Earbuds add clarity and privacy to the listening experience of our modern mobile lifestyle. However, in a shared group setting, more substantial amplification is better appreciated by all. There are many good choices for a "take anywhere" battery-powered Bluetooth speaker, but few are capable of delivering an impressive listening experience without becoming ungainly or making significant compromises to battery life.
The RIVA Turbo X is a premium portable Bluetooth speaker that does everything well: superb audio reproduction, useful mobile features, and good battery life in a finely-crafted compact chassis.
The $350 Turbo X is at the high end of mobile speaker pricing, and its beautifully nested packaging was appropriate for a valuable audio product with each component isolated and protected. A clearly organized user guide printed on quality paper stock made it easy to learn about the X's features and use.
Accessories in the box include analog adapters for connecting RCA or 3.5mm minijack stereo output to the X's 3.5mm auxiliary input as well as a 19V DC power adapter for recharging its built-in battery.
I'll also add the Turbo X's rubber "I/O Cover" to the list of included accessories. Acting as a third foot on the X's base when placed in its dedicated holder, this protective cover can help seal out dust and debris from the ports on the rear of the unit. However, the fit of the cover on the unit I received left a gap that never completely sealed the rear ports, and I was counting down the minutes until someone declared the cover missing in action.
I also received the Turbo X's optional premium soft case that proved perfect for organizing accessories and keeping the unit wrapped in protective layer of padded microfiber when not in use. The case sells for $30 on the company's website, and I consider it a worthwhile investment for its usability and protection.
The Riva Turbo X measures approximately 9.1-inches (W) by 3.5-inches (D) by 4.1-inches (H) and it weighs 3.2-pounds. The sides of the X are wrapped with a sturdy fine mesh metal grill with the top and bottom capped in gloss-finished plastic. Color options include black and white with silver mesh.
Generously sized capacitive touch sensing buttons on the top of the Turbo X are LED backlit for easy identification. A proximity sensing feature illuminates the buttons and provides power-on-wake functionality without requiring direct contact - helpful for minimizing fingerprints on the otherwise glossy top.
The X's rear-facing port panel is centered along its bottom edge and features a 3.5mm analog auxiliary input and a standard-A USB receptacle for charging mobile devices. Other ports include a micro-USB receptacle for firmware updates, a battery toggle switch, and an illuminated battery icon that provides state and charging information.
Integrated Bluetooth support enables the Turbo X to easily connect to most mobile devices. With its built-in microphone and noise/echo canceling technology, the X made for a very clear and capable speakerphone even with moderate amounts of background noise as was the case when I tested it in an outdoor patio area. The X's Bluetooth implementation also supports aptX audio streaming from compatible devices for improved bandwidth management that can approach the quality of CD audio with appropriate source material.
Specs and intial impressions
The Turbo X features three front-facing 60mm drivers with total amplification rated at 45W RMS. The X's four passive "dual piston bass radiators" seemed well-tuned to enhance its low end response with a performance I associated with a much larger speaker system. Placing the X in the corner of a room proved an ideal location that further enhanced its sound quality with added richness, but even tabletop placement in the middle of a relatively open space delivered a superior performance compared to the less costly options I pitted it against. RIVA Audio claims the Turbo X has a 300-degree sound field, and I found its audio reproduction remarkably consistent from the sides and front.
A companion app for iOS and Android users dubbed RIVA Ground Control replicates all of the Turbo X's controls in a handsome and easy to use interface. Using the Bluetooth link to the X, the app enabled me to adjust the Turbo X's audio settings and perform basic track navigation. The app also provides a color-coded battery level indicator as well as a power off button.
I keep a few gigabytes of CD audio on my Samsung Galaxy S6 phone in the form of FLAC-encoded audio files. Galaxy smartphones have supported aptX Bluetooth streaming since the S3, and the RIVA Turbo X delivered an ear-pleasing presentation with a wide variety of music genres over its wireless connection. Podcast and live streaming audio content over the aptX link also sounded clear and crisp without the tinny sound often associated with smaller speaker systems. Compared to an older but similarly capable JBL On Tour iBT portable speaker that lacks aptX, the Turbo X's triple drivers and quad radiators delivered increased warmth and better low-end reproduction.
The Turbo X also features an audio mode dubbed Trillium Surround that enables a pseudo-surround sound effect that adds a bit of spaciousness to appropriate content like movies or video games. The effect was generally pleasing and not disruptive to the listening experience, but for most music and podcast playback, I left the feature disabled.
If you want a smile-inducing audio feature, look no further than the RIVA Turbo X's "Turbo" button. A tap of the T-button impressed everyone within earshot with a significant boost (about 9 dB) in volume without appreciable distortion. Naturally, use of the awe-inspiring Turbo mode reduces battery life, but the manufacturer's claim of more than 26 hours of playback at 75 dB sound levels seemed accurate during my time with the Turbo X.
A check of the frequency response of the Turbo X and the older JBL unit revealed the former having a superior low-end response that extended down to the 65-70Hz range before significant drop-off occurred. In the chart below, the orange and yellow graphs are of the Turbo X with and without its Turbo-mode enabled and the purple graph is of the JBL. The spec sheet for the On Tour iBT lists its frequency response at 100Hz to 20kHz and my measurements aligned nicely. With frequencies of 50Hz and lower, neither speaker is making much sound.
Subjectively, and perhaps unsurprisingly, switching to the Turbo X's wired connection further improved the quality of its output. Although Bluetooth audio streaming is convenient, I found myself preferring wired input with CD-quality (or better) audio material.
Aside from my minor grumblings about its port dust cover, the RIVA Turbo X represents a best in class choice for a portable Bluetooth speaker with ample battery life and room-filling audio reproduction. The X's Turbo mode impressed the ears of everyone who gave it a listen, and I've not heard better sound from a less costly Bluetooth audio device. The Turbo X is equally useful as a desktop companion with its graceful speakerphone capabilities, and the only thing I wanted to change was to make its awesomely-practical yet optional travel case a part of the package.