The Sony SBH52, a nondescript, black gadget that endows its bearer with a lot more than just wireless audio.
Acting as a traditional Bluetooth receiver, the SBH52 can receive calls with a pair of headphones plugged into its 3.5mm headphone jack.
Unplug your headphones and you can use it as a phone receiver independantly, allowing you to simply hold it up to your ear, speak and listen.
Think we’re done? We’re not. The SBH52 is also a loudspeaker. Place it on a table and it will wirelessly act as an impromptu conference call centrepiece or free up your hands while you’re on hold.
Add an FM radio, HD Voice, stereo music playback and waterproofing to the mix and the Sony SBH52 instantly transcends the generic gadget category.
We’ve managed to get hold of a working prototype, so here’s what we think of the reality behind its glowing list of capabilities:
Sony SBH52 review: Design
Demure, classical and black, the Sony SBH52 is a Sony product through and through.
The music controls sit on the SBH52’s right side while the power button is on the bottom.
Volume controls are on the left, along with a microUSB port under a flap, with the final port, a 3.5mm headphone jack, at the top.
The accessory is perfect for more sizeable phones like the Sony Xperia Z Ultra and tablets with phone capabilities. Like its Sony Xperia counterparts, it’s also waterproof, so even if your phone can’t hack the rain, you can still make and receive calls with it safely stowed away.
Coupled with a clip for pocket-less portability, the Sony SBH52 is a design win – with a couple of caveats.
At 88mm long, 22.7mm wide and 8mm thick, it’s a bit of an awkward size to clip to your neck line or belt loop. It’s also button heavy, with eight in total across its waif-like form and as such, navigating around it can be a tad confusing at first.
Overall though, with its perfectly pocketable size, comfortable against ear experience and innovative feature list within such a classical body, the SBH52 gets a hearty thumbs up.
Sony SBH52 review: The basics
If you’ve got a Sony Xperia phone with NFC on board, setting up the Sony SBH52 couldn’t be easier.
The clip on the back portion sports an NFC logo supporting Sony’s One Touch pairing. Just hold this to the reverse of a Sony Xperia Phone and you can initiate a Bluetooth connection, simple.
For non-Xperia phones, a long press of the power button when switching the Bluetooth receiver on will make the SBH52 visible, after which it’s a simple pairing process on your smartphone.
To jog your memory, this involves dipping into your Bluetooth settings, scanning for devices, and selecting the SBH52.
Once paired the big round button on the main fascia answers and hangs up calls.
The back button on the right hand side takes you through to the menu, where you can either access settings, activate the FM radio or factory reset the SBH52.
Sony SBH52 review: Phone calls
There are many ways the Sony SBH52 can deliver wireless audio, and we’re going to start with the default means of receiving a call, treating the SBH52 as a phone receiver.
With the top portion of the receiver by our ear and the bottom towards our mouth, the SBH52 resembles, in functionality at least the HTC mini, an accesory in the same vein which never made it onto our shores.
Delivering HD voice, audio quality is on the money whether on a supporting network or not. In addition, volume is on point as is comfort, with the receiver weighing little more than a lighter.
A quick press of the back button mid phone call will swap the mini phone functionality out for some hands-free, loudspeaker convenience.
This time utilising the larger speaker on its underside, the SBH52 emits an audible, relatively clear level of sound output.
Don’t let our use of the word ‘loudspeaker’ fool you, the volume on offer won’t be heard on a busy road or shopping centre, a problem reflected by the SBH52’s sub-par ringing volume. The microphone sensitivity is also slightly weak in this mode.
It nevertheless helps the SBH52 do what it sets out to, acting as a physical substitute for your phone when it’s stowed – in all telephony respects, at least.
Finally, plug a pair of your cans in and away you go. If coupled with a microphone laden audio cable, such as that found on the Sony MDR-1R and most premium headphones, the SBH52 will prioritise the cable mic, allowing you to take calls with the receiver in your pocket.
When paired with a regular pair of headphones, the SBH52’s mic kicks in. It will have to be in close proximity to your mouth, so this scenario offers a prime opportunity to put the convenient clip around the back to good use
Once again, the results are reliably good, making the phone functionality surrounding the SBH52 a must for any large phone-toter, or anyone in need of a fully functional, waterproof Bluetooth receiver.
Sony SBH52 review: Music playback
The multimedia chops of the Sony SBH52 are considerably more traditional.
Naturally, with your headphones plugged in, listening to music is a joy.
There’s no aptX support, given that the software isn’t present on Sony phones, so true audiophiles might grump, although the reality is that quality is generally very good, more likely restricted by your headphones than the SBH52 itself.
You can also direct your music using the receiver’s rear speaker, though with equal to lower quality than most smartphones, we can’t see much use for this function.
Using the audio cable as an antenna, the SBH52 also doubles up as an FM radio. Naturally, it only works when plugged in, serving up clear audio when stationary, and a passable experience when moving.
Sony SBH52 review: Performance
Battery life is one of the weaker points of the SBH52. While it will last a day comfortably, most other receivers last two or even three days and as such it’s at the back of the pack.
The reason for this probably comes down to its increased functionality. The loudspeaker for example probably saps a fair amount of juice from what would otherwise be a very low power consuming device.
When paired with a non-Xperia phone, the connection also occasionally resets itself. We had the unit for a few days, and this happened three times. Remembering that our SBH52 was a pre-production sample, this isn’t a damning find altogether, merely something we hope is fixed in the retail version.
Sony SBH52 review: Conclusion
Wrapping up and we can’t think of a wireless Bluetooth receiver we would rather have for any large form factor phone.
In fact, we’d go so far as to say the SBH52 is most fully functional Bluetooth receiver out there by a long distance.
The waterproofing makes it a great bit of kit for anyone who wants to get wet mid-call while keeping their phone dry and the loudspeaker functionality is also welcome, but it’s the mini phone receiver feature that in our eyes truly makes this an exceptional accessory.
While smaller units like the Sony SBH50 or the HTC BH S600 might suit most a little better, anyone who doesn’t mind the extra size and wants an accessory that will go the extra mile need look no further.