Sony’s Ult Field 1 speaker gives you big bass in a small package

Content is created by CNN Underscored’s team of editors who work independently from the CNN newsroom. When you buy through links on our site, CNN and its syndication partners may earn a commission. Learn more

Adam Doud/CNN Underscored
Adam Doud/CNN Underscored

Sometimes, you just want to take your music with you. Portable speakers have a place in cars, on bikes, at parties and can even be substituted as soundbars for your TV or computer. Sony just launched its newest portable Bluetooth speaker with the Ult Field 1, and this year, the company is bringing the bass.

“Ult” stands for Sony’s belief that this line of audio products — the Ult Tower 10, the Ult Field 7 and Field 1 and the Ult Wear headphones — is the ultimate step into its audio evolution. What Ult actually means on these products is more bass (and in the larger products, more dynamic pressure to project the sound). Since the Field 1 is the smallest speaker Sony is offering, there are a few compromises in the Ult philosophy. I’ve been testing the Sony Ult Field 1 speaker in my home and out and about for about two weeks, and here are my full thoughts.


Sony Ult Field 1

Best Buy
Best Buy

The Sony Ult Field 1 is a compact, powerful, and loud portable speaker that is also durable and can even stand up to the elements with shockproofing and IP67 water, dust, and rustproof build. If you want to take your music on the go, look no further.



What we liked about it

No more alphabet soup

Sony’s products have had confusing combinations of letters and numbers to denote their products for a long time. Let’s face it; no one ever remembered them. Case in point, the Ult Field 1’s predecessor was the Sony SRS-XE200, and if that doesn’t just roll off the tongue, I don’t know what does. The Ult branding is frankly refreshing — Field 1 is a lot easier to reference than a combination of alphanumeric characters that make sense to no one except product managers.

If it seems like I’m harping on this point, it’s because I am. But I’m also curious as to what’s going to happen next year. The Ult Field 2? Maybe Sony will take a page from its cameras and phones and go with Ult Field 1 Mark II. It remains to be seen, but for now, we can at least be happy that the naming scheme makes sense.

Compact and very portable

Adam Doud/CNN Underscored
Adam Doud/CNN Underscored

The Sony Ult Field 1 is very compact — roughly about the size of two cans of soda stacked on top of each other. This actually makes it very convenient to carry, since it will fit in the cup holder on the side of a backpack. The design of the speaker is very slick. Rubberized ends protect the speakers from drops and allow the speaker to stand either on end or laying down on a table. The controls and the USB-C cover are also rubber and contribute to the speaker’s IP rating.

The rest of the speaker is covered by a woven fabric which is nice to look at and hold. The Field 1 is designed as a 360 speaker, meaning it sounds good regardless of orientation. A paracord tether serves as a handle or lanyard. It really is designed to go anywhere.

Everything-proof

Adam Doud/CNN Underscored
Adam Doud/CNN Underscored

Sony designed this speaker to not only be waterproof and dustproof, but also rust-proof. That last one isn’t a measurable standard, so I asked Sony specifically about that rust-proofing. Sony representatives said they wanted their customers to use the speaker around salt water, in the kitchen and other adverse environments like that. So Sony proactively added an extra layer of protection to help in that regard.

Sony tested various speaker components in saltwater over the course of multiple days. Normally salt water will not do kind things to components like metals; these stood up to Sony’s tests, which were essentially a shorter version of a five-year test. Should you go scuba diving with the speaker? No. But the speaker should hold up for a boat trip or three.

What we didn’t like about it

Emphasis on bass is questionable

Of course the core of any speaker is how good it sounds, and this speaker sounds good — as long as Ult is turned on. Sony approached the Ult series of audio devices with the intention of pumping out hardcore bass in each of its products. With the Field 1, however, the capacity of bass is going to be limited by size constraints.

To that end, it almost feels like Sony isn’t so much emphasizing bass when Ult is turned on, so much as it’s holding back the lower frequencies when Ult is turned off. The effect is, you can turn Ult on and go “Whoa! Listen to the bass that definitely wasn’t there before you turned Ult on!” The fact of the matter is, the sound is good with Ult turned on, but it feels empty when it’s not.

Don’t get me wrong — physics can only accomplish so much in this regard. But, it feels like Sony could be a bit more honest in its approach. Of course, the plus side is, if you prefer listening to spoken-word content, like podcasts, the ability to turn Ult off is a benefit since human voices tend to not respond well on those lower frequencies.

USB-C charging is a missed opportunity

Adam Doud/CNN Underscored
Adam Doud/CNN Underscored

The USB-C port that you use to charge the speaker is not bi-directional. You can only charge the speaker through the port. This feels like a miss because many portable speakers can also charge your phone. Portable speakers have fairly large and long-lasting batteries. Indeed, Sony advertises the speaker’s battery life at 12 hours, which seems conservative compared to my testing. I didn’t have to plug in the speaker all that much during my weeks of use.

So the fact that the battery in this device cannot also charge another device like a phone or tablet feels like a miss. Granted, drawing juice out to power up a phone may not seem like the most efficient use for a portable speaker, but I think it’s best to let the consumer decide that, not the speaker maker.

Bottom line

Adam Doud/CNN Underscored
Adam Doud/CNN Underscored

This is a nice little speaker that is very portable and produces really solid sound, assuming Ult is turned on. It comes in four different colors — Black, White, Forest Gray and Orange, the latter of which I reviewed. The orange in particular is striking, and has more of an outdoorsy vibe than the black and white. I particularly like the adjustable paracord strap which makes the speaker really portable and gives you options for carrying and attaching the speaker if you need to.

I also like the fact that the speaker is capable of 360-degree sound, and sounds just as good standing on end as it does laying down. I really appreciate that versatility, and it makes it feel like you can drop this speaker in the sand at the beach and it’ll still sound good.

At $129, the speaker is very reasonably priced as well. On paper, it doesn’t really measure up all that favorably to our pick for the best portable Bluetooth speaker — the UE Boom 3. That speaker costs $20 more, but it comes with neat features like light-shifting fabric and wireless charging while retaining all the features I enjoyed in the Ult Field 1.

Also, I would have liked to see Sony be a bit more honest about the bass emphasis. Heavy bass is supposed to be Ult’s “thing,” and in the other products that Sony debuted, including a stand-up party speaker and a larger portable speaker and a set of headphones, bass boost is very possible. But when it comes to something like a handheld portable speaker, size matters. A speaker the size of the Ult Field 1 will only produce so much bass before science steps in and takes over.

But at the end of the day, Sony gets there. Just turn on Ult mode and this speaker sounds as good as it should. But that means this particular entry into the Ult line (and its accompanying bass-first philosophy) just feels a little off.

Note: The prices above reflect the retailers' listed price at the time of publication.

For more CNN news and newsletters create an account at CNN.com