With summer right around the corner, you might want to consider JBL’s Xtreme 3. It’s a durable and portable Bluetooth speaker that delivers a surprising amount of bass for those who like to listen to music even at top volumes.
In many ways, the JBL Xtreme 3 ($350) is a nearly perfect Bluetooth speaker—particularly for outdoor use. As far as cost, the speaker also sits in the sweet spot between being something you want to use outdoors and something that you also want to be able to use as a sound solution in your home. The problem is that the JBL is not an especially nice speaker to look at design-wise—it has a very rugged, built-to-last thing going on. And that’s probably fine for some folks! If aesthetic isn’t an issue for you, then this likely won’t matter. But for those of us who like our multi-function Bluetooth speakers to blend seamlessly into our decor, $350 is a lot to drop on something so chunky and oddly shaped.
The first thing that I’ll say about this speaker is that it gets loud—certainly louder than many of its peers in the same price category, and it definitely gives a fantastic level of bass for its size. That’s due to the four drivers and two JBL bass radiators packed into its football-shaped design that length-wise measures about a foot. In the box, you’ll find a carrying strap that can clip directly onto the speaker so it can be thrown over your shoulder, which is great considering its size. It also charges with a USB-C cable, and the adapter is included in the box. You’ll get up to 15 hours of battery life (depending on your listening habits), and you can use the speaker as a power bank for charging other devices, which is handy.
Here’s the good news: Music sounds great across the board on this speaker. Mitski, for example, sounded beautifully crisp, with all of the lyrics coming through crystal clear without any compromise of bass on “Nobody” even at top volumes—and reader, trust that I pushed the upper limits of this speaker’s capabilities on myriad Sad Girl anthems during the time I’ve spent with this speaker. Punisher was among the albums I tapped for testing practices, particularly since Phoebe Bridgers’ lyrics can sound muffled at top volumes on some Bluetooth speakers (though those tend to be significantly less expensive).
Both “Garden Song” and “I Know the End” gave me clear sound and good treble even at louder volumes. Mitski’s “A Horse Named Cold Air” did get a little fuzzy at higher volumes, but I’ve had the same issue with other Bluetooth speakers and even earbuds with this track as well. (Ditto goes for Max Richter’s “On the Nature of Daylight,” but I noticed this most when I was closer than 15 feet from the speaker.) James Blake’s “I Need a Forest Fire” sounded better at top volumes on this speaker than I’ve heard it on similarly priced speakers in this category—though I’ll say that as with the one Mitski track, it did sound a little fuzzy at the highest volumes during the intro before the first verse and bass kicked in.
The Xtreme 3 shines on bass-heavy tracks for the most part—though at the absolute highest volumes, your mileage may vary. A$AP Rocky’s “Purity” slapped and literally shook my large hardwood kitchen table even at mid-range volumes, as did “Right Thing to Do” by SBTRKT and Jessie Ware. Majid Jordan’s “Forever” sounded fine at mid-range volumes but struggled at higher volumes on the JBL, and I had the same issue when I tried to test the limits of “1991” by Azealia Banks and “Prototype” by Outkast. However, Cardi B’s “Up” and Ty Dolla $ign’s “Ego Death” sounded great at even the loudest volumes.
Now, the thing I’ll say about this speaker is that you’re really paying for consistent bass and clarity. I can’t understate how loud this speaker gets—so much so that I frequently wondered during sound tests whether I was pushing the limits of the graciousness of my neighbors—which makes it a fantastic Bluetooth option for outdoor settings and parties or a single speaker system for, say, a smaller apartment. That it can also be paired with other JBL speakers through JBL’s companion app is a huge bonus if you happen to have a couple on hand. I see this speaker being perfect for summer barbecues and pool parties, particularly since it feels like it can handle tougher handling. It’s also dust-proof and has an IP67 waterproof rating, which is a plus if it’s going to be exposed to the elements.
But I found that for casual listening around the house, when given the choice between the Xtreme 3 and Marshall’s Stockwell II (which retails for $100 less), I tended to reach for the Marshall. I found the sound at mid-range volumes to be a little richer on the Marshall, but again, the JBL is significantly louder and I live in a small space. If I had a larger living space, I probably would’ve opted for the JBL while puttering around so I could hear it from room to room.
With warmer months right around the corner and social distancing still a requirement for safe hangouts, the JBL Xtreme 3 is a strong contender for party speaker of the summer—if you’re willing to shell out the dough for it.