JBL Flip 2 Bluetooth NFC Portable Stereo Speaker Review

I bought one of JBL Flip 2 Bluetooth NFC Portable Stereo Speaker – in white – to use on extended business trips where I often end up working alone in a hotel room and find that instrumental music is a valuable aid to concentration. (A neurologist could probably explain how that works in terms of engaging different areas of the brain, but I find anything with words has the opposite effect and draws me in to listening to the words at the expense of what I’m trying to write.)

JBL Flip 2 Bluetooth NFC Portable Stereo Speaker Review

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JBL Flip 2 Bluetooth NFC Portable Stereo Speaker Review

With Bass Port and Microphone

This speaker is the size of a beer can, weighs a little less at about 400g including its travel case, and charges through a micro-USB cable from an adapter most people, including me, will already be traveling with. (The exceptions can use the neat wall charger that comes in the box.) There will be few trips on which I’m traveling so light that there won’t be room for this.

I bought mine at a big-shed retailer where several brands’ competing speakers were laid out on demonstration stands.

While there’s a limit to what you can learn without playing the same track through everything, at least I wasn’t forced to buy sound-unheard. I’ll refer to the options I rejected as I discuss aspects of the Flip 2’s performance.

Best performance

And perform it does! Not to show off but to put this in context, I love my music, and have some serious gear at home – probably five thousand’s worth – to play it on.

The Flip 2, of course, doesn’t equal that, but nor could I pack the home system into a bag for a trip. But within the limits imposed by its size and price, this little speaker is simply astonishing.

What other reviewers focus

Reviews these days always seem to focus on ‘bass’ but this generally seems to put quantity above quality. One similar speaker I listened to was the Beats Pill, and while the sound from this was certainly more focused on the low end, it offered no hint of musical definition or even what notes the bass was playing, just a muddy drone that made the whole performance unlistenable.

Awful. More disappointing was the UE Mini Boom – similarly small but a box rather than a cylinder – which has been highly praised by some reviewers. It was almost as bad as the Pill in terms of the way it tried to boost the bass, and with no additional clarity in the higher registers, so it simply didn’t sound musical.

Compare to the competitors

(Even more disappointing was the larger and more expensive UE Boom, which didn’t work at all in either of two branches I visited.)

Better by far than any of these was the Bose Soundlink Mini, but this is a hefty box that requires an outboard charger and is twice the price I paid for the Flip 2. And Sony had four offerings on show, but the smallest sounded tinny and to get an acceptable sound meant spending more and accepting too much bulk.

The JBL Flip 2 Bluetooth NFC Portable Stereo Speaker has none of these problems.

Auditioning in the store, I was impressed that it offered usefully more quantity and quality than the tiny (and still impressive for its size and price) JBL Clip, and seemed to be at least the equal of JBL’s own, bigger and more expensive Charge. That – and the offer of a 14-day returns policy – was enough to persuade me to take a Flip 2 home.

Pros:

But since then I’ve gone from pleased to delighted. I’ve spend most of today working and listening, with the Flip 2 about five feet from me and laid horizontally, feeding it with streamed music from Cloudplayer and Pure Music.

Solo piano (Brendel playing Beethoven) is wonderfully convincing, with a clear idea of what the left hand is doing and all the intricate internal rhythms intact. Chamber strings (Mendelssohn) sound natural and balanced, without hardness or screechiness.

Best of all was a full orchestra – an old recording of Dukas’s The Sorceror’s Apprentice – where all the instrumental timbres were present and correct, and even the growling basses sounded properly woody. I’m sure I wasn’t hearing the sub-100Hz fundamental frequencies – a speaker this small can’t physically move that much air – but enough of the harmonics were there for my brain to complete the illusion.

Cons:

What there isn’t, of course, is any imaging or soundstage to speak of, nor can JBL match UE’s party trick of linking two speakers through an app into a stereo pair. But it’s so damn musical and just RIGHT that that – in the context of my travel requirements – simply doesn’t matter.

I should say that I’ve done all my listening at well below halfway on the volume scale. The Flip 2 will go much louder but I doubt I’ll often ask it to – except perhaps to overcome background noise if I use in a holiday-home kitchen.

In a hotel room, to use much more of its capacity would be plain antisocial, and in any case I simply don’t need it any louder – it sounds just right as it is, which probably indicates than JBL has done a good job with the internal amplification; there’s more to a powerful amplifier than sheer volume.

In fact, volume is where the Flip 2 scores its only penalty point: the minimum setting – one more click mutes it completely – is still louder than I’d like for listening to BBC iPlayer speech radio programmes in bed. I suppose I could muffle it with a sock – or just use the iPhone speakers instead – but a little more fine control would be useful here.

Conclusion:

So that’s how the Flip 2 has the music covered. It can also act as a speakerphone, a function I’ll probably make use of but haven’t so far.

If you’ve read this far, you’ll realize I’m hugely impress by this little device. If you’re buying online, do so with confidence but

  • consider your colors carefully: the primary colors look like toys from Early Learning Centre; white and black do justice to the fine design and construction of this speaker; and
  • make sure you’re buying a Flip 2; the original Flip should be cheap now but it requires an outboard charger, not the neat USB charging this one has, and that hurts its practicality for the traveller.

Otherwise, I really can’t speak too highly of this product. I try to hold back fifth stars for things that really have the power to delight, not merely satisfy – and this does exactly that.

We gave the JBL Flip 2 Bluetooth NFC Portable Stereo Speaker 5 star Tech Review

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