Sony’s Tiny New Speaker Is a Great Travel Buddy

The Sony SRS-XB13 by a pool

Photo: Victoria Song/Gizmodo

Listen, the criteria for portable Bluetooth speakers are not complicated. They’ve got to be easy to carry, sound decent, and not get trashed if you have butterfingers or get caught in the rain. The Sony SRS-XB13 ticks off all these boxes, but it isn’t the best we’ve ever tested. You’ll have to make some compromises, but considering it’s only $60? It’s easy to forgive its shortcomings.

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Hey, It’s Actually Portable!

When it comes to Bluetooth speakers, I got some beef with the word “portable.” Sonos said the 6.6-pound, roughly 10-inch tall Move was portable. Ultimate Ears told me their 13-pound Hyperboom speaker was “technically portable” and yeah, I guess it is in the sense I can technically heave it from one room to another. But we all know that’s not what people want when you say portable. What they’re looking for is a speaker that you can chuck in a bag and just go.

The XB13 is actually portable. It’s a tiny, squat lil guy, measuring 3.43 by 3.43 by 4.41 inches. In person, the speaker is way tinier than I thought it would be when Sony initially sent over the official images. It also weighs a mere 11.7 ounces, which is noticeably lighter than the UE Wonderboom 2 (15 ounces), the Sonos Roam (15 ounces), and the Boom 3 (21 ounces). It’s also got a removable strap so you can easily hook it onto a bag or off a tree branch—whatever, I’m not judging. Also, it fits in a cup holder for road trips!

There’s not much to report in terms of design. Maybe it’s because my review unit is black, but it looks like someone sawed off the top two-thirds of my water bottle and stuck a speaker grille on top. The controls are at the back, easy to see, and intuitive to use. But enough about aesthetics. This is a speaker meant to keep up with you while you’re traversing the great outdoors—and on that front, it’s held up pretty well.

Granted, I’ve only had this thing for about a week and I did not climb a mountain and chuck it off the peak. But I did let my cat knock it off several high surfaces, and it survived his shenanigans without a scratch. Sony says it’s got a special UV coating to help it withstand the elements. It survived the elements of Manhattan, but again, I haven’t had it long enough to tell you if it’d survive several hours of a blazing desert sun. It does, however, have an IP67 rating and did not die when I purposefully dropped it into a pool. So there’s that. Long story short, this speaker will be fine if you spend a lot of time outside or are particularly clumsy.

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Solid Audio for the Size

With a launch price of $60, I don’t think anyone here is expecting spectacular sound quality. The XB13 has a single driver and a passive radiator—there are limitations that come with that. Sony also packs in what it calls a “Sound Diffusion Processor” so you can get a decent approximation of 360-degree sound.

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Illustration for article titled Sony's Tiny New Speaker Is a Great Travel Buddy

Photo: Victoria Song/Gizmodo

In terms of sound profile, this is a fairly balanced speaker with an emphasis on clear vocals and bass. Seriously, I stuck the XB13 on my monitor stand to test a few songs and had to move it because the bass was thumping too hard. And if you want stereo, you’ll have to buy a second XB13. (I only have one of these guys, so I wasn’t able to test how the XB13 sounds in stereo—though I appreciate that stereo pairing is super simple. You just hold the Bluetooth button.)

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The thing is, there’s only so much you can do with a single driver. It’s just not going to sound as good or get quite as loud as bigger speakers with multiple drivers. If you’re someone who’s adamant about sound quality, this isn’t the speaker for you. For everyone else, the XB13 sounds pretty good considering how small it is. Do the first few beats of Britney Spears’s “Toxic” sound kind of off? Yeah. Especially compared to how the song sounded when I played it on my UE Boom 3 and the Sonos Roam. Does it sound generally flatter all around? Yup. And no, songs like Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue’’ don’t sound expansive in the way they would on a speaker with a great soundstage. But I guarantee it’s not a dealbreaker in 99% of scenarios in which you’d use a speaker like the XB13. My jams sounded good in the shower. My queen Phoebe Bridgers sounded great screaming her head off in “I Know the End” when I was cooking dinner. My friend said I sounded “decent, kinda good but not the best” when I used the XB13 to take a call. That pretty much sums it up: The XB13 is not the best, but hey, it’s good enough.

A situation where the XB13 might struggle is a large party. The speaker can get decently loud if all you want is to play music in a medium-sized apartment or for a group of 10-15 people at a backyard barbecue. I put the speaker in my bedroom and could still hear it clearly from the furthest corner of my office, bathroom, and kitchen. To be fair, I live in an 877-square-foot apartment. Outdoors, the XB13 would be perfectly fine for smaller settings—picnics, lounging at the pool, on a hike, etc. I just wouldn’t go in expecting it to be great for a giant bonfire party next to the ocean.

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Don’t Expect Fancy Extras

These days speakers can do a lot, but the XB13 keeps things simple. It’s easy to pair, especially if you have a phone that supports Google’s Fast Pair feature. It’s got built-in mics so you can use it to take calls, which it does decently but not spectacularly. You get an estimated 16 hours of battery life, which is pretty solid for this category and price range. And, hallelujah, it uses USB-C for charging.

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Illustration for article titled Sony's Tiny New Speaker Is a Great Travel Buddy

Photo: Victoria Song/Gizmodo

However, if you’re looking for a speaker that can charge your phone, this ain’t it. If you want a super-fast charge time… this ain’t it either. My unit came out of the box with about 50% battery and it still took around two hours to get to full. (Though, that was on your standard 5V charging brick.) Sony has added some fast-charging features to its lineup, but those are for its larger X-Series party speakers.

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And if you want to play around with equalizer settings, it gets kind of convoluted. As far as I can tell, there’s no way to switch between pre-set modes like on some other Bluetooth speakers, and the XB13 isn’t compatible with the Sony Music Center app. You can, however, adjust your phone’s EQ settings—if it has them.

How Does It Stack Up Against Other Bluetooth Speakers?

If you’re looking for a hardy, compact, decent-sounding Bluetooth speaker that won’t bust your wallet—the SRS-XB13 is a good choice. It’s got a $60 suggested retail price, but you know this thing is going to go on sale for less than $50 at some point. That makes it an appealing option for anyone on a tight budget who isn’t too precious about audio quality.

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You can see how small this guy is compared to the Boom 3 and my not-very-big water bottle

You can see how small this guy is compared to the Boom 3 and my not-very-big water bottle
Photo: Victoria Song/Gizmodo

However, there’s also Ultimate Ears’ Wonderboom speakers. I no longer have one, but I loved the absolute shit out of my original Wonderboom for several years until it got lost during a move. In general, I prefer the sound on my $150 Boom 3 (and from what I remember of my Wonderboom). UE’s since released the Wonderboom 2 for $100, and since it’s been two years since it launched, you can often find it on sale. It’s a bit outdated with micro-USB, shorter battery life at 13 hours, and no mic for call features—but these are small potatoes if you like how UE speakers sound. If you just want a speaker that can follow you from room to room and maybe the occasional trip, you’re better off investing in a Bluetooth speaker that sounds better, like the $150 Boom 3 or even the $169 Sonos Roam.

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What it comes down to is portability. The Wonderboom 2 is a compact and durable speaker, but it’s bulkier and heavier. Also personally, I’ve always hated the speaker’s loop when trying to clip it onto bags or hanging it somewhere close by. Of the portable speakers I’ve tested recently, the XB13 is simply the easiest to stuff in a bag, wrap around your wrist, stick in a cupholder, and go. I don’t have to worry about scuff marks (the Sonos Roam), or weird gunk getting in the fabric exterior (all UE speakers). It’s also the lightest speaker I’ve tested in a hot second. It’s not perfect, but for the price? It’s actually a pretty great travel buddy.

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