The Altec Lansing RockBox XL 2.0 ($229.99) is one of many recent outdoor-friendly Bluetooth speakers with LEDs. We generally enjoy its stereo sound, but competitors like the slightly more expensive JBL Pulse 5 ($249.95) offer a superior companion app and better lighting effects. If you're willing to give up LEDs, meanwhile, the Anker Soundcore Motion Boom Plus ($179.99) is our Editors' Choice winner for outdoor speakers because it has useful onboard controls and the best sound quality for the price.
Rugged Build, Finicky Controls and Lighting
The RockBox XL 2.0 measures 11.6 by 11.2 by 22.2 inches (HWD) and weighs 12.6 pounds. It's significantly larger and heavier than both the Anker Soundcore Motion Boom Plus (7.7 by 15.3 by 5.5 inches, weighs 5.3 pounds) and the JBL Pulse 5 (8.5 by 4.2 by 5.2 inches, 3.3 pounds) models, so if you care about portability, either of those is a better alternative.
The speaker's angular black plastic shell looks quite futuristic and helps position some of the drivers slightly upward. Behind the front grille, you get dual 15-Watt, 2.75-inch full-range drivers that deliver the left and right channels, while a single 30W, 4-inch low-frequency driver fires downward. There are also two 4-inch passive radiators inside that enhance bass depth. The main LED panel sits behind the stereo drivers, but another set of lights that surround the low-frequency driver on the bottom can subtly illuminate the surface beneath the device. No information on the frequency range is available as of this writing.
The RockBox XL 2.0 is compatible with the somewhat dated Bluetooth 5.0 standard and supports just the SBC codec, not AptX or AAC. We don’t necessarily expect excellent codec support here, but this is the absolute minimum.
Below a sturdy built-in handle, there’s a small control panel with power, volume, LED, and Bluetooth pairing buttons. Tapping the LED button cycles through six modes with different pulsing patterns and hues (depending on what you choose in the companion app), but you can also hold it down to enable a strobe mode for the down-firing LEDs. Otherwise, the power button doubles as the play/pause button (a long press controls power and a short press handles playback), while the volume buttons also manage track navigation (taps change the volume and long presses switch songs). We would much prefer discrete controls for all of these functions, or, at the very least, an additional multifunction button to make things more manageable because this type of combined arrangement is prone to misfires.
Elsewhere, a cover on the side panel protects a 3.5mm aux input, a USB-A port for charging external devices, and a connection for the included power adapter.
The speaker’s IP67 rating (which only applies if the aforementioned panel is shut) means it is fully dust-tight and waterproof. You can therefore technically submerge it at depths of up to a meter for 30 minutes, though you might have trouble with that because the whole thing floats. Regardless, you shouldn't have to worry about any splashes or rinsing it off with a hose when it gets dirty.
As with most recent portable speakers we've tested, this one lacks a speakerphone function. We don't know why this feature is suddenly not in style, but hope manufacturers start including it again.
Altec Lansing estimates that the RockBox XL 2.0’s battery provides roughly 20 hours of playback time at 50% volume. If you turn the volume up past that threshold or use the LEDs, expect shorter results.
The Altec Lansing Just Listen app (available for Android and iOS) has all the visual charm of an Excel spreadsheet and doesn't make the speaker connection process easy, but it works fine. Mostly it just provides basic playback controls, a color wheel for customizing the LEDs, and firmware updates. You don't get an EQ here or any other useful extras.
In testing, the onboard LED button worked reliably, but tapping on a color in the companion app only sometimes changes the hue on the connected device. We like the multicolor lighting option most, though we noticed that the modes that are supposed to sync to the beat of your music can't quite keep up on every track.
The bottom line here is that these LEDs aren't much of a selling point. If that's your primary concern, competitors like the JBL Pulse 5 and the Anker Soundcore Rave Party 2 ($229.99) are better bets.
Treble Takes the Lead
On tracks with intense sub-bass content, like The Knife’s “Silent Shout,” the RockBox XL 2.0 delivers a decent sense of low-frequency depth at top volumes. It avoids distortion, though some of the bass vibrations seem to rattle the enclosure a bit. The sub-bass response is about what we expect from a speaker in this size and price range—powerful, but not overwhelmingly strong.
The speaker can’t reproduce the sub-bass elements at the 34-second mark of Kendrick Lamar’s “Loyalty.'' These lows are a bit below those on the previous track, and almost none of the deep bass from this synth progression comes through. We don’t expect a full sub-bass response from a portable speaker but usually can at least hear a hint of those tones in this mix. That aside, the various vocal performances sound crisp and clear, while the beat gets some palpable thump—the drivers can still output good bass depth in the more typical low-end range.
Bill Callahan’s “Drover,” a track with far less deep bass in the mix, better exposes the sound signature. The drums on this track sound relatively modest, while Callahan’s vocals get a mix of additional low-mid richness (this oddly lends them more bass presence than the drums) and high-mid attention. The sculpting in the highs pushes the acoustic strums and even the tape hiss forward in the mix, though we wouldn't characterize this treatment as brittle. The treble just clearly gets more emphasis than the bass.
Orchestral tracks, like the opening scene from John Adams’ The Gospel According to the Other Mary, sound bright and crisp. The lower-register instrumentation exhibits a fullness in spots, though this is mostly a mids-and-highs affair.
The RockBox XL 2.0 Doesn't Outshine the Competition
Altec Lansing's RockBox XL 2.0 speaker produces decent bass and strong treble from its durable shell, but it doesn’t offer a competitive companion app or particularly compelling LED effects. If it’s bright, customizable lighting effects you crave, the JBL Pulse 5 quite literally outshines the RockBox XL 2.0. The smaller and more affordable Anker Soundcore Motion Boom Plus has superior onboard controls and the best sound quality of the bunch, earning it our Editors' Choice for outdoor speakers.
The Altec Lansing RockBox XL 2.0 offers good bass depth and treble, but you can easily find other outdoor-friendly speakers with better apps, onboard controls, and LED lighting.
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