed horizontally, can also be kept vertically upright thanks to the flat sides. If you have two of these, they can easily go in the small gaps around your monitor or even TV if need be. At Rs 16,990, the dock could be considered pricey when you consider it is designed specifically for one genre of music, but those who really enjoy their beats down low, this is an excellent choice. Most Bluetooth docks in this price range are designed to be all-purpose, and hence, tend to have weak bass. That is the problem that the Sony SRS-XB40 solves.

Sony MDRXB550AP review

Sony introduced the Extra Bass series somewhere around 2008, with three pairs of earphones and three pairs of headphones. Since then, the series has seen significant improvement and product line bolstering. Sony has expanded on the Extra Bass series, thanks to a growing over-use of deep basslines in music across multiple genres, not just hip-hop or electronic.

The XB550AP is a smartphone-centric headphone, meaning it comes with in-line remote control and a mic. The drivers on these measure 30mm in diameter and are nestled deep under some seriously well cushioned pads. In case you’re wondering, these pads sit on your ear instead of around it, so it can be forgiven that the XB550AP do not block out external noise by a whole lot. However, this shouldn’t be a problem if you’ve got your volume turned up high enough.

We tested this pair of headphones using over sixty tracks from various sub-genres of electronic music and certain traits of the headphones were consistent across the tracks while some varied. For starters, these headphones have a fairly narrow sound-stage. They almost sound like you’re listening to music in a small room as against a giant hall that’s been tuned to acoustic perfection. The narrow sound-stage perhaps helps deliver a tighter bass.

Speaking of the bass, it is deep, rich and does not distort even at maximum volume (we played music through an iPhone and a Google Pixel and got the same result). At higher volumes, it tends to muddle the highs a little bit, pushing them into the background, but that’s okay given that bass heavy music seldom tends to have vocals and beat drops happen together.

Since these are smartphone centric, at first it felt a little weird taking calls wearing something as unwieldy as these headphones. In fact, calls don’t sound as loud as music and often we had to turn the volume up all the way to be able to hear the person on the other end of the line. However, the person on the other end of the line could hear us just fine with the microphone hanging around the chest.

This set of headphones isn’t for everyone. Musical genres such as Rock and pop sound passable, but anyone who’s into more vocal heavy music or even Jazz or Blues for that matter would be sorely disappointed by the XB550AP. However, anyone who has a strong preference for bass heavy music would find themselves loving these headphones, especially given the fact that they only cost Rs 3,290. We do wish that the remote came with volume controls though, which is missing.

Sony MDR-XB510AS sports headphones review

Sony’s new MDR-XB510AS sports headphones are wired ones with a price of Rs 2,790. The idea of wired headphones for sports activities might not appeal to some folks, but for wireless you’ll have to pay extra. The in-Ear headphones also come with various earbud tip sizes, from small, medium and large all included in the box. This is pretty convenient especially for people who have really small ears. But we found that the overall fit of the Sony MDR-XB510AS tends to be on the uncomfortable side.

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After a point, the headphones feel a bit tight, and one can’t wear these for too long without feeling some level discomfort. On the audio loudness levels, the headphones are loud enough to drown out the annoying gym music, and we didn’t have to pump up the volume too much either. For those who like to block out all the music playing in gym, these headphones work well. Also Sony’s MDR-XB510AS have a splash proof design, and you can even rinse these if they get too dirty.

Audio quality on the MDR-XB510AS is quite good, though a little on the flatter side. The vocals sound clear, and the beats are clear, though not as prominent as some might like them to be. But these are meant to be for sports, so the idea isn’t just the music, these are also about durability. The audio quality will also depend on the kind of device being used, and what sort of playback is supported. But the music doesn’t crack at all. The only complaint with these headphones would be the wired design, and uncomfortable fit.

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