Review: 808 Audio XL-V Wireless Smart Speaker | iLounge

Review

Review: 808 Audio XL-V Wireless Smart Speaker

B-
Limited Recommendation

Company: 808 Audio

Model: XL-V

Price: $130

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Jesse Hollington

Voice assistant speakers are becoming all the rage lately, and unlike Apple and Google, Amazon is only too happy to open up its Alexa technology to just about anybody who wants to incorporate it into their speaker. 808 Audio's XL-V is the latest Alexa-enabled speaker we've seen with a foot in the Apple ecosystem — since Alexa requires Wi-Fi connectivity, that makes it easier for manufacturers to include AirPlay support as well — and we were actually surprised by how much it has in common with other Alexa/AirPlay speakers we've looked at.

XL-V has a nice but somewhat typical design that reflects 808 Audio’s usual aesthetic, taken up a notch. It’s a tall gunmetal gray cylinder approximately 8.5” in height and 3” in diameter. Two buttons at the bottom are used for power and Bluetooth, with the speaker grilled taking up about two-thirds of the cylinder above that, and a silver panel at the top with four buttons for volume and Alexa control along with the microphone and an LED ring that works as a status indicator. An included power adapter routes through a channel at the rear of the speaker and plugs into the bottom using a standard DC barrel connector, and an aux-in port can also be found on the back near the opening for the power cable.

As soon as you plug in the XL-V it will immediately start up in Wi-Fi mode, and you can use 808 Audio’s free iOS app to configure it to access your Wi-Fi network and set up Alexa on it. The Wi-Fi set up process was a bit more straightforward than others we’ve seen — rather than requiring you to connect to a temporary Wi-Fi network, your Wi-Fi network and password are transferred to the XL-V over Bluetooth, saving a trip to the iOS Settings app, although it appears 808 Audio’s app doesn’t take advantage of the Wi-Fi sharing built into iOS, so you’ll still need to type in your password manually rather than having it automatically transferred. Once connected, you’ll be prompted to give the speaker a name and sign into your Amazon account to set up Alexa.

808 Audio’s Smart Speaker app also provides support for streaming music from your iOS music library or from other music services such as Tunein, iHeartRadio, Spotify, Tidal, Napster, and Pandora. The app is primarily just an interface to these services, however, and you can just as easily stream directly to the XL-V directly from apps like Spotify via Spotify Connect or AirPlay. Further, the Apple Music support in the app is limited, and seems to have problems playing Apple Music tracks, but honestly we’d much rather just use the native iOS Apple Music app anyway; in our opinion, about the only thing that the 808 Audio Smart Speaker app is particularly useful for is configuring the speaker’s settings and pairing it with other speakers in a group.

This is actually where the XL-V got interesting, however. We thought that 808 Audio’s app looked familiar, and in fact other than some minor aesthetic differences, it has almost the same design as the app for the Fabriq Chorus that we looked at last year. What surprised us, however, was to find that these similarities are more than skin deep; it looks like both Fabriq and 808 Audio are probably using the same embedded technology for their networking tech — even though they’re made by completely different manufacturers, both speakers appear in either app, and can in fact actually be paired together in a group using either app. Once you’ve assigned speakers to a group, you can also choose whether each speaker should play stereo audio, or only the left or right channels — as you tap on the channel indicators, the appropriate speaker will verbally announce which channel it has been assigned to.

Even more fascinating is that this not only allows you to play music through multiple speakers, but it actually presents them to AirPlay as a single unified speaker entry; selecting the group from the AirPlay menu will automatically play any audio from your iPhone to all of the speakers in that AirPlay group. Of course, from an audio point of view it makes considerably more sense to pair two XL-V speakers together — the Fabriq Chorus (and Riff) and the XL-V have significantly different acoustic profiles, so you’re not really getting balanced stereo in this configuration. Still, it’s notable that these speakers have accomplished something that Apple has yet to bring to the HomePod — stereo pairing over plain old AirPlay version 1, and it actually works remarkably well. It’s worth noting that the XL-V can also be used in Bluetooth mode, but since it’s not really a portable speaker, we suspect most users will prefer to use AirPlay, but it does open up the option of more easily using the speaker elsewhere, such as bringing it to work or a friend’s house.

We’d call the audio quality of the XL-V about average, and somewhat lacking in bass definition. While there’s some bass here, the XL-V lacks the deeper bass of direct competitors like the Fabriq Chorus, although in all fairness that particular speaker delivers surprisingly boomy bass for a speaker in its size and price range — an acoustic profile that’s more akin to Apple’s HomePod — where the XL-V seems to fall to the other side, delivering crisper and cleaner sound but a little too lacking in bass, even compared with 808 Audio’s other speakers in this price range. On a more positive note, the XL-V was able to deliver room-filling sound with basically no distortion.

In terms of Alexa features, the XL-V seems to suffer from the same limitations of a lot of non-Amazon speakers that include Alexa. There’s no direct Spotify integration, so you won’t be able to call up your favorite playlists by voice; your only option is Spotify Connect, which still requires you to use a device like an iPhone as a remote control. The XL-V also doesn’t support audio actions in Alexa Routines, so you won’t be able to use features like “Report weather” or “Play the news”, although you can still use it to control Alexa-compatible smart home devices.

While we liked the design of 808 Audio’s XL-V and its performance as a simple Alexa speaker, we were disappointed in the audio quality — especially for a speaker in this price range. Although Alexa support may justify a price premium, other than design we don’t think the XL-V offers enough over Amazon’s own Echo or even other competitors to really justify the higher price, and in fact Fabriq’s Chorus offers virtually identical Alexa and streaming features, plus battery-powered portability, for $30 less. The bottom line is that if you really like 808 Audio’s design and bass isn’t your thing, the XL-V is worth considering, but there are definitely better — and less expensive — alternatives available.

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Editors' Note: iLounge only reviews products in "final" form, but many companies now change their offerings - sometimes several times - after our reviews have been published. This iLounge article provides more information on this practice, known as revving.

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