JBL Boombox review

JBL gets real loud with this ode to retro boomboxes

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Our Verdict

The JBL Boombox is a monstrous portable speaker that not only gets loud, but stays pretty crisp when pumping the volume. It’s heavy, and not the easiest thing to carry around, but it’s rugged enough to handle any pool or tailgate party

For

  • Really loud and balanced sound
  • Water-resistant + splash-proof
  • 24-hour battery life

Against

  • It’s pricey
  • No audio cables included
  • Buzzing sound at low battery

The influence of the boombox on music is indisputable. These portable sound systems gave rise to sub-cultures (think breakdancing and hip hop) in the '80s and '90s. Fast-forward to today, and JBL has taken its penchant for splash-proof and portable Bluetooth audio into a bygone era with its bombastic Boombox.

After raising the volume on this for weeks, we’ve come away impressed with how loud it can go, and how clear it plays when doing it. On top of that, its ostentatious facade looks good and takes a bit of a beating, too. 

While there are no extra features, like a built-in voice assistant, and it's relatively expensive at $449 (£399, AU$549), JBL's Boombox expertly blends the aesthetics of a bygone era with a sound quality that modern audio enthusiasts will enjoy. 

Design

The Boombox follows JBL’s basic design principles in using fabric and plastic to fashion a water-resistant speaker that looks like an extra-large version of everything else the company has launched. It’s a heavy 11.6-pound cylinder held together by a sturdy handle, so we weren’t resting this on our shoulders.

The heft makes sense when considering the size of the unit itself. Measuring 10 x 19.5 x 7.7 in height, width and depth, it’s the opposite of diminutive. 

Two passive radiators flank the unit, giving it a little visual flair in an otherwise monochromatic tone. The cylinder itself houses the dual 20mm tweeters, powered by two 4-inch woofers, all symmetrically laid out under the grille. 

Keeping it simple, there are few buttons on the front: power, Bluetooth, volume up/down and play/pause. The latter two are linked to the mobile device’s controls, so there is no separate volume control when paired with the Boombox. Lacking track skipping buttons, we had to double-tap play/pause to move forward a track. The Connect+ button is for pairing with other JBL speakers in stereo.

On the back, JBL included the power adapter, 3.5mm Aux-In, two USB ports (for charging phone batteries) and a microUSB port for firmware upgrades. Believe it or not, JBL doesn’t include any audio cables compatible with these ports out of the box. None. There's a power adapter, of course, but that's it. 

There is a built-in mic for voice calls, and the body itself is IPX7-rated, meaning it stay submerged in clear water for up to 30 minutes. Since you’re not likely to do that, you can feel confident that rain or water splashes by the pool aren’t going to tame this thing.

The JBL Connect app for iOS and Android speeds up the setup, but isn’t otherwise necessary to running the Boombox. You can use it to switch between Indoor and Outdoor modes (there’s a button on the speaker for that, too) or Party and Stereo, which is only applicable if you’ve paired the Boombox with other JBL speakers. 

One issue we found was that there were no equalizer (EQ) or custom audio profiles to personalize the sound a little — something we would’ve liked to see at this price point and something you can find on similarly priced speakers.

Performance

We mentioned the Indoor and Outdoor modes, and the only real difference between them is the extra bass it pumps out when outside. Even without it, the Boombox is already loud, and bass lovers will literally feel the beat.

The beauty of it is the lack of distortion at higher volumes. Skewing the audio spectrum enough to get more bass out of the Boombox, JBL wisely balanced out the mids and highs for an overall sound that was actually clearer than we expected. 

Sade’s Bullet Proof Soul is a bass-heavy ballad, but it rocked every time we played it, filling the room with both the sultry beat and eerie sax. We found plenty of success with tracks from varying artists, and already felt it resonated loudly at 60% volume. Beyond that, it shook anything near it.

For a speaker playing in mono with no physical stereo separation, the Boombox managed to sound like it almost did. There was just enough to make vocals and instruments feel distinct. Mind you, this isn’t an audiophile product and overall accuracy is skewed by the heavy bass, but the soundstage was more than agreeable to us. Unlike other speakers that overdo it at the expense of certain genres, this one felt pretty agnostic to the music we played.

We even used it with a TV via the Aux-In connection and were pleasantly surprised. For action movies and video games with plenty of gunfights and explosions, the Boombox packs the punch of every scene.

JBL rated the Boombox at 24 hours of playback per charge, and we found that to be fairly accurate at volume halfway over a mix of Bluetooth or wired connections. The higher the volume, the less it lasted.

There was just one vexing problem. Whenever the Boombox’s battery was low (we noticed it under 20%), a strange, low buzzing sound was audible at all times. It got annoying fast, and we don’t know why it even existed in the first place. We assume a firmware update could fix it, but as of now, nothing has killed that buzz. 

For a speaker at this price point, an issue like that should never happen. Thankfully, it never came up when the battery level was higher or else the Boombox would be unusable anywhere.

Final verdict

The Boombox is supposed to be a speaker people gather around. It can entertain one, yet is best utilized when serenading many. And when it comes down to dropping over $400 on a speaker like this, it best be done for the right reasons.

We can’t recommend the Boombox as a speaker for the home. You can find comparable sound in form factors that take up less real estate, but if your plan is to hit whatever patio, pool, beach or tailgate party you can find, then this one should be in the running to play the tunes.