JBL sure do like to cover all bases. While those who prefer what is now the standard size of portable speakers have been well satisfied with the likes of the Flip 3, anyone who wants a bit more muscle and meat while still retaining at least some semblance of portability should lean towards the super-sized JBL Xtreme. It’s big, noticeable, even a bit obnoxious, but it sure does the trick as it offers a significantly more powerful profile than other in the JBL range, which means tighter bass response and a boost in overall power compared to the standard Bluetooth speaker.
As with most of JBL’s speakers, the Xtreme is impressively designed with its puffed-out chest and muscly physique. It looks, feels and stands as an attractive, adaptable addition to most situations in which a speaker like this one would be necessary. The cylindrical design isn’t too much different to the Flip 3, but of course this one is about three times larger, thick and relatively heavy at around 2kg. Yep, a 2kg bluetooth speaker, an imposing sight with the look and feel of a true powerhouse. Of course that carries an immediate promise of superior performance, and for the most part that is substantiated by some excellent, seamless audio.
More on the design first though; the full-bodied speaker comes with two metal hooks on either end and an adjustable guitar-like strap, making it simple to hang from say a tree branch during a picnic or a coat hanger in a room. This is incredibly handy, and necessary given the size, opening up plenty of positions that are out of the way in social situations.
Intelligent design has four active transducers and dual passive external radiators at both ends of the speaker to offer balanced, superior performance at the low-end; having dual 63mm woofers and 35mm tweeters means that the audio is in very good hands – expressive, meaty and clear at just about every reasonable level. On the top is where the large and pronounced functional buttons are, ranging from the Bluetooth pairing button, volume up and down, JBL connect button (more on that later), power, and a play/pause button. Perhaps confusingly (for those who don’t read the instructions) the ‘next track’ functionality can be achieved by double-tapping the play/pause button, while returning to the previous track can be done by triple tapping the same button. Play/Pause is also what you’d press for interacting with phone calls. The buttons are attractive textured pops from the bright and attractive speaker woven speaker grille, which is also effectively splashproof.
Soft rubber is used on the sides of the speaker for extra protection against bumps and bruises while a hard plastic stand is included so the speaker can be placed horizontally. Vertical orientation is also possible, but its obvious the designers intended for this to be horizontal. Next to the stand is a few battery indicator lights as well as a glaringly bright orange zipper, containing a panel featuring all the standard connections, an AUX-in, power input for charging, two USB sockets, and a service button. Though this keeps the speaker looking clean and uncluttered, the very tight space and rigidity of the unzipped pocket makes it slightly difficult to reach the connections.
Superior performance is pretty much guaranteed from the use of a very powerful 10,000 mAH Li-ion battery, giving the Xtreme a promised battery life of 15 hours. As with all speakers this is of course give and take, since the stated battery life assumes an average use, but even when pushed for performance the result is fairly close. I got around 13.5 to 14 hours when using this fairly extensively and at an increased volume.
Squeezing tremendous bass out of this thing is simple, with response working exceptionally well with a variety of genres. Metal doesn’t fare as well as rock, hip hop, jazz, soul and electronica though, with a noticeable harshness at the higher ends. Lows and mids, however, at flawless – tight, rich and dynamic with expressive vocals and the ability to clearly distinguish layers with songs that may be a bit more dense. The high ends aren’t awful though, especially now when compared to lower price bluetooth speakers; plenty of digital signal processing helps avoid distortion when this barrel of sound is pushed higher, although you’d still want to keep it at a fairly reasonable volume. Luckily “reasonable volume” for the Xtreme means loud and boastful for similar speakers.
Performance can also depend your position in relation to the speaker, particularly when it’s standing vertically. The unevenness is most apparent when you’re turning the speaker around to face different sides of the cylinder, with decreased clarity as you face the ‘bottom’ of the Xtreme, which is where the zipper is located.
To truly augment performance, and if you can justify the price tag, it’d be worth having multiple JBL speakers (they don’t have to all be Xtreme), which is where the JBL Connect button comes in use. It’s an incredibly smart and seamless inclusion that links multiple speakers for a more rounded, surround sound experience without the need for an app.
Score: 8 out of 10
Highlights: Expressive and powerful; exceptional lows and mids with decent highs; highly attractive (especially in dark red); very portable given its size and weight.
Lowlights: Frustrating port accessibility; clarity decreases depending on which area you are facing; highs not as expressive.
RRP: $399 AUD
You can grab more information on the JBL Xtreme from the official website HERE.