The Sony SRS-BTM8 is a curious looking device. It resembles a purse, replete with a carry handle to boot. However, unlike a real purse that's usually fashioned out of leather, this one's all plastic. Like the title says, this thingamajig here is marketed by Sony as a portable Bluetooth speaker. This puts it in direct competition with portable Bluetooth boomboxes such as Jabra Solemate, Jawbone JAMBOX, Bose SoundLink and Logitech UE Boombox. What separates the BTM8 is the fact that it costs a fraction of these expensive alternatives with an asking price of Rs 6,000.
No such thing as a free lunch
However, there's no such thing as a free lunch, and that pretty much is the case here too. For starters, this Bluetooth boombox lacks a rechargeable power source. Instead, it has provision at the bottom to accept four AA batteries that are claimed to last up to 20 hours under ideal conditions. However, since we don't live in Utopia, divide this number by two, depending on various factors such as wireless or wired usage and the volume level you drive the speakers at.
Looks like a handbag and is just as ideal for music
While one could rue the fact that it's cheap of Sony to skimp on including an inbuilt rechargeable battery, the fact remains that it's substantially cheaper than the competition. Moreover, when your boombox runs out of juice on, say, a beach and well away from a wall socket, you'd value the fact that you can just pop in AA batteries and get back in business. Your purchase choice, therefore, should pivot on whether or not you want the accessibility of dry cells, or the convenience of a rechargeable battery. Having said that, if you wish to use the BTM8 indoors, Sony has provided a 6V wall wart that can power the device sans the batteries.
A well-built handbag
Despite the questionable handbag aesthetics, the device is built quite well with a blend of quality plastics in matte and piano gloss finish. The front of the boombox houses a pair of drivers rated at 2W each to create a true stereo image. The drivers have been bolstered with a bass reflex port to tune the low-end frequencies. Just opposite the speakers lies acres of empty space with the Sony logo embossed in the centre with a port for power input and a 3.5 mm TRS jack for auxiliary input at the bottom. All controls have been concentrated on the either sides of the handle with power, pairing, play/pause buttons on one half and volume and call receive/cut buttons on the other.
All controls are accessible at the top
Being a modern-day Bluetooth boombox, the Sony SRS-BTM8 can play back audio streamed from any PMP, tablet, phone, or any other device that can play music over Bluetooth. The process is simple; just press and hold the Pairing button until the blue status light blinks continuously, authorise the connection in your phone and the blinking light should be switched on solid to confirm that the paring process has been successful.
Once paired, you can use the Play/Pause button on the device to quickly access playback in case you can't find your mobile device. It would have been great if Sony had included controls to skip between tracks as well. If you own a new-fangled Android device sporting NFC capability, the pairing process is even more streamlined as all you need to do then is tap the phone to the boombox to register your device.
The BTM8 also includes a microphone on the top right corner along with a call receive/cut button for hands-free calling with a paired mobile device. The call quality is decent and the speaker is plenty loud for a competent hands-free telephony experience.
With a total output of 4W, I didn't expect the Sony SRS-BTM8 to sound loud. In fact, it isn't at all. Don't expect to start a party with it, because this is strictly a personal wireless speaker and it simply cannot fill up a large room or a large outdoor area with sound. The sound doesn't distort at the max volume, but the overall tonality gets too harsh and bright for music with heavy transients to consider listening at the dial turned all the way to 11.
That's a power lead for those who don't want to spend on AA batteries
After putting it through my audio test suite, it was apparent that the BTM8 could do an acceptable job of rendering music without the thinness and lack of any fidelity that mars most cheap portable speaker systems. The sound has some semblance of bass, body and stereo depth to sound palatable. Unfortunately, that's just about it, which is a pity since the device is priced at Rs 6,000. For this price, I expect it to dig out more detail from my music.
It doesn't take an audiophile to notice that the midrange is all muddled with the guitars blending with vocals and drums almost indistinguishably. While you can tell the faint presence of a bassline in songs, don't expect any iota of bass authority and slam. The worst thing was how the speaker would invariably force me to make the difficult choice between listening to my music at the right volume or putting up with listening fatigue brought upon by its overly bright rendition at higher volumes.
Verdict and price in India
While my performance expectations may seem too much to ask from a portable boombox, the truth remains that the Jabra Solemate—as ridiculous as it looks—delivered a much superior aural performance. For a price, of course. There are other more better sounding alternatives from Logitech, Jawbone and Bose, but they cost even more than the Jabra Solemate, which in turn retails for almost twice as much as the Sony SRS-BTM8.
Sony's offering then, may not sound the best, but it allows an affordable (relatively, of course) means to own a portable Bluetooth speaker system. However, the lack of a rechargeable battery may be a deal-breaker for those who may not want to invest in a rechargeable AA battery setup, which should increase the ownership cost by another grand or so.
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