If you're looking for a portable BlueTooth speaker that fits in a messenger bag or large purse, and one that sounds good, the Anker SoundCore Sport XL is right up your alley. This stereo BlueTooth speaker is compact, shockproof, waterproof and it has a long-lasting 15 hours of playtime before it needs recharging. I'm writing this review over a year after having bought one from Amazon.ca. They normally retail for $129.99, but I got mine on special for $79.99. Over the past year, I've used the speaker both indoors and outdoors, in the rain, as a dedicated Voiceover speaker while dejaying a dance party, as a speaker for presentations and as a quick and dirty monitor for audio editing on the go. Each time, it has performed flawlessly.
The HardwareThe device itself has some heft to it, even though it is quite compact. It is about an iPhone and a quarter long and about 4 iPhones thick. The surface coating is a non-slip silicone and the speaker grill itself is made of metal. It definitely does not feel cheap or flimsy in the hand. It weighs just under 2 pounds. There are a few controls on the top that are tactile and easy to feel.
- A round power button at the far left of the unit when the speaker is facing you. Press and hold it to turn the unit on. It will make an ascending whoosh noise to indicate power is on. If you had a device connected before, it will play 3 ascending tones to indicate it is connected once again. Press again the whoosh plays in reverse to let you know the unit is powered off.
- A minus button for volume down.
- A rightwards pointing arrow for the play/pause and skip forward button.
- A plus sign (+) for volume up.
- A BlueTooth button to unpair the device.
OperationCharge the unit by plugging in the micro USB cable (included) to any USB A port. Pair the way you'd normally pair on iPhone or your Mac. Look for SoundCore Sport XL in the BlueTooth device list. 3 ascending tones will play to indicate a connection. To disconnect, hold the BlueTooth button on the right of the unit until you hear 3 tones that sound like they're getting further away. the triangular Play/Pause button plays and pauses your media, picks up and hangs up phone calls and advances to the next track with a rapid double press. Sorry, a triple-press doesn't rewind the track—something confirmed on Twitter from Anker's great tech support. Pressing the + button will increase the volume until you hear a beep which indicates the speaker is at max volume. If you want to connect an older device without BlueTooth, plug into the auxiliary input jack. I keep an aux cable along with an extender with the unit whenever I travel with it. You may wish to purchase a carrying case for the speaker as it does help with shock absorption if the unit is dropped.
Sound QualityIt's impressive for such a small unit. There is bottom end that you can hear. You can put your hand on the back plate and feel the speaker excursion as it produces low frequencies. Other Anker models are larger and sound better, but they are not built with the rugged construction of this unit, so for the type of speaker it is, you are getting amazing sound quality that doesn't distort or crackle, even at max volume. Did I mention stereo? There are two drivers in this unit that will play back stereo—great for adding some life and presence to your music. The sound does not have the same tinny and monaural flat sound that so many BlueTooth speakers pass off as decent sound. Pull up Bizarre Love Triangle by New Order to test this with some panning acrobatics to hear this in action. It's decent and gives the sound source some life.
Real World Use CasesIn one instance, I took this speaker to a backyard barbecue. The neighbours had a giant sound system set up. Even with their bottom end dominating the neighbourhood, the Anker held its own and punched above its weight. When it started to rain at the barbecue, the unit got wet, but kept going. I wiped it off and put it in its case with no ill effect. The speaker has been dropped and has fallen a few times onto concrete, grass and wooden floors. So far, no damage to the unit. I've placed this unit into the saddle bag of a tandem bike and ridden with a soundtrack. I've used it as a Voiceover speaker while spinning music at a dance party with a 250 watt PA blasting behind me. I've even used it to fill a room with background music at a cocktail party. As mentioned previously, you can use it for phone calls. I've done this several times for conference calls with several people around the table and it has worked exceptionally well.
ConclusionsIf you need something rugged, sporty and that produces an acceptable quality of sound you'd associate with a decent set of mid-range speakers, you've found it in the Anker soundCore Sport XL. The only drawback is the fact you can't skip backward, so be sure you've got a great playlist ready!
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