JBL has hit the spot with the JBL Flip 5. Portable speakers get a little samey in this space, and updates are incremental. The Flip 5 isn’t an exception to the rule, but it has refinements that make it an even more attractive option.
Like its predecessor, the impressive JBL Flip 4, the Flip 5 is IPX7 waterproof, dustproof and drop-proof with its tasteful fabric mesh exterior and rubberized end rims. We also see a reprisal of the passive bass radiators on the speakers – now a trademark of JBL.
Let’s get the negatives out of the way. The marketing material for the Flip 5 also boasts an onboard speakerphone, although I could not get it to work for receiving or making calls. It also only uses Bluetooth 4.2 as compared to the current Bluetooth 5.0 standard that boasts better stability.
Controls are straightforward: from left to right we have play/pause, volume up, volume down and JBL’s new Party Boost feature. Party Boost allows more than 100 compatible JBL speakers to be connected – although this feature is limited to other Flip 5 units and is not backwards compatible with Connect+ for now. Double-clicking the play button skips to the next track, but I couldn’t get it to play the previous track with a triple-click.
On the back, we have the power button and Bluetooth pairing buttons that light up to indicate their respective statuses. Further off to the side is a bar indicator that shows the approximate battery charge left.
Further still is an exposed USB-C that is a bit of a double whammy. JBL has long stuck to micro USB on its devices, so seeing a USB-C port is a huge relief. However, it also means that you have to dry the port out before charging, and should avoid placing your speaker on debris like sand – a tall order for a rugged Bluetooth speaker that could very well find it on a beach of all places.
Another issue with I/O is the lack of an aux port, meaning those who use their portable speakers the traditional way would have an issue.
The JBL claims the Flip 5 delivers 12 hours of use with its 4,800mAh battery, but I found it delivered a tad under that when used above half volume. That’s still reasonable and will last most gatherings and parties anyway. Charging was as advertised, completing in around 2.5 hours.
Audio-wise, the Flip 5 is a powerful performer. JBL has opted to utilise a single, larger 44mm x 80mm 20W racetrack-shaped driver as compared to two smaller 40mm, 16W ones on the JBL Flip 4. That’s a smart move, since the only way to fit a larger driver on a cylindrical object with fixed diameter is to use a shape other than the traditional circle.
As a result, audio on the JBL Flip 5 sounds full-bodied with a solid, tight bass that improves when the volume is cranked up. This makes the Flip 5 seem much more powerful for casual listening and for noisy outdoor use cases.
Sting’s Seven Days is a demanding test for speakers and headphones alike, and the JBL Flip 5 performed commendably. The sibilant cymbals and hi-hats did sound recessed while Sting’s crooning pierced to the foreground. Stringed bass induced a rumbling bass, but wasn’t the most defined.
For electronic sounds, SBTRKT’s Hold On was handled beautifully by the Flip 5, with a thumping, tactile kick throughout the track. The marimba beautifully resonated in the background while Sampha’s vocals shone with clarity. This track does have some roominess, but the speaker struggles to lend any spaciousness with its mono, albeit larger driver.
Bobby McFerrin’s seminal Don’t Worry Be Happy shone with good vibes all around. Mellow whistling, percussive finger snaps lead into McFerrin’s lackadaisical, mellifluous baritone vocals.
I did detect a slight background hiss from electronic noise, but that’s only when I held my ear up to the speaker with the music paused. Even in quiet, indoor environments, it would be nigh on impossible to pick up.
With a form factor a tad bit larger than the Flip 4, the Flip 5 still fits beautifully in a bottle pouch, and has the footprint of a Nalgene 500ml (16oz) bottle.
The JBL Flip 5 will be available in ten vibrant colours: Desert Sand, Mustard Yellow, Dusty Pink, Grey Stone, River Teal, Fiesta Red, Ocean Blue, Midnight Black, Steel White, and Forest Green. It will be priced at SGD 179 and be available at all leading retailers.
Two additional “Ocean” and “Forest” special editions will be constructed with 90% recycled plastic material and will come with a biodegradable protective case. These will be available in Singapore at a later date.