The Turbo X ($349.99) is the first product from Riva Audio, a company founded by legendary concert promoter Rikki Farr. The Turbo X speaker has clean styling, measures 9.1 by 3.5 by 4.1 inches, and comes in either black or white, with glossy top and bottom panels, color-coordinated perforated steel sides, and a row of flush buttons on top. So far, pretty normal. However, when I first saw the Turbo X sitting on a table at the Newport Audio Show and went to pick it up, I was a bit surprised by its substantial 3.5-pound weight. I suspect that most of that weight is due to a battery that provides 26 hours of life and can also be used to charge your phone.
This mid-sized Bluetooth speaker also contains a 45-watt amplifier that drives three full-range and four bass drivers. The backside features an auxiliary input, a micro USB port for updates, a USB output for charging portable devices, a 19-volt DC power input, a battery level indicator, and a battery on/off button. While I normally do not comment on the underside of review items, I must note that, in addition to soft pads to prevent slips and scratches, there is also a removable cover for the input/output panel to protect it from dust and splashes.
Using the Turbo X was fairly straightforward. The speaker comes nicely packaged with power and auxiliary input cables and protective plastic on the glossy top and bottom panels. The user guide is well written but not needed, as operation is intuitive. Bluetooth pairing was quick and simple, and I downloaded the free Riva Ground Control application, which is available for iOS and Android devices. Most of my listening involved music streamed from one of my iOS devices, but the Turbo X also has an auxiliary input, which can be configured as a phono level input for those of you who want even your portable systems to be vinyl-compatible.
When streaming from my iPhone, I generally used the Riva app to control the Turbo X. I inadvertently discovered the Turbo X's proximity sensor one evening when I reached over to adjust the volume using the top-mounted buttons--when my hand got close to the speaker, the buttons' backlighting activated, making them easy to find. A nice (touchless) touch.
The Turbo X has two special listening modes: Trillium Surround and Turbo. The Trillium Surround mode does not provide a true surround sound experience but does make the soundstage a bit bigger so that the sound seems to be coming from the general area of the speaker rather than only the speaker itself. Selecting the Turbo mode causes the speaker to make a revving engine sound, which I was thankfully able to deactivate by changing the settings. The Turbo mode engages a different, more forward-sounding equalization curve and lets the speaker's volume go to "11." I ended up doing most of my listening with both the Trillium and Turbo modes engaged.
The Turbo X sounds much bigger than it is. While the Turbo X is closer in size to the pocket-sized Bluetooth speakers than to the much larger Cambridge Audio Bluetone 100 that I recently reviewed or the popular Wren X speaker, the Turbo X sounds closer to the larger speakers in both volume and quality. I streamed lots of music from Tidal on my iOS device to the Turbo X and heard some sonic characteristics that remained constant despite the type of music being played. The Turbo X has a forward midrange (less so when Turbo mode is off) that made vocals clear and pronounced.
For example, in Hozier's "Take Me to Church" from the album of the same name (CD, Columbia), the piano and vocals were full and well defined, but the lowest bass notes had substantially less weight. With Ariana Grande's "Problem" from her album My Everything (CD, Republic), the lack of bass was much more noticeable due to the amount of deep, synthesized bass featured on the track that the Turbo X could not reproduce with any real weight. Even with bass-heavy dance tracks, though, the Turbo X's crossover and equalization kept the drivers from overreaching and bottoming out.
In addition to sound quality, the Riva Turbo X has several features going for it, including: a good noise-cancelling microphone for the speaker-phone function, the ability to charge my phone, the motion-activated button lights, and a well-designed case to carry the Turbo X and its power cable.
In use, the power function was the one thing I found a bit quirky. I kept the battery button in the "on" position, since it was not intuitive to have to deal with two separate power buttons every time I wanted to use the speaker. The caveat is that the Turbo X will slowly drain the battery while in standby mode unless that battery button is set to off. It would also be nice to be able to turn the Turbo X on from the app.
• The Turbo X offers more than one full day of battery life on a full charge.
• This speaker has lots of features, such as the proximity sensor buttons, control application, and ability to charge portable devices.
• The Riva Turbo X combines good sound quality and the ability to play louder than similarly sized portable speakers without sounding restrained.
• If you leave the Turbo X unplugged and forget to turn the battery off, it will slowly drain even if the speaker is off.
• The Turbo X requires its own proprietary cable rather than a more universal IEC or USB cable.
• The Riva application cannot turn on the Turbo X speaker, so be sure to turn the speaker on before getting comfortable on the other side of the room.
Comparison and Competition
The Wren V5BT ($249) and Cambridge Audio Bluetone 100 ($299) are competitive with the Riva when it comes to the ability to fill a room with sound, but they require an AC power source. The Fugoo XL ($279-$329, depending on configuration) is the larger version of the Fugoo Bluetooth speaker and may be a contender for a portable speaker.
The Riva Turbo X is a solid, well-built, and good-sounding Bluetooth speaker. The fact that it can play louder without bottoming out the drivers and distorting is certainly a nice bonus, but it's the Turbo X's features and performance at regular volumes that make me recommend it.
The purist in me notices that the overall balance is skewed, but I am not expecting bass flat to 20 Hz either. The Turbo X does a good job presenting a full midrange that doesn't sound bloated and gently rolls off for a while before being cut drastically to prevent distortion at higher volumes. It would be nice to link a pair of Turbo Xs together to produce a larger and more defined soundstage and perhaps some more reach into the lower frequencies, but perhaps a future firmware update will provide that. In the meanwhile, the Turbo X produces a larger and more diffuse soundstage than one would expect from a single, small speaker.
Riva Audio did a great job with the Turbo X--it is well thought out and has me interested to see what Riva will do next.