JBL Voyager BT Speaker

JBLVoyagerJBL have attempted to try something a bit different with the JBL Voyager. It’s circular, mains powered, has Bluetooth and a 3.5mm input but also has a rather clever pop out portable disk that functions independently of the main unit and can go anywhere with you. Clever eh?

The clever continues with the overall design. I really like the way it looks- the mixture of metallic, white and clear gives it a very clean look, especially when it’s combined with the circular look. It’s a 2.1 device- stereo speakers and a built in sub-woofer, which is a bit counter-intuitive given that it’s circular.

Pairing my phone (Nexus 5 on Kitkat) with the JBL Voyager was painless. Browsing my network shares via ES Explorer and picking what to listen to was equally good. I have to admit to a near brown trouser moment when I hit play on The Who’s Baba O’Reilly though, as I hadn’t quite anticipated how loud the JBL Voyager actually went. Once I’d checked I’d not woken the whole house up, I tried again with a slightly lower volume level. The manual says it outputs 7 watts per channel. What that means in total output I don’t know but it goes plenty loud enough without distorting, that’s for sure.

I set the JBL Voyager up in our library, which doubles as a computer room cum study. I like to sit in the easy chair and listen to music while reading a book (or a comic), so that was quite a good experiment in listening.

Now for the clever bit, the detachable portable speaker. Basically the base unit is the sub-woofer, and the disc contains the speakers. It’s held in with magnets and comes out fairly easily. I would have liked to have seen a carry pouch in the box for taking it out and about, because given how smart the unit and base unit looks, it would be a shame to scuff it in my manbag.

In terms of using the disc, it has a pretty good sound for a portable BT speaker. The battery life isn’t bad either but the clever trick is you can pop it back into the dock when you’ve finished pottering around the house (ie you’ve taken it to the bog with you) and it doesn’t stop but carries on playing with the sub-woofer kicking in. Nice.

So this brings us down to the price. £229. This is about the same as you could expect to spend on a SONOS Play:3 which is a fair bit cleverer in terms of using wifi and being a proper home music system. But, and it’s a big but, the SONOS does have it’s limitations in terms of portability, requiring it’s own special app and obviously lacking bluetooth for simple phone pairing and music play. The Play:3 also doesn’t have an AUX in, you have to pay a lot more for the Play:5 to get that functionality. Crucially though, the JBL Voyager sounds every bit as good as the Play:3. And that’s something I didn’t expect to be saying. The fact that you could easily pay £70-£150 for a portable wireless speaker of the quality of the disc to my mind probably tips the balance in favour of the JBL Voyager when it comes to value for money. I like my SONOS (we’ve got 2 Play:3’s and a Play:1, and I’m lusting after a Play:5) but I have to say I was genuinely surprised at how well the sound compared on the Voyager, especially given I was expecting a compromise in sound given the detachable speaker disc.

So far I’ve built up 20 or so hours of use on the JBL Voyager, enough time to warm the thing up properly and get an honest feel for how it sounds.

This is a review unit I’ve been lent, it’s going back in a few days. The opinions here are mine and I’ve not been reimbursed to share them. I’m good like that.