Bayan Audio SoundBook X3 £149.99
12th Feb 2014 | 14:10
An NFC-enabled Bluetooth speaker that looks great but falls short of star status
The Bayan Audio SoundBook X3 is a premium Bluetooth speaker system for the smartphone generation.
Encased in brushed aluminium and sporting a power-activating flip-case that doubles as a nifty stand, it's one of the more aesthetically pleasing objects we've had through the office this year.
Reassuringly weighty, it's still small enough to remain portable and packs NFC for easy Bluetooth pairing. All the specs boxes are ticked, then, and there's even an FM radio tuner.
However, it costs quite a lot - £250 - so clearly this thing is going to have to sound as good as it reads if it's going to earn a recommendation.
The SoundBook X3 really couldn't be easier to use. Turn it on by simply flipping open the case and standing it up.
Pairing a Bluetooth device is a matter of pushing a button, and if you're lucky enough to have an NFC phone or tablet, a careful tap will automate the whole process for you. It's simple and it works.
The battery lasts around 10 hours - more or less depending whether you use Bluetooth or the 3.5mm physical connection - and there's also a line-out port if you want to use it as a Bluetooth receiver and hook it up to a bigger hi-fi system when you're at home. So far so good.
But how does it sound? Well this is sadly where the disappointment sets in. For a £250 speaker, sound quality is not good enough for me.
The 20W unit packs in four 1.5-inch drivers and one passive bass radiator. Acoustic music does actually sound really nice - guitars sound crisp, snare drums snap and pop pleasingly. We were off to a good start.
But low-frequency bass response is almost entirely absent and this is the critical flaw. When present in a track, this type of bass is clumsily mangled and squished into the midrange which makes many types of music sound depressingly flat and limp. Muddy, even. The louder you go, the more messy it all sounds.
This is not entirely surprising given the dimensions of the unit – it's only 40mm thick – but it was Bayan Audio's choice to shape it so, and thus it's not really much of an excuse.
It's not a complete disaster - many people I'm sure could happily listen without having a problem. But for discerning listeners who care about sound quality, this lack of all-round performance is a dealbreaker.
The Stelle Audio Pillar – at the same sort of price and sporting similarly sexy looks – delivers a more punchy and well-rounded sound despite it's awkward cylindrical assembly.
We love the design of this speaker. It looks and feels great. The flip-cover is cool, and the whole package couldn't be easier to set up and use. NFC is a great feature to have if you've got a compatible device.
We also really like the inclusion of line-out, which hints at some sort of ironic self-awareness of its own sound quality shortcomings.
But those shortcomings are disappointing and impossible to look past, and consequently the SoundBook X3 is not the star I was hoping it would be.
It's good looking and convenient for taking places but ultimately that is not enough for me to recommend you buy it.