August 26, 2014

Review: 808 Audio Hex XL

The Hex XL is the newest and largest speaker in 808 Audio’s lineup of Bluetooth speakers. 808 Audio is a new brand from Voxx International which also manufactures products under the brands of RCA and Audiovox. They promise studio quality sound from their products, but so do a lot of other companies that claim to have studio quality sound when in fact offer muddy mid tones and over emphasized bass.

The Hex XL comes in a clear box with a cardboard slip cover on the bottom. Included with the speaker is a short 3.5mm male to male connector for those devices that don’t have Bluetooth, a micro USB cable for charging, as well as a USB wall wart to charge the speaker. The charger isn’t the highest quality or the nicest looking but it does it’s job and shouldn't make a difference as long as it charges the speaker. The first issue that came to my attention after taking it out of the box was the paint that stuck to the silicone pads that cushion the speaker from the box. There were hints of the red paint stuck to the pads, as well as a slightly lighter shade of red on the points that it made contact with on the speaker. This may be a concern in the future as the paint may degrade faster from the normal wear and tear of a portable speaker, but I haven’t been able to remove any more of the paint so it may just be a reaction between the paint and the pads.

Our speaker came in a bright red colour but is also available in grey and black if you prefer something less flashy. The speaker colours are quite nice and tasteful though. On the front of the speaker you find the two 35mm drivers as well as the 808 logo and a blue indicator LED. On the bottom you find 4 rubber feet as well as a 45mm down-firing subwoofer. On the left is the power, volume up/down, the Bluetooth pairing button and on the right are the play/pause buttons, and next/previous track buttons.

On the back is where you will wind the 3.5mm input as well as the micro USB connector for charging and the charge indicator LED. The Hex XL also come with an indent on the back that can act as a handle as well as a strap on the top for easy carrying. Both the indent and the strap making carrying the speaker around quite easy and comfortable. Unfortunately, the strap is made of a cheap looking faux leather material.

When turning on the speaker, you are greeted with a short chime as well as a different chime when you put it into pairing mode and also when it has successfully connected to the Bluetooth device. There is also a chime when you turn off the speaker. Although some people may find it annoying, I actually find it quite satisfying as it lets me know when the speaker has successfully connected instead of going through my phone and figuring out if it’s connected or not. The only problem I have is that when the speaker reaches the maximum volume, it stops playing music for around 3 seconds and beeps before resuming playback to indicate that it has reached maximum volume. The same pause and beep occur when you reach the minimum volume.

As for audio quality, I am blown away by the performance of this $99 speaker. The 35mm drivers provide crisp highs as well as present mids. Thanks to the down firing subwoofer, the two front facing speakers can provide cleaner sound as they only have to handle a smaller frequency range. The down firing subwoofer adds the punch and provides clean and not overpowering bass. The bass blends in with the rest of the sounds and is not overpowering. The design of the speaker angles the speakers at a slight upwards angle which helps direct the sound upwards towards the listener as the speaker will most likely be placed on a lower surface such as a table or a picnic basket. Inevitably, like every other wireless Bluetooth speaker, the audio quality does suffer at it’s maximum volume. Rest assured, the speaker is loud enough to be used at a community slo-pitch game or at a barbecue with friends without having to crank it up so much the audio starts to degrade. 808 Audio claims the speaker will provide up to 10 hours of playback at normal listening levels and I got around 12 hours from using it so battery life shouldn't be an issue. The fact that the speaker uses micro USB to charge means that a regular phone charger can give it a boost if needed.

For $99 the Hex XL is an absolute steal and the sound quality comes close to much more expensive Bose Soundlink and surpasses that of more expensive solutions such as the JBL Charge and the Beats Pill. With the paint issue aside, the Hex XL is an exceptional speaker and does live up to their promise to studio quality sound. Although not recommended for studio monitoring, the Hex XL is a fantastic portable speaker for the beach, picnic, or camping trip (at sites that allow the use of radios) and is definitely something to take a look at if you’re looking to buy a Bluetooth speaker. You can pick one up for yourself on the 808 Audio website.

Martin Tam is an editor and the Director of Video Production at [blank]’s Universe. He is also a technology enthusiast that particularly enjoys computers and photography. He enjoys breaking things and sleeping in his spare time.