Designed to endure the wet and dusty outdoors, Sharp’s speaker range looks to appeal to the hordes of people looking to relax out in the sun or shade with something better than their tinny smartphone speakers to keep them entertained.
With a retail price of £129.99, the GX-BT480 reviewed here is the biggest, the loudest, and therefore the most ambitious of Sharp’s new trio, and may well catch the eye of those looking for something to shake the walls at a house party or group trip to the beach. With a rugged design and choice of four striking colors, it certainly looks the part – but how did the speaker hold up in our tests?
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The Sharp GX-BT480 is a largely unassuming blend of mesh and rubber, making for a hardy, outdoors-friendly design with a choice of black, gray, red or blue coloring.
The main bulk of the speaker is covered with a fabric mesh on both sides, though the two 20W drivers all face outwards on the front (where the Sharp logo is), making the all-round design a bit misleading to the eye.
The GX-BT480 is the most bulky speaker in the range, and it’s one to stick in a car boot rather than in a satchel or rucksack. One neat addition is the carrying strap, which attaches to small metal links at either end of the speaker, enabling you to swing it over your shoulder when taking it out. The clasps seem solid enough, and we found it a flexible and convenient way to transport the speaker.
You get plenty of connection options out of the box, including a 3.5mm AUX IN cable to connect to a phone, tablet, or laptop – and an AC power adaptor with plugs for UK, AU, US, and EU sockets. You’re likely to only need one of them, but still, if you’re taking the GX-BT480 on your travels you won’t have any trouble charging it up.
There’s also a microSD card reader on the GX-BT480’s side, allowing you to play your MP3 files that way if you wish. All the power and connection ports are hidden under a circular rubber cap to keep out dust and water; the fit feels a bit loose though, and it hangs to one side quite awkwardly when any of the ports are in use. Appearances aside, the ports and cap fulfil their function perfectly well.
The GX-BT480 comes with an IP65 ‘splash-proof’ rating, making it resistant to splashes, water from a nozzle (say a hose or water gun), or dust on a hot summer’s day. You won’t want to take it in the pool with you, but it should be well-suited to the beach or pool-side parties if that’s what you need.
Along the top of the speaker are play/pause and volume controls, while the right side carries the power, skip, mode (Bluetooth or AUX input), and EQ controls. The EQ button jumps between Standard listening, Bass Boost, and a Movies setting for using the GX-BT480 as a soundbar, which emphasizes the dialogue and ensures the bass doesn’t overpower the voices on your TV.
One sore point is the 3.5-hour charge time to replenish the GX-BT480’s battery. It doesn’t seem highly power-efficient, and requires some foresight if you’re taking it out of the house, but the 20-hour battery life should mean you’re not caught unawares in the middle of a picnic.
At first glance, the Sharp GX-BT480 may look like a bulky speaker more interested in volume than audio detail. But the speaker is actually strongest with high frequencies, drawing out crisp and delicate audio detail beyond what we perhaps expected. It may look like a mid-range boombox for the beach, but Sharp’s speaker is just at home indoors catching the haunting notes on Radiohead’s A Moon Shaped Pool as it is blasting out club tunes in the open.
That said, the GX-BT480 does have a maximum 100-decibel audio output, and can really shake a room. Unlike the tweeters, though, the bass drivers feel like something of a blunt instrument. They add a general impact to the sound, but not precisely enough to avoid it feeling muddied. With a 64Hz-20kHz range, you’re also not getting the lowest frequencies you’d hope for with a bass-heavy speaker like the GX-BT480.
When testing it outdoors, this disparity became more apparent: the further we moved away from the speaker, and the louder we tried it, the more it sounded like the high and lower frequencies were fighting each other. We found playing at a lowish volume, with the bass boost, was the best marriage of tweeters and woofers. The GX-BT480 certainly has the heft to entertain a large crowd, though it might be best suited to small gatherings – where people would actually hear some of the audio detail coming through – rather than the bigger parties some may be eyeing the speaker for.
Wireless connections with the speaker use Bluetooth 4.2, rather than the more recent 5.0 standard, so you’re getting a small amount of sound distortion, but nothing that you’d really notice.
Volume controls between the speaker and source device sync up over wireless play, as you'd expect. But connecting over the 3.5mm cable will keep them separate – and in our tests seemed to cap the volume at around half the max output. Given the noise the speaker is capable of, though, this likely won't be an issue.
We had mixed success using the smart assistant integration promised by Sharp. Pressing the play button twice will pause the music and alert the smart assistant running on your source device – whether Siri through your iPhone, Google Assistant through Android, or similar. You can technically call out from a short distance to do the same, but the microphone won’t always pick up your wake word or command.
Even when the GX-BT480 does log your request, there’s a delay of a few seconds before it kicks in, so the voice controls aren’t significantly more convenient than just getting up and changing the volume by hand. However, it’s a neat addition for those keen on using smart assistants across all their gadgets.
We do wish there was the option to hear your smart assistant instead of the GX-BT480’s unattractive startup tone – or startup groan – but it’s a small price to pay for a speaker we largely enjoyed listening to.
The Sharp GX-BT480 is an impressive speaker in many ways, with a rugged, splashproof design, a whopping 100db audio output, and with Sharp having the foresight to include a carrying strap and variety of plug options for taking on the move.
Audio detail is beyond what we’d typically expect of an outdoor speaker, though this success seems to have been achieved at the expense of the bass, which gives the same generic thump to pretty much any track you play through the speaker – increasingly so when pushed to the higher volumes needed for larger outdoor spaces.
For smaller gatherings, you may want to consider the smaller GX-BT280, which doesn’t attempt quite the same excessive volume, or the JBL Charge 3, which manages the balance between sound, features and price a bit more successfully. However, if you want a hefty speaker that can shake the walls – even if you lose some of the precision in the process – the GX-BT480 gets the job done.
All image credits: TechRadar
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