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Sony’s small but mighty XB100 speaker is cheerful and very cheap

There are smarter and much bigger speakers to choose from, but this tiny little thing offers surprisingly crisp sound for its low price.

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A photo of Sony’s compact SRS-XB100 Bluetooth speaker.
Sony’s XB100 Bluetooth speaker can be had for just $59.99.

Even the smallest of Bluetooth speakers can prove to be a big value. Over the last few weeks, I’ve been testing Sony’s $59.99 XB100, which is the most portable option in the company’s lineup. It’s small enough to fit in a car cup holder. It’s shorter than a soda can and lightweight to the point that it’ll barely add any noticeable heft to your backpack or tote bag. And despite that tiny footprint, the XB100 manages to produce crisp sound that’s rich in bass — exactly where you’d expect it might struggle. 

The overall design closely takes after Sony’s prior XB13, but a textured outer finish and intended Sony logo make it easier to grip and look classier than the last model. The removable fabric strap lends some versatility to the speaker and gives you plenty of options for hanging it somewhere, securely hooking it onto bike handlebars, and so on. Sony is offering some striking colors, like the blue unit I reviewed and a bold orange version. You can also opt for black or a light gray if your soul is void of fun. The included USB-C charging cable is on the short side — about a foot long — but by now, you likely have a longer cord around the house for other devices. 

The XB100 gets up to 16 hours of continuous battery life, and it’s rated IP67 against dust and water. The USB-C charging port is protected with a rubber flap, and to the left of that flap are five buttons for power, Bluetooth pairing, play / pause, and volume controls. The buttons press in with a nice click, so it’s very unlikely you’ll hit any of them accidentally. Sony also says the speaker has a UV coating to further protect it against the elements (and hopefully prevent these vibrant colors from fading over time). Sony also supports Fast Pair for Android devices, which is a nice little trick to have for the price. 

A photo of Sony’s compact SRS-XB100 Bluetooth speaker.
The included fabric strap makes it easy to hang this tiny speaker wherever you want.

Inside the speaker is an off-center diaphragm designed to enhance clarity across the volume range. And there’s a “sound diffusion processor” that the company claims can help spread the XB100’s audio beyond its meager dimensions. The internal layout is fairly simple; Sony pairs a passive radiator with a mono speaker. Unlike the company’s more premium Bluetooth devices, you can’t do any EQ customization with the $60 XB100 from the Sony Music mobile app. But it’s such a compact speaker that I’m not sure fiddling with EQ would make much of a difference; you’re either going to like the default sound profile or not.

In my case, I was pleasantly surprised by what this tiny thing can do. You’ll hear the best bass response with the XB100 seated on a table, but even when hung from a fence at an outdoor birthday party, the speaker preserved a nice amount of low-end thump and never sounded thin or sterile. It’s a pint-size mono driver, so you can hear the usual artifacts of stereo tracks being mushed together; some elements of a song might come through quieter, and there’s not much room for instrumentation to breathe. But those are just the realities of physics, and for its diminutive size, the XB100 at least focuses on clarity and a pleasant sound signature.

A photo of Sony’s compact SRS-XB100 Bluetooth speaker.
Around back are the buttons and speakerphone mic.
A photo of Sony’s compact SRS-XB100 Bluetooth speaker.
The XB100 produces the most bass when it’s on a table.

It gets loud enough for small gatherings or filling a home office with music, but obviously, Sony’s tiny speaker is no match for bigger, more dynamic competitors. If you’ve got a JBL Charge 5, Bose SoundLink Flex, or something like the Sonos Roam, there’s no comparison. There’s at least the option of pairing two XB100s for stereo playback and greater separation than a lone unit is capable of, and conveniently, this can be done directly from the device without any help from Sony’s app.

It’s baffling to me that so many Bluetooth speakers continue to lack speakerphone functionality — even the expensive ones. But the XB100 has it, and Sony even added some echo cancellation algorithms to keep conversations intelligible even if people speak over each other. It’s a genuinely handy option being able to chat with callers even when your phone is tucked into a bag at an outdoor picnic or if it’s charging in another room. So long as you’re mindful about keeping the built-in mic facing you, the speakerphone works very well. 

A photo of Sony’s compact SRS-XB100 Bluetooth speaker.
If you’re looking for an affordable, take-anywhere speaker, this is a strong candidate.

If you’re on the hunt for a simple travel / hotel room Bluetooth speaker that’s guaranteed to sound nicer than your phone, the XB100 is an easy recommendation. It’s durable enough to tag along practically anywhere you go, so hikers needn’t worry. The battery life is more than enough for any chill park outing or an afternoon reading in the backyard. I wouldn’t want to spend $100 on something like this. But $59.99 strikes me as right on the money for what the XB100 delivers. If you upgrade to a bigger, more powerful (and smarter) Bluetooth speaker down the line, I’m sure you’ll find ways to keep using this charming little one.

Photography by Chris Welch / The Verge