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One of the loudest Bluetooth speakers I've tested is not made by Bose or Klipsch

When it comes to Bluetooth speakers, small size usually means small sound. Unless you're talking about the JBL Clip 5.
Written by Jack Wallen, Contributing Writer
The JBL Clip 5 shown with a Pixel 8 Pro for size comparison.

The JBL Clip 5 speaker produces a lot of sound for such a small device.

Jack Wallen/ZDNET

ZDNET's key takeaways

  • The JBL Clip 5 is available for $79 on Amazon.
  • This small speaker packs a serious punch, and can easily last up to 12 hours on a full charge.
  • Its audio can be a bit compressed, and the lows aren't very deep.

I've tested a lot of Bluetooth speakers over the years. For the most part, I find their midrange sound to be lacking, but it's primarily because of the nature of Bluetooth.

Sure, you can find speakers that produce well-defined, dynamic sound with a decent sound stage, clear lows, clean mids, and crisp highs. But the majority of Bluetooth speakers live in the middle ground, where audio quality often takes a back seat to features and decibels.

Also: This wireless portable speaker delivers gloriously smooth sound without much distortion

As far as dB is concerned, Bluetooth speakers tend to generate a level of sound that directly correlates to their size. After all, small drivers can't usually deliver big sound. Unless, of course, we're talking about the JBL Clip 5. This Bluetooth speaker that is no bigger than your palm can pump out some serious decibels -- and without much distortion.

View at Amazon

JBL Clip 5 tech specs

  • Output power - 7 W
  • Dynamic frequency range - 95 Hz - 20 kHz
  • Battery life - 12 hours playing time plus 3 hour with Playtime Boost
  • Dimensions - 3.4 x 5.3 x 1.8
  • Weight - 0.628 lbs
  • Waterproof - IP67
  • Multi-speaker connection with Auracast
  • Bluetooth 5.1
  • Colors - Red, Black, Black/Orange, Blue, Pink, Purple, Sand, Squad, White
  • Price - Amazon - $79

I really appreciate the JBL sound. I've tested quite a few of their products recently, including the JBL Bar 1000 soundbar, which offers a wonderful home theater experience and an unmatched clarity of sound. 

I also understand what to expect from JBL's speakers. The signature sound curve punches up the bass, slightly dips on the lower end of the highs, and then gently rises to the high end of the frequency. It's a clean, active sound that can accurately reproduce audio in a way that is generally pleasing, but not necessarily ideal for every genre. 

The Clip 5 defaults to that JBL signature sound and, in a small form factor, really compresses the soundstage. What does that mean? There's less separation between instruments and/or voices. To the discerning ear, that can sound a bit compressed or "muddy." To the average ear, it's hardly noticeable. 

Also: How to improve noise canceling on Google's Pixel Buds Pro

There is also the JBL Portable app (Android/iOS), where you can select from three different EQ settings (unfortunately, there's no Custom option), upgrade the firmware, group multiple speakers together, and enable PlaytimeBoost.

To test out what this little speaker can do, I connected the Clip 5 to my Pixel 8 Pro, opened Spotify and pressed play on "Analog Kid" by Rush (my go-to test song). To me, the sound was, indeed, compressed but still fairly exciting. I could hear Geddy's bass line clear enough and Neil Peart's drums were as brilliant as ever. There wasn't nearly as much punch as I like on the low end, but this is a small speaker, so I didn't expect to feel the kick drum punch me in the chest. 

Given how challenging Rush can be for speakers of this nature, I moved on to Orbital's "Halcyon And On" and found it surprisingly lively. Yes, the midrange is a bit much for my taste, but crank that baby up and you'll find yourself dancing, whether someone is watching or not.

Also: I'm a fan of Marshall speakers, but I didn't expect its $150 headphones to sound this good

The opening of "The Road Home" (a gorgeous choral piece) by Stephen Paulus was a bit harsh at louder levels and when the chorus really came together it did distort a bit.

Ultimately, however, the big draw of this speaker is how loud it can get. Given the Clip 5's size, you'd think it is capable of maybe half the volume it can produce, but this baby can crank. And with the built-in carabiner clip, you can attach this to just about anything and carry your sounds with you, no matter where you go. Walking, hiking, a day at the beach, on your bike; wherever your journey takes you, the Clip 5 can hang.

ZDNET's buying advice

The JBL Clip 5 comes down to this: If you need big sound from a small device while on the go (and earbuds or headphones won't do the job), this little speaker is everything you need. On the speaker, you'll find a play button and volume buttons to control your music and not much more. The carabiner clip is strong enough that you won't have to worry about it breaking. 

This little speaker is rugged, loud, and will keep you enjoying whatever you listen to for hours.

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