Bluetooth portable speakers come in every variety, shape, quality and price. The trick is finding the right one for you – and manufacturers can take many approaches to make you choose their product. They can rely on strong branding with specific audio tuning or features for certain audiences. Other times they’ll try their best to get the job done well for everyone and avoid polarizing decisions. JBL has tried to do a little bit of both with its JBL Xtreme Bluetooth speaker. It’s rugged, clearly meant to be taken on adventures or sit by your pool, and blasts loud, crisp sound. It may not be interesting enough to get your friends talking about it, but the Xtreme will reliably deliver on its promise to bring you solid performance wherever you may be if you’re ready to drop $300 on it.
The Xtreme’s form factor isn’t very extreme at all. It’s a pill-shaped speaker with two passive radiators on each end to bring you some noticeable bass. On the top of the speaker you’ll find a no-frills selection of buttons and two hooks where you can attach the included strap. The Xtreme speaker weighs in at just over four and half pounds and is about the size of a large water bottle, so you may be thankful for that strap if you’re taking the JBL Xtreme with you on a hike. I know I was. On the back, you’ll find a zipper which reveals a charging port, aux input and two USB outputs.
The zipper is present because the speaker is splash proof. You won’t need to worry about having this speaker at the beach, near the pool or in the rain. The Xtreme’s Kevlar-like texture lets you know it can be taken out and doesn’t need to be worried about. With a promised 14 hour battery life (complete with an indicator light), you’re going to want to make this your speaker for adventuring, and not just because it looks the part and lasts impressively long.
At $300, you’d expect the Xtreme to be loud, clear and wow-worthy. It’s definitely loud. The maximum volume setting was more than enough to entertain on a balcony during a get-together, and it sounds crisp enough at lower volumes that I can use it while writing. Overall, the sound is clean with mids taking center stage and the bass really letting you know it’s there, but sometimes the highs sound shallow and the lows can get a little muddied. Usually it’s perfectly fine, but every once in a while the Xtreme is left feeling hollow. JBL has tuned their speaker to sound good for all types of music (unlike the Rastafarian-inspired Marley Get Together which is clearly tuned for bass-heavy reggae), and I was ultimately left satisfied – but not wowed – with the tunes it was kicking out, from Grimes to Adele to Blink 182.
One thing to note: the speaker, for some reason, stutters when playing a new song. The first second to two seconds of most songs you play will get cut off. I looked around and it appears to be a problem for more people than just me. The JBL Xtreme sounds great, looks great (even if it lacks personality) and only has a few minor hiccups. If you’re a little tight on your budget, you wouldn’t be missing out on too much from exploring other, cheaper options. However, if you’re ready to throw down $300 for a speaker in a small form factor with a sound that can get you noticed, you won’t be disappointed.