Powerful audio performance with serious bass depth and high volume output. Built-in LED lights. Solid battery life.
Highly sculpted sound signature. Heavy. Not rugged or waterproof.
- Bottom Line
The Sony GTK-XB60 speaker offers bass thunder and an LED light show, but limited portability.
We test our fair share of small, portable Bluetooth speakers, but that doesn't mean speakers need to be small in order to be portable. Case in point: the $249.99 Sony GTK-XB60, an imposing structure with built-in LED lights that almost looks more like a gaming PC than a speaker. Audio purists seeking an accurate sound signature shouldn't bother with this big bass behemoth, but if you're looking for a large speaker with extra bass depth to pump up electronic, hip-hop, pop, and rock tracks, the GTK-XB60 won't disappoint.
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When we say the GTK-XB60 is big, we're not joking. It measures 21.8 by 10.4 by 10.7 inches (HWD) and weighs 17.7 pounds. So while it might be battery-powered, it truly pushes the definition of portable, and it isn't rugged or waterproof if you want to use it for an outdoor party. If there's a design turnoff here for some, it's probably the blue or black plastic contour—it looks like the plastic on a large cooler. The speaker can stand upright or on its side, with a control panel on the top (when its upright).
Beneath the huge front panel speaker grille, the GTK-XB60 packs dual 2-inch tweeters and dual 5.2-inch woofers, for a combined 30 watts of power (15 watts per channel). The speakers are ported (the port is located on the rear panel) for more efficient driver movement.
The control panel houses a power button, a play/pause button (which doubles as the call management and track navigation button), plus/minus buttons for volume, and an extra bass button. Then, there are the less obvious buttons: Stamina (for saving battery life), Function (for switching between Bluetooth, USB, or RCA inputs), Add (for pairing multiple GTK-XB60 speakers), and W.Party Chain (for setting multiple GTK-XB60 or XB90 speakers to play from the same source simultaneously). There's also an NFC pairing field on this panel. All of the buttons flank a built-in handle for carrying the speaker from room to room.
The back panel also houses a Party Chain button that works in conjunction with the other Party Chain button if your speaker is the "host" speaker. There's a little bit of button bloat here, which most Bluetooth speakers avoid by using an app to pair and chain speakers together.
In terms of connectivity, the back panel houses RCA inputs and outputs, as well as a USB port for charging or playing MP3 or WAV files from a USB device. There's also a quarter-inch mic jack and mic level knob in case you wish to use the speaker for karaoke. (Microphone not included.)
Sony claims the LED lights bring an "EDM festival atmosphere" to your room. Often, I found them jarring, so perhaps this is correct. The lights are bright, and flash in several colors, sometimes with the beat of the music, sometimes at random. It's an impressive display, but it has some quirks: If the speaker is plugged into a power strip, for instance, the lights will flash every time the strip is powered up. The lights can be disabled by holding down the W.Party Chain button for a few seconds.
Surprisingly, you can take calls through the GTK-XB60, making it one of the largest speakers we've tested to include this feature. The mic offers mediocre intelligibility. Using the Voice Memos app on an iPhone 6s, we could understand every word we recorded, but the audio was garbled and fuzzy, as is typical with portable speaker mics using Bluetooth.
Sony claims 14 hours of battery life, but that's what you get with the LED lights off and the speaker operating at less-than-top volume levels. At maximum volume, with the Stamina button engaged, it drops dramatically to 5 hours. Without the Stamina button engaged, you get 3.5 hours at top volumes, which seems far more in line with what you'd expect from a speaker this size. So, the speaker is indeed portable, but if you're wanting the light show and loud volume, keeping it plugged into an outlet is highly advised.
Without the Extra Bass button enabled, the GTK-XB60 is capable of delivering serious power. In fact, it could be argued that the speaker not only doesn't need an Extra Bass button, but sounds better with it disabled. With the Extra Bass off, the GTK-XB60 delivers more bass than just about any speaker in this price range. On tracks with intense sub-bass content, like The Knife's "Silent Shout," the bass power the speaker can muster is at times too much for the plastic enclosure, which rumbles slightly at certain resonant frequencies.
There's no denying that the GTK-XB60 sounds like it has a subwoofer built in and that it can get exceptionally loud. This is real bass that you can feel. Turning the Extra Bass on for a track like this feels borderline ridiculous—you're likely to rattle walls, and the balance feels disrupted. Therefore, we kept the Extra Bass disabled for most of testing—you know it's there if you ever really want to dial things up, but without it, the GTK-XB60 still delivers serious, subwoofer-like oomph. It simply sounds tighter and more balanced in regular listening mode.
Bill Callahan's "Drover," a track with far less deep bass in the mix, gives us a better sense of the GTK-XB60's overall sound signature. The drums on this track sound fairly natural in regular listening mode—there isn't much added thunder; they sound round, but not heavy. Add in the Extra Bass and the drums still don't sound thunderous, so it seems clear that when the GTK-XB60 pumps up the lows, it's pumping up lower or sub-bass frequencies that typically don't occur on tracks like this. In regular mode, Callahan's baritone vocals have a pleasant low-mid richness that is the most dominant sound in the mix, but is balanced enough by the high-mids that it doesn't seem muddy. The acoustic guitar strums benefit from the high-mids, as well, but the lows and low-mids feel more dialed up here than the highs, even in regular listening mode.
On Jay-Z and Kanye West's "No Church in the Wild," the kick drum loop receives enough high-mid presence for its attack to retain it punchiness, but the sustain feels more beefed up than it typically is, and the sub-bass synth hits that punctuate the beat are delivered with some power. In Extra Bass mode, the thing that gets the most power is the drum loop, not the sub-bass synth. It seems that the area the Extra Bass targets is in the higher sub-bass realm and the lower typical bass realm. There's plenty of DSP (digital signal processing) in play here too, and it seems designed to accentuate the beat more than anything else.
The speaker is designed for lovers of EDM, so we won't spend too much time on orchestral tracks. The opening scene from John Adams' The Gospel According to the Other Mary sounds a little muffled in Extra Bass mode and slightly crisper in regular mode. There's plenty of lower frequency presence pushing the lower register instrumentation forward. This is a sculpted sound signature regardless of genre—it favors very specific ranges of the lower frequencies, and boosts and cuts highs in a way that can sound overly sculpted. It works well for electronic music and pop with deep bass, but less so for acoustic or orchestral genres.
For $250, the Sony GTK-XB60 will appeal to those seeking a huge bass sound, but to market it as a portable speaker is slightly misleading. For all the effort you need to lug this beast somewhere, it will only net you 3.5 hours of optimal audio playback at top volumes—if you're outdoors and trying to power the party, that could be a problem. The LED lights are well-implemented, so if that's your thing, they're another cool feature to consider. In this price range, there are some other large, somewhat portable options to consider—the JBL Charge 3, the Bose SoundLink Revolve+, and the more expensive Soundcast VG5 are all solid, and some of them have more outdoor-friendly, easily portable builds than the GTK-XB60. There's little to complain about here, but the GTK-XB60 feels quite niche.
About the Author
Contributing Editor, Audio
Contributing Editor Tim Gideon has been writing for PCMag since 2006. He specializes in reviewing audio products, and is obsessed with headphones, speakers, and recording gear.
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