Back in the 1980s, it was fairly common to see local yoofs carrying large stereo systems, or 'boomboxes', in readiness for a bit of spontaneous breakdancing. We were never that cool (or agile enough to spin on our head), but if that recollection has left you feeling nostalgic for your misspent youth, the good news is that you can now relive those hazy days, as the classic boombox design has made a bit of a comeback.
The cassette players of old have been replaced – although more and more bands are revisiting the humble cassette – with streaming technology, but in terms of basic shape and portability, well, you might as well go and get your Run DMC hat now.
One such device is the JBL Boombox 2 ($499/£479), an American-made system whose aerodynamic form, carry-handle and power (it's one of the loudest Bluetooth speakers available today) make it an ideal candidate for breakdancing excursions.
Let's be honest, though – it isn't (sadly) the 1980s any more and, chances are, you're not as flexible as you once were, so how about we knock that plan on the head and stick to family barbecues, picnics and other sensible things that people do when they're middle-aged? Sound harsh? As Run himself once said, that's just the way it is.
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JBL Boombox 2 review: Design
Compared with most of the other portable products on our loudest Bluetooth speakers list, the JBL Boombox 2 is a fairly lightweight device, measuring 48.5 x 20.1 x 25.7cm (19.1 x 7.9 x 10.1 inches) and tipping the scales at 13 pounds (5.9kg). Despite being ever so slightly bigger and heavier than the original Boombox, you should have no trouble carrying it, especially as the speaker's distinctive large handle is grippier than the old one.
The original JBL Boombox's sleek, cylindrical shape has been retained, meaning you won't feel self-conscious as you lug the speaker around in public. It's a stylish bit of kit with a durable canvas cover (you can get it in black or natty camouflage) and large motifs at either end where the exposed passive radiators are. As with its predecessor, the JBL Boombox 2 features a small plastic base, which means the whole unit doesn't sit flush on the floor. We find that a bit grating, but it's a personal taste thing and you might love it.
As for the controls, they're pretty much the same as before. So, you get buttons for power on/off, play/pause, volume up and down, Bluetooth pairing and PartyBoost (which enables you to pair with other JBL speakers – more about that in a second). To skip tracks, you need to double-press the play/pause button, which we find a bit of a fiddle as you can easily end up pausing your music by accident.
The only difference is that the Bluetooth pairing and PartyBoost buttons have changed places – oh, and the horizontal row of LED battery indicator lights has been replaced with a more prominent vertical one.
Around the back are your ports, which include a 3.5mm aux-in, a USB port for charging your phone or tablet (the original had two), and a microUSB port in case you need to do any servicing. Note that the speaker does not come packaged with any leads, bar the power adaptor.
JBL Boombox 2 review: Features
If you thought the original JBL Boombox was loud, then reach for your ear muffs because this one is even louder – its 101dB of volume trumps the previous model's 80dB. That's still not as deafening as some of the products out there, but it's plenty loud enough to get a modest party started. Powering all of this racket are two 40W RMS woofers and a pair of 40W RMS tweeters. That's when the speaker is connected to the mains; on battery power, the output reduces to 30W.
Pairing with a smartphone or tablet comes via Bluetooth 5.1, which is an upgrade on the original JBL Boombox's 4.2. You can also pair with up to 100 other JBL speakers as long as they contain the company's proprietary PartyBoost technology and are within about 45 metres (50 yards) of each other. Just don't expect to be popular with your neighbours!
The JBL Boombox 2's stated battery life – 24 hours – is the same as its predecessor's. While that sounds impressive, it assumes that you'll be using the speaker at mid-volume. In our tests, cranking it up to full power reduced the playtime to less than half of that. Also bear in mind that it takes 6.5 hours to recharge the speaker to full capacity, so if you run out of juice mid-party, you could be waiting a long time to get things going again.
Finally, this speaker has been designed to cope in adverse weather conditions. In fact, its IPX7 rating means it'll survive for up to 30 minutes while submerged in a metre of water.
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JBL Boombox 2 review: Sound
As we're sure most of you readers do, we love a bit of volume here at Louder, so we were looking forward to putting the second JBL Boombox 2 through its paces. A quick browse of Amazon Music (opens in new tab) located a rock compilation, and before we knew it we were listening to Whitesnake classic Here I Go Again at the kind of decibels that could stun a squirrel half a mile away. The JBL Boombox 2 coped admirably at higher volumes, and it was only when we cranked it up to about 80% that distortion began to set in.
We weren't surprised to discover that this thing is bassy – it's something JBL seems to revel in – but the lead guitar and vocals were never overwhelmed and generally there was a nice balance to the mix. If we're being totally honest, the JBL Boombox 2 doesn't sound much different to the original speaker, which we should probably have expected since JBL hasn't really changed much inside.
As an aside, we did notice a small amount of lag when using the speaker to soundtrack movies streamed on our phone, so if you're after an audio device that can beef up your blockbusters, you might want to look elsewhere.
JBL Boombox 2 review: The alternatives
If you're looking for something loud and portable but at a much cheaper price, then consider the Anker Soundcore Rave (£199/$220). At 9.8kg (21.61 pounds), it's a tad heavier than the JBL Boombox 2, and its Bluetooth 5.0 technology and IPX4 waterproof rating are also slightly inferior. However, 105dB of power for the price of a one-night hotel stay is not to be sniffed at.
The Boombox 2 not loud enough for you? The Soundboks (Gen. 3) is an absolute beast, maxing out at a ridiculous 126dB. You'll pay handsomely for all this power, though (£720/$1,000) – and at 15.4kg/34 pounds, it's not the kind of thing you can sling over your shoulder, either.