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Lifewire / Jason Schneider
Great sound quality
Fun, colorful designs
A little heavy
Battery life could be better
The JBL Flip 5 is a capable Bluetooth speaker that will go the distance, but you’ll pay a fairly steep price for the sound quality and the durability.
The JBL Flip 5 is one of the most classic examples of a full-featured, portable Bluetooth speaker. The cylindrical look of the Flip series in and of itself has spawned a whole wave of off-brand copycats, and it makes sense. Taking up no more space than a small water bottle and built with side-firing subwoofers, this speaker design does very well at dispersing sound to a small gathering without taking up much space on its own. The sound quality itself is pretty solid, albeit a little bassy, and the price point might be a little high for a speaker in this category, but it certainly has its applications. I got my hands on a black Flip 5 and spent about a week seeing what this thing could do.
Because the Flip series is JBL’s most popular portable Bluetooth line, the Flip 5 ends up being the de-facto flagship of the lineup. The cylinder chassis with a directionally fired main driver and two gimmicky pulsing “subs” on the ends of the device has been the go-to design for JBL for a few generations, but it’s also been copied by the likes of Ultimate Ears and countless overseas manufacturers. This looks cool, but it also implies a degree of “360-degree sound”. I’ll get more into the playback quality in a later section dedicated to sound, but it’s important to note that even though the speaker grille goes almost fully around the device’s perimeter, there aren’t speakers firing in every direction.
With that said, the speaker does look great. Taking it out of a bag and putting it on a table shows that you mean business, and the pulsing subwoofers on either side of the device look cool when they’re moving. That design flourish also has a functional purpose since those subs fire bass in either direction. The black unit I have isn’t super-flashy, and the only real pop of color comes from the metallic orange JBL logo on the front. I do like that rubber rings around either end because they aren’t exactly symmetrical and give the speaker a bit of extra character in its shape.
Of course, the most important aspect of the Flip 5’s design is just how customizable it is. Standard colors include everything from a subtle black or white to a stark mustard color or the bright red probably most familiar for the brand. If you purchase the Flip 5 from the JBL site you can actually use an online tool to design your own pattern, making your visual options virtually limitless.
What I like most about the form factor of the Flip 5 is that it doesn’t feel like there’s a whole lot of wasted space. There are no strange clips jutting out, no odd rounded parts creating an offbeat shape. It’s just a small cylinder that fits in the footprint of a small water bottle or a portable coffee tumbler. This means that it fits very nicely into a water bottle pouch on a backpack, but because it’s also designed in a thin, lengthy chassis (rather than a rounded oblong one) it slips nicely beside notebooks or laptops inside your bag. On paper, the Flip 5 is just over 7 inches long and the circular ends measure less than 3 inches in diameter themselves. Possibly the most cumbersome aspect of the device is its weight. At almost 1.25 pounds, this small speaker isn’t exactly light, and I definitely noticed its presence when tossing it into my picnic bag. But, if having a reasonably loud speaker at your disposal for an outdoor adventure or a gathering in your yard is important to you, then it isn’t terribly bulky… but you definitely have to want to allocate the space for it.
Like with most other JBL products, ruggedness and durability was a clear focus in the design of the Flip 5. The grille that covers most of the device is actually a rigid shell with tightly woven fabric, giving me no qualms about tossing this speaker onto the ground. The rest of the chassis is built of a soft-tough, but tough rubberized plastic that should provide a lot of shock absorption. This all gives me a lot of confidence in this speaker’s ability to take a beating, making it a perfect companion for hikes, pool parties, beach days, and other locales that might damage more delicate electronics.
The other side of the durability coin is water resistance. Like most speakers in the class, JBL has taken the time to earn IPX7 water resistance, which means that the speaker can technically be submerged in 3 meters of water for a reasonable amount of time. These tests are done in lab conditions though, so considering you’ll likely be running your “real world” tests in chlorinated water or under other unideal conditions, we don’t recommend dropping the speaker into water for fun. What the IPX7 rating actually amounts to is a perfectly durable speaker for use in the rain or on a poolside table getting splashed.
I’ve been impressed with JBL’s ability to give you speakers that just connect easily to Bluetooth. Some off-brand options don’t play so nicely with your device’s Bluetooth menu, but every JBL device I’ve ever unboxed (this one included) has gone right into pairing mode and showed up quickly on my Bluetooth device. And, because there’s a very obvious Bluetooth button on the outside that allows you to go back into pairing mode, you won’t have to deal with the headache of wondering how to connect to a new device.
The protocol used here is Bluetooth 4.2, which gives you about 30 meters of connectivity on paper, but I can’t help but wonder why JBL didn’t go with Bluetooth 5 for their most recent version of the Flip. If you’re using the speaker outside as I did in most of my tests, without pesky walls to interfere with transmission, then the difference between 5.0 and 4.2 isn’t that noticeable.
And, truth be told, my speaker never cut out, even in heavy interference environments. Plus, because the standard handset Bluetooth connection methods are at play here, you can use this device as a speakerphone for better quality calls.
I’m going to try to be transparent here: I’m a bit of an audio snob. Not “$1,000 or your headphones are bad” levels of snobbery, but I tend to prefer the sound profile from Bose and Sony to brands like JBL or Beats. However, the Flip 5 is one of the best small-format Bluetooth speakers I’ve tried. I think this is likely due to the super-unique driver that JBL has hidden behind its circular grille.
The Flip 4 sported two smaller speakers to try to offer a stereo sound, but what this accomplished was actually a subpar bass response. The Flip 5 has incorporated what JBL is calling a “racetrack” speaker, which, according to the spec sheet, measures an odd 44x80 mm. This oval design theoretically means that the driver can produce stronger lows than a circular 44mm driver would (because it earns some properties of 80mm diameter). On paper, the speaker can only produce 65Hz through 20kHz, technically lacking on the low side of the spectrum. But the strange-shaped driver, paired with the side-firing subs, actually gives a surprisingly full listening experience.
The Flip 5 is one of the best small-format Bluetooth speakers I’ve tried. I think this is likely due to the super-unique driver that JBL has hidden behind its circular grille.
What impressed me the most is the detail provided by this speaker, whether you’re listening to soft classical tunes or using the speaker as a speakerphone. There is a great nuanced response that doesn’t seem as prone to the harmonic distortion that plagues other speakers of this size at higher volumes. It’s not all positives here—there are no fancy Bluetooth codecs to speak of, so you’ll have to make do with the lossier SBC and AAC formats.
Finally, because JBL has done away with the dual speaker cones, you aren’t getting quite the stereo spread of bigger speakers. However, pairing the Flip 5 with the app (more on that later) and other JBL speakers allows for that spread to occur using multiple units.
There is a great nuanced response that doesn’t seem as prone to the harmonic distortion that plagues other speakers of this size at higher volumes.
After testing a few JBL units in this class, two things are clear: JBL takes a very conservative approach when quoting their battery life estimates, and if you want better battery life with a JBL product, you have to keep the volume relatively low. Those factors are present on the Flip 5, too. JBL’s marketing materials quote that you’ll get about 12 hours of play out of the rechargeable 4,800 mAh battery, and in my tests that seemed about right.
I did notice that battery life takes a dip at higher volumes, as expected, but I think if you kept it to about 40 percent max, you could get more than 12 hours, depending on the content you’re streaming. I’m only disappointed in these totals because of how heavy this speaker is. At about a pound and a half, it would have been nice to see closer to 15 hours even in louder listening scenarios.
The bright side is that thanks to the more modern USB-C port, you can charge the speaker fully in only about two and a half hours—a much better charging speed than JBL’s micro USB models. The speaker should easily get you through a full night’s gathering though, I can’t help but think a bigger battery would better justify the price point.
JBL’s marketing materials quote that you’ll get about 12 hours of play out of the rechargeable 4,800 mAh battery, and in my tests that seemed about right.
At first glance, the Flip 5 looks and feels pretty standard, and that’s because the portable Bluetooth speaker form factor is really meant as a standalone device. But thanks to brands like Sonos, consumers have more of a “network” expectation, so JBL has chosen to include a few extras here that help to fill out the offering.
First, what JBL is calling “Party Boost”, is a function that lets you play the same source audio across a few different compatible JBL speakers, using one as the main source device. You can even pair up to 100 different JBL speakers (you know, if you have 100 friends who have the same speaker), which is sort of insane when you think about it. Perhaps the more useful function for this feature is to pair just one other Flip 5 and set them as a stereo pair to give you a better sonic image.
You achieve both of these functions easily using the JBL Connect app, and it’s this app that helps you to monitor your battery life, update the firmware, and turn off the “audio feedback” sounds, which are the pings that let you know what mode the device is in. The functions aren’t nearly as robust as on other Connect-compatible speakers (like the Pulse series), but there is something nice about having control of your device via an app, rather than limited on-board buttons.
Like most other JBL products, the Flip 5 isn’t exactly a budget speaker. The list price at most retailers is just under $120 for this speaker, and that doesn’t include any accessories other than the charging cable. While it would be nice if this product went for around $100, $120 isn’t exorbitant when you consider the surprisingly good sound quality and the impressive durability here.
That said, it’s still important to consider if this is a category of Bluetooth peripheral you’ll get a lot of use out of. If you want something more casual, there are much better deals from off-brand manufacturers that will get you most of the way to where the Flip 5 does.
In looks and sound profile, Ultimate Ears speakers tend to feel closest to the JBL line out of any of its competitors. The Blast (view on Amazon) is their mid-sized model with a battery that lasts 12 hours and has a sound handling that is loud and full. It isn’t quite as loud as the Flip 5 and it doesn’t look quite as good. But with IP67 water and dust resistance as well as Wi-Fi options, it could be more flexible. The price does tend to hover around $50 more, however.
A great option for those who need it
If you’re going to have lots of pool parties and don’t want to set up a permanent system in your pool area, then the JBL Flip 5 will pay for itself in volume, durability, and reliability. But, if this is just a supplemental device you’ll want just in case you need it on occasion, you can get better value elsewhere. There’s no denying though that this speaker sounds and looks incredible though.
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