We trialled 2 JBL portable Bluetooth speakers (the CLIP 3 and GO 2) and found one's sound significantly outperformed the other.
What do you look for in a pocketable Bluetooth speaker? If sound quality is on your shortlist, one of these two JBL offerings will fall short.
Listening to the CLIP 3 reminded me of listening to a 1980's transistor radio. The JBL has limited bass and no depth to its thin treble-led sound. Simple Ed Sheeran-type dad-pop sounded OK, as did podcasts. But anything more than the basics and the CLIP 3 really struggles. The lushness of Brian Wilson’s masterpiece Pet Sounds was lost; crisp, bass-driven tracks from LCD Soundsystem didn’t sound crisp or bass-driven; minimally produced punk from The Damned and the layered noise of The Hives were downright unlistenable. And that’s all at low volumes. The CLIP 3 doesn’t go super-loud, which is just as well – its sound quality doesn’t improve with volume.
To be fair, portable Bluetooth speakers like the CLIP 3 aren’t all about sound quality. It’s a bit much to expect a single speaker the size of a doughnut to reproduce aural perfection. So what else does the CLIP 3 offer? The “clip” is a built-in carabiner. The idea is you attach the speaker to your bag or belt loop and take your sounds with you – the box proclaims, “Dare to listen!” (Or dare to annoy everyone around you, perhaps?) The carabiner has a 14mm opening, which limits what it’ll hang from – it was too small to hook on to the rail or door handle in my shower, for example (so I could test the IPX7 waterproof rating).
At least JBL has ease of use sorted. The CLIP 3 pairs quickly with a single button press, and stayed paired to my phone throughout my trial. Bluetooth range was good too – I could walk through the house with my phone pocketed and the speaker in the kitchen kept playing. The controls are intuitive. Large buttons on top for volume and play/pause are easy to locate and use. The recessed on/off button on the side means I didn’t accidentally power the speaker up or down. The CLIP 3 feels reassuringly weighty and well-made, with a non-slip rubber base. JBL claims a 10-hour battery life, but our testing found it lasted for more than 14 hours, and in my trial I only recharged it once in two weeks. It has a microphone so you can use it as a speakerphone and take calls through it – which worked just fine.
The JBL CLIP 3 feels robust and it’s convenient and easy to use, but at $99 it’s just not good enough. While sound quality isn’t everything in these types of pocketable speakers, its mangling of my favourite tunes makes this one avoid in my book.
Despite the all-over “deep sea blue ” colour and loud white JBL branding of the GO 2, it’s an unassumingly simple little device and truly pocketable. Its small size, robust and pleasingly tactile feel, rounded edges and lack of protrusions meant I could throw it in a bag or pocket without caring. That’s a convenience that shouldn’t be overlooked.
But what of the sound? The GO 2 is a tiny speaker, so I wasn’t expecting it to shake the foundations. It’s also directional: unlike the round CLIP 3 that projects sound upwards, the square GO 2 fires sound from its front face. That makes it less versatile, but could be a reason why the sound is a step up in quality, at least from the front. From the side or rear it sounds flat – like the speaker is in a cardboard box. At lower volumes, it delivered controlled sound with clarity and brightness. Music from the GO 2 also had more depth and range than the CLIP 3. Michael Jackson sounded smooth and funky, while the sweet soul of The Commodores didn’t contain any bitter notes. However, playing more complicated, bass-rich sounds and raising the volume found its limits. At low volumes, the sweeping grandeur of Muse was clear and detailed, though not particularly grand. But once above conversational volume, the lack of bass and control became apparent. It wasn’t as bad as the CLIP 3, but the sound became messy. Overall, I’d summarise the GO 2 as a more pleasing listen than the CLIP 3. But while the sound was bright, it wasn’t particularly rich or satisfying, it lacked bass, and couldn’t go loud while remaining listenable.
All controls on the GO 2 are in a row on top of the speaker. They are raised symbols, rather than individual buttons. They weren’t obvious, suffering from light reflections, and I found it tough to tell the difference between them by feel alone. A few times I turned the speaker off or disconnected Bluetooth when trying to adjust volume. The speaker is waterproof (IPX7) and functions well as a speakerphone. It has a strong Bluetooth connection, so annoying signal dropouts were rare. JBL claims a five-hour battery life, which isn’t great. However, in our test we got more than 11 hours from it, and I didn’t have a problem with battery life in my home trial.
I was surprised that, at $59, the GO 2 cost significantly less than the CLIP 3. Don’t expect it to get the party started, but for delivering listenable background tunes or podcasts while working or cooking, or to take your music with you when travelling, it’s a decent option for not a lot of money.
Waterproof rating: IPX7 (1m depth for 30 minutes).
Battery life: Claimed 10 hours of playback time.
Connections: Bluetooth 4.1 and line-in connections.
Charging: Micro-USB, 3hr charge time, cable included.
Waterproof rating: IPX7 (1m depth for 30 minutes)
Battery life: Claimed 5 hours of playback time
Connections: Bluetooth 4.1 and line-in connections
Charging: Micro-USB, 2.5hr charge time, cable included