The great British summer usually puts you in mind of beaches and barbecues, maybe a few beers and, of course, some quality music.
But the great British summer is notoriously temperamental, so when that inevitable rain hits and you run for shelter – leaving your speaker outside – you want something that’s going to survive the heavy shower, or that you can keep floating in a pool.
That’s where JBL’s Flip 4 wireless speaker, which follows the Flip 3, enters the scene. But with other companies putting up a tough fight in the waterproof, wireless world, can the Flip 4 keep up?
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The first improvement that the Flip 4 has made over its predecessor is in its waterproofing.
While the Flip 3 was splashproof, so it would survive a light mizzle but you couldn’t submerge it, the Flip 4 can be plunged under the surface until your heart’s content.
And the Flip 4 is only marginally bigger than the Flip 3 too. It’s two-thirds the length of a school ruler and, at 515g (about as heavy as a football) shouldn’t be any inconvenience to carry around.
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Impressively, JBL has also put a 3.5mm input on the speaker, hidden under a rubber flap alongside its micro-USB charging port, as a supplement to its Bluetooth 4.2 connectivity.
Activating the Bluetooth is easy; just hold down the dedicated button on the top of the speaker, next to the playback controls.
Bluetooth 4.2 also means that you can connect up to two devices to it at any time – although this is a drop in comparison to the Flip 3, which could pair with three devices at once.
But JBL has managed to squeeze a little more juice out of the 3000mAh battery with more efficient amplification and circuitry, giving the Flip 4 a 12-hour battery life.
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For those wanting a bit more volume, you can pair multiple Flip 4s together using the JBL Connect app.
If you’ve got at least two speakers, you can make them play the same song simultaneously, or set one of them as the left channel and one as the right for a greater sense of scale.
For the moment, this only works with other Flip 4 speakers, as only they support JBL’s Connect+ function, so you won’t be able to connect a Flip 4 to a Flip 3.
However other JBL speakers, like the Charge 3 and the Xtreme, will be receiving the update in the future so the Flip 4 will be compatible with those.
The JBL Connect app also gives you a bit of customisation over what the speaker’s buttons do.
Specifically, you can change the play/pause button to activate your smartphone’s voice assistant, and take calls using the Flip 4’s in-built microphone.
Unfortunately, despite its sophisticated design, there isn’t quite the same degree of sophistication in its sound quality. It’s good, but JBL has a strong reputation and we expect just a little more.
Starting it off with the iconic Star Wars theme from Revenge Of The Sith, the brass horns come in with a decent stride, the high blasts confidently fill the room and, importantly, there isn’t any sense of harshness or sharpness even at higher volume levels.
There’s certainly enough space in its presentation; every instrument gets its place and there’s never a feeling that one part of the frequency range is stepping over the mark.
Drums, horns and strings remain distinct and the overall presentation is surprisingly wide too, especially from a speaker so small in stature.
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It times nicely too, keeping up with rapid pop and fist-pumping rock as well as it handles slower stuff. Your feet should be tapping in no time.
But, on the downside, there isn’t quite enough dynamism to the Flip 4’s sound to really inspire us.
It doesn’t roll with the upward trills of the strings or the tense intrusion from the trumpets in John Williams’ score as well as it should, leaving the resounding climax of the song a tad empty.
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Similarly, changing to Radiohead’s Pulk/Pull Revolving Doors, the processed, start-stop drums that begin the song – boosted by the two passive radiators at either end of the speaker – come across as one amorphous chunk of bass power, rather than showing off the differences in the multiple rhythms layered in the beat.
There’s a hint of the motorised, guttural tiers, but it needs greater definition. Play the same song through Ultimate Ears’ Wonderboom speaker and, while the low frequencies are a little overstated, there’s notably more detail in them and a good deal more punch too.
The Flip 4 could also do with being a touch clearer. Daft Punk’s Get Lucky, played through Tidal, is a great test of any speaker’s midrange chops – and while the Flip 4 does well, attentive enough to capture the naturally breathy tones in Pharrell’s vocals, we’d like it to be a bit more open and insightful to truly highlight the track’s self-assured tone.
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The Flip 4 is a good portable speaker – intuitive to use, with pretty solid sound quality, and small enough to slip into the side pocket of any rucksack.
While other speakers might take pole position in pure sound quality, we’d still be happy to take this one on our travels.
See all our JBL reviews