Bluetooth speakers have never been more prevalent in our homes or at social gatherings. Driver-bearing cylinders, oblongs and cuboids now jump from concept, to factory lines, to our laps with increasing regularity – and ever more impressive spec sheets.
The JBL Flip 5 is essentially what you picture when you think about a portable speaker, delivering big sound in a small, neat and portable package. There's a newer version available in the form of the Flip 6, so does the old model still offer something that means that it could still be worthy of your consideration?
We’re somewhat surprised to discover that the JBL Flip 5 arrives with fewer features than its predecessor, and now that there's a more feature-heavy Flip 6, this may feel like a bad start right out of the gate.
The JBL Flip 5 removed the analogue aux-in port for wired listening, which isn't a huge issue – wireless is clearly the way forward – but JBL has also axed the microphone that was used for voice control and hands-free calls.
That makes the Flip 5 essentially just a Bluetooth (4.2) speaker – albeit one with a USB-C charging port and cable. This port helps lower the charging time to just 2.5 hours from flat to fully juiced, about the same as the newer model can also muster.
Interestingly, though, the extra juice doesn’t lend any more stamina to the new model – battery life stays at a claimed 12 hours, which puts the Flip 5 somewhere in the middle of the pack for the price.
If you're thinking about the newer Flip 6, note it supports Bluetooth 5.1 (rather than 4.2), a dust- and waterproof IP67 rating (updated from the waterproof-only IPX7 here) and a reworked driver configuration to boast even better sonics at the level. As with its older sibling, the JBL Flip 6 is still ‘just’ a Bluetooth speaker though, compared to similarly priced propositions offering voice assistance integration, outdoor-boosting buttons and other neat extras.
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The Flip 5 is marginally bigger and heavier than its elder sibling, but we hardly notice the difference. The new racetrack-shaped driver hiding under its jacket is 4mm wider in diameter – 44mm from 40mm – and the Flip 5 also features 20W of amplification.
Bluetooth version 4.2
Frequency response 65Hz–20kHz
Battery charge time 2.5 hours
Battery life Up to 12 hours
Dimensions (hwd) 7.4 x 18.1 x 6.9cm
JBL claims the Flip 5 is waterproof to an IPX7 rating, meaning you should be able to submerge it in water at a depth of one metre for 30 minutes. There’s no cover for the USB-C charging port and though it is waterproofed, it isn’t tested against salt or sand ingress at the beach.
We test the JBL’s resolve by filling our sink with water and submerging the unit for a few minutes. Music plays throughout and it soon dries off when we take it out. Nothing has been compromised and all is well.
Although JBL claims you can stand the Flip 5 on one of its ends or lie it lengthways for listening, it doesn’t stand entirely vertical when placed upright. We place it in landscape mode for testing so that both passive bass radiators are open to the elements.
The Flip 5 scores highly for portability, and once resting in our palm, the wrist strap slips comfortably over our hand and the buttons feel easily accessible.
Aside from a light indicator to denote charging next to the Flip 5’s only port, there are light-up power and Bluetooth buttons along its rubberised spine, plus a play/pause button, volume controls and a PartyBoost button on top of the casing.
On our dark blue model, these four black, unlit buttons are somewhat difficult to locate in fading light, especially if the Flip 5 isn’t resting in our hands – perhaps not ideal for a quick volume adjustment, but it’s a minor issue.
Through the JBL Connect app, pressing the PartyBoost button on the Flip 5 helps you pair two PartyBoost-enabled speakers to create a stereo pair, or to link over 100 PartyBoost-compatible speakers in mono.
Thanks to Partyboost toggles, you can locate other JBL Partyboost-enabled speakers like the Flip 5, but you can only link in stereo if you have a pair of the newer Flip 6s. You can't create a stereo pair from a Flip 5 and Flip 6, which is a shame rather than a surprise.
The app itself is otherwise a simple affair, with no scope for treble or bass alterations, although you can rename your Flip 5 if you’d like. So, with the aux-in port and mic removed and a slightly bigger new driver, we are wondering whether the focus of the JBL Flip 5 has been more on sound performance.
We start listening to Fontaines DC’s Too Real on Tidal from our iPhone. Pairing is a breeze, and the connection never falters. Grian Chatten’s vocal comes in centrally amid the tight, pounding bass drum, agile driving electric bass riff and expansive guitar chords. For such a diminutive unit, it’s an impressively weighty performance through the bass.
Post-punk is one of the tougher genres we could have selected, and yet all musical strands are held competently in check, from the manic high hat to the angry bass to Chatten’s vocal in Big, which is given admirable due diligence, quality and texture.
Throughout Sha Sha Sha we become aware of the Flip 5’s ability not just to relay the material it’s given, but also to layer and celebrate it. During the bridge of the track, the guitar solo and accompanying reverb are given ample space to shine through the treble and midrange, but not at the expense of the zealous bass.
The gentle piano that pre-empts Neil Young’s remastered vocal in After The Gold Rush feels both three-dimensional and emotive. Once the French horn joins in, there’s a real sense of openness, acoustics and placement on offer.
Moving to Stormzy’s Heavy Is The Head album, the spoken, breathy request at the start of Big Michael comes through with both excitement and remarkable detail. When Stormzy retorts, we feel the intensity and disdain in his well-chosen words. The album continues to Audacity, where the Flip 5 confirms it can handle a bass-heavy rap track seemingly without exertion.
The JBL Flip 5 sounds great for the price – which you can find at even lower prices since the new Flip 6's release. If you don’t mind the lack of in-app EQ settings, aux-in port, battery life, inbuilt microphones or partnering with older JBL speakers, it’s an excellent proposition for the money.
It may be low on added extras and its new sibling ekes out even more clear detail, but the Flip 5 gets away with it at this budget price. The solid sonic chops JBL has managed to deliver at this level simply cannot be denied.
- Sound 5
- Features 3
- Build 5
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Discover our verdict on the newer model with our Flip 6 review