On-the-go sound is practically a must in 2018. Sitting in silence would mean we have to confront the pain that is existence, which is simply unacceptable.
Thankfully, JBL are here to save the day with two Bluetooth speakers - the pocket-sized GO 2 (RRP $49.95), and the handbag-sized Xtreme 2 ($349.95).
The JBL GO 2
At just 184g, the GO 2 is impressively small - roughly the size of a pack of cards. It's IPX7 waterproof, can be used via Bluetooth or 3.5mm aux, and even has a speaker to allow it to be used as a speakerphone.
Despite its small size, it claims to offer five hours of playtime. I didn't specifically time it, but I found I got a good amount of use without needing to worry about constantly charging.
On paper, it's the perfect grab and go Bluetooth speaker. The kind of bad boy that you can keep in your bag permanently and whip out whenever the occasion calls for an upgrade over a phone or laptop speaker.
As with many Bluetooth audio devices, there are some sync issues when watching videos. It's just ever so slightly behind. But I find it an easy fix with an aux cable, or using VLC and just shifting the sync manually.
I used the GO 2 a lot while travelling. It provided enough sound to fill the space of a hotel room without worry about disturbing neighbours, and could be brought into the shower for a good singalong.
As to be expected, the sound quality is limited. The bass is lacking, leaving it sounding thinner than its big brother, but the volume is still decent with little to no distortion.
It's a simple boy, but is a quality offering for a travelling speaker - particularly if you can get it on a decent sale (in fact, I've seen it for as low as $20, in which case it's a no-brainer). However, if you only want to buy one Bluetooth speaker, you should probably opt for something a little bigger and better sounding.
The JBL Xtreme 2
If you're looking for something with a little more beef, JBL also offer the Xtreme 2. It's about the size of 2L soft drink bottle on its side, yet remains portable.
It also boasts IPX7 waterproof capabilities, and comes with a carry strap.
Have you ever wanted to replace your handbag with a speaker? Because now you absolutely can, you fashion disaster.
The strap is a little fiddly to attach, with little space around the connection points. For people who lack fine motor skills, I think it'd actually be extremely frustrating.
The back cover for the inputs is another bit of slightly unfriendly design. The little door fits in quite securely - as it must to maintain waterproofing - but only offers a little indentation with which to prize the door open.
In fact, I had to take a butter knife to the door, because I am not a witch from a children's novel and I don't have long nails. If you take this speaker out and about to, say, a place that does not have butter knives readily available, then prepare for a battle of wits against an inanimate speaker.
It's also powered by an included adaptor - not via USB like many other Bluetooth speakers. While I understand this delivers more juice faster, it's a bit irritating to think you can't just power up wherever you find yourself.
The barrel design includes some rubber feet for solid placement, and two passive bass radiators on the sides. They look like two giant buttons, with a satisfyingly springy rubber surround.
Of course, they are not buttons, and the manual specifically tells you not to press them. However, by the time I had read the manual I had already pressed them several times. No gods, no masters.
The suggested delicacy of these rather exposed bass speakers makes me question the assertion that this is a durable speaker. It's marketed as a rugged piece of kit, ready for the beach of hiking adventure. But I can absolutely foresee it getting ruined as it swings about from your shoulder.
Otherwise it feels like a well-built unit, with satisfying raised rubber buttons on top. The battery indicator, however, sits at the bottom - to the point where it's almost sitting underneath the speaker. This makes it a bit hard to see, but not impossible.
One cool feature is the ability to use the Xtreme 2 as a powerbank to juice up your other devices. Equipped with a 10,000 mAh battery, it offers 15 hours of playtime or a few fully charged phones.
It's still probably not enough to provide everyone with all-day music and power on a weekend camping trip, but it'll keep you in good stead during a day trip.
In comparison to one of the most popular Bluetooth speakers - the UE MEGABLAST - the Xtreme 2 is notably bigger and heavier, but not a whole lot louder. The two are also rather comparable in price.
The Xtreme 2 has more directional sound than the MEGABLAST, which stands upright and delivers 360 degrees of audio. However, you can sync up up to 100 Xtreme 2 speakers through JBL Connect+.
UE used to offer a similar feature called PARTYUP, though it isn't available on the MEGABLAST. There were reports it'd be implemented through an update, but that hasn't happened yet.
Unfortunately, I found the Xtreme's Bluetooth strength to be a bit lacking. I experienced a lot of drop outs if I went down the hall with the phone I was playing music from. More, I would say, than I've experienced with the MEGABLAST.
But the real test is how the two sound next to each other. You can definitely hear the added bass that the Xtreme 2 offers, giving a fuller and warmer sound. The bass remains punchy and present, without being overbearing.
However, the MEGABLAST seems to offer more clarity, and by no means sounds thin. Being a smaller speaker, it also wins out for portability in my book.
In fact, the Xtreme 2 isn't as portable as it initially appears. I admit I have little baby hands, but I couldn't pick it up one-handed. You also can't hook your fingers under the clip points for the strap, so it's a two-handed affair only.
All up, while I think the Xtreme 2 sounds great, for me it sits in this weird space between being portable and not. It's a bit too big and heavy to be something I'd want to take on a hike, and the exposed bass speakers do open the potential for damage. But the carry strap does mean it's easy to sling over a shoulder and take on your merry way.
As something that'll spend 90 per cent of its time sitting in my house, it beats out the MEGABLAST with better sound as long as you have the bench space and don't mind leaving your phone behind when you leave the room.
- Both speakers are waterproof.
- The GO 2 is a hyper portable upgrade over laptop or phone speakers. A great luxury travel item (especially on sale).
- The Xtreme 2 sounds rich and warm, but is a little large for a properly portable Bluetooth speaker.
- The Xtreme 2's exposed bass speakers feel potentially delicate.
- You can use the Xtreme 2 as a USB powerbank, which is really cool.
- You can also wear the Xtreme 2 like a handbag. Please do not do this and play music on the train.