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

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The Good The Sony SRS-X7 has a sleek, minimalist design and allows you to stream audio wirelessly via Bluetooth or Wi-Fi, with both AirPlay and DLNA support.

The Bad Somewhat pricey; Wi-Fi set-up isn't simple; battery life could be better; speaker vibrates with heavy bass at high volumes and can move around on smoother surfaces.

The Bottom Line While the SRS-X7 can't beat the performance of competitors like the Bose SoundLink III, it's a nice portable wireless speaker that offers the flexibility of both Bluetooth and Wi-Fi connectivity.

7.5 Overall
  • Design 8
  • Features 9
  • Sound 7
  • Value 7

In 2013, Sony put out a fine Bluetooth speaker, the SRS-BTX500 . In the US, it was a little pricey at $300, but it delivered impressive sound for its size and measured up well against competitors such as the Bose SoundLink Wireless II and Jawbone Big Jambox.

For 2014, the company has opted for a more feature-loaded wireless speaker at the same price point ($300 US, £265 in the UK, and AU$400 in Australia). The SRS-SX7 is sandwiched between the new SRS-SX5 ($200, £170, AU$280) and SRS-SX9 ($700, £600, AU$800). Not only does it offer Bluetooth connectivity but it also gives you the option to stream over Wi-Fi -- via Apple AirPlay for iOS devices, Macs, and Windows PCs running iTunes, as well as DLNA support for nearly anything else.

While it's a bonus to have the Wi-Fi option -- it does offer expanded range and better sound quality over Bluetooth -- it can be a little tricky to set up and it doesn't offer much of a performance boost. (Depending on how good your ears are, you may or may not notice a difference.)

Don't get me wrong. I like the speaker overall. It's classy looking and offers good sound for a compact portable wireless speaker. But at the same time, it doesn't seem like a step up from the older SRS-BTX500, which you can find online for around $225, and it doesn't outperform its closest competitors.

Design and Features

The boxy SRS-SX7 has a sleek, minimalist design that you'll either love or think is a bit underwhelming. It's got a glossy top with touch-sensitive buttons (except for the power button, which you can physically press down on) and brushed aluminum on the sides. Because the glossy top shows fingerprints, you will have to wipe the speaker down from time to time to keep it from looking a little grungy.

Weighing in at 4.3 pounds (1.95 kg) and measuring 5.2 inches tall by 11.8 inches wide by 2.4 inches deep, or 13cm by 30cm by 6.1cm, it's got some heft to it and has both the look and feel of a premium wireless speaker. In other words, for the most part, you can understand why it costs $300.

Around back there's a retractable wireless antenna, which is supposed to improve Wi-Fi performance, and a nice set of connectivity options that includes an Ethernet port, audio input, and a USB charging port (for smartphones and tablets).

The speaker has touch-sensitive buttons on top of the unit. Sarah Tew/CNET

I'm not going to dig too deep into what it takes to set up Wi-Fi streaming, but there are a few different ways to do it: via your PC, via Sony's free SongPal app, which also features some equalizer settings (bass, treble), or via WPS (Wi-Fi Protected Set-up) if your wireless router supports this feature.

It didn't go smoothly for me. The setup seems fairly simple on the surface, but if you run into any snafus with your network or wireless router or the SongPal app, you can end not making a connection and becoming frustrated. Neither the app nor the instructions are incredibly intuitive.

In my case, I had some trouble upgrading the speaker's firmware. When I tried to do it via a PC, it didn't work. I eventually got it updated when the speaker finally connected to my Wi-Fi network at home (it had some trouble with our office network) and I learned that I had to touch the "update" icon that had lit up on top of the speaker and hold it for a few seconds.

Once you do get the Wi-Fi streaming set up, you can do a few things. One option is to AirPlay your music to the speaker from your PC using iTunes or your iOS device. The other is to set up your PC as a DLNA server and stream music to the speaker that way using the SongPal app as a "remote."

Connectivity around back includes an Ethernet port and USB charging port for smartphones and tablets. Sarah Tew/CNET

I don't feel like doing a full review of that SongPal app, but suffice to say, it's serviceable but not all that polished or user-friendly. It will hopefully improve and become more reliable.

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.

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