JBL has long dominated the portable Bluetooth speaker market with its rugged and great-sounding Clip, Flip, and Charge speakers, but apart from a few smart soundbars, it has never taken a serious shot at Sonos’ wireless multiroom crown. Until now. Today, JBL has launched a family of three retro-style portable wireless speakers it calls the Authentics. With prices that range from $330 to $700 and a huge list of Sonos-like features — including Dolby Atmos — it’s clear that JBL is no longer content to just be the wireless speaker you take to the beach. The Authentics will be available to buy starting September 17; here’s everything you need to know.
These are not the first wireless JBL speakers to bear the Authentics label. That name goes back to 2014, when JBL introduced the Authentics L8 and L16, a set of wooden veneer, Quadrex foam grille speakers that sounded fantastic — if you could get around their steep prices. They were also way ahead of their time, with support for Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, Apple AirPlay, DLNA, and lossless hi-res audio at 24-bit/96kHz.
The new JBL Authentics pick up right where the L8 and L16 left off. They still sport the Quadrex foam grille that harks back to the 1970 JBL L100 Century, but they’ve traded the wood surround for an aluminum frame with a synthetic leather-wrapped enclosure. They still offer Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, but they’re no longer standalone wireless speakers. Through the JBL One app, you can manage multiple Authentics throughout your home, browse and play music through integrated streaming services, and access EQ settings for each speaker.
Each Authentics speaker can also auto-tune itself using its built-in microphones, which can be disabled with a physical switch located on the back side. The speakers also have an impressive array of physical controls: play/pause, track skipping, rotary dials for volume and more, plus power, Bluetooth, and a dedicated button for accessing saved favorite items from the app.
In addition to Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, the speakers can be hardwired via Ethernet, and there’s a 3.5mm analog line-in for connecting devices like turntables. A USB-C port has also been included, but JBL hasn’t said how this will be used.
If some of that sounds familiar, it’s because it’s pretty much the formula that Sonos has been using for years. But JBL has managed to upstage Sonos in one very big way: the new Authentics can run Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa simultaneously. Once both have been set up in the JBL One app, you can say “Hey, Google” or “Alexa” and the relevant voice assistant will respond.
When Sonos first announced its now-discontinued Sonos One smart speaker, the wisdom at the time was that at best, a smart speaker like the Sonos One could be compatible with both Alexa and Google Assistant, but it couldn’t run them both at the same time. That same wisdom suggested that this restriction was a Google rule, not a fundamental technical limitation on Sonos’ speakers.
Google seems to have gotten over its reluctance to work on the same device as Amazon’s AI. “We’re thrilled to collaborate on the first simultaneous Google Assistant and Alexa speaker,” said Duke Dukellis, Google’s director of Google Assistant, in a press release, “so that users have the choice to engage with whichever voice assistant they’d like.”
Amazon is apparently happy with the collaboration too: “Amazon has long supported giving customers the freedom and convenience to use multiple assistants on a single device with our Voice Interoperability Initiative,” said Aaron Rubenson, Amazon’s vice president of Alexa, “and we’re delighted to make Alexa simultaneously available with Google Assistant on the new JBL Authentics speakers.”
This has got to make Sonos just a little angry. Not only was it never permitted to run both assistants simultaneously on any of its smart speakers, but its most recent Era 100 and Era 300 smart speakers aren’t currently compatible with Google Assistant at all, leaving its users to choose between Amazon Alexa and Sonos’ own Sonos Voice Control voice assistant.
At the launch of the new Era speakers, Sonos said its legal fights with Google had nothing to do with the speakers’ lack of Google Assistant support, but these new Authentics speakers from JBL make us question that claim.
The top-of-the-line JBL Authentics 500 ($700) becomes the second-ever non-soundbar wireless speaker to delivers Dolby Atmos Music compatibility (the $449 Sonos Era 300 was the first). Unlike the Era 300, which has drivers that aim upward and to the sides (in addition to forward), all of the Authentics’ main drivers are forward-facing: there are three 1-inch tweeters and three 2.75-inch midrange woofers, along with a huge 6.5-inch downfiring subwoofer powered by 270 watts of amplification.
Another difference between the Era 300 and the Authentics 500: The Era processes 5.1.2 channels, with no virtualization, whereas the Authentics 500 processes 3.1 channel sound and uses virtual Dolby Atmos for height and surround channels.
The JBL Authentics 300 ($430) is the portable speaker of the lineup, and similar to the $399 Sonos Move, it has a replaceable rechargeable battery that can provide up to eight hours of playtime. The company says it delivers 360-degree sound with distinctive highs and deep bass.
The entry-level Authentics 200 ($330) takes a page from the Sonos Era 100, with stereo sound via a pair of 1-inch tweeters. There’s also a full-range 5-inch woofer and a downfiring 6-inch passive radiator, which could help the 200 deliver very impressive bass for its size.
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