Review: Bayan Audio Soundbook and Soundbook X3 Jump the Pond

It’s possible that you’ve never heard of Bayan Audio. The company is better known in the UK, where it has built a solid reputation. Now, Bayan is bringing two new products to North America. The Soundbook and Soundbook X3 are portable Bluetooth speakers packed with some very cool features in very impressive packages. Can they make the jump over the pond and land with a big enough splash in an already crowded speaker market?

The Soundbook ($200) and Soundbook X3 ($300) share most of the same features, so it was easy to check them out together. They both feature aptX-Bluetooth 4.0 and have an AUX input as well as an FM tuner. Both have auto-pairing with NFC, and have a built-in microphone for hands-free phone calls. They are compatible with Android, iOS, and Windows devices. There is an audio output so they can function as Bluetooth receivers. Both are capable of playing up to 10 hours of streaming wireless music on a single charge.

Both speakers are housed in aluminum-clad rectangles with a ballistic-grade nylon covering. One of my favorite features are the power-activating covers (they are soundbooks, with covers – get it?). The covers swing open to form a stand for the players, and also automatically turn on the units, similar to an iPad case. Both are available in either a black and orange, or silver and blue case. I thought they were both rather tastefully designed.

The Soundbook is designed for complete portability. It’s smaller and lighter, measuring 6.3” x 3.46” x 1.5” and weighing in at 1.25 pounds. It has two 1” full-range speakers and a 2” passive bass radiator, and the amplifier provides 15 watts of power. Although it isn’t weatherproof or ruggedized, the Soundbook is certainly small enough to carry outdoors. In fact, it’s portable enough to go with you almost anywhere.

The Soundbook X3 is almost twice the size, measuring 9.2” x 4.72” x 1.75” and weighing 3.17 pounds. There are four 1.5” speakers and a 3” passive bass radiator, with 20 watts of power. The Soundbook X3 is also portable, but I think it’s mainly meant to be moved around inside the house. Hmm, on the other hand, with its bigger size, more powerful amplifiers, and larger speakers, it would be nice on the patio. Backpacking, not so much. A nifty feature found only on the Soundbook X3 is a USB charging port on the back – makes it easy to keep my phone charged up.

Pairing to either device was simple, especially using NFC and my Samsung Galaxy S4. Regular Bluetooth pairing to my iPod nano was also painless. Up to four devices can be paired to the speakers (only one can be connected) so it was also easy to switch back and forth between my two playback sources. One feature that was immediately lacking was a playback control – there is no way to pause or track advance from the speaker itself. These days, that’s almost a given on any portable device. There are station up/down buttons for tuning the FM receiver, but no way to control the tracks on a phone or MP3 player. Sad.

The Soundbook and Soundbook X3 sounded quite different, as you would expect. The smaller Soundbook has a surprisingly balanced, albeit small sound. There isn’t much deep bass, and the sound is somewhat harsh in the high end. Christina Aguilera’s voice had a slightly sibilant sound on “Say Something” and the higher strings had a strident tone. There is a small stereo sound field – imaging is there, but you have to listen closely to notice any separation.

The Soundbook X3 has a big enough bass radiator to yield a goodly amount of bass. Compared to its smaller sibling, it has a deeper, warmer sound, but it comes at the expense of the high end. The treble has a veiled, pulled-back sound, overpowered by the full lower range. The sibilance of the smaller Soundbook is gone, but the X3 could use some more clarity and presence. Being a wider cabinet, there is slightly more stereo separation, but it is hardly spacious.

Both of these products from Bayan Audio have excellent build quality and a sense of style. Little features that made me happy were tiny Velcro cable ties for their power cords, an assortment of international power adapters, and I also appreciated the FM radio. The NFC pad is on the back of the cover, easy to tap on. The cover that turns on the unit, doubles as a stand, and then protects the speaker components when closed is just lovely. They both have a solid heft to them. Their sound isn’t phenomenal, but it is comparable to or better than other similarly priced and sized units. For style alone, this British invasion is worth a listen.