Sharp's XL-BB20D is an all-in-one hi-fi system for those on a budget. While there's a steady move towards smart speakers for the average home's audio needs, many households will be looking for something more traditional; something that bundles a DAB radio and USB playback, and which, unlike so many devices these days, can even play CDs (remember those?).
The XL-BB20D is part of a new range of home audio products from the Japanese manufacturer – including the sleek Sharp HT-SBW420 soundbar – that hopes to undercut the competition.
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Retailing for £179.99, the Sharp XL-BB20D isn't as cheap as some standalone speakers, but aims to draw in customers with a variety of inputs housed in one handy casing. But is this hi-fi system up to scratch?
The Sharp XL-BB20D is a rather boxy speaker that comes in either Natural Oak or Dark Oak. The wood finish gives the appearance of solidity, although at 5kg it isn't as heavy as it looks, and can be carried pretty easily.
The sides and uppermost surfaces are clear, giving you a simple view of the wood to enjoy – or a convenient shelf on which to place other gadgets or trinkets.
On the front, you'll find a straightforward control panel made of cheap black plastic, with a streamlined set of buttons for music playback and an analogue volume knob. There are separate jacks for headphones, USB playback, and input from an external audio source.
The built-in Bluetooth functionality also means you can connect your headphones to the hi-fi's radio or CD player without any wires trailing across the room.
The FM/DAB+ radio is a welcome addition, and forms the main appeal of the Sharp XL-BB20D's features. Users can tune in easily to analogue FM or digital stations.
What's frustrating is the lack of a rigid antenna built into the system – you're given a flexible wire instead, which you have to wind from the back and fix into an upright position. It possibly gives you more storage options when using the hi-fi's radio, given you can mould the wire at different angles, but it requires some fiddling to get set up properly.
Above the button panel is a simple LED display and disc drive – increasingly appreciated as a way to play our old CDs – with two circular speakers on either side.
The interface and corresponding LED display is anything but complex, and will suit users who don't want to be endlessly flicking through settings to find the configuration they want. So far, so functional.
The Sharp XL-BB20D is, however, much larger than its capabilities warrant, and is clearly somewhat hollow inside. It has the bulk of a speaker far beyond what's needed for this budget model, and we're really not sure why it isn't half the size, given its rather weak stereo output.
The Sharp XL-BB20D is an all-in-one hi-fi system, and falls into a classic jack-of-all-trades conundrum. By focusing largely on extensive functionality and various types of audio input – both highly useful – the system neglects the most important aspect of any speaker: the sound.
Despite its large size, the XL-BB20D suffers from a narrow soundstage with negligible bass. The two speakers each output to 25W, but there's a noticeable lack of audio detail or presence, with music sounding distinctly like it's being muffled within the system's large wooden casing.
Another problem is that even the lowest volume setting is still pretty loud, which renders Sharp's product obsolete for anyone wanting to quietly play the radio in the background while they get on with other things.
In short, the Sharp XL-BB20D is not an attractive option for listening to music, the radio, your CD collection, or anything you could hook up to the system, and there are plenty of more cost-efficient alternatives.
The Pure Evoke C-F6, for example, retails for only slightly more at £199, and packs in the same disc player and DAB+ functionality, but with far more impressive sound. The Sharp's audio quality is far closer to a budget smart speaker than a dedicated sound system, and even a standard Amazon Echo offers more rounded audio for about half the price.
We can't imagine the XL-BB20D flying off the shelves at full RRP, but if the £179 price was sharply slashed down the line you could maybe make a case for it as a budget hi-fi system. As it is, the drop in material and audio quality doesn't match the three-figure sum being asked for it.
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