Working at JBL Boombox must be a lot of fun. We’ve been covering various JBL Bluetooth speakers for years, and they’ve gotten increasingly… insane. Whereas some firms release pretty predictable revisions of the previous year’s portable speakers, JBL’s speakers have become waterproof, can play concurrently with up to 100 of their sister speakers, and even have fascinating light shows. Then there’s the JBL Boombox, which is a beast. It’s absurd, and we adore it.
The JBL Boombox resembles JBL’s previous speakers in many respects. It has a tube shape and is covered in the same durable fabric weave as the JBL Flip and Charge speakers. Huge passive radiators on either end are connected by a thick, weighty handle, which is protected by recognizable crenelated edges that allow the Boombox to be rested on its side without cutting off airflow. The Boombox is called a portable Bluetooth speaker by JBL, but it’s certainly not as portable as your normal Bluetooth speaker – if we haven’t made it plain before, the Boombox is large (10″ high x 19.5″ wide x 7.7″ deep) and heavy (11.5 lbs). The Boombox is big, but it feels solid, and we think the softer rubberized surfaces on the sides and bottom will keep it going for a long time. The Bluetooth pairing, volume, play/pause, power, and JBL Link functions are all located on the front of the Boombox. Although Boombox’s volume is linked to that of iOS, the battery level of the Boombox was not displayed in the iPhone’s notification shade. The Boombox’s only flaw is that it’s confined to the Bluetooth protocol’s 15 volume steps as a Bluetooth speaker. This isn’t a major concern for headphones, but it’s not ideal for a device that gets as loud as the Boombox.
It’s a JBL speaker on steroids not only in terms of size but also in terms of features. The Bluetooth range is outstanding; we were able to stand 30 feet away from the speaker and still hear it without skipping a beat. The Boombox’s internal battery is huge, at 20,000 mAh, and requires a true AC converter (no USB charging here); it takes 6.5 hours to charge but can play for up to 24 hours at respectable volumes. You might not need it to last that long, which is OK because you can use the Boombox’s rear-mounted USB ports to charge up to two mobile devices at the same time. All of these connections are concealed behind a flap on the Boombox’s bottom rear; the flap seals tightly, which is great because it makes the Boombox IPX7 water-resistant up to 3 feet. It also floats.
Two front-firing 20 mm tweeters, two four-inch woofers, and a four-inch passive radiator are used on each side of the Boombox. JBL claims that its inbuilt amp delivers 30 watts per channel when powered by AC and 20 watts per channel when powered by batteries. The Boombox produces bass-heavy, forceful sound, but we were pleasantly delighted to discover that the bass isn’t boomy and bloated. Although the Boombox won’t appeal to metalheads, we discovered that it works well with a wider range of musical genres than we expected. On the Boombox, JBL has incorporated an indoor/outdoor switch; outside mode seems to augment the bass and low mids, which makes sense for an outdoor situation but sounds strange indoors. The Boombox can play loudly, but it also sounds terrific at low volumes at close range, thanks to the passive radiators that make deep bass noticeable even at moderate intensity. The Boombox still sounds a little crowded and, for want of a better word, small when compared to a genuine two-channel speaker system, but this is true of all Bluetooth speakers. The Boombox is more of everything if you like the sound of JBL’s smaller Bluetooth speakers.
We have the desire now and then to go on eBay and look for an old boombox from the 1980s, open the case, and figure out how to add Bluetooth connectivity. JBL satisfied our desire by creating something far superior to anything we could have done ourselves. There’s no doubt that this format has fallen out of favor in recent years as the world has turned toward personal audio, for better or worse. The JBL Boombox is a well-executed recreation of the systems that were once carried on shoulders in cities, but it is pricey. The BoomBox’s audience is intrinsically limited; as entertaining as the JBL Boombox is, we believe potential customers should consider if they’re frequently in a situation where it makes sense; there are better options if you’re seeking to spend $450 on a home entertainment system. The JBL Boombox, on the other hand, is so insane that it just might work if you’re looking for a hard-hitting system to bring to the beach, basketball court, or house party. Also, if anyone from JBL is reading this, make it bigger. We challenge you to do so.
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