Which JBL speaker should you buy? Flip 6, Charge 5, Xtreme 3 and more compared

JBL Flip 6
(Image credit: What Hi-Fi?)

Just as Sony is dominating the world of headphones at the moment, JBL is king of the hill when it comes to portable Bluetooth speakers. Ultimate Ears, Tribit and many others are attempting to break the semi-monopoly, but in terms of consistent excellence, JBL is responsible for delivering some of the best Bluetooth speakers around, from tiny portables like the JBL Go 3 to the hefty, and deeply impressive, JBL Charge 5.

Knowing which to pick goes a long way beyond size, though. More expensive JBL models have a few more features than their cheaper siblings. and, generally speaking, the more you pay, the bigger the longer the battery life and the better the sound. Further still, more exclusive features, such as the Charge 5's ability to juice up your phone or tablet directly from the speaker itself, don't trickle down to smaller units.

Most JBL speakers these days can connect to your phone's smart voice assistant, including Google Assistant, Siri or Amazon Alexa – so you could soon be asking any JBL 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?

JBL Flip 6

The Award-winning JBL Flip 6 is the best Bluetooth speaker at its price and size. (Image credit: What Hi-Fi?)

Let's start with arguably the most popular JBL wireless speakers: the more up-to-date Flip 6 and its very competent predecessor, the five-star Flip 5

The Flip 6 has the same racetrack-shaped driver as the Flip 5, but also 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, with an IP67 rating over the Flip 5's figure of 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 on the Flip 6, from version 4.2 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. Battery life, meanwhile, clocks in at the same 12-hour battery life. There are even some nifty new colourways, including Dusty Pink, Grey Stone, River Teal, Fiesta Red, Ocean Blue, Midnight Black, Steel White, Forest Green and a camo skin called Squad.

The Flip 6 costs £130 / $130 / 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 sales periods and price events. The newer edition is going to be pricier than the Flip 5, but given the improvements, it's definitely worth it.

We're still waiting on the arrival of the Flip 7, and while we're due one in the coming weeks and months, we're yet to see any evidence of a sequel to 2021's five-star sixth-generation model. Watch this space, though, as while we didn't get a glimpse of the Flip 7 at CES 2024, it's only a matter of time before one of JBL's most popular models gets a welcome, much-anticipated upgrade. We can't wait. 

JBL Charge 5 vs Charge 4: putting the power in 'power ballads'

JBL Charge 5

Like the Flip 6 above, there's nothing that matches the Charge 5 (or the Charge 5 Wi-Fi) at this level.  (Image credit: What Hi-Fi?)

The Flips are small enough to be easily portable, but JBL makes bigger portable Bluetooth speakers too, such as the JBL Charge and JBL Xtreme speakers. As you'll see, they're very different beasts altogether.

The Charge 5 is the current latest model in the mainline Charge line-up (Wi-Fi model notwithstanding) and a current What Hi-Fi? 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 is rather 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, but 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 operating alongside. 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, the Charge 5 can connect wirelessly to other JBL speakers thanks to JBL's PartyBoost mode (though not the older Charge 4, which uses the increasingly outdated 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, with the option of daisy chaining 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.

Like the Flip 6 above, we're expecting a fully-fledged sequel to the Charge 5 to arrive sometime soon, possibly even this year. The latest Charge arrived in April 2021, so we're well overdue for a proper upgrade, and while a tweaked, wi-fi enabled version, the Charge 5 Wi-Fi, impressed us greatly, a Charge 6 would really have us drooling at the chops. 

JBL Charge 5 vs Charge 5 Wi-Fi: Battle of the Charges 

JBL Charge 5 Wi-Fi vs JBL Charge 5

Two very fine speakers, but which is right for you? (Image credit: What Hi-Fi?)

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.

Or, of course, you could hold your horses and wait and see what the Charge 6 looks like when it finally lands. If, of course, it actually lands any time soon...

JBL Xtreme 3 vs Xtreme 2: Xtremely good sound 

JBL Xtreme 3 outside next to some fruit

The whopping JBL Xtreme 3 is unashamedly a boombox, and a very fine one at that. (Image credit: What Hi-Fi?)

The Xtreme is JBL's range of larger Bluetooth speakers, the latest of which is the Xtreme 3, although that's all set to change with the imminent arrival of the recently announced JBL Xtreme 4.

About the size of a handbag, the Xtreme 3 is unashamedly a boombox, with a focus on field-filling sound with plenty of oomph. 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, and 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 for 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: 20% off the RRP on Amazon at the time of writing. If you're happy foregoing some of the Charge 5's features, the Xtreme could be the smarter buy for anyone looking for a speaker that goes loud and proud.

Or, of course, you can wait a little while for the arrival of the new Xtreme 4 (£330/ €350 / $380) that launched at CES 2024. We've not tested it yet, but the latest boombox comes equipped with "AI Sound Boost" which uses a built-in AI algorithm to analyse your music in real time to then “optimise the acoustic output level”. There's also compatibility with Auracast, the exciting Bluetooth feature that allows networked audio sharing between various compatible devices and sources in the real world. 

With this all in mind, the Xtreme 4's arrival is doubly good news, as it means that not only will you have the option of a new and exciting entry into the established Xtreme line, but that the established models, particularly the Xtreme 3, will likely see prices drop as they are gradually phased out.  

JBL Go 3: on a budget? Say hello to the Go

JBL Go 3

If you're short on space and aren't keen to spend big, the Go 3 is JBL's cheapest, most diminutive offering. (Image credit: JBL)

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 officially with us, but JBL is preserving its legacy 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), the Go 3 is a solid option if you're 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. It's adorable!

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, albeit at a slightly increased price.

Like the Xtreme 4 above, the Go is the latest JBL family to welcome a new member, this time in the shape of the Go 4. The Go 4 features a marginally tweaked design over the original Go 3, with a wider strap and now seven hours of battery life over the Go 3's five, as well as Auracast capabilities. Available in six different colours, it will look to rectify a few of the minor issues we had with the third-gen model (that battery life is already looking healthier) in the pursuit of a full five-star haul. Exciting times.


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Joe Svetlik

Joe has been writing about tech for 17 years, first on staff at T3 magazine, then in a freelance capacity for Stuff, The Sunday Times Travel Magazine, Men's Health, GQ, The Mirror, Trusted Reviews, TechRadar and many more (including What Hi-Fi?). His specialities include all things mobile, headphones and speakers that he can't justifying spending money on.

  • katiesjung
    My JBL Flip Essential Portable Bluetooth Speaker is still alive and working perfectly. I've been using this almost everyday and buying this is really worth it.