JBL Clip 3 Review

Loud enough for most uses, but lacking a bit in battery life and nuance

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3.2

JBL Clip 3

JBL Clip 3

Lifewire / Jason Schneider

 

What We Like
  • Really durable

  • Decent sound quality

  • Great design with tons of colors

What We Don't Like
  • A bit pricey

  • Lackluster battery life

  • Missing some bass and nuance

The JBL Clip 3 is a good speaker, but it’s not the best. For durability and flashy looks alone, it might be worth the price, but don’t expect it to win any audiophile awards

3.2

JBL Clip 3

JBL Clip 3

Lifewire / Jason Schneider

 

The JBL Clip 3 is a supremely portable Bluetooth speaker that aims to provide you an accessory-style music device that isn’t cumbersome or intrusive. For the most part, it does this well with a reasonably small footprint and a really sturdy clip to fasten it on to whatever bag you’re carrying. This puts the Clip in a unique category—not exactly a rectangular Bluetooth speaker to toss onto a picnic blanket, but also not as personal as a pair of headphones.

Its size is rather limiting on the sound quality front, providing little space for bass ports or large speaker drivers. But for basic use, that doesn't really hold it back, and the quality of the build alongside the durable features JBL has thrown in makes for a really solid device for those on-the-go. And because it’s so small, it’s something you can easily toss into a bag as a backup, and have it ready to go whenever the situation presents itself.

Design: The full spectrum, centered on the clip

I got my hands on a black Clip 3, which ended up being the plainest design option available. The entire build is a circular speaker with the front being JBL’s tightly woven nylon grille and the back sporting a soft rubber dish and JBL’s iconic exclamation mark. Jutting out the top of the enclosure is a carabiner-style clip that’s actually a lot bigger than it seems in pictures. The JBL logo is framed in the expected metallic JBL orange, and around the outer perimeter is dark silver. All this makes for a pretty unassuming look, but in true JBL fashion, there is an insane spread of color options at your disposal.

There are 8 standard colors available via the Amazon listing linked in this review that range from super-bright yellow to a nice soft slate blue, but you can actually customize your Clip 3 to virtually any color combination you can think of —even including the option to add camo patterns. It makes this one of the biggest reasons to buy the Clip, and it makes sense because you’ll be clipping the speaker onto your bag in the same way you might clip any other keychain accessory.

JBL Clip 3
Lifewire / Jason Schneider 

Portability: Small, but still a little bulky

This is one of the smallest Bluetooth speakers on the market that provides the oomph of JBL’s classic sound quality. However, if you’re in the market for the Clip 3, chances are you want something that is very small and very unassuming. This speaker isn’t big, per se, but it’s important to note that it is actually a few inches thick. W

When you clip it to a backpack strap, it rests nicely, but it sticks out in a way that definitely shows its bulk. It also weighs half a pound, due to the substantial, waterproof build and the durable metal clip. That isn’t super-heavy, but it’s definitely something you’ll feel if you treat it like a keychain. I found that putting the speaker right into the front pocket of my bag was better than dangling it off my bag in transit, but that’s a personal preference. 

This particular package comes with a really substantial travel case which is a nice add-on, but in my opinion, it was a bit overkill. The case is very nice, with a neoprene-style shell and a super-soft lining to protect your $70 investment, but putting the speaker into the case essential doubles its size in almost every dimension. All in all, this is a great speaker for those who want something small, but it isn’t quite as small as it seems at first glance.

JBL Clip 3
 Lifewire / Jason Schneider

Durability and Build Quality: Befitting of the price

A truly standout feature of the Clip 3 is just how substantial it feels in your hand. The thick plastic back with its soft-touch rubber provides plenty of durability with a little bit of shock absorption too. The thick-knit speaker grille allows for the driver to push sound out without so many gaps that it leaves things exposed. 

Even the carabiner clip feels like a strong aluminum hiking accessory—unlike the cheap carabiners you’re used to seeing on non-climbing products (though it is most certainly not actually safe for climbing). In fact, the chassis is so rigid that the imprinted buttons along the side are a bit too hard to press when you want to turn it on and pair a device. It’s a small gripe, and is likely a product of how sealed the device is, but it isn’t super-satisfying to use these controls.

The IPX7 waterproofing built-in is pretty standard for this class of speaker—most options at this price point will feature this level of water resistance. The X denotes a lack of dust testing, though the water sealing on this should provide some dust resistance. The 7 means that you can submerge the speaker up to 3 meters for as long as half an hour, and that condition has been tested in labs. I don’t recommend actually submerging the speaker recreationally, because salt water, chlorine, or other environmental factors can cause issues, but this speaker should be totally fine on camping trips or in otherwise inclement weather. 

A truly standout feature of the Clip 3 is just how substantial it feels in your hand. The thick plastic back with its soft-touch rubber provides plenty of durability with a little bit of shock absorption too. The thick-knit speaker grille allows for the driver to push sound out without so many gaps that it leaves things exposed. 

Connectivity and Setup: Simple and unassuming

When you first turn the Clip 3 on, it enters the basic Bluetooth pairing mode (denoted by a signature JBL tone). Just find the Clip 3 in your device's menu and pair it up. I actually found that the Clip 3 appeared almost instantaneously on my iPhone XS and the pairing happened quicker than other devices I’ve tested. There’s a clearly labeled Bluetooth button that allows you to re-enter pairing mode on-demand in order to connect to another device. So far, so good.

The connectivity specs themselves are pretty standard for the price point: Bluetooth 4.1 is the protocol chosen here, which is a bit dated compared to the Bluetooth 5 you’ll find on newer devices, but it worked perfectly fine in my tests. I think the name of the game here is that you’ll likely be using this device outside, and in those direct, line-of-site conditions, Bluetooth 4.1 is totally serviceable, even at dozens of feet away. JBL has put in the requisite A2DP, AVRCP, HFP, and HSP protocols meaning it will work with most consumer devices and is capable of being used as a speakerphone—particularly helpful with so many of us working remotely now. I used the Clip 3 for a few Zoom calls and found that the sound quality was leaps and bounds better than my laptop speakers (to be expected) and a little clearer on the microphone front. All in all, I found the connection plenty stable on the Clip 3.

JBL Clip 3
Lifewire / Jason Schneider

Sound Quality: Good, not great

With a device as small as the Clip 3, it’s hard to be sure what you’re going to get for sound quality. As a general rule, larger speaker enclosures yield fuller results, because they can accommodate larger physical speaker drivers, and they can allow for acoustic chamber space to port different frequencies. You don’t get that flexibility with a device that sits in a footprint less than 6 inches. 

As implied by the single circular design there is one 40mm transducer that doesn’t seem that dissimilar from the ones found on a pair of over-ear studio headphones. It’s actually smart that JBL has chosen to go for a single speaker, meaning they can use the entire build for that one large driver. But this means they sacrifice the ability to port any bass—the Clip 3 is essentially just a small amp and a single speaker that puts out 3.3W of power, with very few acoustic augmentations.

The frequency response is another trade-off, as the Clip 3 only offers coverage as low as 120Hz and as high as 20kHz. This means you’re sacrificing basically a hundred hertz-worth of bass on the low end. Anecdotally, this speaker obviously does not provide a lot of oomph on the low end. That isn’t a huge deal, because in this case, it seems that JBL has chosen to put a lot more of their eggs in the mids basket. Normally, I’d assume that would yield muddy results, but there’s some clever signal processing going on that actually makes this speaker sound even and full, even at high volumes. 

The Clip 3 only offers coverage as low as 120Hz and as high as 20kHz. This means you’re sacrificing basically a hundred hertz-worth of bass on the low end. Anecdotally, this speaker obviously does not provide a lot of oomph on the low end. 

Listening to spoken words was also surprisingly clear on this speaker—good news for podcast fans. There are no fancy Bluetooth codecs like aptX here, so you’ll have to be comfortable with the sonic compression inherent in basic Bluetooth transmission. Another tip is to try holding the Clip 3 in varying ways, as it sounds vastly different when it’s hung on its clip vs. cupped in your hand. Overall, you won’t be dissatisfied with the sound, but you also won’t be impressing your picnic guests.

JBL Clip 3
Lifewire / Jason Schneider

Battery Life: Pretty good for the volume

JBL clocks the battery life of the Clip 3 at about 10 hours of average continuous play. That total seems lackluster, but with a 1,000 mAh on-board, it’s actually pretty impressive what JBL has done in the footprint. And that’s the point, isn’t it? This is a Bluetooth speaker that gets plenty loud, takes up no more space than a softball, and will still get you through a full Friday night party. 

The 3.3W amp pumps sound out very well, but I found a very clear difference between the battery life I got out of the Clip 3 when it was at half volume vs. 90 percent volume. If you want those 10 hours, be prepared to sacrifice some power, but worst case you’re looking at about 5 or 6 hours. The micro USB port on-board is really only capable of charging the Clip 3 as fast as 3 hours from empty to full. That’s not terrible all things considered, but compared to the 10 hours of use, that ratio feels a bit low. I think my expectations misled me here because I was hoping for more battery life, but for the size, it isn’t terribly disappointing.   

This is a Bluetooth speaker that gets plenty loud, takes up no more space than a softball, and will still get you through a full Friday night party.

Software and Extra Features: Fairly simple with one twist

There are two key points I think are worth addressing here. First is the most obvious: the clip. Oddly, while most portable Bluetooth speakers do offer some sort of string-and-loop attachment for portability and fastening the device onto your bag, very few offer a rigid, fully-connected carabiner. This differentiating factor is helpful because it eliminates the need for a very clear point of physical weakness and allows a super-study mechanism to attach your device to a bag.

One downside is that the Clip 3 is not compatible with JBL’s Connect smartphone app. This is disappointing because the JBL Connect app expands functionality really well for the Flip, Charge, and Pulse speakers in the line—allowing for EQ functionality, connecting to other devices, etc. The Clip 3 would be a much better device with this added control, but as it stands, you’re stuck with the limited options right on-board.

Price: Perhaps a bit expensive

With this device, you’re largely paying for the JBL brand name. With the sound quality being nothing special and the lack of additional features and software functionality you’re left with two things. First, JBL is a premium audio brand, and the character of the sound is in line with those expectations. Second, the device is durable, so it will likely last a long time, through lots of parties and adventures. However, I just can’t in good faith say that $70 is a good deal. If you find the Clip 3 on sale, it becomes a much more recommendable product. But as it stands, you might be better with another super-portable option.

If you find the Clip 3 on sale, it becomes a much more recommendable product. But as it stands, you might be better with another super-portable option.

JBL Clip 3 vs. Bose Soundlink Micro

At about $70, the Clip 3 is definitely in the mid-to-premium range of prices, and therefore you have to compare it against a premium brand like Bose. The Soundlink Micro doesn’t offer quite the color options, its clip looks a bit flimsier than the Clip 3’s and it is $30, but the Soundlink gives you better sound quality and an even better brand name. 

Final Verdict

A middle-of-the-road pick for portable audio. 

To be clear, I don’t dislike the JBL Clip 3. The sound is perfectly passable, the volume gives you just enough headroom, and the durability is truly confidence-inducing. There are some drawbacks, like the lowish battery life, the bulky/heavy size when it’s clipped to a backpack, and of course the price. But if you need something that will survive extreme adventures and love how JBL speakers and headphones sound, you’ll be mostly pleased here.

Specs

  • Product Name Clip 3
  • Product Brand JBL
  • SKU B07YVCW1N5
  • Price $69.99
  • Weight 0.49 lbs.
  • Product Dimensions 5.4 x 3.8 x 1.8 in.
  • Color Black, Blue, Gray, Green, Pink, Red, White, Yellow, and Custom Options
  • Wired/Wireless Wireless
  • Warranty 1 year
  • Audio codecs SBC, AAC
  • Battery life 10 hours
  • Bluetooth spec Bluetooth 4.1
  • Wireless range 30m