Review: Braven BRV-XXL Portable Wireless Bluetooth Speaker

01
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Design & Connectivity

The Braven BRV-XXL speaker sitting outdoors on rocks
The Braven BRV-XXL speaker is certified IPX5 water-resistant, making it an ideal companion for tailgating, camping, pool parties, or wherever splashes or spills might occur. Stanley Goodner/About

There are a lot of portable speakers available, but sometimes one needs a little more hardware than what might readily fit in a bag or backpack. Something that can entertain a large group of people without forcing them to huddle nearby just to hear what’s playing. Something that’s not afraid to kick it around grass, dirt, mud, rocks, or anywhere else that might scuff a dainty device. We recently put Braven’s biggest, baddest boombox to the test to see if it sounds as mighty as it looks.

Boomboxes are not gone, oh no. They’ve merely evolved, and Braven’s take on a modern, bass-pumping, outdoor speaker is quite the beast. Although not flashy, the Braven BRV-XXL is certainly eye-catching. Metallic grilles and hex screw-studded, matte-black plastic evoke a sense of rugged industrialism. This speaker’s design sports a cool mix of angles, curves, and cutouts that maintain aesthetic appeal without gaudy excess. Very Braven.

The Braven BRV-XXL’s built-in handle offers an easy carrying option, so long as you’re prepared to heft its 18 lb (8.2 kg) frame. Measuring 20.25 x 18.25 x 9.5 in (51.4 x 46.3 x 24.1 cm), this speaker is a far cry from some of Braven’s more pint-sized, portable options. A shoulder strap is included as an in-box accessory for convenient hands-free carrying. Much of the speaker’s weight can be attributed to the solid construction, four HD drivers (two on either side), down-firing subwoofer, and sizable 15,600 mAh internal battery. Unlike some other Bluetooth boomboxes in the same weight class, the BRV-XXL doesn’t come off as cheap or flimsy.

Buttons are embedded in firm silicone on one end of the speaker, while the opposite side houses all the ports underneath a thick, secure flap. The Braven BRV-XXL is certified IPX5 water-resistant, making it an ideal companion for tailgating, camping, pool parties, or wherever splashes or spills might occur. Thick silicone feet keep the bottom of the speaker elevated while also providing a bit of damping when the tunes are totally cranked up. And the (removable) silicone device stand is a thoughtful addition that works equally well for smartphones or tablets, with or without cases, in either landscape or portrait orientation.

02
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Design & Connectivity (continued)

Closeup of the Braven BRV-XXL speaker's controls
The Braven BRV-XXL speaker offers adjustment for volume, treble, and bass. Stanley Goodner/About

The onboard controls are basic, offering levels of adjustment for volume, bass, and treble. The power button cycles between the three, as a series of eight back-lit LEDs glow blue to represent the current settings. There are no track controls on the Braven BRV-XXL, so command over music needs to be done by devices connected via Bluetooth or the 3.5 mm auxiliary jack. A microphone input transforms the speaker into a portable PA system, while a USB port charges gadgets at a standard 5 V / 1 A rate.

If you’re not paying attention, it’s easy to miss the startup/shutdown sounds. A fleeting, musical hum and two-tone "bee-boop" make powering the system on/off a subdued, unobnoxious affair. Unlike many others out there, the BRV-XXL lacks speakerphone functionality for fielding hands-free phone calls – a prudent decision on Braven’s part. More often than not, such built-in microphones can suffer from sub-par performance and merely serve to pad product specifications.

The Braven BRV-XXL features Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR (enhanced data rate) that offers the standard 33 ft (10 m) wireless range. From our real-world indoor tests, the speaker was able to maintain a steady connection up to about 31 ft before starting to waver. Set it a few feet back from that and the speaker can handle a passing body or interior wall without a single skip. The reach is excellent, so you’re definitely getting some quality hardware.

On a fully-charged battery, the BRV-XXL is listed as being able to play for up to 14 hours before needing to be plugged in again. With the volume set to max on the speaker and 70 percent on a connected device – a comfortable listening level for a large living room and adjoining areas – we managed to enjoy 13 hours 39 minutes worth of music. Not bad. The BRV-XXL sports the ubiquitous, imprecise 4-LED indicator system for battery life. The first three LEDs are good for about 2.5 hours each, while that last one delivers at least 5.25 hours of audio. So don’t freak out when the battery appears to drop quickly at first. And to save battery life, the speaker automatically shuts off after 10 minutes of inactivity.

Included with the Braven BRV-XXL is the carrying strap (which features a built-in bottle opener!), power brick, and an assortment of wall plugs compatible with most types of international power outlets. Simple, yet convenient for all.

03
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Audio Performance

Closeup of the Braven BRV-XXL speaker's metal grilles and hex screws
The Braven BRV-XXL speaker's metallic grilles and hex screw-studded plastic evoke a sense of rugged industrialism. Stanley Goodner/About

The Braven BRV-XXL is not a silent speaker, in that a continuous hissing sound can be heard while the speaker is wirelessly connected and actively playing audio (especially during the lull between songs). It scales with the speaker’s volume level and can be detected up to a few meters away, depending on volume and music type – heavier genres like rock, metal, or EDM tend to mask the hissing. But, for example, play some quieter, classic piano/violin pieces, and you might find yourself nudging the speaker’s volume down to mitigate the noise. The BRV-XXL also emits a low, intermittent crackle/pop sound, heard mostly when leaning in close enough to the grilles.

Those with an ear for it can certainly detect the hiss beneath the music, especially at high-speaker low-device volumes. One workaround is to set the BRV-XXL’s volume to a moderate level and max it out on the smartphone/tablet. This can be a little limiting, given the mere nine levels of speaker volume (with the lowest level silencing all sound output). But then again, those attempting to use the BRV-XXL like a cute desk speaker for personal, focused listening might be doing it wrong. The Braven BRV-XXL is better-suited as an indoor/outdoor party box for entertaining boisterous, active people.

For testing, we set the Braven BRV-XXL’s treble and bass equalizer levels centered/neutral. These default settings are actually quite close to perfect and balanced for playing most any genre of music. While some tracks may benefit by increasing the treble output, we found that the best sound came from leaving it alone. Or even turning it down a notch or two. While the lows keep an even keel to the highs without any adjustment, those who crave more muscle have room to do so (via bass control) without souring the sound.

Aside from earning potential noise/disturbance complaints, there’s little reason not to blast music at almost max (both speaker and device) volume. The Braven BRV-XXL handles distortion like a champ, maintaining sensibly clear tones and sonic edges without any thick or crunchy grit. Sure, brighter highs and vocal sibilance take the forefront at extreme volumes, but a nudge or two down pulls it all back from sounding excessively prominent, sharp, or fatiguing. Otherwise, the mids and lows hold form rightfully well at the higher volumes.

The Braven BRV-XXL can pump out some serious beats, enough to fill a two-story home (depending on layout and acoustics) at medium-high volume. With the pairs of drivers facing out on the front and back, placing the speaker centrally does wonders for spreading a wide blanket of audio across open areas. The effect is almost like 360 degrees of sound, but not quite. Music is less pronounced when standing at either end; you’ll want to be broadside to the BRV-XXL to hear the best of what it can deliver.

04
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Audio Performance (continued)

The Braven BRV-XXL speaker sitting outside on flagstone
The Braven BRV-XXL speaker sports a cool mix of angles, curves, and cutouts that maintain aesthetic appeal without gaudy excess. Stanley Goodner/About

The sweet spot for volume centers around the moderate/high level, again reinforcing how the Braven BRV-XXL is not really meant for hushed, personal listening. The speaker’s output progresses smoothly enough – it takes increasing the volume to almost half of the max in order for the lows and low-mids to fully express and balance out the highs/vocals. The dynamic range also improves once the volume reaches that point in order to bring out all the soft and quieter details within a song.

The Braven BRV-XXL’s soundstage isn’t quite as wide as the projected performance would want, especially for the impressive volume. But the performance is open, with a depth appropriately proportioned to match the width. As such, the imaging is accurate and realistic with respect to size and placement. Elements express superb clarity of sound with clean edges and reasonably quick movement between the right and left stereo channels. Music delivers with a pleasing amount of sonic detail (e.g. hit and scratch of strings, breathy exhales) especially from higher quality sources, such as lossless files or streaming services.

The upper registers are prominent, but not to the point of stealing the spotlight from the mids or lows. Overall, the Braven BRV-XXL conveys highs that are strikingly crisp and quick. While listening to Strunz & Farah, you can pick out the individual pluck of strings from both guitars, no matter how breathtakingly fast the music plays. Cymbals and hi-hats strike with a crash or “shush” instead of sizzle or “tizz.” However, it’s not uncommon to encounter gentle sibilance with some vocals, even at moderate volume levels. But this can be kept at a minimum by adjusting the onboard treble control (and sometimes the volume if in excess) down.

Versus the highs and lows, the mids aren’t quite as pronounced or emphasized. But the BRV-XXL gets the job done with enough body, energy, and tonal accuracy to keep instruments and vocals from sounding recessed. The separation between elements shrinks a bit as song complexity increases, leading to mids coming off a little thick with softer edges. But even then, details are never completely lost (for most all tracks we played), and the midrange vocals remain smooth, true, and to the forefront of the stage. The lows add a touch of coloration, but this bit of warmth blends in nicely, especially for songs that feature brass instruments.

The Braven BRV-XXL has no lack of thrumming bass guitar or hard-hitting drums. Beats are punchy, appreciably deep, and powerful, yet maintain the kind of sonic details that often get drowned out by volume. This speaker quite capably handles lows without losing grip or overall richness. Music from groups like A Tribe Called Red or Massive Attack can easily humble some systems – situations where the “tail wags the dog.” The BRV-XXL captures big beats and soaring majesty without sounding blown-out, muffled, or boomy.

The lows’ quick attack is equally matched by the decay, so notes aren’t left to linger and blur. The result is a very clean performance, even with multiple drum kits playing behind a full stage. The BRV-XXL delivers a package of muscle and grace – a combination found to be lacking with the comparable Nyne Rock Bluetooth speaker. Braven’s BRV-XXL allows users to enjoy low-end impact and (to a somewhat lesser extent) sub-bass rumble that is balanced with finesse and musical accuracy. Even when you turn it (almost) all the way up.

05
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The Verdict

A Samsung Galaxy Note 4 smartphone sitting atop the Braven BRV-XXL speaker
The Braven BRV-XXL speaker features a silicone device stand to prop up smartphones or tablets. Stanley Goodner/About

Backyards, camping, pool parties, beaches, open spaces, and even indoors; the Braven BRV-XXL makes you feel like you’re getting your money’s worth of hardware and audio output. The performance is clear, rich, and can get loud enough to cover most social situations you’d want to bring a boombox to. Although favoring the highs and lows just a touch, the sound is close enough to balance and works wonderfully with most all genres of music. And this sizable speaker is portable, so long as you’re ok to tote it around by the handle or shoulder strap.

Battery life on the BRV-XXL is good enough to get you through a full day – less if you choose the convenience of recharging a mobile device. And while the overall audio quality is fantastic, some may not be able to get past the underlying wireless hiss and/or the fact that best results come at moderate/high volume levels. But those who are less prone to nitpicking will find that the Braven BRV-XXL delivers exactly what it means to: bold sound that doesn’t wimp out as soon as you take it outside. And it is all yours and available now for US$350.

Product page: Braven BRV-XXL Speaker