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Featured Review: JBL Xtreme Bluetooth Speaker

October 7, 2015 - Written By John Anon

Bluetooth speakers are literally everywhere nowadays. Regardless of your budget, music tastes or level of audiophile, there is a bunch of Bluetooth speakers available for your consideration. That said, not all speakers are created equal and if you do want the best of quality, then the commonly understood rule is that you will have to aim for one at a higher bracket price-point. The issue with this though is trying to find the right balance of affordability with quality. Not to mention, even at the higher end of the price/quality spectrum, the selection on offer is one which is increasingly growing and at these prices, it is not always feasible to take a gamble.

JBL is a company that many consumers will already be well-versed with. At the very least, a company they will have heard of. JBL is known for bringing to market good quality audio products and ones which span a wide spectrum of prices. Well, at this year’s IFA event, JBL announced the launch of a number of new Bluetooth speakers and one of the more flagship offerings was the JBL Xtreme. Sporting a unique design, great performance and audio output. As a result, it is expected to be one of the better Bluetooth Speakers and currently costs $299.99

Specs

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In terms of the specs and when considering this is a portable Bluetooth speaker, the JBL Xtreme comes packing some seriously good hardware. Inside, the JBL Xtreme comes equipped with two 63 mm speakers. These are accompanied two 35 mm tweeters. All of which is powered by two 20-watt channels. The Sound-to-Noise ratio on offer is 80 dB while the frequency response is 70Hz – 20kHz. Battery power comes in the form of a 10,000 mAh rechargeable Lithium-ion Polymer battery, which is said to offer up to 15 hours of playback. In terms of connectivity, the JBL Xtreme connects over Bluetooth 4.1.

Hardware & Design

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In terms of design, there is no arguing with the fact that the JBL Xtreme does adopt much more of a common form. In fact, if one word was to sum up the look of the Xtreme it would be ‘modern’. Of late, there has been a tendency for speakers to come less speaker-like and more tubular. This is something that the JBL Xtreme adopts wholeheartedly and as such the design falls much more in line with what you will find elsewhere. Although, it is worth pointing out that the shape is the only similarity that you will find to many of the other modern looking speakers. Where the Xtreme excels is in its actual build quality. The outer casing is extremely well developed and consists of what is essentially a woven effect throughout. This makes the JBL Xtreme look like an all-over grilled speaker, but it is not. It is a material based woven enclosure which adds to its aesthetic properties, but also adds to its textural appeal. This is a very easy speaker to carry thanks to the grip offered by the outer casing. This is in spite of its rather large size.

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Moving away from the overall look, the JBL Xtreme offers somewhat of a more discrete appearance to its other aspects. There seems to be two reasons for this. Firstly, the maintaining of its design throughout the entire speaker and secondly, to add to its splash-proof nature. This is a speaker which has been purposely-designed to be able to take the odd splash and JBL even claim it is one you can lightly wash with water (providing it is not submerged). A prime example of the discreteness is the control panel. While all Bluetooth speakers come with dedicated controls and connections, on the JBL Xtreme, these controls come packed within a zipped pouch on the rear of the device. As such, they are not at any point on show unless the zip is opened. This again, adds to their aesthetic consistency while also maintaining that splash-proof feature. You would literally have to unzip the back and pour water in to do any lasting damage. This results in the JBL Xtreme being a very well protected speaker. In terms of the connections, hidden away is a Aux in (for those want to connect a device directly), two USB ports (which can charge your mobile devices) and the power connector.

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Moving to the controls, these are in line with what you would find on other Bluetooth speakers and are top positioned. Keeping in line with the splash-proof idea, the controls are rubberized buttons which do not protrude all that much. In fact, the main controls are very similar to what you will find on many other Bluetooth speakers in terms of their look and functionality. If a criticism is to be made, then it could be argued that in this respect, they lack a little of individuality or premium element. Although, this would be a very superficial criticism. The controls are there, are consistent with what is offered and function as you would expect. In terms of those controls, there is the Bluetooth pairing key, volume down/skip back, power on/off, volume up/skip forward and play/pause.

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The sides of the Xtreme are probably the most vulnerable aspects as these are essentially the ‘speaker’ area. Either side of the speaker sits the actual passive radiator outwardly facing. These are covered with what is a plate protecting and acting as a sort of dust cap. The circumference of the whole unit is pretty much exactly the size of the passive radiator and as a result and due to their fuller size, the good news is that the bass out of this unit is significantly better than on other units. Their larger outward facing radiators create enough pressure to ensure they produce a decent enough natural bass. Downside is, this is where you will want to be a little extra careful when handling. Both sides center plates comes emblazoned with the JBL logo.

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There is also two small metal hooks at either side of the speaker, which allows for the connection of a carry strap (included in the box).

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Overall, the design of the JBL Xtreme has been extremely well thought out. It does seem as if they are trying to corner two makers at the same time, the durability market and the premium market. However, in truth, they seem to have done this rather well. The speaker is one designed to offer a premium design without compromising on its durability or portability.

Sound Quality & Performance

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Being a JBL Speaker, this is one which will immediately elicit an expectation of having a very good sound quality. The takeaway – it does not disappoint. In fact, at the price point set, there is some serious competition for the JBL Xtreme and in spite of this seeming to be a more on-the-go speaker, the sound the Xtreme outputs is excellent for its class. The size and design immediately help to ensure the bass response is better than you will find on less portable high-end Bluetooth speakers and it does pack a serious punch. Evidently, the punch offered by the bass would be higher on a flatter surface, but as this is a curved unit, the difference is not as impacting. This could be placed on most surfaces and even held in-hand and the bass response would be sufficient for the class.

The same goes for the mids and tops. Thanks to the inclusion of rather larger dual tweeters the clarity of the higher mids and the top end is extremely good. Vocals are clear and at no times was there ever any real distortion or merging occurring. Obviously, the louder the volume goes, the more of a compromise will start to be noticed when using a two-way output. However, in truth and without trying to find that limit, there is nothing wrong with the mid/high output of the JBL Xtreme. Balanced with the drivers, this does provide a very nice, clean and substantial all round sound.

Battery life & Connectivity

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When it comes to anything portable, battery life will always be a concern and rightfully so. In terms of the Xtreme, this does come with a very large 10,000 mAh capacity battery and as a result, JBL claim up to fifteen hours of playback per charge is capable. It is worth pointing out that JBL do stipulate that this is the upper limit and is largely dependent on the level of volume and type of usage. In spite of all that, the battery life on the Xtreme is extremely good. Now, most Bluetooth speakers seem to be offering a decent level of off-the-charge usage and so it would be surprising if the Xtreme didn’t match up. But it does. To be clear fifteen hour of usage was never encountered and not in a single sitting. But the real world usage is that this speaker will run all day at any volume. It would be difficult to purposely drain out the battery in any one sitting. Whether that equates to ten or fifteen hours, the battery is more than capable of handling a full day’s usage.

Likewise, there were next to no issues in terms of connectivity. Akin to most other Bluetooth speakers you can currently pick up, the JBL Xtreme connects in much the same way. Power the device up, hold down the Bluetooth button for a short while and you will enter pairing mode. At which point, it is instantly recognized by your mobile device and connects quite seamlessly. There was also no notable issues in terms of connection dropping. The JBL is more than capable of holding a connection for substantial periods of time without dropping out or off. Of course, most of this can be attributed to the Bluetooth 4.1 that comes installed. With Bluetooth 4.1, the level of clarity and connection is significantly better than lower Bluetooth versions and therefore, you are unlikely to run-into any real issues in terms of connection dropping. This goes for the distance as well, with Bluetooth 4.1 able to offer a reliable connection to about 30 ft (10 m) away from the target streaming device.

Wrap Up

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There are a number of expectations with a speaker like this. Not just because it is a JBL speaker, but also because it comes in at a much higher price point. Speakers are becoming much more affordable and are compromising a lot less on the quality while doing so. Therefore, when any portable speaker comes through and is priced around the $300 marker, it does seem to have to prove its worth. In terms of the JBL Xtreme, that point is proved and well. The sound quality of the speaker is extremely good and will certainly rival anything else in its relative price and size brackets. The design has been extremely well thought out and this is a high quality Bluetooth speaker that you can take out and not worry about it being damaged. In fact, it is one you can (somewhat) not worry about when it rains or get splashed. Not to mention, if you are just looking for a unit for the home, then this would not look out of place there either. For those worried about the color, the JBL Xtreme is available in a few color options, including black.

Is it worth the $300 price tag?

It is. It is a very good quality speaker which sees its design match its audio quality. You will find other speakers at the same price point that do offer a very similar high level audio (and maybe even slightly better), but you would be hard pressed to find one that was also as durable as the JBL Xtreme.

JBL Xtreme Portable Wireless Bluetooth Speaker