Many modern Bluetooth speakers ignore the adage “less is more” popularised by modern architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe in favour of features like Wi-Fi, multi-room functionality, voice control, and AirPlay.
The JBL Flip 5 portable speaker’s spare design is a pleasant surprise, especially considering how much it pares down the capabilities of the JBL Flip 4.
Though not all Bluetooth speakers with extensive feature lists are created equal, JBL has a history of producing high-quality products. Does the Flip 5 buck this trend, or is it just another steal from the trustworthy US manufacturer?
Price and Availability
As the successor to the Flip 4, which we also gave four stars for its powerful, bass-heavy sound and durable construction, the Flip 5 was released in August 2019 for $119.95 / £119.99 / AU$149.95. The price has dropped since then, making it competitive with other top-tier options like the UE Boom 3 and JBL’s own Charge 4.
The widely accessible Flip 5 comes in a variety of hues, including the one shown here, Squad, as well as the more common Desert Sand, Mustard Yellow, Dusty Pink, Grey Stone, River Teal, Fiesta Red, Ocean Blue, Midnight Black, Steel White, Forest Green, and Fiesta Red.
The Flip 5’s form factor is such that you can flaunt its capabilities in virtually any place. The lightweight but sturdy Flip 5 weighs less than a pound and can be held in one hand, slid into a suitcase, or hung from a door doorknob or tree branch with its included shoelace strap.
You may have already imagined the music from your new portable speaker at your summer picnic. This speaker, on the other hand, doesn’t care about the weather; its IPX7 classification implies it can withstand being submerged in water up to a metre deep for up to 30 minutes.
The passive bass radiators on either end are set far enough back into the tubular housing to prevent damage, however, you should still be careful not to throw them carelessly into a bag with any sharp or pointy items.
However, we doubt that JBL receives many warranty-eligible returns of damaged speakers. The Flip 5, like the other products in the JBL series, is sturdy, beautifully designed, and easy to use thanks to its intuitive button structure and built-in battery life indicator.
You receive the same basic, no-frills portable speaker in whichever colour scheme strikes your fancy. Playback over Bluetooth is standard (a dedicated button initiates pairing), and the JBL Connect app’s PartyBoost feature allows you to pair two Flip 5 or two Pulse 4 speakers for stereo playback or simultaneous playback.
There is no built-in microphone for use with hands-free calling or to activate voice assistants like Siri or Google Assistant, and JBL has opted not to include an AUX connector for hardwiring a smartphone or other audio device.
Both of these are unexpectedly missing from the otherwise fully-featured Flip 4, but the older Bluetooth 4.2 protocol it uses is much more out of the ordinary. Not the end of the world, but you won’t be able to take advantage of the increased data transfer rates and an incredible wireless range of up to 240 metres (4.2 offers a range around four times shorter).
JBL sped up the charging process for Flip 5. It now only takes 2.5 hours to fully charge, providing 12 hours of playtime, instead of the standard 3.5.
The larger power output (20 watts) and the newly developed, racetrack-shaped 44mm driver with an expanded cone area for enhanced sonic amplification bode well for an improvement in sound quality.
This theoretical expectation is borne out in actuality. The Flip 5 is like a mongrel with the small-dog syndrome; it barks and yaps for attention, but unlike the mutt, you’ll want to pay attention.
Playing either Mac Miller’s laid-back yet razor-sharp rapping or Explosions in the Sky’s post-rock instrumentalism via the JBL’s tiny speaker elicits the same result: crystal clear sound with plenty of detail and just a hint of dynamics.
If we weren’t already familiar with JBL’s commitment to high-quality sound, we might be surprised by how crisp and melodic this very modest speaker actually is. In fact, we’re reminded of it in a good way.
The speaker’s low end is quite impossible to fault with Gone by Charli XCX and Christine and the Queens, as both the hollow baseline and sharper percussion come through thick, quick, and defined.
The voices that wash over the electronica are just as alluring, and they come through with the same clarity and precision, and the Flip 5’s spaciousness and rhythmic aptitude help ensure that everything in the mix works together seamlessly.
The music doesn’t require a loud volume setting for us to be interested; but, when we do turn up the level and provide an expansive soundstage, the music doesn’t become distorted or overly compressed. The Flip 5’s strong ability to project sound beyond its compact size means that we don’t have to sit particularly near to it. You can be several metres away from the source of the music and still find yourself singing along (frisbee, anyone?).
Although its basic design may turn off some consumers, JBL was able to focus on sound quality, making the Flip 5 an excellent affordable portable speaker.
The speaker’s sleek build and waterproof IPX7 rating make it perfect for usage in any setting.
Thus, JBL’s reputation for producing high-quality wireless speakers maintains its precedence. On behalf of everyone who values mobile access to high-quality music, please keep going.