So, Should You Buy the UE Hyperboom or JBL Xtreme 3?

Illustration for article titled So, Should You Buy the UE Hyperboom or JBL Xtreme 3?
Photo: Catie Keck/Gizmodo

These speakers both deliver fabulous sound and their own respective perks, but which is better for you?

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A couple of weeks back, Gizmodo reviewed the JBL Xtreme 3 ($350) and found it to be a surprisingly powerful Bluetooth solution for folks on the go. But several Gizmodo readers asked at the time how it compared to the slightly more expensive Ultimate Ears Hyperboom ($400), which Ultimate Ears calls its “biggest, loudest, boomiest speaker yet.” Having tested both, I think that each makes a solid case for itself. But which speaker you should ultimately shell out for will likely depend on how you actually plan to use it. Both are technically dual-purpose speakers and can easily move between indoor and outdoor applications. That said, they’re far from similarly spec’d, so let’s break it down.

Sound

If there’s one thing that Ultimate Ears does extraordinarily well, even on its much, much smaller speakers, it’s bass—it’s one of the reasons the Boom 3 is our favorite Bluetooth speaker in the $150 category (though you can occasionally find it on sale; Gizmodo’s consumer technology editor Caitlin McGarry found hers for under $80). And here’s the thing about the Hyperboom: While I was testing its audio capabilities, I found I never wanted to stop listening. Everything I put on sounded so damn good on this speaker, regardless of genre or volume—jazz, rap, electronic, you name it. For context about how this device compares to its smaller counterparts, the company says the Hyperboom gets six and half times the bass of the Megaboom 3 ($199). Audio sounded fantastic throughout my apartment as well, something I appreciated as I was moving around. That’s likely owed to the speaker’s adaptive EQ meant to optimize its sound based on the environment, and the companion app for adjusting sound helps as well. The JBL lacks adjustable EQ features.

I tested all the same tracks on the Hyperboom that I tested while I was reviewing the Xtreme 3—a mixed bag of indie, hip-hop, and dance, among other song styles—and the performance winner between the two at top volumes was the Hyperboom, no contest. I literally uttered “whoa” aloud several times during playback of various songs across numerous genres when I was pushing the Hyperboom’s limits at max volumes. The clarity and height alone were enough to place the Hyperboom far ahead of the Xtreme 3 regarding sound, and as expected, bass—the Ultimate Ears secret sauce, as it were—performs exceptionally well. Any track that leans even slightly toward dance or electronic is going to come through like sonic gold on this speaker.

The JBL packs an extraordinary punch for a speaker of its size, particularly since it’s towered over by the 14-inch Hyperboom. And buddy, the JBL gets loud. But it doesn’t perform quite as well at top volumes as the Hyperboom. I found during testing that the Xtreme 3 could get a little fuzzy at higher volumes with some tracks—though I’ll add that this was not the case for every song and that it largely depended on specifically what I was playing. I will say that there’s a noticeable high-volume capability in the Hyperboom that the JBL lacks for general use, but I don’t think that either is a bad choice for mid-range applications. And full disclosure, I tend to push my speakers to their absolute limit regularly, but I realize this isn’t necessarily the normal listening environment for all consumers.

Winner: UE Hyperboom

Illustration for article titled So, Should You Buy the UE Hyperboom or JBL Xtreme 3?
Photo: Catie Keck/Gizmodo
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Design

What I really like about the Hyperboom, beyond its spectacular sound, is its minimalist design. It’s a simple, fairly understated speaker that looks at home as easily on a large countertop or by the pool as it can next to a sofa and look like it belongs there. But keep in mind this is a rather large “portable” speaker, and it’s fucking heavy, too. The speaker does have a discreet rubber handle that sits flush alongside the back but can be slid up to transport the device a bit easier. It weighs 13 pounds, though, which is a little too heavy to throw in a tote to lug around with you—if you can even adequately fit it in one.

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That said, one of the things that I do admire about this particular portable speaker over even other Ultimate Ears models is that it looks nice. It doesn’t try to do anything special, and sometimes that’s the best move for a dual-purpose speaker like this one that’s meant to look as good in your home as it does as an outside party box. It’s one of the few speakers I think actually pulls this off quite well, with the forthcoming Sonos Roam portable being another good example on paper—though we’ve yet to get our hands on one, and that speaker will cost significantly less than the Hyperboom.

The Xtreme 3, meanwhile, has an extremely odd design that truthfully turned me off to the speaker for a serious dual-purpose solution that can move both indoors and outdoors. It’s sort of football-shaped. It has a carrying strap that can clip onto it for transport, and that’s fine given its size.

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But I don’t fully understand what it was JBL was trying to achieve with this design. Even handling it was a little odd—it balances on a series of rubber strips on its bottom. If ruggedness is really what you’re after, then the Xtreme 3 is clearly the better choice between the two, and we’ll get to that in a minute. But speaking purely to design, the Hyperboom takes this category if for no other reason than the JBL looks clunky and a bit bizarre sitting on a bookshelf or countertop.

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Winner: UE Hyperboom

Illustration for article titled So, Should You Buy the UE Hyperboom or JBL Xtreme 3?
Photo: Catie Keck/Gizmodo
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Portability

Alright, so here’s where the JBL Xtreme 3 really shines: It’s a big boy portable speaker that absolutely slaps and can, if you are so determined, probably be thrown in a backpack or tote and transported fairly easily. Or, just use the included clip-on strap for transport! It weighs a mere 4 pounds to the Hyperboom’s frankly outrageous 13 pounds, which makes it a clear choice for an on-the-go party box that gets loud as hell and performs relatively well even at its highest volumes, with some exceptions. I think that’s the biggest difference between these two large Bluetooth speakers: One is actually meant to move with you, while the other can but maybe isn’t as practical if you’re having to transport it for any significant distance.

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The Hyperboom also isn’t quite as durable as the Xtreme 3. With an IPX4 rating, the speaker is splash- and spill-proof. The Xtreme 3, meanwhile, has an IP67 waterproof rating and is also dust-proof, making it a way better solution for outdoor use if there’s going to be any kind of inclement weather showing up or, for example, if you plan to take it camping. Beyond these features, the JBL Xtreme is a device that just feels like it can take a lot harder handling. The Hyperboom felt comparatively far more fragile, so if you’re looking for a big sound speaker that can also weather some heavy wear and tear, I’d highly recommend going with the Xtreme 3 over the Hyperboom.

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Winner: JBL Xtreme 3

Good girl for scale
Good girl for scale
Photo: Catie Keck/Gizmodo
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Value

Okay, so, in terms of the difference of $50, I would say your money is better spent purely on sound and specs alone on the Hyperboom. It’s far more feature-rich. For one, it connects with up to four devices (although the JBL can connect to an unlimited number of JBL PartyBoost-compatible speakers if you happen to casually have, for some reason, multiple JBL party speakers on hand). The Hyperboom has four inputs: two Bluetooth, one auxiliary, and one optical, which together the company says will allow you to “connect four devices and easily switch between them.”

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Both can serve as power banks for your other devices. The Xtreme 3 gets 15 hours of battery life while the Hyperboom claims up to 24 hours of battery life. A good thing to keep in mind, however, is that this battery life will largely depend on how you’re listening. If you’re a monster like I am, you may annoy the hell out of your neighbors with top-volume listening, which will mean reduced battery capacity. But beyond the additional ports on the Hyperboom, you’re also getting additional EQ features on the UE that aren’t present on the Xtreme 3.

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Winner: UE Hyperboom

Overall Pick

Listen, if you’re in the market for a solid portable Bluetooth speaker that can take some rough handling, this one goes to the JBL Xtreme 3 without question. Not only does it make more sense from a portability standpoint, but its wear-and-tear ratings mean that it’s actually made to withstand a decent amount of unforeseeable weather, water accidents, or whatever else may unintentionally occur in its proximity.

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But I think unless you’re looking for a speaker that fits this very specific bill, your money is better spent on the UE Hyperboom. It’s got fantastic sound environment capabilities, it looks just as great next to your couch as it will next to the grill in your backyard, and it’s by far and away the better-sounding Bluetooth speaker solution between the two. You’ll pay a little extra for it, but I don’t think anyone dropping an extra $50 on the Hyperboom will be disappointed with what they hear.

DISCUSSION

Agamemnerd

Bought the Hyperboom and love the sound - but the main reason it won out over the JBL for was for what was described as its “microphone”; I had planned on using it for WebEx/Facetime calls on occasion... turns out the mic is used for dynamic EQ only and is not speakerphone capable (sad).