When Braven got in touch and asked us if we wanted to review their XXL speaker I knew I had to say yes. Why was that? Well, truth be told I had heard this unit about a year back at a garden party and remember seeing it and thinking what an absolute beast of a portable speaker it was. As most of the long-term readers here know I don't tend to feature a lot of Bluetooth speakers on this site as for the most part they are much the same. I get sent a lot of speakers and most of them get a quick listen and passed to the no thanks pile. They simply aren't worth writing about. Good yes but not significantly different or better than the majority of speakers on the market.
Where I do make the exception is when it comes to speakers that manage to stand out. We are massive fans of the Minirigs speakers and there ability to play some crazy loud music in an ultraportable setup but what if you have a little bit more space for your speaker and what if you want to fill a whole party, not just a room? Well, we just got done with the review and for its size, the XXL packs a hell of a punch.
Packaging and accessories
The packaging is pretty cool. A nice big box with the speaker mounted in styrofoam to keep it safe. Despite that the local post office did manage to put a small dent in the grill, I'm not going to hold that against Braven as the local post service has managed to damage 3 items due for us this week. Additionally, this speaker was sent all the way from the US to Europe so it would take from that what you wish.
The Box is full of information and covers all the features and design aspects of the XXL speaker.
On the inside, you get quite a few extras which is a bit of a rarity with Bluetooth speakers because really how much can you add on. Well, they covered the basics with charging cables coming in EU UK and US flavors so wherever you are in the world you should be able to charge the unit without the need for an external adapter.
You also get a user manual which is refreshingly straightforward and concise in its operating instructions. This is in stark contrast to some of the Asian brand speakers which require way too much work just to know how to pair the damn things.
Finally, there is a carry strap which has the effect of turning the Braven XXL into a modern version of the mid 90's ghetto blasters. The unit is quite heavy and I wouldn't want to be carrying it with just the integrated handle for too long. The strap length is easily adjustable via a slider mechanism and feels rugged with high tensile nylon and metal construction.
Build Quality and Styling
Build quality is very good. The thing is built like a damn tank with sturdily reinforced plastics at the sides, big chunky buttons for control and a large metal grill to protect the drivers. This thing is very well made and it seems perfect for being taking out an about without ever having to worry about how it is going to stand up.
But that dent in the speaker from transit. Again most likely I am going to guess that the postal service had a hand in dropping the unit and it must have been quite a thump but other than a very slight dip in the grill there are no other signs of damage. So let's take this as a test. Despite the force that it must have required to do such damage the only result is the barely visible dent shown in the top image of this review. What this dis show is that the diaphragms are set way back from the actual grill meaning that in you really drop it from some height or maybe hit it with a bat chance is the grill wont deflect far enough to impact the drivers and thus adversely affect the sound.
I should point out that I have a number of portable speakers all with grills and they all take knocks from time to time. These units are meant to be taken on the go and they are meant to be used rough and from my impressions, over the course of this review, we were mightily impressed by the abuse it was able to withstand.
The plastic housing is incredibly tough. It almost feels like hard shell resin and there are no wear points whatsoever. One thing to note is that the unit is that many other companies opt for a click and glue approach to joining materials but the XXL uses bolts to join the housing pieces and it really makes it feel like a solid lump.
We took the unit apart and saw that indeed the outer housing extending through both sides the base and handle are all part of the units structural design. Plastics an metals were thicker than we observed on other units and it shows in the overall feel of the design. I would say that the majority of the Braven XXL's competitors use the outer facing materials as decoration as opposed to providing structural integrity. Companies like JBL and creative are definitely guilting of pursuing style over substance by joining a sub sufficient chassis to a purely aesthetic outer shell.
The handle is integrated and formed from the same plastic. There's no creaks or grans when lifting it and that is in spite of the substantial weight of the speaker. Right under the handle sits a soft thick rubber pad with a notch where you can mount your phone or tablet. It's a handy little addition and is suitably robust to match the rest of the speaker.
On the left-hand side, there is a thick rubber flap that sits flush to the unit when not in use and underneath it lies the port selection. With the Braven XXL you get a number of options for connectivity: a DV charging port, a USB type-A port for charging external devices, a 3.5mm input jack, and a microphone in port in case you fancy a using it at an event for karaoke, announcements or presentations.
The right-hand side has the hardware control buttons full of the functions we will discuss in depth later in this review. The buttons are behind a rubberized panel which you push through to operate the speaker. each one is big, chunky and has a reassuring tactile feedback. This really is much nicer than the poor quality switch buttons we have seen on other similarly priced Bluetooth speakers.
The functionality of the Braven XXL is pretty simple. There isn't anything complicated or overworked in its design and it doesn't try to be anything other than a damm loud and robust speaker. The functions and bonus features that it did have though are well executed and easy to use.
Firstly we have the control buttons on the right. They are big, chunky and thankfully are clicky and not capacitive. (Capacitive buttons can be a nightmare to operate in the wet so its good to see a tactile approach on the XXL.) There are only 4 buttons on the unit itself and getting the hang of them is pretty simple even for blind operation.
You have a power button that also doubles as a pairing mode button and a mode switch button for adjusting the Function setting. There are 3 functions that can be dialed into user preference via the + and - buttons. These are volume, bass, and treble. Users can toggle between the respective modes and the inbuilt blue LED's will adjust accordingly.
Finally, there is the playback button which allows you to pause and resume playback but there are no options to engage shuffle or any deeper control of your playlists.
The left-hand side has the mic and aux in ports (3.5mm jack included in the box) and these are both simple plugs and play solutions. There is the power input for which you will need to use the included power brick to charge the XXL as it isn't possible to power up via USB.
Speaking of USB there is a USB type A port where you can charge external devices at a power of 1A. We found this especially handy in keeping our devices topped up whilst at the same time steaming Tidal to our review unit.
Bluetooth has a claimed range of 100 feet and testing in an open space we found we got up to 96 feet before true degradation of the signal. Of course, if you are using the BRV-XXL inside then distance will be reduced due to signals having to pass through internal walls. For this, we were able to still get a signal through 2 foundational concrete walls so that is a pretty good performance by our standards and a similar performance when compared to similarly priced Bluetooth speakers.
The XXL is considered weatherproof and comes with a certification of IPX5. What that means is that the speaker most likely won't survive being fully submerged but it should be fine with some light rain and splashes.
One ommision that is totally fine with me is speakerphone functionality. I have yet to see a single person even use the call function on bluetooth speakers but if that is something that you want you better look elsewhere.
Braven claim that you can get around 14 hours of playback from the BRV-XXL and in testing, we saw between 10-12 hours. That's pretty good considering we definitely exceeded what would be considered lab perfect volume settings throughout the review.
As with all speakers of this nature, there are a few tricks that you can use to squeak out a couple extra hours of music such as using the 3.5mm input instead of the Bluetooth and even lowering the volume will have a profound effect on the longevity of the unit from a single charge.
Sound Quality - Loud and Bassy
Is the Braven a refined articulate and audiophile grade speaker. No, it definitely is not. What it is, however, is a whole lot of fun. The first thing I think anyone does when they get any set of speakers is test how loud it can go and the answer here is very, very loud. With the volume pushed to max on both your phone and speaker this is incredibly loud, very much more so than I can see being required indoors. Outdoors I see no problem as its volume is sufficient to fill a garden or pool space with ease.
The good thing about how loud it gets is how loud it gets before significant distortion. You can really push this thing to its upper limits before the bass becomes sloppy and overall presentation gets loose. I consider myself a basshead and the most additional bass I would want to add through the internal EQ system is just one notch. At its default setting it seems to strike the perfect balance of impact, volume, and refinement.
There is some pretty extreme extension into the sub bass and a solid rumble can be achieved when paired with the right music. Bass unsurprisingly given the sheer quantity can't be regarded as fast and Braven has tuned the low end far more to impact over-refinement. Still, it doesn't get too away for itself and in terms of quality of note it still holds up pretty well.
The midrange is smooth and laid back. There isn't too much micro detail to be picked up and bleed exists from the low end into the midrange. Vocals sound warm and thick whether it be male or female singer. There is decent speed throughout the mids that make guitars and electronic notes alike sound very enjoyable. In the midrange, there is little to no degradation of the signal even at higher volumes.
The treble is super smooth and recessed. There is absolutely no hint of sibilance which is a very good thing in our eyes. Some tracks were able to pick up the sparkle of jazz and classic tracks but if this is the predominant genre you listen to then I suggest adding 2 positive stops on the in-unit Treble EQ. That brought the unit to a more crisp and sharper presentation and it sounded great at low to mid-level listening volumes in this setup
Soundstage is ok not particularly wide but the XXL is more than capable of throwing out a lot of depth. One trick that works really well with the BRV-XXL is to face the speaker against a wall (or even better put it in a corner) about 6 inches away and play the music from there you will notice that this not only makes the sound even louder but more adequately fills a room and gives a more HiFi like throw of the sound due to the reflective properties of the solid surface.
As I said at the start of this review, most of the time we simply pass on reviewing Bluetooth speakers and we only make exceptions for those that truly impress us. The Braven BRV-XXL falls right into that category. Its a super rugged, well built and simple to use speaker that delivers loud music and deliciously deep bass. If you're into throwing parties or simply want an all in one solution then the XXL is one of the best outdoor Bluetooth speakers on the market today.
To read up more about the Braven XXL Bluetooth speaker feel free to check out the Braven Website and Audiophileon readers can use the code audiophile100