Bluetooth speakers and music are like fish and chips, Netflix and chilling, ballroom dancing and sequins: they just go together. These often inexpensive sonic boxes turn everyone's phone into a sound system small enough to whisk away on your next sonic adventure.
They're wireless, so there are no cables for anyone to trip over, and friends can connect wirelessly too, giving you a much broader selection of tunes. Add to this the fact that many models are waterproof, (making them ideal for the beach or pool) and, all things considered, you really have to take one of these mini powerhouses along for the ride.
JBL is a brand to look out for, consistently delivering some of the best Bluetooth speakers around. Here, we'll look at the various JBL speakers on the market, how they differ, the features they offer and, ultimately, which is the best fit for you.
Obviously, more expensive JBL models have a few more features than their cheaper siblings. Generally speaking, the more you pay, the bigger the battery, giving you not only more time between recharges, but also the potential to juice up your phone or tablet directly from the speaker itself.
Some JBL speakers can connect to your phone's smart voice assistant, including Google Assistant, Siri or Amazon Alexa – so you could soon be asking your speaker for directions or recipe recommendations. Newer models a function called PartyBoost – essentially a way of connecting multiple speakers at once provided they're up to date and within range of one another.
The more recent models are fully waterproof (not just splashproof) and a few include a built-in mic for hands-free calling. So without further ado, let's figure out the best JBL speaker for you.
JBL Flip 6 vs Flip 5: which is flippin' better?
The Flip 6 It has the same racetrack-shaped driver as the Flip 5, but now has a separate tweeter and dual passive radiators, giving tunes added depth and more power.
It's also a minor upgrade in terms of durability, being rated IP67 (the Flip 5 was IPX7). That means it has the same waterproof rating as the Flip 5 (surviving full submersion in up to a metre of water for 30 minutes), while also being completely dust-tight.
The Bluetooth is also upgraded, from version 4.2 on the Flip 5 to 5.1, and it has the same PartyBoost feature (which lets you wirelessly pair it with other JBL speakers – including the Flip 5 – for a louder sound), as well as the same 12-hour battery life.
Finally, the colourways are also new. The Flip 6 comes in Dusty Pink, Grey Stone, River Teal, Fiesta Red, Ocean Blue, Midnight Black, Steel White, Forest Green and Squad.
It costs £129.99 / $129.95 / AU$200, although you'll certainly be able to find a great deal now that it's been out for a little while, especially during the Prime Day and Black Friday sales. The newer edition is going to be pricier than the Flip 5, but given the improvements, it's definitely worth it.
- JBL Flip 6 vs Flip 5: which Bluetooth speaker is better?
- Read our full JBL Flip 6 review
- And the JBL Flip 5 review
JBL Charge 5 vs Charge 4: putting the power in 'power ballads'
The Flips are easily portable, but JBL makes much bigger Bluetooth speakers too, such as the JBL Charge and JBL Xtreme speakers. As you'll see, they're very different beasts to a JBL Flip.
The Charge 5 is the newest model in the Charge line-up and a current What Hi-Fi? 2022 Award winner, so it won't come to anyone's surprise that we highly recommend it. Like its predecessor, it doubles as a portable battery pack, charging up your smartphone or tablet – the clue's in the name.
The battery is a monster 7500mAh, which is good for 20 hours of uninterrupted listening. That equals the Charge 4, but there are plenty of improvements as well. It's now more durable, for one – its IP67 rating means not only can it survive being dunked in a metre of water for 30 minutes, it's also completely dust-tight. The exterior has also been overhauled: the ends of its barrel-like bodywork boast a slightly more robust rubberised reinforcement, while the speaker itself is a whole 1mm taller, 2mm deeper, 3mm wider and 5g heavier than its older brother.
The improvements continue on the inside. The 52 x 90mm bass driver is a couple of millimetres wider than Charge 4's, and there’s a new 20mm tweeter. These units both have dedicated power amplification – 30W for the woofer and 10W for the highs. There is also Bluetooth 5.1 rather than 4.2 on the Charge 4, which gives you greater range and a more robust wireless connection.
Like the Flips, it can connect wirelessly to other JBL speakers thanks to JBL's PartyBoost mode (though not the Charge 4, which uses the older Connect+ technology). You can either sync them to all play the same song, or split it so one speaker handles the left channel and one the right for a greater sense of scale. You can daisy chain up to 100 speakers in this way. Imagine the noise.
Two smartphones or tablets can connect wirelessly to the Charge 5 at once, so you can share it with a friend (as long as they have good music taste) and it comes in plenty of colours. The 3.5mm headphone port found on the Charge 4 is nowhere to be seen – maybe JBL realised that with all this grunt at their disposal, no one's listening to this speaker through headphones.
Both the Charge 5 and 4 earned five stars in our reviews, but with the extra features, not to mention the lack of a significant price drop in the older model, we would recommend the newer Charge 5 which can be picked up for around £130 on Amazon UK right now.
- JBL Charge 5 vs Charge 4: which Bluetooth speaker should you buy?
- Read our Award-winning JBL Charge 5 review
- And the JBL Charge 4 review
JBL Charge 5 vs Charge 5 Wi-Fi: Battle of the Charges
As you might expect, the JBL Charge 5 and the newer, more expensive JBL Charge 5 Wi-Fi are pretty similar speakers to behold, although there are some key differences which distinguish one from the other. First of all is price, with the original Bluetooth-only edition currently retailing at around £140 / $180 on Amazon in comparison to the 2023 wi-fi-enabled model (tested at £230 / $230 / AU$330).
Externally, it's hard to tell the difference between the two models as the key design aspects remain the same. Both sport large control buttons, a rubberised underbody, a USB charging port under a rubber cap and a rugged design with IP67 rating against dust and water splashes. You do get more colour options with the Charge 5 than the new Wi-Fi model, which is available in a single black finish.
Those superficial similarities start to diverge when it comes to features. Both offer Bluetooth (although the Charge 5 Wi-Fi boasts 5.3 over the original's 5.1), and both feature 20 hours of battery life. However, the newer model will take six hours to charge against the four hours boasted by the classic Charge 5. Internally, the main difference is that the Wi-Fi's woofer size is marginally larger at 53 x 93mm compared to the Charge 5's 52 x 90mm.
What you do get with the Charge 5 Wi-Fi is, obviously, wi-fi connectivity, enabling support for more streaming options such as AirPlay 2, Chromecast, Spotify Connect and Alexa Multi-room. You are also afforded more freedom when connected via wi-fi, as you can continue using your phone to take calls or use social media without it interrupting or affecting your music.
We love the sound of the Charge 5, but the Charge 5 Wi-Fi does give you a clearer, more detailed performance when using its wi-fi connection. Listen to any track on the Charge 5 Wi-Fi and you'll be treated to the same snappiness and drive that characterised the original Charge 5, only with a little added spice and a better sense of dynamism now in evidence. The sonic differences aren't as obvious when playing over Bluetooth, so which streaming method you favour will help you make the decision here.
Both the JBL Charge 5 and the JBL Charge 5 Wi-Fi are excellent portable speakers; they are durable, well-made, easy to use and great-sounding models that excel in all the areas you would hope for in the world of portable audio. If you seek a greater feature set and even more refined sound, you'll find the newer Wi-Fi model is certainly worth that added financial outlay, but the classic, Award-winning Charge 5 remains a great value portable speaker that still ticks the right boxes and sounds enjoyable.
- Read our JBL Charge 5 review
- And our JBL Charge 5 Wi-Fi review
- JBL Charge 5 vs JBL Charge 5 Wi-Fi: which Bluetooth speaker is best for you?
JBL Xtreme 3 vs Xtreme 2: Xtremely good sound
The Xtreme is JBL's other range of larger Bluetooth speakers, the latest of which is the Xtreme 3.
About the size of a handbag, this is unashamedly a boombox, with a focus on field-filling sound. It comes with a strap for lugging from park to pool to beach and back again – and the strap even has a bottle opener built in! There's 100W of power on offer (up from 80W with the Xtreme 2), but the sound is surprisingly subtle, nowhere near as brash as you might think.
Behind the grille are two 7cm woofers for low frequencies and two 20mm tweeters for the highs, while at either end of the speaker you’ll find a chunky passive bass radiator that pulses enthusiastically along with every bassline. The fact they’re completely sealed around the edges, combined with the resilient exterior material means that, should the Xtreme 3 somehow find itself in the middle of a swimming pool or sandstorm, it should emerge unscathed.
It can help you speak to your smartphone's voice assistant too. Just press the button, and you can summon either Amazon's Alexa or Google Assistant, much like you can with your headphones' in-line remote. There's Bluetooth 5.1 (compared to 4.2 on the Xtreme 2) but no wi-fi, so you can't stream Spotify or Tidal without going through your phone.
JBL PartyBoost comes as standard (the Xtreme 2 has Connect+, so can't pair with its successor), as does a 10,000mAh battery that's good for 15 hours before needing a charge. It can also juice up your mobile device using the built-in USB Type-A and Type-C ports, and act as a go-between from your sound source and headphones thanks to the built-in 3.5mm jack.
The Xtreme 3 has more features than the Charge 5, and that carry handle is a great addition for music lovers on the move. The Xtreme 2 is cheaper than the newer model (currently around £149 / $149 on the JBL website) but the Xtreme 3 can also be nabbed for a great deal: £80 off the RRP on Amazon right now. If you're happy foregoing some of the Charge 5's features, Xtreme could be the smarter buy. Just don't forget to bring your own bottle opener.
- Read our JBL Xtreme 3 review
- And our JBL Xtreme 2 review
- JBL Charge 5 vs JBL Xtreme 3: which Bluetooth speaker is best for you?
JBL Go 3: on a budget? Say hello to the Go
What if you've scrolled down this list and thought to yourself: "this is all well and good, but I need something much smaller and much cheaper than anything I've seen so far?" That, surely, is where the palm-sized JBL Go 3 comes in.
The Go 2 is no longer with us, but JBL is preserving with its most diminutive family member courtesy of the Go 3, a soap-sized operator that offers surprisingly decent sound in a dinky little package. Currently retailing around between £30 - £40 ($30 - $40) mark (deals occasionally bring that figure down to under £30, as do the less popular colours), the Go 3 is a solid option if you're really tight on space and money. It's not quite as durable nor has the long battery life as other JBLs, but then look at how tiny it is.
If you simply can't stand to listen to your smartphone's tinny little speakers for another second, the JBL Go 3 could be a really smart choice. Alternatively, the slightly larger, slightly more expensive Tribit Stormbox Micro 2 is a more entertaining five-option that gives you plenty of bang for your budget buck.
- Read our JBL Go 3 review
These are the best Bluetooth speakers
Getting wet? Best waterproof speakers
Going away? Best portable speakers