Bluetooth speakers have been a growing segment that’s practically crowded with choices now that mobile hi-fi went from niche to legit practically overnight. Every company from Beats to Bose has gotten in on the action, and especially JBL, which is a bona-fide staple in the world of portable audio. Recent efforts have been far from consistent, but the Flip Wireless Bluetooth Speaker is probably one of the best offerings from their lineup yet when price and overall quality are concerned.
There are small drawbacks, but let’s look into the styling first, which fits well within the usual design vein of modern speakers. The Flip comes in two color choices of black or white, and is unassuming at first glance with a basic and compact cylindrical shape that has the typical audio controls on one end with rubber feet on its heel and sides (to lay it flat). Don’t confuse that statement as stylistic nitpicking, because this is all about minimalism and it feels pretty well assembled all-around. This look also lends itself to versatility since it can also be in an upright position thanks to an additional rubber ring on the bottom. For connectivity, an auxiliary input and standard AC jack sit in the rear and a carrying pouch is also included for extra protection.
Indeed the Flip is small, and it shows with its dual 10W stereo speakers which can easily and loudly fill a medium-sized room with sound in linear fashion. However because the speaker drivers are so close together, stereo separation from afar isn’t outstanding, but is better when listening at a closer distance (preferably between 2-5 ft). Our initial out-of-the-box impressions were surprising when we realized JBL packed ample power into this unit, ironically more than most people would need as mild distortion is noticeable at its highest (and probably unnecessary) volume levels. Admittedly it’s a minor but uncanny issue considering we don’t expect comparably priced Bluetooth speakers to project as well as these did.
When kept at a mid to upper moderate volume, the Flip is excellent for audio tailored to midrange acoustics such as Peter Frampton and Stereolab. There’s definitely presence along with clean fidelity depending on the genre, as rock and jazz sounded best while heavily bass-influenced material – like techno/electronica or hip-hop lacked a little of the punch we’d expect. To the average ear the results are good, but don’t hope to start a thumping house party with these speakers.
Other features like the aux-in port are well thought out in case you forget to recharge the Flip which can happen often in four-to-five hours’ time (which was roughly close to the advertised running time when wireless), and a hands-free speakerphone button for your Android and/or iPhone. These additions make the Flip appealing, but you’ll have to learn to live with a generic AC adapter which goes into the wall rather than a USB port, as well as having to deal with the annoyance of lugging a charger that weighs nearly as much as the device itself and the tedious task of not misplacing the adapter. Quite frankly it’s almost a shame that something sleek like the Flip is lightly anchored by something other than Mini-USB, but really that’s the only real complaint I have here.
To be honest, I don’t expect that much from most Bluetooth audio devices, but the JBL Flip Wireless Bluetooth Speaker is refreshingly different and for good reason. The sound clarity is fantastic for a portable speaker that’s roughly the height of a 24 oz “tall-boy”, the Bluetooth connectivity didn’t drop out once during testing, and is a steal for the money at $99.99, considering you normally would pay double for the same type of quality device. In the end, the Flip manages to stand out enough for me to recommend in a vast sea of ho-hum wireless speakers.