JBL Xtreme review: Get the party started
JBL is no novice when it comes to creating sound systems. It’s been in the game for nearly 70 years, manufacturing professional-grade speakers alongside consumer products. While the JBL brand may not carry the same hip associations as Ultimate Ears, Beats or Marley, you know you can expect a certain level of quality right from the off, and JBL doesn’t disappoint with the JBL Xtreme.
The JBL Xtreme certainly lives up to its name when it comes to sound quality: this is a beast of a portable speaker system. You’ll find that, no matter what you put through it, everything sounds crisp and full-bodied. High notes are airy and detailed, mids are full and the lows rumble away, driven by a pair of 63mm woofers behind the grille, plus a pair of large passive bass radiators mounted at each end.
For a portable speaker, it’s impressive to hear how well this setup handles the high peaks and mammoth bass drop in The Chemical Brothers’ “Under the Influence”. I wasn’t surprised to discover that, when I played a frequency response sweep through it, the Xtreme went as low as 40Hz at medium volume before it fell away.
There is a downside to this thumping bass though: it pervades everything you listen to. No matter how clear and crisp the mids and highs are, the lows always sounded a little bit too full-on for me. If you’re listening to some mellow chill-out tracks, a touch of folk or classical, it will still sound great, but the low end will dominate.
Still, it pumps out a mighty sound, meaning the Xtreme is an excellent speaker to break out at a party, or when you’re in the garden or the park with friends.
Design and features
For a portable speaker, JBL’s Xtreme isn’t really all that compact. Weighing a rather hefty 2.1kg, it isn’t the sort of speaker you can just throw in your bag when you’re heading out the door. Amusingly, it comes with its own guitar-style shoulder strap, which is fine if you don’t mind looking like a modern-day Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. The Xtreme isn’t small, either, measuring 283 x 122 x 126mm (WDH).
Despite its size and bulk, I rather like the Xtreme’s brash style. It’s a fantastically well put-together Bluetooth speaker, and the red version I was sent for review really looks the part. It’s also available in Blue and Black, but these just don’t have the same visual impact.
What sets the Xtreme’s design apart from its peers is its cloth jacket, which is wrapped around the speaker’s rubber housing. This adds a pleasing tactile element and is also splashproof. For some reason, JBL hasn’t stated an IP rating for the speaker so it’s unclear just how wet it can get, but I’ve used it during a rain shower, and JBL states it can be washed under a dripping tap.
To keep the electrical connections safe, the underside has a waterproof zip where a power socket, two USB ports, the 3.5mm line-in, and a “service” micro-USB port are hidden away. Chances are you’ll rarely need to unzip it when you’re out and about, but if you do it’ll be so you can charge your phone or tablet from either one (or both) of the USB ports.
Don’t worry about draining the battery so you can charge your phone, though. JBL has squeezed a huge 10,000mAh battery into the Xtreme, which JBL claims can run for up to 15 hours continuously. I certainly never managed to run the battery down in a single session during my time using it. It also charges from empty in around three hours, and indicator lights on the front show you just how much charge is left so you’re never caught short.
You don’t get aptX or NFC support, which is a shame for both sound quality and convenience, but connecting via Bluetooth is incredibly easy. Rather handily, the speaker can connect to three devices at once, meaning you won’t be fighting over a single connection with friends when they want to put their music on.
The Xtreme has one more trick up its sleeve: if you have any other JBL Connect-compatible speakers in your home, you can pair them up with the Xtreme to really amp up the sound.
I always thought having lots of bass was a great thing, but the JBL Xtreme proves there is such a thing as having a touch too much. This isn’t a massive issue, but it does somewhat tarnish the appeal of the Xtreme, especially at its hefty £250 price tag.
However, as an all-round speaker, you’ll be hard-pressed to find something as loud and powerful as this, which is alos splashproof, stylish and packed with thoughtful features.
If you have the money to spend on a portable speaker and don’t mind something with a bit more bulk, the JBL Xtreme is more than worth its weight.
Also looking for a decent pair of headphones? Check out our roundup of the five best in-ear headphones to find out what to spend your money on.