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The Awesome Sony SRS-X7 Wireless Speaker
6 December 2014
 
 
In an article from a couple of weeks ago — Mac Aggregate Speakers For Super Stereo — I was sharing about my first portable Bluetooth speaker. I wrote:
About three and a half years ago I purchased the Monster Clarity HD bluetooth wireless speaker. This tiny Monster has a great sound for its small size of 4.3 x 3.5 x 2 inches (111 x 89 x 50 mm), and its light 7.75 oz (220g) weight. Now that it has been replaced by a newer (better?) model, you can get it on Amazon for the great price of $50! I don’t use this speaker very often — usually only when I am travelling, or when I want some music while working in the garage.
In that same article, I wrote about a new Bluetooth speaker I bought last month:
For quite a while I have been dreaming of buying a much bigger Bluetooth speaker for use around the house, and reserving the Monster Clarity for when I want to travel light.... I thought that this might be a good time to take the plunge. So I headed over to Amazon.com to research the options.

After carefully considering the available Bluetooth speakers, and their features, price, and the reviews they have received, I decided that the Creative Sound Blaster Roar excelled in all three respects. “Free” two-day shipping via Amazon Prime always makes me happy!

My first impression of the Roar was its weight. The speaker has a modest size — 2.2 x 7.9 x 4.5 inches (57 x 202 x 115 mm) — but a heavy-duty weight of 2.5 lbs (1100g). Unfortunately, despite its glowing reviews and hyped marketing, the sound it produces is not as impressive as its heft. What promised to be a roar seemed pretty wimpy to me.

Well, I suppose the volume was loud enough, but the sound itself was quite tinny and not at all natural — very artificial. And there was not very much bass, even with its TeraBass feature turned on. It is hard to believe that I was listening to the same speaker that professional and customer reviews were raving about. I was so disappointed with the Roar’s performance that I sent it back to Amazon the next day.
I spent some time doing some more research on Amazon, narrowing my choices down to two: the Bose SoundLink Bluetooth Speaker III and the Sony SRSX7 Portable NFC Bluetooth Wireless Wi-Fi Speaker System — both of which were going for about $300.

At that time I did not buy either one because, as I explained in that previous article — see the section Pondering the Best Solution — I realized that a desktop speaker system was a better solution for my home office audio needs. Besides, $300 seemed awfully expensive for a small, portable Bluetooth speaker.

However, if the price were to drop significantly, I could be very interested in one of these higher-end speakers. Therefore I headed over to the terrific CamelCamelCamel Web site so I could track the price of these speakers on Amazon.com and be notified if there was a major price drop. I figured the period between Thanksgiving and Christmas could be an excellent time to find one or both of these speakers on sale.

Little did I realize how quickly my hopes would be fulfilled! To my great astonishment and delight, only about a week later I received an e-mail from CamelCamelCamel saying that Amazon’s price for the Sony SRS-X7 speaker had dropped a whopping 41% — all the way down to $178! I just couldn’t believe it! Because Amazon sales sometimes last only one day, I immediately made my purchase.

Beloved two-day Prime shipping brought the Sony X-7 speaker to my doorstep the day before Thanksgiving — one more blessing to be thankful for on top of the innumerable blessings I enjoy as a very spoiled modern American.

Click on the image above to see the Sony X-7 speaker configuration inside.
The Sony X-7 measures 11.8 x 5.2 x 2.4 inches (300 x 132 x 60 mm) and weighs 4.3 lbs (1900g). That makes it 80% larger than the Sound Blaster Roar and 73% heavier.

Inside (click image to the right to view) the X-7 is equipped with two 48mm speakers, one 62mm subwoofer, and two rectangular passive radiators — all very similar to the Sound Blaster Roar.

The great news is that the listening experience with the Sony X-7 speaker is VERY different from that with the Roar. The difference is so great that there is really no comparison! Whereas the Roar sounded very tinny and unnatural, the X-7 sounds wonderfully full and natural. While the bass coming from the Roar seemed quite wimpy even with the TeraBass feature turned on, the bass coming from the X-7 is astonishing for a speaker its size!

In fact, the bass is so powerful that at times, with certain pieces of music, I have felt that there was too much bass — from a relatively-small, portable, battery operated speaker! The X-7 could really use a separate bass volume control to make it easy to reduce the amount of bass if so desired.

There is another aspect which sets the X-7 head and shoulders above the Sound Blaster Roar. The Roar has a “feature” which causes a load musical chime to be played every time the speaker is switched on. Pressing other buttons during operation makes beeping sounds, as well as when you connect to Bluetooth and when you shut the unit off. None of these sounds can be disabled. It even has voice prompt for certain functions, which thankfully can be turned off.

What one customer on Amazon wrote sums it up well: “Irritatingly loud operational sounds ... it’s impossible to turn on without everyone in my office hearing it. Ridiculous!!” Other reviews complained of this as well. This “feature” of unnecessary noisiness seems designed for kids rather than adults.

In complete contrast, the Sony X-7 is blissfully silent at all times: no chimes, no beeps, no voice prompts. Just wonderful, silent, adult operation. Of course, once you decide to play some music through the X-7, it no longer remains silent, but produces blissfully great sound that blows the Roar away!

The control panel on top of the X-7 is fairly simple. With the bottom row of buttons you choose your audio input source: the audio-in jack on the back (see below), Bluetooth, or Wi-Fi, with a Link light to the left that glows a steady green when you have a network connection.

On the top row is the on/off switch and two buttons for volume control. To the left, the Charge light glows orange when charging and then shuts off when done. Further left is an Update indicator which glows only when the speaker is connected to a network with an Internet connection and there is a software update available.

On the back of the X-7 there are various switches and ports, including the audio-in jack I had mentioned above. The DC OUT ONLY USB port lets you juice your device from the speaker battery.

I especially like the Network On/Off switch. In the Off position, you can save battery power when using Bluetooth instead of Wi-Fi to transmit your music to the speaker. In the upper corner of the speaker, directly above the power jack, is a three inch Wi-Fi antenna which pops out when pushed, and then swings up. When not in use, you can push it back into the body, where it lies flush with the surface.




 
Sony provides a free, clunky iOS app called SongPal which can give you additional control over the X-7 speaker.

The first major strike against this app is that it is not a universal app (with screen layouts for both the iPad and iPhone/iTouch), but an iPhone app, which is awkward to use on an iPad. A few years ago I was teaching myself iOS app development, so I know for a fact that it is not at all hard to make an app universal. Sony’s failure to do so is pure laziness!

Supposedly you can connect to the speaker from the app via Bluetooth, but it does not work when I try. Because of this failure, it was not possible for me to configure the network settings for the speaker through this app, as the SongPal  instructions indicate. Bluetooth works great for streaming music, but for the inability to control the speaker with the SongPal  app via Bluetooth, that’s strike two!
 
By switching the speaker from Bluetooth mode to network mode, I could finally connect to the speaker with the SongPal  app. The screen shot to the upper left shows the main control panel options. Because I had been wishing, at times, for less bass, the first thing I looked for was some sort of setting to reduce it.

Tapping on the Sound setting and then the Equalizer setting brings you to the first screen shot to the right. As you can see, R&B / Hip Hop is the default EQ setting. Tapping on Preset EQ brings up the menu in the second screen shot. I tried all of the other presets, but to my ears R&B / Hip Hop definitely sounded the best. I guess that’s why it’s the default setting!

When you choose Custom, you then have to tap on the Done button. Back at the Equalizer menu in the first screen shot, the Custom EQ option is now enabled. Tapping on that takes you to the 5-band equalizer controls seen in the third screen shot. Even though the number of bands is quite limited, the controls are very effective and make a huge difference in the sound of the speaker. Unfortunately, Custom EQ does noticeably decrease the volume, which could be a problem in some situations.

After fiddling around with the Custom EQ for a while, I concluded that I would probably most likely use the default R&B / Hip Hop setting most of the time. But for those special occassions when I might want to fine-tune the sound, it’s nice to know that I have the option — IF I’m using the speaker in network mode rather than Bluetooth, which means only at home.

The only other setting menu which seems useful is Power Option. The two Standby settings have a major impact on the functionality and battery life of the speaker, so it’s great that I can be in control of these settings. It’s also a nice touch to see the current battery level. When the speaker is plugged into AC power, the percentage amount changes to the text “Charging”.

When I tested the operation of Network Standby, I confirmed that it works only when the X-7 is plugged into AC power, as the user manual states. If you do keep the speaker plugged into power all the time, this is a nice feature, saving you the inconvenience of turning it on each time you want to use it.

When on battery power only, the speaker shuts off after 15 minutes because I have Auto Standby turned on, which is the default. But when I plugged the AC power back in, the Network Standby feature engaged automatically, and I was able to play music from my device via AirPlay without touching any controls on the speaker — cool!

I’ve listened to this speaker in a number of different locations: in my home office, in the bathroom while taking a shower, in the kitchen, and in the garage. They sounded wonderful in each setting, but there are a few factors which greatly affect the listening experience, besides the type of music you are playing.

The amount of bass is directly related to the volume. When I was playing music at lower levels in the kitchen, the bass was moderate, and even a bit too low. But when I cranked up the speaker in the bathroom and garage, the bass was overpowering at times.

When listening in the bathroom, the noise of the shower and the exhaust fan masked a significant amount of sound in the higher frequencies. While showering, most of what I could hear were the lower frequencies, making the music feel very bass-heavy. Turning up the volume to hear the treble better made the bass much louder, as I noted in the previous paragraph. In listening environments with a fair amount of ambient noise, I would be tempted to compensate by adjusting the EQ to reduce the bass.

The sound quality is also affected by the position of your body, and especially your ears, in relation to the speaker. For example, to my ear it sounds better when I am six feet away from the speaker than when I am only three feet away. Also, you want to be generally in front of the speaker. If you are way off to the side, or behind it, you will be missing out on some of the higher-frequency sounds.

There is a custom carrying case for the X-7 which I would like to get for when I travel with the speaker, but at $40 it seems pretty spendy.

I’ve added the case to my CamelCamelCamel watch list, which will notify me if and when the price comes down. For now I can live without the case. I may even decided to improvise some other kind of case, if I can do it significantly cheaper than $40.

All in all I am extremely happy with the Sony X-7 speaker. When I made my purchase, it was at its all-time low sale-price of $178 — only $28 more than the price of the Sound Blaster Roar at that time. As of the writing of this article, the Roar is going for $130 and the X-7 for $198 — a larger difference of $68. However, money isn’t everything! No matter how cheap the Roar might be selling for, I still wouldn’t buy it because the sound quality was terrible. On the other hand, the Sony X-7 sounds so great that even at $198 (34% off the normal price), I definitely think it is still worth it. But I just can’t convince myself that it is worth the full $300 list price.

If you’re not in a hurry, CamelCamelCamel might be able to help you buy it at the reduced price I bought it at, or maybe even lower! However and whenever you get yourself the Sony X-7 wireless speaker, you’re in for a real treat ... happy listening!
This article is 16th a series of articles on this Web site related to Technology and Computing which also includes (scroll to see the entire list):
1.
26  Oct  2010
2.
11  Jan  2014
3.
24  Jan  2014
4.
29  Jan  2014
5.
5  Feb  2014
6.
7  Feb  2014
7.
14  Feb  2014
8.
15  Feb  2014
9.
16  Feb  2014
10.
17  Feb  2014
11.
1  Nov  2014
12.
12  Nov  2014
13.
20  Nov  2014
14.
22  Nov  2014
15.
2  Dec  2014
16.
The Awesome Sony SRS-X7 Wireless Speaker
6  Dec  2014
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