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Sony SRS-X3 Bluetooth Speaker review: A worthy contender to the Bose SoundLink Mini

Sony's mini Bluetooth speaker may not quite best the Bose's SoundLink Mini, but it sounds quite good for its size, costs less, and adds speakerphone capabilities.

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David Carnoy
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David Carnoy

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Executive Editor David Carnoy has been a leading member of CNET's Reviews team since 2000. He covers the gamut of gadgets and is a notable e-reader and e-publishing expert. He's also the author of the novels Knife Music, The Big Exit and Lucidity. All the titles are available as Kindle, iBooks and Nook e-books, as well as audiobooks.

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Mini Bluetooth speakers continue to get better, but it's still hard to find ones that qualify as being exceptional. The Sony SRS-X3, one of the smaller models in Sony's 2014 lineup of portable Bluetooth speakers, stands out as one of the better minis out there and is a likable wireless speaker for its compact size and $150 price point(£129 UK, AU$199).

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Sony SRS-X3 Bluetooth Speaker

The Good

The Sony SRS-X3 is elegantly designed mini Bluetooth speaker that delivers strong sound for its small size. It has a built-in speakerphone capabilities, NFC tap-to-pair technology for smartphones that support it, and reasonably good 7-hour battery life.

The Bad

Can distort slightly when played at at high volumes; no carrying case included.

The Bottom Line

With comparably good sound for its size and the addition of speakerphone features, the Sony SRS-X3 mini Bluetooth speaker measures up well against the pricier Bose SoundLink Mini.

I'm a fan of the step-up SRS-X5 , which retails for $50 more and performs better (when plugged in anyway) but it's almost twice the X3's size. This model seems designed to compete with the Bose SoundLink Mini and delivers big sound for its compact size. It basically plays as loud as the Bose and sounds arguably as good or better, though it can distort a little at higher volumes. (Sony completists should note, however, that there's also a smaller, cheaper SRS-X2 available, too.)

Sony SRS-X3 speaker product photos

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In hand, it feels sturdy and has some heft to it, weighing around 1.75 pounds (795 grams), with two 10-watt 1.3-inch (3.3 cm) drivers and dual passive bass radiators. Its design is straightforward and elegant and the speaker itself has a nice, smooth-to-the-touch finish. It comes in a few different colors, including black, red, and the white model I tested. Alas, no protective carrying case is included, but Sony does sell one for $20.

As far as extra features go, you get speakerphone capabilities along with NFC tap-to-pair technology for smartphones that support it. There's an audio input for non-Bluetooth devices and battery life is rated at around 7 hours, which is good but not great. The speaker charges via Micro-USB and -- unlike the X5 -- plays at full power when working off its rechargeable battery (the X5 plays louder when plugged in).

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At a little less than 2 pounds, the SRS-X3 is easily portable. Sarah Tew/CNET

The speaker has a couple of different sound modes, one of which is designed to widen the soundstage a bit because speakers like this one that have their drivers so close together offer minimal stereo separation. The wide mode makes a small difference, but I wouldn't say it makes things sound better, just different.

There are a host of less expensive, decent mini Bluetooth speakers, including the Logitech X300 , JBL Flip 2 , and Sony's SRS-X2. Overall, I found this Sony to be a small notch up from those speakers both in terms of sound and design.

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The speaker charges via Micro-USB and has an audio input for non-Bluetooth devices. Sarah Tew/CNET

Performance

What I like about this speaker and step-up X5 is that they sound relatively natural for Bluetooth speakers. The sound is clean, with good detail in the treble and clear midrange. The bass doesn't go quite as deep as the Bose Soundlink Mini's, but it does seem a tad tighter. While the bass isn't huge -- it helps to place the speaker next to a wall to get some reflection -- this little guy manages to have some kick to it and it does well in smaller rooms and makes for an excellent little background music generator.

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The speaker comes in three different colors. Sarah Tew/CNET

The sound does have its limitations. At times, you'll notice the DSP (digital signal processing) kick in and restrain the bass so it doesn't distort. Even so, you can get some distortion in the treble and midrange when you crank the volume (it sounds best with the volume set to 50-75 percent).

The speakerphone worked fine, though it helps to stand or sit fairly close to the speaker so the microphone picks up your voice well.

Conclusion

Despite some small distortion issues at higher volumes, this is the one of the stronger mini Bluetooth speakers I've tested both in terms of sound and design and it's a worthy contender to the Bose SoundLink Mini. You can argue over which sounds better, but the Sony does cost 25 percent less and includes the speakerphone capabilities missing in the Bose. Now if Sony could just get the price down to $130 (it does get discounted occasionally), the X3 would be a force to be reckoned with in the mini Bluetooth speaker space.

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Sony SRS-X3 Bluetooth Speaker

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 8Sound 8Value 8