I loved my boomboxes from the ’80s. Not the huge gigantic ones, but the mini portable one that can produce somewhat decent sound emanating from the glorious cassette tapes. Remember those things? Just in case you don’t, below are the pictures of the boombox and one of many cassette tapes I used to use
Well, at #CES2014 Sony showed me the SRS-X9 hi-res wireless speaker system (I’d still call it a boombox as I’m an 80’s guy); and as Sony has been a real supporter of the high-resolution revolution, I find that the SRS-X9 wireless speaker is one of the most exciting additions to its high-res range thus far. Reportedly to be three years in the making, it’s certainly been worth the wait to get it as good as this.
Combining quality with convenience, the SRS-X9 is capable of streaming files wirelessly via the lossless aptX Bluetooth protocol and AirPlay, also included DLNA for wireless networked streaming and is capable of high-resolution 24-bit/192kHz playback via the speaker’s USB-B port.
As it is a Sony product, it supports DSD files too. As for other inputs, there is a line-in and standard USB port around the back, plus an ethernet port for hardwired connection to your router.
All of those features are encapsulated within its premium minimalistic styling.
Its glass-top panel features a number of touch-sensitive buttons for controlling volume and source, with a proximity sensor that will only light them up when you get close to them (it’s so cool I hovered my hand over and over just to see the backlighting turn on and off)
I prefer, however,to make my selections from afar and not dirty the glass top with my fingerprints; luckily the long, thin remote duplicates all the controls that I found on the unit.
Now the really cool geeky part: behind the removable aluminium grille is a large, centrally placed woofer and two passive radiators, two of midrange Magnetic Fluid drivers and two tweeters, with two more located on the top panel to help disperse the sound. Phew…that’s a lot of drivers for such a tiny boombox…eeeerrr… Hi-Res wireless speaker system.
These seven drivers are supported by an eight-channel S-Master HX digital amplifier, which Sony has developed specifically for high-res audio, aiming to reduce noise across a wider frequency range. The result is an output of a whopping 154W. Connecting to the speaker is also really easy. There’s a WPS button (not my favourite but a favourite of most users) for a quick connection with compatible routers, but Sony has also created an app called Songpal that helped me get the SRS-X9 speaker onto my wireless network in a few easy steps, as well as control the music I’m listening to. To do this, I first had to connect to the speaker via Bluetooth, which is a simple case of searching and pairing (or via NFC with compatible devices), then boot up the app to share my wireless network details. Quite honestly, while I prefer the manual setup procedure, I just don’t “get” the need for the initial Bluetooth connection before being able to do the manual set up. To be fair, this procedure is also the case with various other manufacturers.
It took me less than five minutes to be up and running, and that’s without reading the manual. If I had done so, I would’ve been up and running in less than 2 minutes (I actually reset everything a re-tried it but now with the knowledge of needing to set up the Bluetooth prior to doing the manual setup process).
Once I had a track playing, I was then able to control playback, volume and equalisation through the Songpal app. The app is very effective that anyone considering the Sony SRS-X9 should certainly download Songpal to really get the most from this hi-res boombox. What surpised me more is that there wasn’t a file format that this thing can’t play – AAC, AIFF, DSD, FLAC, MP3, WMA, WAV will all play nice, so you shouldn’t have a problem playing your entire digital music collection (although admittedly my entire music collection consists of only DSD, MP3 and WAV — I had to create AAC, AIFF, FLAC and WMA for the purpose of this review).
I hooked up my home PC to try out the high-res capabilities I was instantly surprised by the sound that this reasonably compact speaker is capable of. The sound is quite an impressive one with a great sense of scale and a rich, full-bodied tone that is instantly likeable. Perfect? No. I don’t expect perfection from a $700 unit, but it sure beat the heck out of my old Sony FH series which was also priced at $700 back in the day.
There was more than enough power reserved inside the tiny box and those tweeters on the top really help to disperse the sound – I tested it in a large-ish room and it had no problem with making its presence known without sounding distorted or bloated of the boomboxes of yesteryears. In particular, the SRS-X9 shows an expert handling of the lower frequencies, reaching really deep into any bass line without ever compromising on precision and detail. It’s got an amazing sense of rhythm too and is able to switch between tempos and genres with ease and sounding graceful at the same time.
I listened to Billie Jean by Michael Jackson at 24-bit/176.4kHz, and that famous pulsing Yamaha DX-7 synthesizer bass line was packed with punch and weight, and was never boomy. Surprisingly warm toned almost like listening to the Music on Vinyl version of the same album (180-gram re-pressing from analog master). In fact, the Sony is pretty well balanced across the frequency range except for the occasional brightness to the treble when really pushed extremely hard in the volume department. I, however, fault that more towards my living room acoustics instead of the SRS-X9 because I encounter the same occasional brightness when playing the same file using various different systems. Even when playing Alien Ant Farm’s rendition of Michael Jackson’s Smooth Criminal the SRS-X9 managed to make it sound very close to my Dynaudio system that cost more than $2,000! I can only guess that the built-in DSEE HX digital sound-enhancement engine, which Sony says will upscale compressed music to near high-res actually did something there. Of course MP3 files lacked the subtlety, dynamic handling and timing of higher-res material, but that’s a no-brainer.
All in all, the SRS-X9 offers a seriously listenable, enjoyable sound across the board of file formats, sample rates, and music genres. However, compared with high-res music over a wired connection, there are always going to be some sacrifices to be made for that wireless convenience such as the occasional hiccup due to wireless instability and interference by my archaic microwave oven. I only wished that this boombox was released last year before I spent $2,000 on a system that is only a tad better but can only do less than half of what this unit can do.