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JBL Boombox 2 review: A beast of a Bluetooth speaker

Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
400
inc VAT

Loud, bassy and rugged, the JBL Boombox 2 is a force to be reckoned with

Pros 
Eye-catching, retro-inspired design
Beefy sound, especially the bass
Durable and waterproof
Cons 
PartyBoost is not backwards compatible
Only one USB Type-A output
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The JBL Boombox 2 is JBL’s second take on the portable speakers that became cultural status symbols in urban areas during the 1980s and 1990s. It comes three years after the company’s first Boombox and is an update rather than a reimagining, retaining the same structural design while incorporating most of the features found in the original.

The tweaks JBL has made provide an improved user experience overall but a couple of surprising omissions hold the Boombox 2 back from true greatness.

JBL Boombox 2 review: What you need to know

Like its predecessor, the Boombox 2 is a durable, portable speaker. It’s no-frills in terms of what it offers: there’s no Wi-Fi streaming or voice assistant, just Bluetooth connectivity and big sound, especially in the bass department.

Power output has been dialled up a notch second time around, with the speaker’s two drivers outputting 40W RMS each when plugged into the mains and 30W RMS when used on battery power. That’s up from the 30W and 20W RMS it put out when running off the internal battery.

Speaking of battery power, the Boombox 2’s capacity has been cut from 20,000mAh to 10,000 mAh. That reduction doesn’t translate to shorter battery life, though. Thanks to an upgrade from Bluetooth version 4.2 to the more energy-efficient 5.1, the Boombox 2 matches the 24 hours of audio playback offered by the original when used at half volume. When out of battery, it’ll take about six-and-a-half hours to charge.

Making a return from the 2017 version is IPX7 certification, which means the Boombox 2 can be submerged in water up to a depth of one metre for 30 minutes, and the ability to connect to two devices via Bluetooth simultaneously. Sadly, like its progenitor, the Boombox 2 doesn’t support either aptX – which facilitates higher quality audio streaming – or AAC, so you’ll have to make do with SBC.

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JBL Boombox 2 review: Price and competition

The Boombox 2 isn’t cheap at £400, especially for a straight Bluetooth speaker. If you like the design but don’t want to pay quite so much, the first generation model can be picked up for significantly cheaper.

Similar in both weight and price to the Boombox 2 is the Ultimate Ears Hyperboom. The Hyperboom features adaptive EQ but isn’t as portable as the Boombox 2 due to its diamond-shaped tower design. The Dali Katch is a gorgeous, ultra-portable option. It’s a lot more compact than the Boombox 2 and supports aptX but is probably better suited to life indoors.

For those looking for something compact yet rugged, Ultimate Ears also produces the Megaboom 3, which will float in water, making it a top choice for pool parties. It’s less than half the price of the aforementioned options but doesn’t match their power.

If you’re after a cheap and cheerful portable Bluetooth speaker, the Tronsmart Force and Tribit Stormbox are both worth taking a look at and will set you back a fraction of the price of the Boombox 2.

Recommended alternatives and where to buy them:

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JBL Boombox 2 review: Build quality, features and design

In terms of looks, the Boombox 2 is very similar to the original and, for me at least, that’s a good thing. Its cylindrical shape is a departure from the angular boomboxes of yesteryear, with the curvature giving it a more contemporary feel while also making it less awkward to carry. The only real aesthetic changes from the first Boombox are new designs on the exposed passive bass radiators and a redesigned battery indicator.

Housed under a rubber seal on the back of the speaker are the connection ports: there’s a microUSB connector for firmware updates, plus a USB Type-A for charging other devices, one 3.5mm AUX-input and the power connector. One of the strengths of the original Boombox was its ability to charge two devices at once so why we now only get one socket for this is a bit of a mystery. In an ideal world, I’d have liked to have seen both a USB-A and USB-C port included to cover both bases.

At 49cm wide, 20cm deep and 26cm high the Boombox 2 is only marginally larger than its predecessor, which measures 46 x 20 x 25cm. Despite that seemingly minor difference, the Boombox 2 is a fair bit heavier, weighing 5.9kg, a full 650g heavier than the original. It isn’t unbearably heavy by any means – I was able to carry it around both on my shoulder and with a straight arm without any difficulty – but you’re not going to want to lug it around for too long.

One element of the original design that JBL was keen to improve was the speaker’s handle and in this regard, it’s done a good job. There’s now a notched grip on the underside of the handle, which the company says was inspired by motorbike handlebars, that gives you a lot more purchase and ensures it won’t slip out of your hand when wet.

On the surface of the speaker, beneath that handle are the controls and they’re pretty self-explanatory, with individual play/pause, power, Bluetooth pairing, volume up and volume down buttons. Alongside them is the PartyBoost button, which replaces the Connect+ button found on the original Boombox. The feature functions in exactly the same manner as Connect+: simply press the button and you can connect up to 100 (yes, you read that right: one HUNDRED) compatible speakers to each other should you so desire.

With every new generation of portable speakers it releases, JBL seems to release a new platform via which you can connect them. First, we had Connect, then Connect+ and now PartyBoost. While the connection range and stability have increased with each iteration of the technology, it’s not all good news. The three platforms are not compatible with each other so devices can only connect to other devices in their ecosystem.

At present, JBL’s only PartyBoost compatible devices are the Boombox 2, Flip 5 and Pulse 4, although it’s likely that most, if not all, of the company’s portable releases over the next couple of years will include PartyBoost.

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JBL Boombox 2 review: Sound quality

Inside the Boombox 2, the driver setup mirrors that of the original, with two 4in woofers and two 20mm tweeters delivering JBL’s “Signature Pro Sound”. However, where the original Boombox had indoor and outdoor modes – the latter boosting your bass to borderline obscene levels – there’s now just one setting for all environments. The enormous bass that characterised outdoors mode hasn’t been downgraded – you’re still able to feel its power surging through you when in close proximity – but the sound is better balanced across the full audio spectrum.

We criticised the original Boombox for lacking detail in its treble representation and vocals getting lost in the prominent low end. Having listened to numerous tracks across multiple genres, these aren’t criticisms I’d level at the second generation model. At maximum volume, it’s easy to become distracted by the ground-shaking bass but the highs come through clearly and with plenty of presence, too.

The Boombox 2 goes extremely loud: so loud that I had to conduct my sound tests in a cabin at the end of the garden for fear of upsetting those in the house. Even then, my music was audible at a distance of over 100ft. At max volume while running off AC power, the 40W RMS output left my ears ringing after about 20 minutes listening to a variety of tracks. (I probably shouldn’t have stood quite so close!) When not connected to a power source the speaker isn’t quite as loud but it’s still more than loud enough for parties, barbecues and other social gatherings. Just make sure you’ve warned the neighbours before turning the volume right up.

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JBL Boombox 2 review: Verdict

The JBL Boombox 2 is a beautifully engineered beast of a Bluetooth speaker. The bass is outrageous in the best possible way and although you’re now limited to just one sound setting, the speaker sounds great both indoors and outside.

That said, if you have the original Boombox, it’s hard to wholeheartedly recommend what is a pricey upgrade. Sure, you’ll be getting futureproofing in the form of PartyBoost, a more stable Bluetooth connection, an improved handle and a slightly louder speaker with better overall audio quality but £400 is a lot to pay when there’s something sat at home that fulfils the same role.

If, however, you don’t own the first generation and are craving a speaker that’ll let you blast out music anywhere you want, come rain or shine, then the Boombox 2 is well worth a look.

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