Review: JBL Boombox Bluetooth Speakers | iLounge

Review

Review: JBL Boombox Bluetooth Speakers

B-
Limited Recommendation

Company: JBL

Model: Boombox

Price: $449

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Guido Gabriele

It must be fun to work at JBL. For years now, we've covered various JBL Bluetooth speakers, and they've become increasingly ... bonkers. Where some companies put out relatively predictable iterations on the prior year's portable speakers, we've seen JBL's speakers become waterproof, gain the ability to play simultaneously with up to 100 of their sister speakers, and even add entertaining light shows. Then, this monstrosity: the JBL Boombox. It's ridiculous and we love it.

In many ways, the JBL Boombox looks a lot like JBL’s other speakers. It’s tube-shaped and wrapped in the same rigid fabric weave that you’d find on the JBL Flip or Charge speakers. A thick, hefty handle connects huge passive radiators on either end, protected by familiar crenelated ends that make it possible to rest the Boombox on its side without cutting off airflow. JBL calls the Boombox a portable Bluetooth speaker, but clearly it’s going to be less portable than your average Bluetooth speaker — if we haven’t been clear yet, the Boombox is huge (10” high x 19.5” wide x 7.7” deep) and heavy (11.5 lbs). The Boombox might be hefty, but it feels extremely sturdy, and we think the softer rubberized surfaces on its side and bottom should make it durable enough. On the front of the Boombox are buttons for Bluetooth pairing, volume, play/pause, power, and JBL’s Link functionality. Volume is linked to that of iOS, but the Boombox’s battery level was not shown on the iPhone’s notification shade. Our only complaint here is that, as a Bluetooth speaker, the Boombox is limited to the Bluetooth protocol’s 15 volume steps — not a big deal for headphones, but on a device that gets as loud as the Boombox, it’s not ideal.

It’s a JBL speaker on steroids in more ways than just its size — its features are super-sized as well. Bluetooth range is excellent; we were easily able to stand 30 feet from the speaker without skipping. The Boombox’s internal battery is massive at 20,000 mAh, requiring a real AC adapter (no USB charging here); this will take 6.5 hours to charge, but lasts up to 24 hours when played at reasonable volumes. You might not need it to last that long, and that’s just fine — you can use that extra battery capacity to charge up to two mobile devices simultaneously using the Boombox’s rear-mounted USB ports. All these connections are hidden behind a flap on the bottom rear of the Boombox; the flap seals tightly, which is great, because it makes the Boombox IPX7 water resistant to about 3 feet. And it floats.

Big box, big sound: the Boombox uses two front-firing 20 mm tweeters, two four-inch woofers, and a four-inch passive radiator on each side. JBL says its internal amp delivers 30 watts per channel on AC power, and 20 watts per channel on battery mode. It should come as no surprise that the Boombox delivers bass-heavy, impactful sound, but we were pleasantly surprised to find that the Boombox’s bass is not boomy and bloated. This isn’t going to be an ideal pairing for metalheads, but we did find the Boombox to play nicely with more genres of music than we anticipated. JBL has also included an indoor/outdoor toggle on the Boombox — outdoor mode seems to boost the bass and low mids, which makes sense for an outdoor setting, but sounds wrong indoors. The Boombox is capable of playing extremely loud, though it also sounds good at relatively low volumes at close range; the passive radiators make low bass palpable even at reasonable volume. Compared to a proper two-channel speaker system, the Boombox still sounds a bit congested and, for lack of a better word, small — but this is common to all Bluetooth speakers. If you like the sound of JBL’s smaller Bluetooth speakers, the Boombox is more of everything.

Every once in a while, we get the itch to go on eBay to find an old boombox from the 80s, open the case, and figure out a way to add Bluetooth connectivity. JBL scratched that itch by making something better than we could have ever DIY-ed on our own. There’s no denying that this form factor has fallen out of favor in recent years as the world has, for better or worse, moved towards personal audio. The JBL Boombox is a well-executed revival of the systems that used to be carried on shoulders in cities decades ago, but it’s expensive. The BoomBox’s audience is inherently limited; as fun as the JBL Boombox is, we think potential customers have to take a hard look at whether or not they’re often in a scenario where it makes sense; if you’re looking to spend $450 on a home audio system, there are better options. However, if you’re looking for a hard-hitting system to bring to the beach, basketball court, or house party, the JBL Boombox is so crazy, it just might work. And, if anyone at JBL is reading: make a bigger one. We dare you.

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Editors' Note: iLounge only reviews products in "final" form, but many companies now change their offerings - sometimes several times - after our reviews have been published. This iLounge article provides more information on this practice, known as revving.

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