The portable speaker category is one I don’t pay much attention to, mainly because I usually don’t have a need to play music outdoors. Even if I did, I know the sonic limitations of even the best Bluetooth speakers, which, though affordable and convenient, often have a compressed and spatially constricted sound that doesn’t do justice to the music you stream.
There are exceptions, such as the Ultimate Ears Hyberboom and Sonos Move, both of which deliver high sound output for compact, portable speakers. The Sonos Move is also a Wi-Fi speaker with AirPlay support, which is the main reason why I use it for listening to news, podcasts, and background music in my kitchen. With its 24-hour battery life and well-balanced sound, I’ve long considered the Sonos Move to be the best portable speaker – that is, until I heard the Brane X.
I first learned about the Brane X when my colleague Matt Bolton encountered it at the recent CES 2024 and wrote about his experience with the game-changing small wireless speaker with a real subwoofer. I’m always wary of products like TVs and all-in-one soundbars that throw around the term “subwoofer,” and that’s because, as someone who uses a 12-inch subwoofer in their system, I know what it implies: an ability to reproduce sub-bass frequencies. But Matt’s post put forward that the Brane X housed a "real, bona fide subwoofer," and so I was intrigued and curious to hear it for myself.
Brane X: what is it?
The Brane X ($599) is a lunchbox-size portable speaker that supports Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, AirPlay, and Spotify Connect for streaming. It also works with Alexa for voice control, and features a 3.5mm input for connecting external audio sources. The Brane X’s built-in battery provides 12 hours of playback at moderate volume and takes three hours to fully recharge.
A rubber carrying strap can be used to tote the 7.7-pound Brane X from place to place. Otherwise, the waterproof, IP57-rated speaker has a basic, unfussy design, with capacitive touch controls located on the top surface and rubber support feet on the bottom. The Brane app is used for initial setup and provides low, medium, and high Bass settings plus a 5-band EQ adjustment. You can also use the app to create a speaker group with multiple Brane X speakers for multi-room playback.
Brane X: what’s in it?
As for specs, the Brane X houses a pair each of 0.75-inch tweeters and 2-inch midrange drivers, along with a 6.5 x 9-inch (165 x 229mm) woofer. Power is supplied by four class-D amplifiers totaling 200 watts.
Brane calls the woofer used in the Brane X speaker a Repel-Attract-Driver (R.A.D.). Conventional woofers in speakers create bass by moving back and forth in an enclosure, a process driven by magnets located on the woofer’s voice coil passing through a magnetic field, and this in turn affects air pressure within the enclosure.
The R.A.D. functions essentially the same, but uses an extra array of magnets to cancel out internal air pressure, which allows for the speaker to be scaled down to a compact size. That, in a nutshell, is how we got the Brane X, a lunchbox-size speaker with a built-in subwoofer.
Brane X: how does it sound?
After unpacking the Brane X and seeing how small it was, I’ll admit I became a bit skeptical about the company’s sub-bass claims. Although the design is different, it’s about the same size as the Sonos Move, a speaker that’s not known for booming bass.
To test the Brane X, I placed it on a shelf alongside my Sonos Move in order to switch between the speakers on different tracks and compare their sound. For a source, I used playlists created in Tidal and streamed to the respective speakers via AirPlay.
Starting out with something I knew would instantly reveal sub-bass, I played Boom by Tiësto, Sevenn, and Gucci Mane. Whoa! Any sub-bass skepticism I harbored flew out the window. The bass had the same deep reach I’m used to hearing from systems with a subwoofer. And the Brane X could play surprisingly loud without sounding strained or congested. Quite the opposite: the speaker’s impressive dynamics made the track’s vocals sound natural, and it presented a surprisingly solid stereo image.
Playing Radiohead’s Desert Island Disks, a song that opens with spare acoustic guitar over a low, throbbing beat, I remained impressed with the Brane X’s bass and even ended up changing the Bass control from high to medium in the app. This was something: a compact portable speaker putting out too much deep bass for my taste. As with the Tiësto track, the dynamic, full-range sound I was hearing brought out detail in the vocals, along with more subtle ambient elements in the mix.
When I played both of those songs on the Sonos Move, the Move’s sound was flat in comparison, with only a suggestion of the bass I heard on the Brane X. Curious to push its limits, I next streamed Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition – The Great Gate of Kiev, as played by the Cleveland Orchestra. Normally, I wouldn’t bother to listen to an orchestral showcase like this on a portable speaker because too much detail and dynamic range would be obscured in the process. Why bother? But the Brane X did a very respectable job reproducing the thunderous tympani rolls and swooning double basses, and there was a real sense of spaciousness and depth to the sound.
As a final listening test, I played a low frequency sweep test tone to see how low the Brane X's R.A.D. driver could go before sputtering out. Unsurprisingly, given what I'd heard with music, it managed to deliver usable bass down to at least 30Hz – well into the sub-bass range.
The Brane X is pretty remarkable – a portable speaker with the kind of bass you’d expect from a system with a subwoofer. If I didn’t hear it for myself, I would be telling you that it’s unlikely, or even impossible, for a speaker this small to accomplish that. At $599, you absolutely will be paying for the great bass you get here, and that factor somewhat limits the Brane X’s appeal. My Sonos Move costs $449, and even that amount seems high. But if you’re a bass-head with deep pockets who wants music on the move, look no further because the Brane X is your next portable speaker.
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Al Griffin has been writing about and reviewing A/V tech since the days LaserDiscs roamed the earth, and was previously the editor of Sound & Vision magazine.
When not reviewing the latest and greatest gear or watching movies at home, he can usually be found out and about on a bike.