Sony's 2013 portable Bluetooth wireless speaker offerings are pretty varied. At the low end -- or entry level, as companies prefer to describe it -- you have the ball-style SRS-BTV5 ($69). Then there's the purse-style SRS-BTM8, which retails for $99. And finally, at the high end you have the SRS-BTX300 ($199.99) and the SRS-BTX500 ($299.99).
I'm most impressed with the X-series line -- especially the subject of this review, the SRS-BTX500, which has a very slick design and delivers excellent sound for a compact Bluetooth speaker. At around $300, it competes against such products as Bose's SoundLink Bluetooth Mobile Speaker II and the Jawbone Big Jambox and should be on your short list if you're looking for a premium portable Bluetooth speaker.
Design and features
Like a lot of these Bluetooth speakers that don't feature any sort of dock, the SRS-BTX500 has a clean, sleek look, and the speaker is a classic example of Sony's design prowess. If there's a fault, it's that the matte finish on the back scratches pretty easily if you rub it up against a rough or sharp surface. But otherwise it's really nice. It has a bit of brushed metal on the sides and measures 15.1 inches wide and 6 inches tall, and has a depth of 2.5 inches.
I liked how there's a slot for on the back to fit your fingers into when carrying the speaker (it's sort of like a handle without being a handle). And there's a kickstand for propping up the speaker -- it retracts and folds flat when you want to stow the speaker in the included protective neoprene carrying case.
At 4 pounds, 7 ounces, the SRS-BTX500 has some heft to it, and it's probably not something you want to be carrying around in your luggage, though it will certainly fit. The speaker seems better suited to moving from room to room and outside onto the patio. Sure, you can carry it wherever you want, but with its more executive styling I don't see this as a speaker you'd want to bring to the beach.
To add a little flair, Sony's designers equipped the base of the speaker in front with a glowing, thin blue light. There are few buttons on the side of the speaker (power on/off, auxiliary input, sound mode, and pairing mode), as well as a couple on top -- a call end/answer button for speakerphone calls and a volume control -- but overall the design is fairly minimalist.
The notable extras here are the speakerphone capabilities, an integrated USB charging port for juicing up your smartphone -- the AC adapter has to be plugged in for this feature to work -- and NFC pairing for compatible devices.
In case you don't know what NFC (near-field communication) is, it's available in only certain smartphones, including recent Sony Xperia smartphones, as well as the Samsung Galaxy S3, S4, and ; here it allows you to tap your phone or tablet on the speaker to automatically pair with it and to disconnect. I don't find that terribly compelling -- it doesn't really save you more than a second or two -- but these days and more companies are adding it to their Bluetooth speakers.
In order for NFC pairing to work, you'll have to first download the free NFC Easy Connect app from the Google Play Store. I loaded it onto a Galaxy S3 and was able to pair without a problem. I had some trouble using NFC pairing with the Sony SRS-BTV5, but it worked flawlessly with this speaker.
I also had no trouble pairing the old-fashioned, non-NFC way with an iPhone 4S and an iPad Mini.