With strong sound and a built-in speakerphone, you can make the case that the $200 Sony SRS-X5 is a better buy than the Bose Mini.
After reviewing Sony's good-but-not-great SRS-X7 ($250 USD) portable wireless speaker, which includes Wi-Fi streaming on top of Bluetooth, I wasn't expecting that much from its more affordable little brother, the SRS-X5 ($200 USD, £170, AU$279). But as soon as I turned it on, I was impressed by the amount of bass it delivers for its small size and its clean, relatively natural sound, particularly at more modest volume levels.
From a design standpoint, this sports the same simple, minimalist design as its larger siblings -- yes, there's also a SRS-X9 ($700 USD) -- with the same glossy finish and a choice of black, red, or white for the speaker grille cover. It measures 8.8 inches x 4.8 inches x 2.0 inches or 221mm x 118mm x 51mm (w/h/d).
On top of the unit you'll find a few different buttons, some of which, including the volume and preset sound modes, are touch-sensitive. And yes, that glossy finish will attract some fingerprints, so be prepared to wipe the speaker down from time to time.
As far as extras go, there's speakerphone functionality (it worked fine as long as I stood close to the speaker) along with NFC tap-to-pair technology for smartphones that support it. You'll also find AptX support ( AptX is supposed to make Bluetooth streaming sound better, but it's difficult to notice a difference with a speaker this small), an audio input for non-Bluetooth devices, and more importantly, a USB charging port on the back that will charge your smartphone. It can charge tablets, too, but it's rated at only 1.5 amps, so expect slow "trickle charging" for larger tablets (such as the full-size iPad) that generally require 2.1 amps of power.
In many ways the SRS-X5 competes directly with Bose's $200 SoundLink Mini and perhaps even Bose's SoundLink Wireless III . It's a portable speaker, but due to its design, it's more of an indoor speaker that, at 2.6 pounds (1.2kg), can be easily moved from room to room. An optional protective cover is available for $30.
Battery life is rated at eight hours, which is slightly better than the Bose SoundLink Mini's 7 hours of battery life. The SRS-X5 right there with the Mini in terms of sound quality and depending on how your tastes run, it may even be a slight notch up, with slightly more refined sound and better bass.
As with all these compact Bluetooth speakers, it does have its limitations. But like the Bose's Bluetooth speakers, it manages to eke out a lot of sound from its small frame without distorting. I also found that it didn't move around at higher volumes like its larger sibling, the X7, does (the speaker still vibrates, but it manages to stay in place).
On a more critical note, what I did notice it that when you crank the speaker up, you can hear the DSP (digital signal processor) kick in and restrain the speaker, rolling off certain frequencies. In other words, while the speaker can play pretty loud, it performs best at about 50 to 70 percent volume.
What I also discovered is that the speaker sounds better when it's powered by its AC adapter. You can get about 20 to 25 percent more volume, and the speaker sounds fuller overall and can better handle bass-heavy material.
After I made the discovery, I took a closer look at the specs on Sony's website and saw that indeed it has two output ratings:
You can look at this one of two ways: it's either a flaw in the speaker (after all, it should sound the same when it's running on battery power), or it's a plus that you can plug it in and get even better sound out of it. I'm on the fence on whether to knock it for this issue, or to give it a pass. I'll leave it a draw for now.
Since it has some bass ports on the back (there's one full-range driver along with two subwoofers), it helps to place the speaker near a wall to get some reflection. I thought it sounded really good in a smaller room, but it didn't do quite as well when I took it into our large video studio.
Pressing the "audio" button on top allows you to enter a ClearAudio+ mode that seems to widen the soundstage a bit, but stereo separation is clearly lacking (that's almost always the case with these types of small speakers where the drivers are so close together).
I put a lot of different kinds of music through the X5 and overall found it to be pretty well balanced, with a warm, clean midrange that made vocals sound crisp and present (it excelled with Michael Jackson's a cappella version of "Never Can Say Goodbye" and Sam Smith's acoustic version of "Latch"). Treble detail was good and not over-accentuated (for instance, when I listened to Spoon's "You Got Yr. Cherry Bomb," the tambourine that runs through it didn't overpower the rest of the song).
As I said, for a small speaker, it delivers a lot of bass, but it doesn't quite play quite as loud or deliver quite as much bass the Bose SoundLink Bluetooth III. But plugged into its AC adapter, it isn't far off. And while the SRS-X7 is a larger speaker, it arguably doesn't sound as good. That seems weird, but it's the impression I got.
In the end, there's a case to be made that this is a better buy than the Bose SoundLink Mini. It may not be as compact (the Bose Mini weighs significantly less) or have quite as sturdy a design, but it sounds as good or better (as I said, it helps to have the speaker plugged in), it adds speakerphone functionality, and it costs slightly less online.
Either way, it's one of the best sounding compact Bluetooth wireless speakers in the $150-to-$200 price range, and it's definitely recommendable if you're looking for a wireless speaker that you plan on using mainly indoors.