JBL Xtreme Bluetooth Speakers – Big, Awesome Sound

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I love good sound. Especially good, portable sound that’s designed to be taken with you easily. As I’ve learned during my hi-fi years, any gear with even a hint of “hi” or “fi” usually involves the big and heavy. This can be quite problematic when you move house because you’ve just given yourself a herniated disc trying to load (then unload) the huge speaker/subwoofer system. “No more of that, I’m getting too old” I think to myself. I want good sound in something small and easily transportable, but powerful enough to play loudly without distorting… somebody up there must have been listening because I seem to have found myself with the very thing I’ve been wishing for. And it’s called the JBL Xtreme.

MORE THAN JUST MUSIC

The Xtreme is equiped with bluetooth connectivity, allowing you to connect most modern devices without a cable (including cell phones) for playing your music and podcasts. You can also take calls and share it over speakerphone during Thanksgiving dinner and let everyone hear grandma say hi. And believe me, everybody will hear her say hi.

In addition to its core function as a speaker, it double duties as a power bank with a really big 10,000mAH battery. With two built in USB ports, you can charge up two cellphones at once while rocking out to Nirvana. So if nothing else, waiting for a charge doesn’t have to be boring!

MY, WHAT A BEAUTY IN THE DESIGN!

The design is elegant, and the materials around the speaker surprised me even more than the size and weight. It feels like some kind of woven fabric; the closest thing I can think of to describe it is a waterproofed, goretex jacket. And I say that because it’s even got a zipper that when opened, reveals the input/output/power ports that it’s protecting. The lack of visible plastic removes the coldness you feel when you’re near any kind of tech, and is more inviting and friendly.

It feels so nice, in fact, that I start wondering how I’m going to keep it clean (like you do when you put on a white shirt.) Remembering the time my friend knocked a glass of red wine on me, I’m already trying to think up ways to prevent this from happening to these beautiful speakers. I realize this is silly, but thoughts like this have unconciously been creeping into my head – though I finally decide to stop thinking about it since I can always give it a shower if necessary. At least in theory.

Visually, it’s a tube without grills and you’d have no idea where the sound is coming from. But by following the design cues, the little rubber feet would be on bottom, the carry strap and buttons naturally would land on top, the zippered inputs out back, and the sound *should* emanate from the clean side with the JBL logo (important to know for correct positioning in bigger spaces.) It’s interesting to note that JBL spent good money on protruding buttons, making it easy to know what you’re pressing just by feel, if you were so inclined. On that note, I’m of the opinion it could be one of the few mainstream products usable enough for the vision impaired. Not that I’m an expert, but you can’t mistaken the buttons on the Xtreme like the generic every-button of most products.

I have to say the size and weight surprised me as I held it in my hands. It looks and feels like a two liter bottle of soda and at 4.4 pounds, weighs similarly to a typical 15″ laptop. That’s a helluva lot less weight than discrete speaker components and light enough to easily transport anywhere.

GET THAT SOUND IN

In addition to the 3.5mm input for standard audio cables (typical plugs for headphones), you can also use a bluetooth wireless connection. In fact, you can connect up to three devices via bluetooth to listen to your friends’ beats as well as yours. This will undoubtedly result in everyone competing for “King of the Hill” (either intentionally or not), because the moment a person presses play, it will override any other device that’s currently playing a tune. Which leaves the guy with the wired connection in the dust, since bluetooth seems to have a higher priority over the audio cable.

AS A MUSIC PLAYER

This unit briefly reminded me of a Hsu Research hi-fi subwoofer model of a similar shape. While you can’t really compare a portable take-anywhere speaker with a subwoofer “for home use only” of Hsu’s magnitude (with a limited sound spectrum at triple the price and 10 times the weight), I’m reminded of just how much quality that Hsu offered for the price at the time it was offered, and in this case, how much sound and built in technology this JBL unit offers today for a fraction of the price.

It’s got more than enough power for a small apartment or a backyard family gathering. Depending on where you place it (in a concave area or near a wall) you’ll get much more bass than you could have expected with clear highs and good mids. I was happily satisfied with the sound it offered, beating out other name brand competition with fuller sound that wasn’t “tinny” in the high midrange. It also played louder without clipping when the volume was pushed high (note: it’s never a good idea to push anything too hard or you might blow a speaker cone.)

As a personal point of reference, the JBL Xtreme was able to handle an open room of more than 1,000 square feet with a movie playing to a crowd of people. That’s with strategic placement after some experimentation (I’ve found that placing it above the level of people’s heads would allow the sound to reach the other end of the room.) It was an eye opener for me, and though it won’t be very useful if you’re designing a home theater since you can’t separate the left speaker from the right, the sound quality and the power is there if you want it. I have to say this thing has better sound than any competing speaker in its category and size.

CHARGING

Five little LED lights indicate the level of power in the batteries, and will blink red as it reaches the bottom. The charger for the JBL Xtreme is a traditional DC barrel type plug with a brick power supply unit that you stick into the unzippered back. And it’s quite necessary too because you’ve got that huge 10,000mAh battery, which the literature says will last 15 hours. Presumably, this is 15 hours of playing time though it’ll be a lot less if you’re charging up your phone and/or tablet while you’ve got the volume cranked up to max.

For the more technically minded of you, there are two USB charging ports that *share* two amps. Plug in two devices and each port will push 1 amp of power. This means charging two phones at once should be fine since most phone chargers are 1 amp anyway, but for something bigger like a tablet, you’re going to need both amps, so it’s best to leave one port empty.

CONCLUSION

As a speaker, the JBL Xtreme is one of the easiest and most versatile units I’ve had the joy of listening to. Everything from the sound quality to the industrial design deserves a thumbs up. To be frank, I’m not too crazy about the zipper idea – to me, it feels rather odd seeing one embedded onto something that’s supposed to emanate sound. I give the designers credit for trying something new, and I get that it’s supposed to fit together with the fabric. But at the end of the day, it’s a speaker and I’m not entirely convinced that adding a zipper is the best design choice for this type of technology. Having said that, in no way does this affect the quality of the sound – it just feels weird being there.

The handsome looks, sound quality, ease of use, splash proofedness and secondary use as a power bank brings the JBL Xtreme a hearty recommendation. I really do like it, and at $300 (as of this writing, you can find it for $250 during winter sales), think of this as an all-in-one integrated, portable sound system (as long as you provide the music) that won’t break the bank – and more importantly, your back.

For more information: http://www.jbl.com

Young

Young is like an onion - a Jack-of-many-trades with a "Let's do it!" attitude. He's lived/worked on several continents, but enjoys his current life in New York working around cameras and folding origami. He likes coffee, though he really should lay off that stuff. --- http://YoungFromNewYork.com

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