Personal audio has traditionally been broken up among headphones and speakers with each having its advantages: Speakers provide a more realistic and often more immersive listening experience while headphones allow you to take your audio on the go.
But what if the two were merged? What if you could take your speakers on the go? That’s what the Sony SRS-WS1 aims to solve.
The Sony SRS-WS1 are a pair of speakers that you wear around your neck that allow for freedom of movement on top of environmental awareness. There are situations where you don’t want to be completely isolated from the outside world and the Sony SRS-WS1 are great for that.
The problem, however, is that they simply don't sound good and lack many features that could have made them useful for those who don’t like traditional headphones, making them an extremely hard sell for $300 (about £230, AU$451).
The Sony SRS-WS1 look like a neck pillow you’d take on a plane but much slimmer. The speakers are made of plastic and the inside that rests on your neck is covered in cloth. This makes the speaker lightweight and comfortable.
Controls for the speakers are located at the ends of the “collar.” On the right, there are buttons for power and toggling through three vibration modes. On the left are your volume up/down buttons. The speakers also have a microUSB port on the left side, which allows you to plug in a proprietary microUSB-to-3.5mm cable to use with your smartphone, assuming that your smartphone still has a 3.5mm headphone jack.
Connectivity is achieved through a small RF transmitter that has to be plugged into either an 3.5mm analog or optical source. We used the Sony SRS-WS1 speakers with our TV and PC without issue and were impressed by the range of the RF transmitter, which can play through walls. This means there’s no Bluetooth connectivity to use wirelessly with your phone. There’s also no mic for making calls, which a neck-worn speaker would be perfect for.
The Sony SRS-WS1 comes with a “wireless” charging dock but it’s not technically wireless. With wireless chargers like the Qi chargers that work with smartphones, the Sony speakers are charged via pogo pins so placement is key. If you don’t dock the speakers properly, they will not charge.
The sound of the Sony SRS-WS1 is unlike anything we’ve heard from speakers or headphones. While the stereo separation and imaging are good, the sound from the speaker is “small,” lacking the immersive sound of speakers and even headphones. Tonally, the speakers lack bass. The mids of voices and the highs overwhelm the bass, which feels light even with the vibration mode set to maximum.
The speakers sound pretty bad at low to medium volume and it really only shines when you start cranking the volume. There’s also a lack of a center image, which we’ve never heard from headphones before. It almost sounds like there’s a “wall” in front of you with a majority of the sound coming from the left and right.
Speaking of the vibration mode, Sony claims this makes movies and games more immersive with haptic feedback. While the vibration is unique, we didn’t find it more immersive than headphones or speakers. In fact, it just highlights the speaker’s bass deficiency. On top of that, each vibration mode changes the tonal balance dramatically. Lower vibration modes sound extremely thin in the bass regions.
If you were planning on buying the Sony SRS-WS1 to keep your listening private as to not disturb your coworkers or significant other, you’re going to be disappointed. The speakers do not isolate the sound to the wearer, which means everyone can hear what you’re listening to, just with less bass.
Battery life is rated for 7 hours, which we found accurate, and the speakers take three hours to charge from dead.
After using the Sony SRS-WS1 for several weeks, we came away confused at who the target audience is. For those who absolutely cannot wear headphones or don’t have the space for speakers, the Sony SRS-WS1 are a good alternative. However, they simply don’t sound great and lack many basic features compared to speakers and headphones in the price range.
At $300 (about £230, AU$451), the lack of Bluetooth and a microphone are inexcusable. On top of that, you can find better sonic performance from headphones and Bluetooth speakers that cost half as much.
In terms of the competition, the Bose SoundWear are the same price but come with Bluetooth and a microphone for taking calls.
- Not interested? Check out our list of the best headphones in 2020 instead