JLab offers a straightforward entry into the Bluetooth speaker market. (December 20th, 2012)
Product Manufacturer: JLab
- Loud audio with healthy response - Simple, aesthetically pleasing design - Easy setup
- Standard Bluetooth caveats (fidelity, interference, etc.) - No frills - Full manual not included
It can be pretty difficult to distinguish new Bluetooth speakers these days. After all, by design they're compatible with just about every wireless device, which means that makers can't count on a captive audience. JLab's Bouncer seems unremarkable on the surface, since there aren't any revolutionary technologies here. In our review, though, we'll test whether it holds out as a good speaker nevertheless.
One of the first things I noticed after receiving the Bouncer is that virtually no instructions are included in the box. There is a quick-start guide, but for the full manual JLab points you to its website. That's kind of a cop-out, but at the same time, the guide should be more than enough to get most people going. Plunk the speaker down, plug it in and pair it, and you should be ready to listen.
In fact, there aren't even many buttons on the Bouncer. There's a volume rocker and a call answer button, but even the power button doubles as a way of selecting auxiliary input. Any meaningful control has to be handled through the device doing the streaming, or else an included remote. The remote is nicely built, I should point out -- the layout is such that you should be able to change tracks or inputs by feel.
Aesthetically the speaker is pleasingly simple, essentially a rounded rectangular box with a patterned inset grill and rubber nubs on the base. Buttons are clearly marked, and more importantly, easy to reach. That simplicity extends to the back of the device, where the connections are all grouped together but still far enough apart to give space for your fingers. An unexpected (if not entirely uncommon) bonus is the presence of a USB port, which can be used to charge a device while it's playing. If JLab went that far, however, it's a shame that the port can't also be used as an audio source.
Output is surprisingly powerful. So much so, in fact, that in an apartment or small room, you'll probably be forced to keep the volume well below maximum. Fidelity is a bit more difficult to judge; by its very nature Bluetooth audio is going to sound fuzzier than something pumped over Wi-Fi or a cable. That being said, response is about as good as you can hope for throughout the highs, mids, and lows. It's cutting off frequencies on the top and the bottom, but you'd have to spend far more to get those back, and you probably won't miss them that badly.
Really, the main limitations of the Bouncer are endemic to Bluetooth speakers in general. There's the audio quality issue of course, but you can also only pair one device at a time, which means that you can't stream from your phone, pause, and then start something else up on your notebook, for example. Wireless signals can also be blocked by some walls, so don't assume you'll be able to listen everywhere in your home.
If you can live with that, the Bouncer gets a solid recommendation. I can imagine a few ways of upgrading it -- say with a clock, a track display, or maybe FM radio -- but then it would be a more expensive product. If you just want to listen, the Bouncer will do.