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Sony SRS-XB33 review

Surprisingly powerful for its size

sony srs-xb33
(Image: © TechRadar)

Our Verdict

It might look quite unassuming but the Sony SRS-XB33 Bluetooth speaker packs a punch when it comes to audio performance and is a great addition to any party.

For

  • Powerful bass
  • Sturdy design
  • Fun LED lighting for parties

Against

  • Battery life a little weak at times

Two-minute review

The Sony SRS-XB33 doesn't look particularly special when you pull it out of the box, but it turns out that looks can be deceiving. Under that fairly average exterior, this Bluetooth speaker comes with fun LED lighting and, more importantly, plenty of power when it comes to music playback. 

With surprisingly powerful low frequencies, you might be worried that it sounds a little too bassy at times and, well, you'd be right –but it's a small issue for a portable speaker that costs $150 / £150 / AU$229 and is already available for less at third-party retailers. While audiophiles may be a little disappointed by the sound, those wanting to create a party atmosphere will adore what the Sony SRS-XB33 has to offer. 

The Sony SRS-XB33 weighs just over 1kg / 2.2lbs, but the design and size means you can easily carry it around and plonk it down almost anywhere. In the home, it'll look just fine on a bookshelf, but perhaps more crucially, it's also sturdy enough for you to place on the ground outdoors or by the pool. That's because it's waterproof (IP67), rustproof, dustproof, and even saltwater-resistant. It's shockproof too up to 1.2m / 3.9ft, so it should be able to deal with everything you throw at it. 

As a party speaker primarily, the Sony SRS-XB33 lacks the finer features of a more home-focused speaker such as a microphone or voice assistant support, but that doesn't feel like an issue, because Sony has focused on one core aim for this device – being the highlight of the party. 

bluetooth speaker

(Image credit: TechRadra)

In conjunction with that, there's extensive app support, with the need to download two separate apps to get the most from the Sony SRS-XB33. One deals with the basic settings of the speaker, while the other lets you unleash your inner DJ, allowing you to adjust the LED lights and even set them to sync up with the beat. Neither is vital although we do appreciate that you also can also adjust the EQ. which is handy if you want to make a few tweaks to the sound profile. 

Design-wise, the focus of the Sony SRS-XB33 is on robustness. It looks fine but it doesn't exactly stand out from most other portable speakers on the market. Still, it does what it needs to do.

At the top of the speaker are sunken buttons for power, volume, Bluetooth pairing, and Live Sound. The latter is Sony's marketing talk for boosting your sound to a more impressive level. It makes sense to keep it switched on although we can see it affecting battery life. The buttons aren't the easiest to see in dim light but you can 'feel' the different symbols, which helps you know what you're doing in the dark. 

sony srs-xb33

(Image credit: TechRadar)

None of this matters if the audio quality is poor and fortunately, the Sony SRS-XB33 performs well here. As one would expect from a party speaker, the bass is big and powerful thanks to the speaker's dual passive radiators and Sony's use of Extra Bass which mostly translates to, well, extra bass. Live Sound aims to create a three-dimensional sound effect and it mostly works well. 

It's all suitably bold and loud, and just what you want when creating a party atmosphere. The only predictable downside here is that it means that orchestral pieces in particular can feel a little inaccurate at high volumes with trebles and mids not quite having the clarity we'd like. Turn it back down though and this problem is far less apparent. 

Sony promises a battery life of up to 24 hours with the SRS-XB33 and this feels highly subjective. In part, that's because there's so much you can do with the Sony SRS-XB33. Whack the volume up high and the battery life goes down, as with any speaker; similarly, constantly having a light show playing will cause the battery life to plummet. It'll take a bit of practice to find what works best for you with the Sony SRS-XB33, but at least there are plenty of ways to adjust its performance.

Overall, the Sony SRS-XB33 performs admirably as a bass-heavy party-focused speaker. Sounding good while being able to withstand some damage, you certainly won't have to worry about it struggling to keep up with your soirées. Competitively priced, the only thing we truly wish for is some slightly better looks.  

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What about Black Friday 2020?
If you're looking to buy a Bluetooth speaker, you may be able to save a lot of money over Black Friday – and the deals are already rolling in ahead of the big day. (Cyber Monday deals will follow immediately after on November 30.) Keep your eyes peeled for models from Ultimate Ears, JBL, and Anker, which are likely to be heavily discounted. More premium models like the Sonos Move should see some discounts too, but don't expect enormous drops in price.

portable speaker

(Image credit: TechRadar)

Sony SRS-XB33 price and release date

  • Available now
  • Priced at $150 / £150 / AU$229

The Sony SRS-XB33 has only recently launched but there are already price drops to be seen, though it's ordinarily priced at $150 / £150 / AU$229.

There's a choice of four color schemes too, with the option of  Black, Red, Blue, and Cream, and it's likely that specific colors may see different price drops over time. With Black Friday and Cyber Monday creeping up, discounts seem reasonably likely already. 

sony srs-xb33

(Image credit: TechRadar)

Design

  • Robust design
  • Easy to carry
  • Waterproof

The Sony SRS-XB33 looks exactly how you would imagine a robust waterproof speaker would look. That means it's not exactly stylish but it is practical. Weighing just over 1kg / 2.2lbs, it's easy enough to hold in one hand as you take it between rooms or on your travels. It certainly won't steal focus from your decor, either. 

Rugged to a quite impressive degree for the price, the Sony SRS-XB33 is waterproof (IP67), rustproof, dustproof, saltwater resistant and shockproof up to 1.2m / 3.9ft. That should mean that you don't stand a chance of damaging it (unless you really try to break it, which we obviously don't recommend). Saltwater-resistance is a particularly nice touch when you consider you may want to take this portable speaker to the beach at some point.

Using the Sony SRS-XB33 is simple enough. The buttons on the to of the speaker feature slightly recessed plastic symbols that are easy to feel around, although not entirely clear to see in reduced light conditions. They dictate power, volume, Bluetooth pairing, the Live sound mode, and play and pause. It's all straightforward stuff. 

On the back of the device is a plastic cover that hides the USB-C charging port and a USB-A that allows you to plug your smartphone in to charge it from the speaker directly – convenient if you're out and about and your smartphone is low on juice. 

sony srs-xb33

(Image credit: TechRadar)

Sony SRS-XB33 audio performance

  • Bold bass
  • Great for parties
  • Trebles could use more clarity

The Sony SRS-XB33 boasts a powerful sound, deep punchy bass, and decent clarity, and we can't fault it too much. It has dual passive radiators and the promise of Sony's Extra Bass, which means the lowest frequencies are very much where the attention lies. 

Thanks to that, you don't have to turn the volume up much to get punchy and bold bass that feels quite exciting depending on your chosen track. We certainly found that to be the case while listening through Muse's discography. It made the likes of Childish Gambino's Feels Like Summer and Kasabian's Ill Ray (The King) feel even more lively e than usual – perfect for a party atmosphere. 

It does a fairly good job of maintaining clarity and clearness at higher volumes, which we certainly appreciated – though we'd like to hear a little more detail in the trebles. There's also something about the bassy tone that doesn't entirely lend itself to calmer instrumental pieces, particularly at high volumes. Still, odds are you'd listen to these at lower volumes anyway, and this speaker isn't marketed towards analytical listening in any case. 

Simply put, this is a device made for gatherings. Bold rich bass means you can't help but feel thrilled at what comes up next on your playlist, whether it's The Weeknd's Blinding Light or an old favorite like David Bowie's Life on Mars. 

Sony says you can connect the Sony SRS-XB33 with up to 100 compatible wireless speakers if you want, as well as pairing it with another XB33 to create true stereo sound, so you can create your ideal sound setup pretty easily.

waterproof speaker

(Image credit: TechRadar)

Sony SRS-XB33 battery life and connectivity 

  • Up to 24 hours of battery life promised
  • Can pair with up to 100 compatible wireless speakers
  • App support

Sony reckons the Sony SRS-XB33 will last up to 24 hours on battery charge. We're not convinced. In our time using it, we found that estimate plummets if you're playing around extensively with the light show or you turn up the volume. So, it's a situational battery life estimate, but that's to be expected from any wireless device.

During a party, we'd recommend making sure the speaker is fully charged or ideally plugged in, but it should still suit you reasonably well if you decide to take it hiking for a few days as hopefully, you won't be scaring off wildlife with high volumes. 

Where the Sony SRS-XB33 really shines is its app support. Downloading Sony Music Center covers music playing options and the ability to update the speaker. Alongside that is Fiestable which controls lighting effects and allows you to add DJ-style audio. Yup, you can add scratch effects to your favorite songs if you really want to. Some of those effects are a little gimmicky but we don't blame you if you want to mess around with them after a few drinks. 

Should I buy the Sony SRS-XB33?

sony srs-xb33

(Image credit: TechRadar)

Buy it if...

You need a robust speaker
T
he Sony SRS-XB33 is incredibly dependable in a jam. It'll survive water, dust, saltwater, and a few knocks. It's ideal if you need something for the pool as well as a hike. 

You want strong bass
With rich and vibrant bass, we really love how much the Sony SRS-XB33 fills the room. It simply makes you feel better, no matter what you're listening to. 

You want extensive app support
Two apps? Many speakers at this price don't even offer one app so the flexibility of using two apps is a neat bonus, even if the Fiestable app looks rather dated. 

Don't buy it if...

You want a gorgeous speaker
The Sony SRS-XB33 looks fine, but that's as far as the design plaudits go. It's not particularly stylish and it won't exactly be a talking piece when it comes to looks.

You want a subtle speaker
In turn, when it comes to playback, the Sony SRS-XB33 isn't subtle. If music could be meaty, this would be steak. Plan accordingly. 

You want a smart speaker
The Sony SRS-XB33 is a straight up portable Bluetooth speaker. It lacks any kind of smart speaker functionality, relying on your smartphone to cover that side of things if need be. For a portable smart speaker option, check out the Sonos Move.