Have you ever been using your iPad and can’t hear a thing?
I often find myself grabbing the nearest object to stick behind it, hoping some sound will be thrown in my direction. This is a problem with just about every device; the manufacturer sticks the speaker on the back or even the bottom so they can keep the tech sleek and simple looking. If you have any desire to hear even the smallest amount of what you are trying to enjoy, then something has to be done. With any amount of ambient noise in the room, you have to have something to squeeze a bit more volume out…
I use my iPad every night I am in a hotel, which is about a third to half of all nights. I have found a few solutions to my problem and this is a brief overview on how I made my decision with which option to keep.
I have spent countless hours listening and critiquing many types of audio products. From headphones to home audio, I love great audio. I could have easily used a pair of my headphones to solve my problem, but I dislike sleeping in headphones. I decided it was time to jump in the new niche market that is wireless and portable audio.
After a lot of research, I learned there are about three products that are truly worth looking at in the 100-200 dollar range. I spent a few hours tonight deciding which ones I liked most, and which one I was going to sleep with for the foreseeable future. I hope this information will help you decide what device is worth your hard earned money.
Criteria for review:
- Functionality & Feel
My first introduction to Jawbone was Bluetooth headsets. I think nearly everyone had one right around the time of the Motorola Razr and the original Blackberry. Just as they ruled the first generation of the Bluetooth headset market, it makes sense they would be one of the first to jump on the Bluetooth speaker train. Upon further research, I learned the Jambox was the end all be all for the first few years of wireless speakers, no other models came close. However, similar to the Bluetooth headset, being the first big guy means all the others are gunning for you.
This little guy weighs the least and is slightly smaller than the others here. It is rectangular in shape coming to roughly 6″ x 2″ x 2″. The carrying case is simple in design and fits remarkably snug around the Jambox. One of the major benefits of being the first and most popular in a category is the amount of aftermarket support. There are countless accessories you can buy for this…accessory.
Functionality & Feel
The Jambox has a pretty basic design. An On/Off switch sits next to the Mini-USB charging port and the 3.5mm Aux input. It has a pretty rugged feel with most of it being covered in a rubber-like material and the color/design combinations are endless. All the latest Bluetooth technologies are in it and you can even see its battery life displayed on your iPhone. The weight comes in just under a pound. Jawbone claims approximately 10 hours of battery life and most of the reports I have read claim similar results. I love to have crazy colored toys, so the availability of pick and choose color combos is another big plus.
This is the category that is most important to me. I can live with or adapt to the most awkward features or design if it means I get the best audio quality.The Jambox was surprisingly decent for its itty-bitty size. I have no expectation of any mini speaker system to blow me away or compare to full size gear.
For what small drivers lack in bass, it can be made up for in clear and defined mid bass and treble. My biggest complaint with the Jambox was its attempt at low end thump. Their data sheets claim a 60 Hz-20 kHz frequency range, I find that to be a specifically outrageous claim.
I have heard speakers containing three 6.5″ drivers made to some of the most rigorous specifications known that cannot retain any sort of true clarity and play down to 60 Hz. The claim that they are achieving it with two 1.25″ drivers using any sort of standard testing is particularly deceitful. It seems in an effort to grab the customer’s attention with whatever bass the Jawbone engineers could get from the device took away from the research and development of a transparent and clear midrange. In short, it sounds muddy.This causes the sound as a whole to become unintelligible.
JBL has been making incredible speakers at good prices for a long time; nearly everyone has heard a JBL product at some point in their lives. If it wasn’t in a movie theater it might have been in their friend’s Toyota. JBL has been one of the leading audio giants for several years. When you move out of boutique brands and into the major market gear, JBL has some top shelf lines. Coming at this market from a speaker design background and one as good as JBL’s will prove to be more meaningful than having been a leader in the Bluetooth world.
The JBL Flip is their entry into the compact wireless audio market. By the time they introduced the Flip, everyone knew the Jambox was the king, just like the Jawbone headset used to be king. However it appears JBL brought their engineering “A-Game” even to this little product.
The Flip weighs in .2 lbs. more than the Jambox, is cylindrical in shape and comes with a neoprene-like carrying case. It’s about 6″L x 2″W. I knew instantly this would fit perfect into my backpack. Not to mention the provided carrying case is sturdy, solid and closes via zipper. The device is likely to remain dirt and crumb free riding around in my backpack.
Functionality & Feel
The Flip has a no-nonsense approach to functionality and design, with a sleek mesh metal speaker cover that wraps around most the device; only available in two color schemes, Silver and Black. After taking a quick peek at the Ikea like directions, I had connected my iPad to it via Bluetooth in no time. The other functions of it are simple enough that you don’t need to read up on it. The end cap of the cylinder-like speaker has four buttons, Volume Up/Down, Power and Phone which is used to answer calls. Similar to most other products in this category, the device doubles as a speaker phone, each one has a built in microphone. On the back there are two ports, one for Power and the other a standard 3.5mm Aux input. It doesn’t have quite as advanced Bluetooth information as the Jambox, such as viewing the battery life on your iPhone (at least I have yet to see this function work) but it will connect to virtually any Bluetooth tablet, phone or PC available today.
Like stated above, this is where it counts. Regardless of looks or price or ease of use, this is what drives my final decision. Considering that, the Flip is far more refined sounding than the Jambox. Neither of the devices here are awesome at music, and I have plenty of head phones for that. For lighter genres like acoustic, the device does great. However, without that thump, pop and rap aren’t my favorite things to listen to. My main purpose for needing a portable speaker is for video; I typically spend my nights before sleep watching a TV series or movie and for that the Flip was far more defined and clear. The frequency range JBL claims is 150hz-20khz, though JBL may have a few bits of information missing in the way they document things, it is clear that this is a speaker manufacturer. The Flip presents voices with a relatively clear and direct sound. The Digital Sound Processing (DSP) they use appears to bring the typical voice a bit more outward, and somewhat places the effects and ambiance towards the background. It is a surprisingly pleasant effect for watching TV and Movies. The other feature worthy of note is the sheer volume the Flip is capable of. Sitting in my Hotel room, I was blown away at how loud it was. Too loud sitting next to me on the desk at full volume, but great for sitting 10’ away hooked up to the TV.
Notable Mention – Logitech Ultimate Ears Mobile Boombox – Street Price/MSRP: $99.99
I was only able to give this a listen-to inside the store, however due to that and reading multiple raving reviews, I believe the Mobile Boombox is worth taking a look at if you are ready to buy a portable speaker system. Being a Logitech product, it comes with a ton of extra features like firmware updates and pairing two devices at the same time. Considering it was designed through their Ultimate Ears brand, it likely has great audio quality for what it is. The Mobile Boombox also comes in a ton of color combinations. I plan to pick one up and do some critical listening so look forward to that tech review. I love UE gear so I can’t help but try it out. It may be a good balance between the functionality and funky-ness of the Jambox with nearly the audio quality of the Flip.
I loved the looks and feel of the Jambox; I am sucker for cool colors that make stuff stand out. I especially like the fact it has a lot of aftermarket support. However, due to Jawbone’s attempt at providing some thump, I am sticking with the JBL. The JBL has a completely different feel; it is much more “professional” feeling. Holding it in my hand feels as though I am holding a small version of an expensive camera lens. Where the Jambox is funky and fun, the Flip is refined and sleek. Though price was not a deciding factor, it is a bit of an “icing on the cake” so-to-speak. Jambox has an MSRP double that of the Flip, and though as I tried, I cannot find a reason why it is worth double. I highly imagine that is why they basically lowered the price to $129 in nearly every store it is available, to compete with the newer offerings from other companies.
If your budget calls for something a bit cheaper, JBL has a lower price point offering with their JBL On Tour systems, I am sure those are worth taking a look at.
The goal of this website is to get intentional about things. Whatever your preferences, I hope this information has helped you make an informed decision; our experience with technology can be far more satisfying when we pay attention to what we are spending our hard won dollars on.
For the sake of information there are a few far more expensive products in this class, such as the Bang and Olefsun. However, I don’t feel the need for a $900 portable speaker that gets taken to construction sites. If you have use for one, let me know how it sounds! I would love to hear about it.
Question: How do you cope with the less-than-great volume of your mobile devices? Let me know in the Comments below!
Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”