The Jambox is back. But now, little baby’s all grown up.
The Big Jambox from Jawbone (yes, the hands-free headset people) builds upon the success of the company’s original Jambox portable speaker, keeping the attractive no-frills design, but wrapping it around a larger box that’s louder and has more battery life.
The new model will be available this week at a price of $300. That’s pretty steep for a portable speaker, and a full $100 more than its smaller sibling. But the sound it puts out is much more satisfying, making it worth the extra Benjamin.
Like the original Jambox, the Big Jambox is a simple brick with small speakers inside. It pairs wirelessly with any Bluetooth device to play any audio source you want, it runs on a rechargeable battery, and has a built-in microphone so it can be used as a speakerphone. Unlike the original Jambox, which measures 6 inches wide, 2.2 inches tall and 1.6 inches deep and weighs 12 ounces, the Big Jambox is a beast. It’s 10 inches across, 3.5 inches tall and 3 inches deep, and it weighs 2.7 pounds.
Probably the greatest joy of the original Jambox is its go-anywhere portability — it’s literally small enough to slide into a jacket pocket, a purse or a fanny pack. With the Big Jambox, you lose that. It’s fine in a backpack or a tote bag, but a three-pound brick made of plastic, rubber and perforated steel simply isn’t as travel-friendly.
In exchange for portability, you get much-improved sound. Jawbone loaned me a Big Jambox to test for a week, and I used it in a variety of settings, indoors and out. While the original Jambox does fine for adding a little ambient noise to a dinner party or supplying background music in an office, the Big Jambox commands attention. Sure, you can turn it down when it’s time to play nice, but crank it up and you get an impressively loud and clear speaker system with serious muscle. The highs are crisp and the mids are precise. While the lows could be meatier, the bass response was still better than I expected, given the size of the speakers — it has a stereo pair of 2.2-inch neodymium drivers1 and a pair of rectangular passive radiators (one in front, one in back) to cover the low end, all housed in a sealed cabinet.
It’s even more impressive when you take it outside. I plopped it on the back deck, and it had enough brawn to fill the whole back yard with great-sounding audio. Even when I turned it up as loud as it would go, the distortion was barely perceptible — the things around it started rattling from the vibrations before the speakers began to distort. It employs some compression where needed to keep the distortion at bay, but the audio processing didn’t leave any noticeable sonic fingerprints.
Bluetooth pairing is simple. Just press the “Pair” button on the side and pick the Big Jambox from the list of devices on your screen. I tried three iPhones, an Android tablet, a laptop and an iMac, and it’s obvious Jawbone has the Bluetooth connectivity dance steps down pat. The Big Jambox will remember 8 paired devices at any given time, and its claimed 33 feet of range worked as advertised, though it does require line-of-sight once you get further away than about 20 feet.
The lithium-ion battery lasted over 12 hours in our tests. That’s listening mostly at full volume and making a couple of hour-long phone calls. You can probably eke out another hour or two if you use it at lower volume levels, but either way, it easily lasts long enough for a day at the beach or a party that stretches to the wee hours. A tiny icon in your phone’s status bar shows the speaker’s remaining battery life on iOS devices (natively) and on Android (via Jawbone’s companion app). It takes about 2.5 hours to fully charge it using the included AC adapter. You can also trickle charge it using a USB cable, but you’ll have to leave it plugged in overnight to juice it up all the way.
The Big Jambox comes with Jawbone’s LiveAudio feature installed — basically, a software trick that gives the stereo image a big “3-D” feel via some artificial spatial widening. It sounds cool if you stay seated, centered and perfectly stationary about 3 or 4 feet from the speakers. Stand anywhere else (like across the room) and it sounds like crap. Also, LiveAudio drastically alters the dynamics of recorded music. I only enabled the feature while watching movies, as it generally made music sound worse.
Overall, however, Jawbone’s new speaker sounds great, and I’m a big fan of the design. But its ability to fill a larger room — rather than just add some ambience — is what makes the Big Jambox a success. I’d recommend it, even at the relatively high price of $300. There are similar speakers at $200 or less (Altec Lansing’s $200 inMotion Air IMW725, or Soundfreaq’s $100 Sound Kick) but they lack the power, the speakerphone features, and battery life of the Big Jambox. If you don’t want to make compromises in those areas, you have to spend money.
If you find the original Jambox endearing, but (like me) wish it went louder and offered more clarity, put the Big Jambox on your short list. But beware: it’s more of a hassle to schlep it to a picnic, so I’d only recommend it for people who always carry a backpack, or who mostly use their Bluetooth speakers around the house. If you split your time between a traditional home office and a sunny spot like your back deck or rooftop terrace, this thing is your new best friend.
Note 1. The original version of this story incorrectly stated the size of the drivers. They are 2.2 inches in diameter each.