JBL is sticking with its original models, tweaking them and assigning them new version numbers. A recent example is the Xtreme 3, the latest version of the original Xtreme, a medium-size Bluetooth speaker primarily designed for partying. It has USB-A and USB-C ports for charging USB devices, and an improved adjustable strap. Specified IP67, it’s waterproof and dustproof and, with one big caveat, has robust, well-balanced sound. But it’s pricey at $349.95 USD. (However, JBL’s website often offers even new models at 50% off.)
With this innovative product, EcoXGear takes another step toward making sure you have music wherever you go. Their EcoLantern ($129.99 USD) gives you sound or light or both—perfect for campers, it can also be used in the back yard.
Grace Digital’s EcoXGear brand of sports and outdoor speakers includes some of their most innovative concepts and designs, and has become the company’s biggest moneymaker. The EcoExtreme 2 is a waterproof Bluetooth speaker and a waterproof case in which you can safely store your smartphone or music player, along with a good assortment of accessories. Rugged as a bulldog at its attractive price of $79.99 USD, it seems ideal for the sports enthusiast who wants everything in one place.
iHome makes a wealth of Bluetooth speaker models, many of them including light shows. I ordered the Playtough Pro iBT158 ($79.99 USD) for its intriguing light-show rings and because it’s waterproof and dustproof.
JBL’s new Go 3 portable Bluetooth speaker, attractively priced at $39.95 USD, is no mere update but instead a virtual redesign of their popular Go 2.
Powered and active loudspeakers continue to grow in popularity. They offer an inexpensive way to set up a high-quality music system without having to assemble separates: a receiver, integrated amplifier, or preamp and power amp. Audioengine has had great success with its larger A2+ stereo speaker system ($269/pair, all prices USD). Now they hope to repeat that with the less expensive A1 ($199/pair).
JBL’s Link Music Wi-Fi speaker is a handy listening device with built-in Bluetooth and Chromecast, and it’s AirPlay 2 compatible. It also includes Google Assistant -- it responds to verbal commands -- and it can serve as the hub for a home’s worth of smart appliances, controlling lighting and much more. At its current low price of $69.95 USD, it seems a winner -- but how does it perform?
Streaming music files used to be for listeners who cared more about quantity than quality. Times have changed. In the past ten years, various streaming services have begun offering files in resolutions of CD quality or above. At $189 USD, Audioengine’s B-Fi multiroom music streamer offers a simple, inexpensive way to receive and distribute CD-resolution files. The B-Fi has dramatically changed the way I listen to music.
The Portable is the latest member of JBL’s Link line of Wi-Fi speakers. It’s distinctive in that you can lift it right out of its charging dock and carry it anywhere in your home that your Internet network is available. It seemed a bit costly at its original price of $179.95 USD, but for this summer JBL has halved the price, to $89.95.
Midsummer -- the perfect time for a Bluetooth speaker that can, um, go with you anywhere. But unless you, er, go for a behemoth, such as Grace Digital’s EcoBoulder, you’re liable to find the sound of most smaller speakers somewhat anemic when you use them outdoors. In addition, most of them lack convenient handles.