Sony calls the SRS-XB21 a 'party speaker.' We think it mostly lives up to that reputation as it is impressively loud for its size/price. It also adds a 'slap the speaker to make drum noises' feature in the interest of party entertainment. The actual entertainment value of that feature is…questionable at best. But the SRS-XB21 overall is a fairly good and relatively inexpensive speaker for entertaining a small group of people that want to be loud and dance. It does have some downsides, namely a mediocre battery life of just 6 hours. If you're less concerned about maximum volume and more concerned about battery life the Sony XB10 would be a better option in this price range.
Sony SRS-XB21 Review
Pros: Good sound quality, loud, waterproof
Cons: Short battery life
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Our Analysis and Test Results
The Sony SRS-XB21 it s fairly good all-around speaker that kind of drops the ball when it comes to battery life. If you don't find a 6-hour battery life limiting, then this speaker is a worthy use of $70. IF you want something that lasts a little longer, the Sony XB10 or UE Roll 2 would both serve you better.
Impressing in both sound quality and volume but not in battery life, the SRS-XB21 was overall an average performer in our testing. Below we discuss its specific attributes, and how they compare to other speakers.
Sony has proven that they can coax decent sound quality out of small and/or inexpensive speakers, and the SRS-XB21 is no exception. Earning an above average 7 out of 10 in our sound quality testing, it builds a solid foundation with impressively deep and resonant bass. In fact, the only speakers we heard better bass quality from were much more expensive and generally larger (namely the Bose models that we tested). It is also clear enough that we only noticed any sort of distortion or clipping with very high notes or particularly crowded melodies. The dynamic range is wide enough that it gives a nice punch to accented notes.
The SRS-XB21 sounds slightly fuller than other relatively inexpensive models like the Sony XB10 and the UE Roll 2. It sounds noticeably clearer and more powerful than budget models like the Anker SoundCore 2 and the TribitI XSound Go. If your budget is $70 you'll be hard pressed to find a better sounding speaker. For those looking for truly full-bodied, crystal clear sound you'll have to pay more on the Bose Soundlink Revolve or the Beats Pill+.
The SRS-XB21 is about average when it comes to portability. It is rated IP67, which means it is completely waterproof and sealed against dust. This is a huge plus for those that want to take their speaker on the road. At 19 ounces it certainly isn't light but also isn't particularly heavy. This is on par with most of the models that optimize sound overweight, like the 24 ounce Bose Soundlink Revolve or the 19.8 ounce Bose Soundlink Color. There certainly are much lighter models, like the feathery 8.8 ounce Sony XB10 or the 11.2 ounce UE Roll 2, but both those speakers shed weight at the expense of some bass quality. The pill shape generally lets you slide the SRS-XB21 into the side of a bag or backpack without too much trouble.
This is where the SRS-XB21 really impresses. For just $70 you get a speaker that is nearly as loud as the gargantuan Harmon Kardon Onyx Studio 4 and just as loud as the $200 Bose Soundlink Revolve. For those that want to the most volume per dollar, the SRS-XB21 is probably your best bet, though the $100 Sony XB20 is a bit louder and not too much more expensive.
This is where the SRS-XB21 falls a bit flat. It lasted a paltry 6 hours in our battery life testing, one of the worst performances we've seen (for context, the average was 13 hours). This may sound like enough, but those that use the speaker regularly will have to be religious about plugging it in after every use, lest it die in the middle of a party.
What About that Drum Feature
The SRS-XB21 has sensors that let you hit certain parts of the speaker to make drum noises (see video below). We did not find that feature entertaining. Also, there was just enough of a delay in hitting the speaker and hearing the soud that is was hard to play right on the beat. Honestly, we kind of wish they dropped these sensors and used the extra space for a slightly larger battery.
For $70 the SRS-XB21 offers good sound quality and enough volume to power a small party. That is more than you can say about most $70 speakers. However, it does have a relatively short battery life, and is only mid-range when it comes to portability. Both the UE Roll 2 and Sony XB10 end up costing less, are more portable, and last longer on a single charge. However, both come with small sacrifices in sound quality and big sacrifices in volume, so you have to decide what attributes are most important to you.
The Sony SRS-XB21 is a great choice for those looking for a budget conscious, very loud speaker. But if 'inexpensive' and 'loud' aren't at the top of your checklist, there may be a better speaker out there for you.
— Max Mutter and Steven Tata