Which JBL Bluetooth Speaker Should You Buy?

·12 min read

From a large boombox to a tiny clip speaker, the company offers a variety of portable options. Here's how to choose a JBL speaker.

By Allen St. John

JBL has a long history in the audio business—the company was founded in the 1940s and made the speakers used onstage at Woodstock in 1969—but now it’s mostly known for portable Bluetooth speakers in a wide range of styles and prices.

Consumer Reports has evaluated a number of JBL models and our testers have generally found them to be easy to use and versatile with good sound. But there are quite a few options, including updated models that have been introduced while their predecessors are still available for sale. So choosing the right JBL for your needs can be confusing. The roundup below, which lists models according to Overall Score, should help.

Like all products with Consumer Ratings, these speakers are tested in our labs by trained technicians. And, as always, the models were purchased through normal retail channels—no freebies for us.

JBL Xtreme 3

Who it’s for: Someone looking for a fine-sounding portable speaker, even if it’s not all that portable

What’s to like: The JBL Xtreme 3 is one hefty hunk of speaker, a tiny bit bigger and a little lighter than its predecessor, the Xtreme 2. In any case, you might be surprised at how large it is when you see it in person. The Xtreme 3 sounds slightly better than its predecessor, too, although it’s very close in overall character. Like the Xtreme 2, the 3 has strong bass that goes fairly deep, but is somewhat boomy and lacks natural instrument detail compared with better-performing speakers we’ve tested. The model can play loud enough to fill a medium-sized to large room. The Xtreme 3 features an internal power bank that can charge other devices and JBL says the speaker is both dustproof and water-resistant to 3 meters, but CR doesn’t test those claims.

What’s not to like: Did we mention that it’s hefty? At more than 5 pounds and almost a foot long, the Xtreme 3 is quite a load for a portable speaker. And unlike other large portables (see JBL’s Boombox 2), it lacks a handle; you’ll have to make do with a shoulder strap. That shouldn’t be an issue if you plan to use the Xtreme 3 indoors or in your backyard. But if you plan on hauling the speaker around town, the smaller and lighter Charge 4 might be a more suitable travel companion.

JBL Xtreme 3

JBL Boombox 2

Who it’s for: A music lover with a retro style sensibility who’s all about the bass

What’s to like: The JBL Boombox 2 is a satisfying sequel to JBL’s original Boombox. And like its predecessor, the Boombox 2 channels the giant beatboxes that the cool kids—and even LL Cool J—carried around in the 1980s and 90s. But while it exudes old-school style, the Boombox 2’s tech is decidedly modern, with solid Bluetooth streaming and a 10,000-milliamp-hour rechargeable battery that’s said to last 24 hours and can serve as a power bank for charging other devices. JBL says the Boombox 2 meets IPX7 water-resistance standards, so the speaker should stay safe from a significant splash or even a modest dunking, though we didn’t test that. Our testers find the new model sounds very much like its predecessor. The Boombox 2 is both loud and clear, with enough volume for a large room or an outdoor space.

What’s not to like: The Boombox 2 features bass that can rattle the walls, and that’s not entirely a good thing. While our testers give the speaker a solid rating for sound quality, they add that the bass can be overwhelming on certain kinds of music. The model might be just the thing for an outdoor dance party, but it can sometimes deliver too much low end for a small bedroom or home office.

JBL Boombox 2

JBL Xtreme 2

Who it’s for: A bass fan looking for a loud speaker that’s likely to stay in one spot

What’s to like: The Xtreme 2 looks a lot like other modern Bluetooth speakers, but it’s significantly bigger than the models you’d toss in a beach bag. The sound quality ranks toward the top of our portable speaker ratings with strong bass, though our testers find that it falls a bit short when compared with the new Xtreme 3. The bass is a bit too prominent, but the model does deliver enough volume to fill a rather large room. The Xtreme 2 has an internal power bank that can charge other devices, and it’s reported to be water-resistant to 3 meters, a claim CR doesn’t test. It also includes a speakerphone feature that was dropped from the Xtreme 3.

What’s not to like: At more than 5 pounds and almost a foot long, the Xtreme 2 is kind of cumbersome for a portable speaker and it lacks a carrying handle. As with the Xtreme 3, the Xtreme 2 isn’t really ideal for music on the go.

JBL Xtreme 2

JBL Charge 4

Who it’s for: The fan of music alfresco in search of a Cinderella speaker that’s not too big or too small

What’s to like: Think of the Charge 4 as the smaller sibling of JBL’s Xtreme 3. Our testers find it easy to use, and its light weight and more modest dimensions make it a great choice if you’re looking for a speaker that will be traveling with you. Our testers find that the Charge 4 has admirable sound quality, and delivers enough volume for a midsized room. It also features an internal power bank to charge other devices. JBL says that the Charge 4 is water-resistant to 1 meter, a claim CR doesn’t test. If you order your Charge 4 from JBL, you can customize the color and even print your own design on the grill cloth for only $10 more.

What’s not to like: It’s not a drawback exactly, but if you have no plans to leave the house with your speaker, home models like the similarly priced Sonos One SL or the cheaper Ikea Symfonisk offer better sound quality for the money than the Charge 4.

JBL Charge 4

JBL Flip 5

Who it’s for: Anyone looking for a really good, inexpensive portable speaker

What’s to like: The JBL Flip 5 is a bargain. It lists for just over $100, and the street price is sometimes less. But don’t be fooled by the low cost—this JBL is a lot of speaker for the money. The classic cylindrical design takes up relatively little space in a beach bag or on a picnic table. JBL claims a battery life of up to 12 hours, and the advertised IPX7 water-resistance rating means the model can survive a dunking, which makes it perfect for the beach or any outdoor setting where a shower—or a drop in the kiddie pool—is a distinct possibility. If you buy the speaker on JBL’s website, you can even order a customized version, picking the colors of the plastic accents and personalizing the grill cloth with color, text, or images.

What’s not to like: Compared with the best-sounding speakers we’ve tested, the Flip 5 has a few sonic shortcomings, with bass that’s a bit boomy and trebles that are somewhat subdued. But when played outdoors or in another casual environment that a speaker like this is designed for, the Flip 5’s largely forgiving sonic signature encourages you to play tunes one right after the other. Our testers find the Flip 5 to be a bit less versatile than its predecessor, the Flip 4. It lacks an aux input for plugging in an external device, and the microphone that allowed the Flip 4 to function as a speakerphone.

JBL Flip 5

JBL Charge 5

Who it’s for: A fan of outdoor dance parties who’s not troubled by the missing features found on its predecessor

What’s to like: Our testers find that the Charge 5 has many of the same good qualities as the Charge 4, most notably its satisfying sound quality. It’s easy to use, and able to deliver enough volume for a midsized room. JBL says the Charge 5 is dust-resistant in addition to being water-resistant like the Charge 4; these are claims CR doesn’t test.

What’s not to like: Our testers find the Charge 5 to be less versatile than its predecessor. It lacks an aux input for plugging in an external device. Also gone is the microphone that allows the Charge 4 to function as a speakerphone.

JBL Charge 5

JBL Flip 6

Who it’s for: Anyone looking for a really good, inexpensive portable speaker

What’s to like: The Flip 6 is very similar to the Flip 5, and that’s generally a good thing. It’s portable and just the right size to slip into a bag or even the water bottle pocket on a backpack. JBL claims it has the same up-to-12-hour battery life as the Flip 5, too, plus an IPX67 water-resistance rating, which means it can survive a dunking. It’s also dust-resistant.

What’s not to like: The Flip 6 does have a few sonic shortcomings. The bass is kind of boomy and the deepest bass is missing, while the trebles are a bit sizzly. The model has enough volume to fill a medium-sized room, but it can sound strained at higher volumes. Like the Flip 5, the speaker lacks an aux input for plugging in an external device and a microphone for speakerphone functionality. It does not give you the option to personalize its looks, either.

JBL Flip 6

JBL PartyBox On-the-Go

Who it’s for: Anyone who thinks it’s party time

What’s to like: The JBL Party Box On the Go, is, well, a party in a box. At least if your idea of a party involves flashing lights and amateur karaoke. The speaker has an input that allows you to use either the included wireless mic, your own microphone, or an electric guitar. The adjustable LED light feature can add visual interest to your get-together, although it’s not as adjustable as some others. Our testers found the bass to be a bit boomy, adding that the Party Box does play quite loud, providing enough volume to fill a large room.

What’s not to like: This is a big speaker and a heavy one. It’s 19 inches long and weighs more than 16 pounds, making it even heftier than the already large JBL Boombox. And while the horizontal design looks a bit like a boombox, the PartyBox doesn’t have the kind of integrated handle that makes a boombox so fun and easy to carry around. It does have a shoulder strap, which is less convenient. JBL estimates the speaker’s battery life to be only six hours at half volume, which might cut your party short if you don’t have access to an outlet. The JBL PartyBox On-the-Go has an IPX 4 rating, so it’s splashproof but not full-on water-resistant. All in all, if you don’t need the lights and the karaoke functions, there are better-sounding and better-performing speakers at a similar price. See the JBL Xtreme 3.

JBL PartyBox On-The-Go

JBL Pulse 4

Who it’s for: Someone who wants to see as well as hear their tunes

What’s to like: The JBL Pulse 4 is a speaker that you don’t just listen to, but one that you can watch as well. Like its predecessor, the Pulse 3, it has a transparent dome that covers an array of LED lights. The model looks less like a lava lamp than the previous option—that may or may not be a good thing—but it throws even more light. You can adjust the Pulse 4’s colors or make the LEDs pulse to the music. These adjustments are useful because they allow you to pump up the light show on Saturday night, or tone it way down to make the Pulse 4 an unobtrusive accent lamp after the guests have gone home. The sound quality is more than adequate, with solid but slightly boomy bass, a clear midrange that doesn’t distort vocals, and enough volume to fill a midsized room.

What’s not to like: You’re paying a lot for the Pulse 4’s visual effects. You might seriously consider buying the Flip 5 instead and having enough money left over for a very nice lamp. Our testers also find the Pulse 4 to be less versatile than its predecessor, which had a mic for a speakerphone and an aux jack for plugging in an external device. They also report that its controls are a bit less easy to use.

JBL Pulse 4

JBL Clip 4

Who it’s for: Anyone looking for a cheap and cheerful companion for a hike or a bike ride

What’s to like: The Clip 4 is hardly the best-sounding speaker we’ve tested, but it does have two important things going for it—it’s inexpensive and it’s small. The tiny speaker fits easily into your palm and features a carabiner that can clip onto a backpack or a beach bag. JBL claims an IP67 rating, which means the speaker is both water-resistant and dustproof. Our testers find the Clip 4 to be easy to pair, and the prominent controls make it easy to turn up the volume.

What’s not to like: Sonically, our testers report the Clip 4 to be somewhat challenged. The highs are a little sizzly, the midrange is a bit nasal, and there’s not much bass to speak of. The performance falls well short of the similarly sized but significantly more expensive Bose SoundLink Micro, and is better suited to podcasts than music.

JBL Clip 4



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