While we may be a little partial here at ABI to some great sounding headphones paired with a clean sounding DAP on the go, there are surely those times when you just want to share your tunes with everyone around you. Those of us that don’t venture into the iOS world have a little harder time pairing up to a speaker dock, but there are still some choices out there. This is when the Sony SA-NS500 portable speaker comes into play. A portable speaker rated up to 8 hours of operation without being plugged in, 4 tweeters spreading 360 degree sound, and an upward firing woofer packaged in a….dare we say eye catching design, is sure to land on our radar. To top it off, the NS500 is DLNA compatible, Airplay compatible, and is set up for Sony’s Party Streaming feature to spread music around your house in different rooms wirelessly. How does this intriguing package stack up to the dime a dozen companion speakers out there? You’re going to have to read on to find out.
Design & Build Quality
I’ve always been a big fan of Sony products over the years. They make some excellent gear from a hardware standpoint, and the NS500 is certainly no different. The lamp shade style design is as much form as it is function. Instead of just bringing an aesthetically pleasing design to market, Sony has really thought about how people listen to their music in these portable and party situations. After all, that’s what this thing’s for.
As I said earlier, the design lets Sony place 4 30mm two way speakers facing every which direction. North, south, east, and west, Sony has you covered here. The benefits to this are obvious, giving listeners a consistent sound regardless of where they are around the speaker. You don’t have to worry about the sound fading in and out when you walk past the NS500. The top firing 110mm woofer has the bass shooting through the top of the speaker, which also acts as a carrying handle. It’s a pretty slick design with an excellent eye toward utility.
The build quality is really second to none. While the Zeppelin Air might be the premium speaker on the market, the NS500 is right up there with it. There’s a decent amount of heft to the unit, weighing in at around 8.5 lbs, which gives it a really nice premium feel. I’m not against light products, but there’s a reason behind some quality heft at times. Overall, this is definitely a minimalists dream. Barring the unique design, there aren’t any crazy logos or artwork on the NS500. Sticking to typical Sony style, you have the Sony logo on the top of the speaker with a couple of glowing lights telling you whether the unit is powered on or off, Party mode, Airplay mode, Aux mode, etc. Like I said, pretty nondescript.
As far as the audio inputs, the NS500 has an auxiliary jack on the rear. The rest of the audio is sent through wireless networking through DLNA, Airplay, or Sony’s Party Streaming mode. Basically, the latter 3 all work the same way using your wireless network. Whether this is good or bad depends on your location. At home, it’s a nice solution to get music throughout your apartment or house. Using Sony’s Party Streaming mode, you can connect up to 8 speakers to the same stream to wirelessly send and sync music throughout your home. If this sounds familiar, it’s because it is. Just think Sonos, but not as efficient or easy to use. Not being on your home network though means you’ll need to carry that 3.55mm aux cable to plug into your DAP for playback, as you lose the wireless capabilities without wi-fi.
Unfortunately, this is where the NS500 really falls apart. You can check Amazon or even Sony’s website to see user sentiments, but they all say the same thing…it’s basically useless. It won’t connect to wi-fi. When it finally gets connected to the network, the signal drops out. Etc. Etc. Etc.
Unfortunately, I had the same issues as everyone else. Full disclosure, I purchased this for my personal use. Following Sony’s user manual of running the setup disc, plugging the speaker in through the LAN connection to my router, and running the setup utility, I was unable to connect the NS500 to my home network. Once in every 15 reruns of trying to connect the speaker, the Sony utility would finally recognize there was a speaker turned on and connected to the router. Every time this happened (which wasn’t often, as most times I never had the speaker “connected”), I’d type in my password only to have the utility lose connection to the network. I would then have to start over from the beginning and have it retry the process. This went on for a couple of hours before I finally gave up.
Yeah, I decided that Sony just hasn’t figured this wireless thing out yet. Not long ago, I received the junior model, the NS300 for free after purchasing a product in store. Though I was able to actually get that connected to my network after just a handful of tries, the speaker kept dropping out of the network and having pairing issues. I dismissed this when I looked at the NS500, but perhaps I’ve just finally realized Sony is dropping the ball on this one. They just aren’t ready for things yet, and it seems these are beta products.
While the network issues certainly hurt the NS500, the sound quality should satisfy most. Though I had to rely on a 3.55mm auxiliary cable and my laptop (Sony Vaio SE), Clip Zip, and HTC TITAN to pair with the speaker, I’m not sure how much better the wireless network could improve the sound quality. It’d be nice if Sony teamed up with KLEER to provide lossless audio between devices, like Arcam did with their rCube.
Due to the design, you won’t get a wide soundstage obviously, but the sound is certainly pleasing and can get plenty loud. As I said earlier, the 360 degree design is great for a party setting pushing air out to all corners of the room.
The lower frequencies are surprisingly robust for such a compact speaker. Initially the bass comes across as boomy and slightly muddy. However, after several hours of listening, it seemed to round out nicely. While this isn’t as tight and accurate when compared to the Zeppelin Air, the bass still brings a nice presence. The lower frequencies seem to roll off a little to my ears, which bring more focus to the mid bass hump companies seem to enjoy now-a-days.
The rest of the sound spectrum seems a little distant. Vocals seem to travel from backstage as oppose to the artist singing in front of you. Perhaps this is a downside to 4 omnidirectional speakers where one of them is angled towards your direction at most, but there never seems to be a real connection to the music. Other than this distant feeling, the audio comes through and fills the room. There’s still plenty of clarity. While listening to Jamey Johnson’s Mental Revenge, I could still get wrapped up in the guitar working throughout the song.
The Sony NS500 could be a very nice addition to any party. Unfortunately, this is basically a beta product Sony seems to have crippled from the get go. The sound should definitely please most, as the bass can get people dancing and bring some life to the party, and the omnidirectional sound will fill up the room without issues. This just won’t make up for what Sony aimed to bring customers for this speaker. Clearly, network communications are an issue for a lot of people, and there just isn’t an excuse for that this day and age. It’s not exactly like DLNA is a new technology that needs to be ironed out. It’s been around for years now, and hopefully Sony can figure out a way to harness it. If they can, they certainly have a compelling product on their hands to offer customers who don’t want to be entangled into one ecosystem. As it stands though, the NS500 is an overpriced yet enjoyable speaker that fails to do what sets it apart.
Sony SA-NS500 ($300-400)