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JBL Link 20 review: Google Assistant makes a splash on JBL’s brilliant little Bluetooth speaker

Christopher Minasians
24 Aug 2018
Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
129
inc VAT

Want a compact, portable speaker with Google Assistant built-in? JBL’s Link 20 ticks all the right boxes

Pros 
IPX7 waterproofing
Google Assistant built-in
Cons 
Mediocre sound quality
No 3.5mm auxiliary jack
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There’s a seemingly never-ending stream of wireless speakers landing in the Expert Reviews offices, but you can count the number of portable, waterproof models with Google Assistant built-in on the fingers of one hand. Add affordable to that wishlist and they’re rarer still. Thankfully, the good folks over at JBL have created a speaker which, on paper, delivers all of those things and more. Behold, the Link 20.

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JBL Link 20 review: What you need to know

The JBL Link 20 has Google Assistant built in, is IPX7-rated, which means it’s waterproof, and the icing on the cake is that it’s portable, too. It’s seemingly the perfect do-it-all wireless speaker. However, it faces some stiff competition from Amazon Alexa enabled rivals such as the Ultimate Ears Blast and Megablast.

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JBL Link 20 review: Price and competition

At the time of writing, the JBL Link 20 costs £129 – since its launch, the price has dropped substantially from its RRP of £179. There aren’t many speakers on the market that boast an identical array of features, but the Ultimate Ears Blast and Megablast are both fine alternatives which retail at around £120 and £180 respectively. The key difference: UE has chosen Amazon Alexa over Google Assistant.

READ NEXT: Ultimate Ears Megablast review: The best multi-purpose Amazon Alexa smart speaker

JBL Link 20 review: Features and design

If you’re familiar with JBL’s wireless speakers then you know exactly what to expect from the Link 20. The cylindrical design bows outwards with a slight curve around its middle, and the sides are wrapped with a fabric mesh. The soft rubber base makes sure it doesn’t leave any scratches behind, and as it measures a relatively compact 218 x 93 x 93mm and weighs under a kilogram, it’s easy to carry around.

Its key selling point, however, is that it’s waterproof. As it’s IPX7-certified, you can submerge the Link 20 for up to 30mins at a depth of 1m. This is one smart speaker you can take to the pool without having to worry about it getting splashed or falling in the water.  

The physical controls are pleasingly simple. Flip back the rubber seal at the top of the speaker and you’ll find five physical buttons: volume up/down, play/pause, Bluetooth and a dedicated Google Assistant button. When the speaker is on, you’ll also see four white LEDs along the top edge. There’s also an illuminated Wi-Fi logo at the bottom of the speaker.

Around the back, there’s a power button with five small LEDs which indicate how much battery life is remaining. A convenient mute button is also located here – once activated, this illuminates in red, and the front four LEDs turn red, too. There’s also an audible cue, but this can be a tad annoying if you frequently mute the speaker.

The speaker is charged through a microUSB port, which is found along the bottom edge. It takes a few hours to charge, but will last you around 10hrs of playback – of course, your mileage may vary depending on how much you use the Link 20, and how loud you like your music.

The Link 20 packs Bluetooth and 2.4GHz and 5GHz 802.11n Wi-Fi connectivity, which is required for Google Assistant to work. Unfortunately, though, there’s no 3.5mm auxiliary jack and no aptX codec support

The Link 20’s biggest feature is voice control. Thanks to its integration with Google Assistant, you can ask the speaker a whole range of questions – from asking about the weather to setting a reminder in your Google Calendar. Personally, as I use a lot of Google services, I find Google Assistant much more useful than Amazon Alexa.

In my experience, Google’s virtual assistant seems to handle complex questions far better than its Amazon-branded rival, and another major boon is that Link 20 integrates with all of Google’s products, including Google Home and Chromecast seamlessly. Factor in its portability and it’s a great addition to have around the house, as it means Google Assistant is always within earshot.

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JBL Link 20 review: Sound quality

There are two full-range 50mm drivers housed inside the JBL’s shell. With 10W of amplification behind each of these drivers, the result is a speaker that’s loud enough to make itself heard in a medium-sized living room or add a little ambience to a small outdoor gathering. Be under no illusions, hower: it isn’t anywhere near as loud as its siblings, the JBL Boombox and the Xtreme 2.

As for sound quality, it’s distinctly average. The Link 20 struggles to keep up with songs that have a deep pronounced sub-bass response, and the sub-bass in Rick Ross - Diced Pineapples simply cuts off, while its pronounced mid-bass punch is uncontrolled. However, this is to be expected from such a compact speaker – even capable rivals such as the Ultimate Ears Blast struggle in this domain, too.

The exaggerated mid-bass can leave voices and higher frequencies sounding rather distant and dull, and the extreme highs are rolled off. Vocals in songs like Chris Brown - Fine China just don’t sound as lively as they should; the Link 20 is nowhere near as exciting as the UE Megablast, for instance.

Thanks to its design, though, the Link 20 does a good job of projecting sound through 360 degrees, which means no matter where you sit in the room, you can enjoy your music. However, while there’s enough clarity to deftly separate layers of instruments and voices, don’t expect an expansive soundstage – much like the UE Blast, the Link 20 sounds rather closed-in.

This might all sound a bit negative, but I am aware that I am being highly critical. Compared to more expensive speakers such as the UE Megablast, Sonos One, JBL Boombox and Xtreme 2, the Link 20 is significantly inferior. However, compared to the UE Blast, it’s near-identical; which is probably a fairer comparison. And, crucially, both these speakers outclass the likes of the Amazon’s Echo 2, the Echo Plus, and even the JBL Link 10.

READ NEXT: JBL Xtreme 2 review: The best Bluetooth speaker under £250

JBL Link 20 review: Verdict

The JBL Link 20 is simply the cheapest, most versatile Bluetooth speaker with Google Assistant built-in. It might not outperform larger rivals for sound quality, but its blend of sound quality, smart assistant convenience and sensible design are hugely appealing all the same.

If you’ve not made your mind up between the Ultimate Ears Blast and the JBL Link 20 then it’s a fairly simple decision: If you’re heavily invested in Amazon’s services and have other Alexa enabled devices, then buy the Blast. If, however, you prefer Google’s suite of products, then the Link 20 will prove to be the perfect choice.