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Saturday
Oct272012

JBL Flip Portable Bluetooth Speaker Review

After our run in with JBL's Micro 2 and Micro Wireless portable speakers which put quite a few speakers of their caliber to shame, we've also secretly had our hands all over the Flip wireless Bluetooth-enabled portable loudspeaker, which is to say the reputable audio brand's $99 Jambox killer in a clean-cut suit and tie. Where the Jambox got its reputation using cutting edge styling backed by a brand that's all about deliciously colorful and updated design, JBL's Flip is more of a technical know-it-all speaker with hardcore performance to back it up. Care more about the sound and less about what Beats By Dre fanboys have to say? You know where to find our full review, on the flipside!

At this point you might be asking yourself what's possibly new this time? At first glance, the Flip looks to be yet another cylindrical-shaped Bluetooth speaker and while that's undoubtedly true, there are a few little tweaks JBL has done to optimize the listening experience like making sure the two 40mm speaker drivers are tilted more at an angle facing up when placed horizontally so that the audio doesn't go to waste like it does with speakers such as the Jambox and Mobile Boombox. The Flip's soundbar-esque design is so grown-up that it only comes in colors your grandparents will absolutely love like black and beige. Yes... Beigggeeeh.

The Flip takes a more professional and executive styling compared to what's available out in the sea of portable speaker choices. It certainly has the look of a premium and elegant design, but it really isn't all too snobby as it may initially seem to be. The build quality is quite substantially solid with no room for cheap plastic parts. Although we would have loved JBL to really go all out on this one with shiny silver metal rims and black brushed aluminum top and bottom ends with a sprinkle of diamond-cut chamfered edges instead of using simple plastic, you have to think about that $99 price tag. As much as people like premium materials, not many are willing to pay the extra cost. Nevertheless, the Flip actually stands above most of its competition when it comes to quality.

The speaker grille is a giant metal grille that wraps around the device almost covering it fully with the exception of the two ends which are made out of plastic and so is the bottom rest pad. We really couldn't find anything wrong about the Flip's construction, and it's made to last in portable daily usage with the occasional drop and tumble routine.

The bottom is made in a way that won't allow for the cylindrical-shaped body of the Flip to roll around while the rubber feet do a great job keeping it fixed to the surface. Even when placed vertically, the Flip has an inconspicuous rubber ring that keeps traction.

The Flip comes with a very nice protective neoprene case, not that it's some kind of a fragile flower, but nonetheless it's good to have. There's also a wall adapter included that'll provide power while also recharging the Flip's built-in rechargeable battery in roughly 3 hours time for up to 5 hours of music streaming. Notice anything missing? We were surprised and somewhat disappointed to know that the Flip does not include a typical USB charging cable nor does it even have a USB port for charging. This obviously takes a toll on portability and convenience of having the ability to charge over a USB connection. The Flip is the first portable wireless speaker we've tested that excludes such a basic necessity if you will.

The Flip was designed to swing both ways and as the name implies. It can be used horizontally or vertically standing with all its might and still be propped at an angle. Either way, it will come down to your personal preference. At the top, or left side of the Flip depending on which orientation you so choose, is where you will find a few basic on-board controls. There's a volume up and down rocker, an answer and end call button and of course a power on/off button complete with a good looking blue LED status ring. Missing is a play/pause button to quickly mute or pause audio being played. 

As if it wasn't a dead giveaway, the Flip also hides a speakerphone built right in. Using it requires no flipping thru a guide booklet. Once you've paired your smartphone with the Flip, any incoming call will immediately be sent over to the Flip where in our testing, you'll be heard loud and clear to callers on the other end even if you're relaxed on a recliner while the Flip is located on your coffee table. Audio comes thru sounding loud and clear too. The Flip's speakerphone feature works like a charm.

It may be in dire need of a some type of small USB charging port, the Flip's only two inputs include a power input and 3.5mm AUX input for using a wired connection between unfortunate non-Bluetooth devices. After all, what else could you ask for in a wireless Bluetooth and very much portable speaker apart for a USB port of course?

The Flip is stye kind of speaker you come across that'll make you bob your head with approval, and not because you've set one of your favorite songs on play. The sound that comes out is so crop and clear it's really surprising to say the least. We really didn't expect this to sound as good as it does, merely because no marketing hype was involved in the making. It is the loudest portable speaker we've come across by a landslide. No wonder JBL calls it a loudspeaker. We often times use the word "ridiculous" loosely, but I think this time it would actually describe the Flip's sheer powerful volume without exaggerating one bit. 

The Flip is the second best sounding portable speaker we've reviewed thus far nearing Jawbone's Big Jambox, albeit with less emphasis on lows and miss. The Flip sounds more natural and as if someone turned the treble knob all the way up and then broke it off. As a result, the Flip is heavily emphasized on treble which isn't necessarily a bad thing. It also means that highs sound extremely clear and vocals are highly present in the audio more than the rest of the sound spectrum. There are types of genres of music that won't sound as good with the Flip simply because there isn't enough bass and mid presence to give you that full, rich sounding soundstage. The bass performance on the JBL Flip is decent, but still lacks the full thumpyness you would get with bigger speakers like the Big Jambox. 

Listening to Mumford Sons, Adele, Taylor Swift and the likes is really where you come to appreciate the extremely amazing, clean and powerful sound quality that comes out of the Flip. And if you strictly listen to bass heavy music then you most likely won't fancy what the Flip has to give because it can't deliver the necessary sonic tones that bring our those beats. 

The Flip is jaw droppingly powerful and ridiculously loud. It also sounds terrific for its portable size and when put up against multiple types of portable speakers, it comes out on top with its proud clarity. JBL notes that there is a built-in bass port that helps it produce better bass and channels the airflow so that the bass can shine thru. No kidding, this little thing pumps out air produced from the bass like a small fan. So much so that it can probably keep you a few degrees cooler in the summer.

There's no annoying lag between audio and video when streaming a movie using the JBL Flip so you can use it with a tablet to play games and watch YouTube videos all day long. Or better yet a host of people can enjoy the powerful loud audio coming from the Flip's little speaker setup.

The JBL Flip sounds much more clearer, louder and has more stereo depth to it compared to the equally priced $100 Logitech UE Mobile Boombox we reviewed not long ago. The Mobile Boombox sounds richer, fuller and a lot warmer compared to the Flip, however, it also sounds recessed and dark which isn't good when compared directly against the Flip.

Now that Jawbone's $200 Jambox lost sonically to many newly released portable speakers, there's a new kid on the block with a booming speaker. The Flip is one of our most favorite sub $100 portable Bluetooth speaker to use as it's the only one that can deliver amazing natural clarity and actually perform so loud that you'll never find yourself cranking it to the fullest volume, all without losing its audio clarity and details.

JBL is known for making great audio products, and this is one of those products that is worth more than the asking price, yet doesn't empty out your wallet. Because of how impressed we are with JBL's new affordable loudspeaker, it deserves our high recommendation. Alas, if thumpy bass is important to you in a portable speaker then you might want to consider alternative speakers though you would be hard pressed to find anything comparable until Audyssey decides to out a portable speaker of its own. Starting at around $300 is where you'll find Jawbone's less portable Big Jambox

JBL.com

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