Welcome to the latest installment of Staff Picks. Every other week, we’ll tell you about the tech we’re currently testing — everything from cameras to hi-fi headphones, extremely large desktop monitors to smart home appliances — as well as the grail items we wish we could buy. To see what we’ve previously been testing, click here.
Sony SRS-XB41 Bluetooth Speaker
Sony’s Extra Bass (XB) line of portable Bluetooth speakers is really about sound and show, and the XB41 is the biggest and newest of the bunch. It features neat LEDs on top the speaker drivers that light up in tune with the music, and a ‘Live Sound’ mode to create a larger soundstage (a Sony rep told me this designed to make listeners feel like they’re in a large venue). You can also program to make percussion or other funky sounds when you hit it. Yes, hit it — it can be a little like a Bop It! toy from years past. It’s definitely quirky, but you can turn all that “fun” off it just works as a bespoke Bluetooth speaker that sounds pretty great. Oh, and it’s rugged enough to be submerged and survive. — Tucker Bowe, Staff Writer
Soundskins for Sonos
Sonos speakers are nothing short of incredible. They sound great, the software works flawlessly and thanks to the multi-room capabilities and the variety of speaker sizes available, there’s something for just about everyone. But if there’s one thing that Sonos lacks, it’s the ability to customize the speaker’s appearance. All Sonos speakers (aside from the Playbar) are available in black and white, but if those colors don’t work for your space, there was little you could do. Enter Soundskins. Soundskins are essentially 3D-kitted custom covers for your Sonos speakers. They’re available in a host of different colors and the soft texture helps the speakers melt away into your space (they look similar to Vifa speakers when installed). They’re also “acoustically transparent,” so adding them to your speakers won’t affect the sound quality. The Sub and Playbar covers require some tweaking to get the right fit, but the Play:5 and Play:1 covers are simple to toss on and adjust for the perfect fit. — AJ Powell, Assistant Editor
Native Union Smart Hub Bridge
We work on the new MacBook Pro at Gear Patrol, and I’m constantly having problems finding a place to plug in my phone or other pieces of tech that use USB-A to charge. To further exacerbate the problem, my desk cluster uses one power strip and available plugs are hard to come by. I’ve recently been testing Native Union’s Smart Hub Bridge, and it is nothing short of incredible. It has revolutionized my day-to-day office charging workflow for the better — to the point where I wait to charge my phone at the office because of how much I enjoy using it. It has an 8-foot AC cable, two AC power outlets, three USB-A ports and a USB-C port. It charges everything I need to charge, and looks great doing it. — AJ Powell, Assistant Editor