Rocksteady XS Speaker: Well Behaved, But You Should Keep It Outdoors [Review]


Rocksteady XS by Killer Concepts
Category: Speakers
Works With: Anything
Price: $100

The Rocksteady XS is meant to be a tough, loud outdoor speaker. And it is. But how does it stack up, sound and feature-wise, against some rather stiff competition?


The speaker offers some great features. It’s aluminum, and yet costs just $100. It has Bluetooth, but also has a jack and can play music direct from USB sticks. It has buttons for everything, including play/pause, skip, volume and the mysterious “mode.” And above all it’s loud. Like, really loud. Outdoor party loud. 100dB loud, according to the blurb.

The Good

Most of what’s good about the XS comes from the spec sheet. There’s the volume for one, and the impressive range of connectivity. There’s also the removable battery, which is pretty standard BL-5C, which’ll last for around ten hours and can be (fairly) easily swapped when it dies. You can even power the source device from the XS’ USB port.

It’s loud. Like, really loud. Outdoor party loud. 100dB loud.

Sound-wise, there’s good news too. When hooked up via Bluetooth, with the sound cranked up on both the iPhone and the speaker (the controls are independent, as is usual with these things), the sound remains clear and distortion free. This is good news for listening outdoors, and also for podcast listening in the shower, where the sharp-sounding speaker punches through the white noise.

The speakers fire from the ends. Photo credit Nuria Gregori

The XS manages to pump out such a large volume of sound thanks to its side-firing speakers, which are sealed into the unit to get more punch.

If you listen to the XS on its own, or if you are regularly going to be using a speaker outside, then you won’t be disappointed. Especially not for the price. But there are some big downsides which may or may not worry you, depending on what you’re looking for.

The Bad

The speaker sounds fairly tinny. Not thin and reedy – it’s too loud for that – but the bass never really gets full, and vocals sound less full than they do on the Jambox. But it’s not all bad. When I flip between the XS and the Jambox side-by-side, the Jambox sounds pathetically quiet. So you know, it’s a tricky call to make. Like I said, if loud is what you want, you won;t be disappointed. If you’re looking for subtlety, look elsewhere.

But if you leave it switched on, the next time you come to use it you’ll find the battery dead

Worse are the controls. The buttons are lined up along the front in a single row, which looks cool. But because they all look the same, you need to check what they do each time you press. Worse, the skip buttons are right next to the volume buttons, which means you could skip back instead of turning things up.

More hookups than a Castro dog-grooming parlor.

There’s confusion in the Mode switch, too. When you switch the device on, it’s waiting for an input from the jack socket. To switch to Bluetooth, you need to press the mode button. To get to USB input, you need to press again. The Bluetooth mode mercifully sounds a chime, but only after a second or two. And as the other two are silent, you need to press and wait for a second every time.

Finally, there’s the battery. It lasts just fine, and charges as you’d expect. But if you leave the device on, it never sleeps and next time you come to use it you’ll find it dead. Compare this to every other Bluetooth speaker I have ever used – which all go to sleep after seconds or minutes – and it seems like the software inside the XS is still a work in progress.

The Verdict

That said, it really does shine when outdoors

If speakers were computer operating systems, the Rocksteady XS would be Linux on the desktop. It does everything you want, and it is rock solid (the build quality makes me think it’ll last forever). But it is almost completely free of UI niceties, power management is up to you, and it can sometimes be tricky to work out how to use it.

That said, it really does shine when outdoors. If you’re riding a bike in the city, vocal nuances and full-range sound don’t matter if you can’t hear them. The Rocksteady stands agains the din, and does it cheaply. If that’s what you want, then it’s gonna be a good buy.

Product Name: : Rocksteady XS

The Good: Tough. Loud. REALLY LOUD. Full of features.

The Bad: Tinny sound, confusing interface, no battery-saving sleep mode.

The Verdict Buy it if you like it loud. Avoid if you want ease-of-use and subtlety.

Buy from: Killer Concepts