JBL Flip 3 Bluetooth Speaker Review
How have I missed this? I'm almost embarassed. I'm usually all over technology, especially when it is audio related but I missed the boat on bluetooth speakers entirely. I'll list below why I "need" one but I really screwed the pooch, and here's why.......
Go into any big box electronics store and the only real thing in audio anymore is the Sonos devices. They are essentially computers, with apps, that stream to bluetooth speakers. And at a premium cost. LogitechMediaServer was supposed to catch on like this but they were a few years ahead of their time. This is one of my favorite devices and my daughter uses it still daily. The Logitech Squeezebox Radio.
Every kid now knows how to manipulate bluetooth because of designer headphones. Once LogitechMediaServer went belly up though they released their media server code as Open Source which has allowed that community to thrive. What I'm saying is Sonos costs money, LogitechMediaServer does not.
Now let's take that a step further. Darn near every app is free. iTunes, Spotify, Tidal, Pandora, TuneIn, iHeartRadio, etc.
YOU DON'T NEED A SONOS OR A LOGITECHMEDIASERVER. ALL YOU NEED IS A BLUETOOTH SPEAKER AND THEN YOU HAVE THE SAME THING!
Your phone, iPad, Android, or Computer is the server. Why do you need Sonos to play the Spotify app? You don't. What I'm really saying is a couple of GOOD bluetooth speakers are equivalent or better than a high dollar "system". God, I'm embarrassed I didn't notice that before.
That being said there are still some cool aspects to both platforms and I'm not about to abandon my LogitechMediaServer platform. It's not too late to save yourselves though. :)
I had a couple of minor annoyances that were solved with a bluetooth speaker. First was I am required to drive a government vehicle at work for trips up and down the East Coast which I take somewhat frequently. The Aux In on the radio has failed so no more smart phone streaming my favorite talk radio show from the TuneIn Radio app. Last couple times I just sat the phone on the dash and could barely hear it.
Second, I have a hot tub which I use quite a bit. Nothing better than coffee in a hot tub. To pass the time I put an iPad mini on a suction cup mount and can watch local TV through my Emby Server, or stream YouTube, or Sling, or Netflix or Hulu or whatever. Soon as I take the top off the tub and get all set up the heater and pump usually kick on making it very hard to hear.
So I've contemplated getting a bluetooth speaker for a while. There's only one problem. I'm an AUDIOPHILE, whatever that is, and the thought of a crappy, tinny sounding speaker is way beneath me. Then I started thinking, "this is for talk radio in the truck and action movies in the hot tub".
I never buy anything without reading a hundred reviews, reading the customer forums, and then re-reading all that stuff again. You'd be amazed what you learn about a product reading the customer forums. After the smoke cleared I opted for a JBL Flip 3. Everyone carries them, Target, WalMart, BestBuy as well.
I honestly wasn't expecting much in the way of sound despite all the reviews saying it was one of the better sounding speakers, supposedly sounding better than speakers in more expensive tiers. I did not open the manual initially and found it remarkably simple and intuitive to hook to a computer and use. And it sounds WAY better than I imagined that it possibly could. Impressive for something only slightly longer than my iPhone 6.
I knew I wanted to push this thing to the limit and go somewhere most bluetooth speaker users never go. I wanted to use my home music server to play all my locally stored music (about 6TB, yes 6TB) and stream from my LogitechMediaServer which has Spotify, Tidal, TuneIn Radio, and Shoutcast. I figured I would have to dedicate a Raspberry Pi computer or something to this task then when I read an obscure post on some forum somewhere about streaming LogitechMediaServer via Squeezelite (that is the name of the player used in LogitechMediaServer) to a bluetooth speaker.
The post suggested using an app called iPeng, which I already had, which allows you to control LogitechMediaServer from your phone or iPad. I had forgotten that iPeng creates a media player within the app so you can play music on your iPad or iPhone, which really isn't that useful in itself. But it is very useful if you have a BLUETOOTH SPEAKER!
So now I not only have a bluetooth speaker I HAVE AN EXTENSION OF MY HOME MEDIA SERVER. Here's another cool aspect to this. By connecting my iPad to my OpenVPN server I can access my home music library and for that matter my video media servers (Emby and Plex) and can play all my music at home or watch all my videos or Live TV from my home (and of course stream the audio to the JBL Flip 3). I can watch local news when I'm not at home. Anyway, whatever content is at home can be streamed to wherever I'm at. Think "Free Slingbox".
There are a million screens to iPeng but basically below you can see my apps. Spotify is a selection along the side there as well. Were I to click on "Artists" in the left hand pane it would list my 6TB of music in the middle. Awesome!
Lastly you can control it from a browser as well from your LogitchMediaServer IP address.
Now, what else is cool about this speaker and maybe even not so cool. Let's start with a "Not So Cool".
Like every device in the world now that is basically a computer it has embedded software called firmware. Mine was not up to date. There is only one way to update it and that is to download an app called JBL Connect. Also because you are transferring a file over bluetooth it takes 10 or 15 minutes. A lifetime these days. The program only prompts you about firmware if there is an update available. Other than that it doesn't do too much but does let you do some things that are cool.
The app appears under "iPhone Only" but installs and works fine on an iPad.
Click on where it says JBL Flip 3 and you can change the name of the device.
Lastly it shows you how to connect 2 JBL Bluetooth speakers together which is very, very cool.
Lastly, we'll talk about the sound again. Very, very good sound and tons of bass. So surprising for such a small device. For the price point I don't really think you can go wrong. There are much more expensive bluetooth speakers and I'm not sure the value is there unless you need a device you can drop in the pool and survive or something.
Only thing better than one JBL Flip 3 is two of them! One gotcha though not in the manual. You only connect one speaker via bluetooth to your computer, phone, or tablet. Then you push the Connect buttons on each one. Don't pair both speakers to your device then connect them. It'll cause one to choke for a short period of time and every time you change songs or volume it chokes again. Works perfect if you do it like I said above. Also the JBL Connect app recognizes them and allows you to set them in Party or Stereo mode. Stereo mode, duh.
And if you want to take it on the road with you check out this perfect case that I got from Amazon.
John's Grade: 4.8 of 5 stars. Minor reduction for firmware upgrade process and supposedly no "iPad Only" app.