Portable Bluetooth speakers always used to disappoint me a bit. But just when I was ready to concede I expected too much, Riva came along with the Turbo X and proved I had every right to expect more. Billed as a speaker built by and for musicians, the Turbo X is not just another Johnny-come-lately to what has become an exceedingly saturated product category, it’s a premium offering worthy of those who demand audio excellence.
You may find lighter, more rugged, or more portable battery-powered Bluetooth speakers out there, but you won’t find anything else that combines such superb sound quality with must-have features. Here’s why the Riva Turbo X is now my favorite portable Bluetooth speaker.
Out of the box
The Turbo X is a bit of a brick. Like the Braven 850, Creative Labs Roar 2, and UE Megaboom, you’ll notice this speaker’s 3-lb. heft when you toss it in your backpack, but you won’t mind it so much when you get where you’re going and crank it up. The weight is there for good reason, resulting in a difference you can hear just as much as you feel.
In the box with the speaker is an RCA (male) to 3.5mm (male) cable and a 3.5 mm to 3.5 mm (male to male) to accommodate connection of any number of outboard analog audio devices – think TV, Blu-ray player, or turntable.
What isn’t in the box is the carry case Riva sells for $30 extra. It’s a great heavy-duty case, built to last, and outfitted with a separate pocket for the speaker’s power adapter, connecting cables, or pretty much anything else you might want to stuff in there. This should really be included, considering the speaker runs a good $300 online, and because the speaker is heavy and less than easily “portable” without it.
The Turbo X is filled with all sorts of features, only one of which we’d consider frivolous: A wave of the hand over the top of the speaker will “wake up” on-board controls, which basically means they light up – the touch-capacitive keys also illuminate as soon as you touch one. Otherwise, the Turbo X is loaded with useful stuff.
We wish engaging Turbo mode didn’t involve an accompanying “vroooom” sound effect.
The Trillium sound mode produces a quasi-surround sound effect, which is far from immersive, but it does add a bit of spatial sound effect. It tricks the ear into believing sound is coming from outside the confines of the speaker. This mode works best when the speaker is placed in a corner, or with a large, flat surface about 6-inches behind it. A large TV works, but we got the best effect with the speaker placed in front of a large pane of glass.
The last of three different sound modes available on the Turbo X is Phono mode. By raising input gain and disabling some compression, the speaker is made well-suited to vinyl playback. You’ll need a turntable with a built-in phono pre-amp or an outboard phono pre-amp for the best sound, but you’d be surprised how well the speaker works for listening to records without having to have a big, elaborate system.
Perhaps the Turbo X’s most desirable and practical feature, however, is its excellent battery life. Riva claims 26 hours of playback at 75db SPL (sound pressure level), and while that’s a bold promise, the Turbo X delivers. During our testing, we charged an iPad Air from depleted to capacity and played music for well over 20 hours before needing to recharge the speaker.
Under the hood
At the heart of the Turbo X is a complement of drivers and amplification chosen by Riva’s engineers to reproduce the most accurate sound possible. Riva tells us the speaker includes three active 60 mm (about 2.4-inch) drivers, each with its own dedicated 15-watt (RMS) channel of amplification, and four passive radiators. If that doesn’t seem like much, then you have yet to witness what can be done with seemingly modest digital amplification and a hearty dose of DSP.
The Turbo X supports SBC, AAC, and aptX codecs. It does not, however, digitally connect directly to devices, so there’s no Hi-Res audio support here.
Based purely on sound quality, my top three portable Bluetooth speaker picks would be the Bowers & Wilkins T7, Bang & Olufsen A2, and the Riva Turbo X. Each of these three has its own admirable sonic characteristics, making a “which is best” determination very difficult. But in the end, the one I want to take home and live with on the long term is the Turbo X. This speaker just does it for me.
The best thing a speaker can do is just get out of the way, and the Turbo X does that better than any other.
The Turbo X may not be the most fetching speaker on the block, but it certainly isn’t rough on the eyes, either. It’s got killer battery life and, with the addition of Riva’s carrying case, is just as portable as the A2 and T7. What really cinches the deal for the Turbo X is the right blend of sonic power, punch, presence, balance, and detail. It’s a speaker made by musicians, and it sounds like it.
The funny thing about us musicians is that we want to hear honesty from a speaker — music the way it was made to sound. We want faithful reproduction, not sculpted art. The sculpting has already been done by the mixing and mastering professionals who recorded and produced the music, it doesn’t need to be re-sculpted. In fact, the best thing a speaker can do is just get out of the way, and the Turbo X does that better than any other Bluetooth speaker I’ve tested thus far – and I’ve tested a lot.
Peter Gabriel’s performance of Solsbury Hill from the Growing Up Live tour is one of my favorite versions of the tune, and a great test track if you’ve never tried it. The persistent thunk of drummer Ged Lynch’s kick drum sets the tone and tempo, even if it does sound a little less prominent than you might expect. But then the bass gets serious as bassist Tony Levin hooks up in lockstep with the kick, delivering a driving pulse over which strumming guitars and piano comps provide their harmonic foundation for Gabriel’s vocal husk. It’s a feast for the ears, and the Turbo X made it all sound delicious.
The Turbo X can do power, but it can also do delicate. Nickel Creek’s When You Come Back Down is full of the transient clicks of guitar and mandolin picking, and it all dances between the left and right channel before a full chorus of voices comes in, dominating the mix. With the Turbo X playing the cut, I never lost the delicate details hiding toward the back of the mix – they stayed with the tune from beginning to end, providing a bit of texture and pulse to a tune which has no percussion otherwise.
Of course, sometimes you just need to party, and that’s where the Turbo in theTurbo X really steps up where other portables simply can’t. If you need to rock your camp site or beach party all day, the Turbo X can do that and charge up your smartphone at the same time. Believe me when I say, your Spotify playlist will peter out before the Turbo X does – isn’t it nice to know it doesn’t have to be that way, though?
The Riva Turbo X is worth every penny of its $300 asking price to the discerning listener who wants the best sound quality and long-term performance possible while away from the comforts of their Hi-Fi (or recording studio.) It’s finally a Bluetooth speaker you can be proud of, without having to make any compromises.
- Big, balanced, rich sound
- Phono mode for turntable connection
- Long-lasting battery
- Charges devices
- Splash proof
- Carrying case not included
- Annoying Turbo sound effect