Bluetooth speakers and tunes 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 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 little Bobby Dazzlers 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. We've even gone to the trouble of finding the best deals and cheapest prices.
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. Some older models come with JBL Connect+, a wireless technology that lets you daisy chain up to 100 JBL Connect+ enabled speakers wirelessly for mammoth, multi-room sound.
Newer models feature a similar function called PartyBoost – a feature that JBL says trounces the older variant. The more recent models are fully waterproof (not just splashproof) and a few models include a built-in mic for hands-free calling.
So without further ado, let's figure out the best JBL speaker for you. All you need is a glorious getaway to go with it...
JBL Flip 6 vs Flip 5: Which is better?
Let's start with arguably the most popular JBL wireless speakers. At the start of September, JBL announced the Flip 6, which is an upgrade on the Flip 5 both inside and out.
It has the same racetrack-shaped driver as the Flip 5, but now has a separate tweeter and dual passive radiators. These should give tunes added depth and more power. (We say 'should' as we haven't had a chance to test the Flip 6 yet. But considering its predecessor scored five stars in our JBL Flip 5 review, we're expecting great things.)
It's also had a minor upgrade in terms of durability, now 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 has been 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) and 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 goes on sale in November for £129.99 / $129.95 (about AU$200). That's a little pricier than the Flip 5's current price, but all signs point to it being worth it.
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 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 a 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 Charge 5.
JBL Xtreme 3 vs Xtreme 2: Big boombox 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 even comes with a strap for lugging from park to pool to beach and back again – and the strap has a bottle opener built in! Talk about coming prepared. 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 to music lovers on the move. But the Xtreme 2 can be picked up dirt cheap right now, so if you're happy foregoing some of these features, it could be the better buy. Just don't forget to bring your own bottle opener.
JBL Link 20 vs JBL Link Portable: the portable smart speakers
The JBL Link 20 and newer JBL Link Portable are slightly more niche products. These are smart speakers with access to Google Assistant, but like JBL's other devices they are waterproof and have a rechargeable battery – the Link Portable even boasts a charging cradle in the box. Basically, these are smart speakers for the home that you can also take on your travels.
The new Link Portable is a terrific speaker. It's a little bigger than the Amazon Echo Plus, and at 735g, it's still just about light enough to sling in your backpack. It's also rugged enough to survive if left there for a little while.
It will survive being submerged in water for up to 30 minutes, so it's more than qualified to accompany you to the beach or pool (or, more likely, a downpour in the middle of a barbecue). And the eight-hour battery life should be long enough for most beach/pool/BBQ sessions.
Sound quality is also top-notch, especially for a smart speaker. We gave the Link Portable a splendid five stars under review, while its older brother got four stars. In the five-star speaker, instrument separation is impressive, while there's also a healthy dose of drive and attack. Add in plenty of detail, and you have a speaker that will do you proud, whether you're relaxing at home or nodding along at the beach.
JBL Playlist: Multi-room music and bass
If you want a stay-at-home speaker, the JBL Playlist is definitely worth considering. Unlike the others here, it has to be plugged into the mains.
As well as Bluetooth, it has Google Chromecast, which means you can send higher quality music to it and do so from a greater distance away than with Bluetooth.
In the bass department, there's plenty of low-end rumble to trouble the neighbours, coupled with a healthy dose of warmth and stability. It's not at audiophile levels, but it's a solid performance from a speaker this price.
It will slot right into a multi-room set-up too, helping to fill your house with sound.
JBL Go 3 vs Go 2: The cheapest JBL speakers
Differences? The 3 has had a design overhaul, with the metal grille now swathed in fabric. Though it is still a small speaker, it’s almost 1cm thicker and 30g heavier than its predecessor, and it has a more rounded feel.
There's a new chord loop too, the USB-C port is now uncovered, yet it's actually dust-tight as well as waterproof (the Go 2 was only the latter). It's also lost the Go 2's LED power indicator.
There are new reinforced rubber panels to protect the device, and the Go 2's 3.5mm port for wired listening and the mic for speakerphone duties have both been nixed.
It's all change on the inside, too. Bluetooth 5.1 comes as standard, instead of 4.1, upping the wireless range from 21m to 40m, and power is up to 4.2W (from 3W). The battery life remains unchanged at a slightly disappointing five hours, and it still takes 2.5 hours to charge it up fully.
Which is the better bet? The Go 3 has plenty of improvements over the 2, but the 2 can be had for a song right now. So unless the new features seal the deal for you, the 2 could be money better spent.
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Exploring outdoors? Best outdoor speakers