BL’s latest portable speaker is top notch quality at a great price

As I’ve previously stated, for me portable speakers tend only to be useful to accompany singing in the shower.

But JBL’s new offering goes beyond the basics and offers additional functionality that is actually genuinely useful – even for me.

I was impressed with the brand’s range of headphones and earbuds earlier this year, so am I now also a fan of its new device, which promises a disco show with every song?

I’ve been using the JBL PartyBox 110 portable speaker for a couple of weeks now and here are my thoughts.

The good
First and foremost, the sound quality out of the PartyBox is very high. I have no problem using this speaker to listen to my favourite tunes on a regular basis.

It doesn’t matter what type of music I throw at it, the default settings sound true, full and with a level of fidelity that transports me where those songs always do.

After watching the amazing Let It Be on Disney Plus, I undertook a deep dive into The Beatles back catalogue and it is lovely to hear many of those songs at this level of quality for the first time.

It’s probably a good thing the default sound is so true because there really isn’t much option to alter it – more on that later.

The 160W sound is delivered by two 5.25-inch woofers and two 2.25-inch tweeters. It’s so loud I may have to move house in the new year to avoid any further neighbourhood problems.

There is some distortion at higher volume levels, but not to a point of concern. Anyone needing music that loud probably isn’t going to be hearing anything that well, let alone the latest Billie Eilish number at God knows how many decibels.

Battery life is also more than good enough for my requirements. JBL reckons you can expect around 12 hours if it’s not plugged in, but I think that’s pushing it a bit.

At higher volume and with the lights on, you’re going to get significantly less – but still more than six hours of banging party tunes that’s sure to leave everyone sweaty and happy.

It’ll take around 3.5 hours to recharge from empty, giving everyone enough time to grab a bit of shut eye before the party starts once more.

So what makes the speaker a PartyBox? That comes from the additional functionality, including the light show and the extra inputs.

The lights themselves are wonderfully hypnotic. By my counting there are roughly 45 different preset options offering a variety of styles and colours but, if you really need more, you can edit the light show and colours to suit your own tastes.

I can put on a song and get easily lost as they move to the beat of the music, the bright flashing white lights at the top and bottom almost, but not quite, reminiscent of strobe lighting in the nightclubs I went to in my 20s.

You can shut off the lights if you want, but why would you? If you’re going to share your music with the world, you may as well give them something to look at while you do so.

As well as the standard Bluetooth connection allowing you to stream wirelessly from your mobile phone, you can plug in a standard 3.5mm audio cable or, in a blast from the past, a USB drive.

Providing your music is in either MP3, WMA or WAV format, the speaker will happily play it from a FAT-formatted USB stick or external hard drive.

More interesting to me is the microphone and guitar inputs. As a frustrated wannabe muso with zero talent, I long ago gave up on the hope of being in a band; but with a standard cable I can plug in my acoustic guitar and pretend I am Jimmy Buffett for a few glorious hours.

If anything, my singing is worse than my guitar playing, so there are no microphones around my household – but for anyone who likes to announce songs like a DJ or indulge in some karaoke, that option is there too.

Handily the speaker is also IPX4 certified. That means if liquids are accidentally spilled on it then it shouldn’t impact its performance. I won’t be held responsible if it’s an entire keg, though.

Lastly, should one speaker not be enough, you can wirelessly chain in a second. I hope I’m never at that party.

The bad
There’s not a lot wrong with the PartyBox – until you start playing with the bass levels.

By pressing the ‘bass boost’ button on top you access two different levels of extra bass, but I find it best avoided. The first level isn’t too bad, and for certain songs is tolerable. The second? Even as a self-confessed bass lover, it is beyond what I am able to enjoy.

There must be some kind of music that sounds great with it turned all the way up, but I can’t find it in my playlists.

As previously mentioned, the default sound levels are more than good enough to my ears, which is lucky as there’s no equaliser in the control app to alter it in any way.

Given that functionality is available with some of JBL’s earphone and earbuds range, it seems like a bit of a miss for a more expensive speaker.

The app itself isn’t that useful besides checking for new firmware and editing light shows. You can turn the music on and off, alter the volume and change the light show with the rubbery buttons on top instead.

I hesitate to mention it because it’s so awful and I want to spare anyone else the horrors, but the app also has something called ‘DJ effect’ in it.

If you want to annoy literally everyone within hearing distance, you can play air horns, a barking dog, a booing crowd and more over the song that’s playing.

Yikes.

Lastly the speaker, while portable, is still a little on the chunky side. It stands over half a metre tall and weighs in at a smidge under 11kgs.

It’s not the heaviest, but after a few minutes you definitely notice it. There are handles on the back at the top and the bottom, so you can potentially share the burden, leaving your other hand free for a six pack or two – but I still wouldn’t recommend carrying it too far.

The verdict
My life hasn’t changed significantly since I last reviewed a portable ‘party’ speaker, but this one makes a bit more sense to me than the $1900 Soundboks did, as spectacular as that most definitely is.

Normally the PartyBox will set you back around $600, but at this time of the year you can snap one up for $500 – $530, depending on where you shop.

That’s a whole lot more affordable, particularly for a device that offers more functionality than is useful to me.

JBL has a track record of making excellent audio products and this one is no exception. It may distort slightly at the top end but, frankly, you shouldn’t be friends with anyone wanting a speaker that loud.

If you’re after a somewhat portable speaker for your next shindig that’s going to give you top notch sound and a bonus lightshow then the PartyBox will simply not disappoint.

 

 

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