So, you’re looking for the best portable Bluetooth speaker you can buy for less than $100? Well if we were writing this a few years ago the choice would have been tough. However, in recent years, JBL has far separated itself from the pack with its highly affordable Flip portable speaker line. The Flip 4 – JBL’s most recent Flip – turns two this year, and in our opinion has yet to be toppled by any sub-$100 Bluetooth speaker.
In previous iterations of the Flip line, customers were faced with the dilemma of ruggedness versus sound quality. While JBL speakers have historically been hailed as top-notch, their Flip line wasn’t exactly known to be the most rugged.
Unsurprisingly, durability ranks among one of the most important characteristics that customers look for when deciding on a portable speaker. A device that can be dropped, submerged in water, covered in sand – and still pump out tunes without missing a beat is often preferred to something that simply sounds nice.
Until the JBL Flip 4, many other portable Bluetooth speakers such as UE’s Roll were far superior in this regard. Taking note, JBL has designed the Flip 4 to be its most battle-tested Bluetooth speaker yet.
At 6.9 x 2.7-inches and 1.13 lbs, the latest Flip is just a wee bit bigger than its predecessor. We can’t confirm, but we theorize the slight size increase is largely due to the improved driver and battery.
Whereas the Flip 3 has a 10-hour battery and a comparatively bassless driver, the JBL Flip 4 offers a longer 12-hour life and thumps lower than before. Admittedly, we can’t describe the bass as “pulse-pounding,” nevertheless, it’s certainly more present. With that said, bass will always be subjective.
There are certainly more bass heavily sub-$100 portable speakers, however, the tradeoffs often come at the expense of mids, highs, and overall build quality. Speaking of which, the Flip 4’s mids and highs are nice and clear – about as exact in reproduction as you can get from a speaker of this size.
In comparing the audio to my Sennheiser HD 660 S – hi-fi reference cans known for quality – JBL’s speaker was remarkably accurate, delivering full, lifelike vocals and instrumentation.
Depending on the song (and the volume), we could clearly hear many of the nuances in music that are often missed. We’re talking the pluck of a guitar string, slight vocal imperfections, breaths, the press of a piano key – which, again, is quite impressive given its size and price.
While we’d never describe the sonics as “muddy,” many of the aforementioned nuances disappear at peak volume. We wouldn’t consider this a huge flaw largely because the speaker is marketed as a party device, so hearing the strum of each string isn’t always of paramount concern.
Another point of note is the lack of a clear soundstage. Again, given the Flip is more for social outings than serious listening, not being able to clearly decipher the sonic location of the various instruments isn’t a biggie. However, we do feel it’s noteworthy for potential buyers.
Design and ruggedness
As far as the design, the Flip 4 comes in fewer colors than its predecessor but boasts an improved cover fabric which is now water and dustproof.
Whereas the 3 was only splash resistant, the 4 is IPX7 certified. It can now be fully submerged in a meter of water for 30 minutes without any issues.
While it’s probably still best to avoid taking your Flip for a swim (waterproofing doesn’t mean it floats!), many users feel comfortable showering with the device, often using the including lanyard to hang it from a showerhead.
Waterproofing aside, some of us are still a bit apprehensive about electronics and showers, but considering there’s an array of buttons on the Flip that allows you to play, pause, and skip songs, it’s probably better than bringing in your $1000 iPhone.
Just below the controls, we find the power and Connect+ buttons, as well as a sealed off section where they’ve tucked away a line-in and charging port.
If you’re unfamiliar with Connect+, it’s an impressive technology that allows the Flip to pair with up to 100 other Connect+ devices from JBL. Users can download the Connect app, however, it’s rather limited. For example, UE’s app allows owners to fine-tune the EQ and use the speaker as an alarm clock, among other functions. JBL’s Connect app, on the other hand, is primarily used for Connect+ management, granting zero control of EQ or other functions.
In closing, if you’re wondering whether or not you should buy the JBL Flip 4, we’d say yes. Considering its attractive price point and top-notch sound quality, you’re unlikely to be disappointed. Though you should never base your purchase solely off customer reviews from Amazon or other places, the fact that the speaker averages 4.5 stars from over 5000 reviews says a lot. In this age, it’s rare that so many people agree on something, especially when that “something” is as subjective as audio. With that said, the JBL Flip 4 comes highly recommended.