Sony SRS-X7 review: Swanky wireless speaker packs in the features

One of its noteworthy features is that you can use other apps within the app, so, for instance, you can run Spotify from within SongPal and have your playlists stream to the speaker over Wi-Fi. At launch, SongPal also supports Pandora and Music Unlimited (Sony's music service), as well as HBO Go, Netflix, SlingPlayer and TuneIn Radio.

If this all sounds a little more complicated than it should be, it is. That's the nature of Wi-Fi streaming and that's one of the reasons AirPlay speakers haven't taken off (price is another).

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Sarah Tew/CNET

In contrast, connecting via Bluetooth is a breeze. There's tap-to-pair NFC for phones and tablets that support the feature, as well as AptX support (the NFC didn't work so well with my Samsung Galaxy S5 test unit, even after I downloaded Sony's NFC Easy Connect app). AptX is supposed to make Bluetooth sound better -- more like Wi-Fi streaming -- though it's hard to tell the difference, particularly with a speaker as small as this.

One feature that's missing is an integrated microphone for speakerphone capabilities. The Bluetooth-only BTX500 and SRS-X5 does have an integrated speakerphone while Bose SoundLink speakers do not.

Performance

The SRS-X7 is one of those speakers that can sound excellent for its size with certain tracks but falls off a bit with others, particularly at higher volumes. With less demanding material, such as Nora Jones' "Come Away With Me" and John Legend's "All of Me," it sounds clean and vibrant and will certainly impress. But run some complicated tracks (lots of instruments playing at the same time) through it at higher volumes and it doesn't handle them so well.

For instance, Pink Floyd's "Astronomy Domine" and "Interstellar Overdrive" sounded pretty rough around the edges. The other issue is that with tracks that have a lot of bass, the speaker vibrates at higher volumes and can move around on smoother surfaces such as a table or counter.

While the speaker doesn't have huge bass, there's some punch to it and there's a reasonable amount of treble detail. But ultimately, the X7 is strongest in the midrange (vocals, acoustical material).

The speaker did play loud for its size and should fill a small to medium size room with sound. However, it doesn't play quite as loud as the Bose SoundLink Wireless III or sound quite as smooth.

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View from above. Sarah Tew/CNET

Nor does it offer as good battery life, which is rated at 6 hours with Wi-Fi off ("network off") and 3 hours with Wi-Fi on. The Bose is rated at 14 hours.

With some tweaking in the SongPal app, you can adjust the sound, although the default setting, with ClearAudio+ engaged, seemed to work best. As I said, overall this speaker sounds good for a compact wireless speaker and should impress folks who don't push it too hard or aren't critical listeners.

The only problem is that it doesn't sound better than its closest competitors or the older SRS-BTX500. And it also doesn't sound as good as Bose's SoundTouch 20 Wi-Fi speaker. True, that model costs $100 more, but it's more multiroom friendly. Likewise, something like the Sonos Play:1 ($200, £169, AU$299) or Play:3 ($300, £249, AU$449) are far better multiroom solutions, too, and setup on them is a breeze -- but they're not Bluetooth-compatible.

Conclusion

There's been a a little bit of push lately by certain companies to add more robust wireless options to their speakers. For instance, Bose has its new multiroom SoundTouch line with integrated Wi-Fi and so does Samsung, with its Shape speakers.

Interestingly, in going the Wi-Fi route, Sony hasn't talked up multiroom room audio and is billing the SRS-X7 as a single speaker solution. In that regard, I'm not sure I completely understand the thinking behind it. For better or worse, it's a classy looking and good performing Bluetooth wireless speaker that gets a little muddled by the inclusion of Wi-Fi streaming and the problems that can accompany its set-up.

In some ways, I think Sony would have been better pulling out some features and lowering the price a bit to undercut such strong competitors as the Bose SoundLink Wireless III. To a certain degree it's done that with the $200 SRS-X5, a bit smaller and a less powerful Bluetooth-only speaker that has built-in speakerphone capabilities. While it may not sound quite as good as this speaker, the X5 may be the better choice and better overall value in Sony's 2014 portable wireless speaker line.

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  • Amplification Type active
  • Connectivity Technology wireless
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