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JBL XTREME Splashproof Portable Speaker - Review

 
 

When you're shelling out as much money as this on a portable speaker, you'd better do significant research before buying it. After all, $300 is on the verge of the highest end of the spectrum, for a Bluetooth speaker. In fact, it may just be priced one category lower than the highest range, but most of the options in that range are not portable. So, for all practical purposes, the JBL Xtreme sits right in the highest segment of portable Bluetooth speakers – at least for mainstream users. The other noteworthy options in this price range for a portable Bluetooth speaker would be the UE MegaBoom, Fugoo XL Sport/Style/Tough, Marshall Kilburn, Harman Kardon Onyx Studio 2, Bose Soundlink III and Infinity One. While all of these speakers have their own strengths and weaknesses, I’ll detail why I chose the JBL Xtreme and how I feel it performs, below.
 
(Note that all these options comfortably sit one segment higher than the $200 segment made of the likes of the Bose Soundlink Mini 2, original Fugoo Sport/Style/Tough, JBL Charge 2+, JBL Flip 3, Sony SRS-X5, etc. These speakers from onr segment lower are not as powerful as their pricier brethren, but are much more portable and are more than sufficient for normal use in a daily scenario involving listening to music in your room or watching a movie. Based on my experience, its only when your usage moves towards pumping your music really loud, or throwing parties – even outdoors – that these speakers really shine & prove their mettle. And of course, they offer better bass too!)


 
 
The JBL Xtreme has a decent feature set. It has 40 Watts of output power, speakerphone functionality, Aux input, USB power output ports, a 10000 mAh battery, is “splash proof” and supports further duplication of sound with other compatible JBL devices (through JBL connect). It does not support NFC pairing or AptX Codec, which are not deal breakers. It’s Bluetooth range is impressive – I, personally, had no issues in connectivity at 30 feet, through multiple walls. At 2.1 kgs, it’s definitely not winning any spots in your jacket pocket or laptop bag, but that’s the price to be paid when you need this sort of output. In fact, all the other speakers in this category are on the border-line of “practically portable”: they are portable in their strictest sense, but lugging them about is not going to be effortless. If portability is more important than output power, I’d suggest that you look one segment lower ($200) – that’s a sweet spot with a lot of options that you can choose from, as mentioned above.
 
Now, on with the received product. As you can see from the pictures, it comes in a no-nonsense, well packed box. The quality of the packaging is good – while not so excellent that you’ll be retaining the cardboard box or the foam inside. A nice touch is that JBL have included both a 3 pin rectangular plug and a normal 2 pin circular plug for the proprietary power adaptor that charges the speaker. Charging the speaker takes between 3 and 3.5 hours, and this should comfortably last you about 14-15 hours if you listen to music at moderate volumes, like most normal people do. I’ve not done a battery life test at full volume, as I don’t want my neighbours to come shouting at full volume.
 
As you can also see from the pictures, the JBL Xtreme is about twice the width of a JBL Flip 2 and about 3 times its overall size and weight. The speaker has a good strong fabric body and has plastic legs to help it stand firm without wobbling/moving around even when played at full volume. The buttons are laid on top on the device in hard, black plastic. The buttons (from Left to Right) are: Bluetooth pairing button, Volume Down, Power, JBL Connect, Volume Up and Play/Pause (double clicking this acts as Track Forward; there’s no Track Backward functionality currently).
Switch on the speaker, and you’re greeted with a guitar sound which is played at a preset volume – that’s acceptable. Connecting a Bluetooth device to the speaker is intuitive and straight forward: press and the hold the Bluetooth button on top for about 6-7 seconds until you hear a tone and it appears on the list of available devices. A note here – pairing the speaker on a Windows 8 laptop turned out to be a challenge and it didn’t work somehow; it worked easily with a laptop on Windows 10 and all cell phones, though. It took my One Plus One about 5 seconds to pair with the Xtreme.
 
 
 
Once you pair a device, playing audio on it has a small quirk. The initial half a second or so of the audio somehow gets lost in space, and it plays smoothly thereon. Even skipping tracks thereon is fine; this misbehaviour manifests only when you stop playing audio and then resume. Even seeking to the middle of a movie/track is fine – there’s no lag there.
 
This quirk will can be easily forgiven once the music starts playing, for it comes through loud and clean. There are about 30 or 32 volume steps until you hit the maximum, and each step is spaced out pretty well. The best part about the audio is that while speakers usually lack bass at low volumes; the Xtreme doesn’t suffer from this issue. At about 40% of the volume, it completely fills out a 200 sqft room. At about two-thirds of its maximum volume, its performance is at its peak in terms of bass output and overall performance. It will definitely drown out any normal conversation in your room. Increasing the volume thereon doesn’t really increase the bass, but only the sound output. But, considering that there’s already enough bass coming out of this speaker by then, this isn’t an issue. In fact, there’s virtually no distortion at the highest volume and the overall sound output at this level is superb. The bass radiators at the side really move to pump out the bass, which looks pretty cool! One thing though – the maximum volume ‘ding’ notification isn’t too loud when you’re blasting music at its loudest setting from your device & speaker. In fact, it comes across like the music is getting cut for half a second (when the ding is supposed to sound) if you’re amidst loud playback of music and trying to still increase the volume.
 
EDM – house, techno and pop sound good on the Xtreme: the bass is present and thumping, mids/vocals are distinct and the treble/high is sharp and clear. This is a delightful combination that turns the Xtreme into a winner in terms of audio quality and intensity. I’ve not tested the water-proofing of the speaker, but there are enough tests out there that show that this is very much splash proof. I tried using the JBL Connect feature to pair this with the Flip II and this worked seamlessly; you’ll just need to read the instructions to figure out how, though.
Other things to talk about are the JBL app and the provided strap. The JBL connect app is a dud. It’s functionality is very limited unless you intend to couple further speakers, or unless a firmware update is available for the speaker. The shoulder strap that’s provided makes carrying the speaker easy, and given that the speaker itself doesn’t have any built-in handles/grooves, this will turn out to be essential if you plan to take it outdoors. You’ll need to be careful that it doesn’t slip off – though that hasn’t seemed like a real danger till now. The hidden compartment section is a little tight, but its not something that you’ll probably use too regularly. Even if you do, this keeps things waterproof and everything in there is well laid out and fully functional.
 
Now, the reason why I chose the Xtreme over other speakers is as follows. The Bose Soundlink III doesn’t perform as well as the Xtreme in terms of volume & bass. The DSP in the Bose severely limits its performance as the volume is turned up; I’ve tested it and was convinced of it, in person. The battery life is about half of that of the Xtreme and it isn’t splash proof. The Fugoo XL Style/Sport/Tough is a good option too, showcasing loudness and a great battery life. Unfortunately, its support network is, at best, an unknown at the moment. That aside, a bigger issue that I found was its limited treble range, with its jackets compounding the issue. When the highs/treble gets compromised like this, the audio starts sounding a little muffled. By itself, it sounds fine. But once you’ve listened to music where the treble sounds as good as on the Xtreme, you’ll really feel the difference. The Marshall Kilburn is a superb option with great finishing. The form factor might not be for everyone, but its classy. While each speaker has its strengths, the sort of music that I listen to – House/EDM/Modern – sounds better on the JBL than on the Marshall(which sounds better for rock music). The Infinity one comes from another company under the JBL umbrella. It’s a good performer, but starts chipping very soon and the DSP is quite harsh at very loud volumes. Further, the bigger issue is that it sounds very weak in comparison to the Xtreme. The reason for this is that Infinity is a more premium brand, and is thus priced close to the Xtreme. Technically, in terms of performance, you should compare the Infinity’s offering against the Charge 2+, more than with the Xtreme. The UE Megaboom looks the weakest in this segment which was a disappointment for me, as I love my trusty UE Boom. The bass is very limited when compared to the Xtreme and even the maximum loudness is no real comparison. It’s smaller and easier to carry around with more wide spread sound, though. The final real competitor to the Xtreme is the Onyx Studio 2, from another brand under the JBL umbrella – Harman Kardon. The Onyx studio 2 looks extremely classy (has Aux in and Microphone as an upgrade as compared to the Onyx studio 1) and performs very well. In fact, it goes quite louder than the JBL Xtreme (60 W vs. 40 W). But, it has non-retractable legs and a unique form factor that makes it pretty much non-portable, unless you’re talking about portability between rooms. What accentuates this portability issue is its limited battery life: you’ll get about 45 mins at maximum volume and about 4 hours at moderate volumes. Also, its maximum power/volume is limited while on battery and it achieves its full potential only when plugged into the mains. The Xtreme performs virtually the same, irrespective of whether it is playing on battery or AC power. Thus, after all these considerations, I decided to buy the JBL Xtreme.
 
At this price point of USD 300, this is a very good all round speaker – if not the best. If you find this speaker at a very reasonable price (like I did, for $230 in India), then it further becomes an AMAZING buy. I have to say that I’m very pleased with it and that I hope to continue enjoy using it.
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