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JBL Xtreme 4 review: a sweet-sounding battery beast with AI smarts

The JBL Xtreme 4 Bluetooth speaker. [Embargoed image 06/03]
JBL Xtreme 4
MSRP $380.00
“The JBL Xtreme 4's bold and sweet sound, boundary-pushing battery, and rugged design make it the premium Bluetooth speaker to beat this year.”
Pros
  • Warm, rich, and dynamic sound
  • Clear at higher volumes
  • Insane 30-hour battery life
  • Replaceable battery
  • IP67 waterproof rating
Cons
  • Expensive
  • No AUX input

I spend a ton of time at the beach in the summer. And while at first glance my huge, thatched Billabong hat, mirrored sunnies, and oversized Yeti may scream beach bum, make no mistake: I am hard at work. You see, there isn’t a Best Buy on Earth that can compete with the selection of Bluetooth speakers found on a sweltering, crowded beach. A walk along the shoreline is an endless mashup of sounds, from club bangers to classic rock anthems and oh so much Tay. And as I walk, there’s one speaker brand that catches my eye more than any other: JBL.

The American audio maker has built a reputation for its well-designed and premium-priced speakers that consistently sound better than most. Its portable Flip and Charge speakers are mainstays on our best Bluetooth speaker lists, and the mid-sized Xtreme 3 speaker it released in 2021 was widely praised, making it a tough act to follow.

At CES in January this year JBL announced that it would finally be updating the popular speaker, along with the new Clip 5 and Go 4 mini speakers, and that time has come. The JBL Xtreme 4 launched today in the U.S. and, happily, JBL has left it well enough alone … for the most part — it’s still powerful for its size at 100 watts, still sounds sweet and bold, and still makes good on its “Xtreme” moniker with its IP67 ruggedness rating.

But JBL has also seen fit to make some improvements where it counts, including the addition of Auracast Bluetooth connectivity, some AI-powered sound optimization tech, and, most impressively, an upgraded (and replaceable!) battery that boasts a predecessor-scorching 30 hours of playtime.

The JBL Xtreme 4 could be the best Bluetooth speaker of the year for its class, but is it worth its $380 price? It’s a tough job, I know, but I logged a lot of beach time to find out.

Out of the box and setup

The JBL Xtreme 4 Bluetooth speaker. [Embargoed image 06/03]
The JBL Xtreme 4 with its USB-C charger and rugged strap. Derek Malcolm / Digital Trends
I’ve been reviewing a lot of Bluetooth speakers lately, and one thing that has set the JBL Xtreme 4 apart from the others is just how much more premium it feels. JBL really has nailed this over the years, and I was reminded of that as soon as I pulled it out of the box.

The speaker comes securely wrapped in a felt-like bag and is packed in recyclable cardboard that features fold-up handles that make it easy to slide out. It’s also nice to see that JBL has included a solid power-brick-to-USB-C charging cable and not just a solo cable … or no cable at all.

The Xtreme 4 also comes with a quality nylon strap that clips to the speaker by way of two metal carabiners, and it also features the requisite bottle-opener buckle. Do you need a bottle opener on your speaker strap? Some would argue, no. I am not one of them. It is a nice touch.

The JBL Xtreme 4 Bluetooth speaker. [Embargoed image 06/03]
Yep, that buckle doubles as a bottle opener. Derek Malcolm / Digital Trends
A quick-start guide in the box gives you everything you need to know about the Xtreme 4, including how to pair it with your phone or other devices, which is dead simple. I didn’t even need to put the speaker into pairing mode — I just opened my phone’s Bluetooth preferences and it found it and paired it. Re-pairing is easy enough as well by holding down the dedicated Bluetooth button on the speaker.

The quick-start guide also has a helpful QR code that you can scan for downloading the well-designed JBL Portable app, which I already had installed on my device from other JBL speakers I own.

Design

The JBL Xtreme 4 Bluetooth speaker. [Embargoed image 06/03]
Made with recycled nylon and plastic material, the Xtreme 4’s design is simple but premium. Derek Malcolm / Digital Trends
Not to belabor the point here, but JBL makes gorgeous Bluetooth speakers, and the Xtreme 4 is no exception. JBL says that the speaker is made with recycled fabric and plastic, the former of which is a tightly weaved mesh that wraps almost entirely around it, much like the previous generations of this speaker. It’s available in blue, black, and camo.

I wasn’t sure how well the fabric covering was going to hold up on the beach, and while I didn’t roll the thing around in the sand, there were definitely some grains stuck in the mesh later. Luckily, though, the Xtreme 4 has an excellent IP67 dust and waterproof rating (it can be submerged in a meter of water for up to 30 minutes), so spraying the sand out in the sink later was a cinch.

The JBL Xtreme 4 Bluetooth speaker. [Embargoed image 06/03]
An IP67 waterproof rating means the the Xtreme 4 will crank it out, even in water. Derek Malcolm / Digital Trends
The Xtreme 4 is about the size of a rugby ball at 11.7 inches long by 5.9 inches tall by 5.5 inches deep. And it’s not heavy but feels substantial and sturdy for its size at just 4.6 pounds. Hanging from my shoulder during the slogs to and from the beach, or wherever else I trekked with it, didn’t bother me in the least.

On the back of the speaker, things get minimalist. Embedded in the fabric covering, all there is is a cylindrical plastic tag with the Xtreme 4 model name on it and the USB-C port. That’s it. The USB-C port, of course, can be used for charging and as a power bank for charging other devices, which my daughter and her friends made use of several times.

Lastly, on the bottom of the Xtreme 4 are two thick and grippy rubber feet, and one of the most important new features of JBL’s 2024 speaker crop: a panel that you can open with a screwdriver that gives you access to the removable battery. Yes, removable battery.

At CES this year, JBL announced that, in an effort to be more eco-friendly and increase the longevity of its products, that the batteries of several of its 2024 speakers, including the Xtreme 4, Clip 5, Go 4, and a couple of its PartyBox party speakers, will be replaceable. While a replacement battery will run you $100, the move ensures your speakers won’t end up in a landfill sooner than they should and that they last much longer.

Speakers, power, and controls

The JBL Xtreme 4 Bluetooth speaker. [Embargoed image 06/03]
Physical button control means you won’t have to grab your phone for simple functions. Derek Malcolm / Digital Trends
Behind the Xtreme 4’s mesh covering and JBL logo sit four drivers, just as they did in the Xtreme 3. That includes two 2.75-inch woofers and two 0.75-inch tweeters, and then of course on both sides of the speaker sits a single 2.75-inch bass radiator also brandishing the JBL exclamation mark logo.

JBL has decided to keep the power output of the Xtreme 4 the same as Xtreme 3, because if it’s not broken, don’t fix it. When plugged in to AC power, the speaker will pump out up to 100 watts RMS total (30 watts from each woofer and 20 watts from each tweeter), and when running off the battery, it’s just slightly less at 70 total watts (20 watts from each woofer and 15 watts from each tweeter). I couldn’t tell the difference in output when switching back and forth, but don’t worry — for a speaker this size it gets plenty loud.

The JBL Xtreme 4 Bluetooth speaker. [Embargoed image 06/03]
Two passive radiators on the Xtreme 4 deliver some of its big bass sound. Derek Malcolm / Digital Trends
The controls on the JBL extreme are also nicely done. I always like to see physical buttons on Bluetooth speakers because that means you don’t have to reach for your phone to do simple things like turn up the volume or skip a track, regardless of who’s device it’s paired to.

The Xtreme 4’s buttons are cleanly designed, well laid-out on top of the speaker, and do what buttons do. The play button cleverly performs multiple functions — one click pauses and plays tracks, two clicks skips a track, and three clicks goes back a track — and there are big, tactile up-and-down volume buttons that are easy to find in the dark because, in contrast to a lot of Bluetooth speakers on the market now, the Xtreme 4 does not feature any kind of LED light show like the Soundcore Boom 2, and I am totally fine with that.

This brings us to another new addition to the Xtreme 4 (and other 2024 JBL speakers): Auracast. The new Bluetooth technology allows, among many other things, the Xtreme 4 to connect to an unlimited number of other JBL devices with Auracast (such as the new Clip 5, Go 4, and other speakers to come) to create a bigger sound profile and even a multiroom setup. You can also use it to create a stereo pair with another Xtreme 4, and the speaker will still connect to older PartyBoost-capable JBL speakers through the handy JBL Portable app.

Battery life

One of the biggest improvements to the Xtreme 4 that it has over the Xtreme 3 is battery life. JBL has managed to eke out a whopping 24 hours of playtime on a charge (nine hours longer than the Xtreme 3), but a new feature called Playtime Boost lengthens that an additional six hours to an even more impressive 30 hours in total.

The replaceable battery for the JBL Xtreme 4, taken at CES 2024.
JBL showed off its new replaceable battery at CES 2024 earlier this year. Derek Malcolm / Digital Trends

Playtime Boost is activated through the JBL Portable app, and its only downfall is that activating it disables the speaker’s EQ, causing a significant reduction in all that big and warm JBL tone and low-end punch. It could be a small price to pay, though, if you find yourself, say, on a camping trip and just want to get the most music time out of the speaker before it dies.

The 9,444 mAh lithium-ion battery takes just 3.5 hours to fully charge, and the 59-inch USB-C cable is plenty long for when you’re recharging the speaker. You’ll need your own cables for charging your devices, though.

Sound and performance

The JBL Xtreme 4 Bluetooth speaker. [Embargoed image 06/03]
The JBL Xtreme’s IP67 rating make it durable enough for sand and sea Derek Malcolm / Digital Trends
There are definitely speakers out there that cost less, are more powerful, and offer more features than the Xtreme 4, but few have even come close to sounding as good as this speaker has. The JBL Xtreme 4 is the best-sounding Bluetooth speaker I’ve heard all year.

Out of the box, the Xtreme 4 comes pre-tuned to the company’s own JBL Signature EQ preset. Billie Eilish’s latest, Hit Me Hard and Soft, has been on repeat at my house, and so I spun that up on the Xtreme 4 first at around 50% volume, because why not?

When the deep bass kicks in at the 20-second mark of Lunch, my eyebrows went up. What I got was smooth-as-silk low end, a mid-jab that hit me in the upper chest, and then lively and controlled highs that accentuated the snare and Billie’s signature breathy vocals. All this and I hadn’t touched the EQ settings in the app.

So, let’s talk about that app. While it is a bit limited (more on this later), the Portable app gives you everything you need to dial in the sound the way you like it. There are four EQ presets: JBL Signature, Chill, Energetic, Vocal, and Custom, which gives you a five-band EQ that ranges from 64Hz to 16,000Hz.

The Xtreme 4 performs really well across all these EQ presets and caters to the dynamics of the songs you’re playing, as a good speaker should. This may be because of the new AI tech that JBL has put into the Xtreme 4 — AI Sound Boost — that the company says, “analyzes audio in real time with an AI algorithm to optimize the acoustic output level, leading to more powerful and crystal-clear sound.”

Additionally, the Xtreme 4 has taken a step forward from the Xtreme 3 in terms of frequency response, now delivering a deeper range of from 44Hz to 20,000Hz, over the Xtreme 3’s 53Hz to 20,000Hz.

The JBL Xtreme 4 Bluetooth speaker. [Embargoed image 06/03]
SUP? The Xtreme 4 is safe for all your beaching. Derek Malcolm / Digital Trends
I usually like to test speakers with all EQ settings set to flat, which I also did here, but I liked the JBL Signature setting so much that I kept going back to it. It gives things a bit of a bass and mid-high boost, and if I’m honest, the flat EQ (that you set using the Custom option in the app) needs a bit of a boost in the low and high frequencies for my liking.

I really felt the dynamics when playing Foo Fighters’ hit Everlong, which has some great whisper-to-a-scream moments. At around 60% volume (which is pretty loud in small spaces like my home office), things like cymbals and mid-heavy guitars can take their toll, and I did feel a little fatigue. But I’m an idiot and like my music on the loud side. Turning things down helps a lot, and with softer music styles like folk, jazz, and pop, it’s obviously less of a problem, but the Chill EQ setting is also an excellent way of softening any piercing highs.

The Energetic preset does just that: adds some sparkle with a lower-mid boost, and Vocal goes ever further with the increased mids and reduced highs to bring vocals to the forefront if you really like to hear the lyrics. Tracks like the Flaming Lips’ Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots and the Beatles’ Blackbird sound beautiful on these settings. And don’t get me started on Eilish’s track The Greatest — a soaring, atmospheric gem soaked in reverb that the Xtreme 4 just loved.

The JBL Xtreme 4 Bluetooth speaker. [Embargoed image 06/03]
Derek Malcolm / Digital Trends

My only request would have been for JBL to offer the ability to save custom EQ settings, or even modify theirs for saving, too. I loved the JBL signature, for example, but I’d have loved it more with a little less high-end.

I played all kinds of music through the Xtreme 4 and in different settings — big rooms, small room, bathrooms, at the beach, in the hot tub, and in the lake (it floats and still sounds good) — and it delivered consistent performance. At its highest volumes the speaker maintained its fidelity, never breaking up, and it bested the clarity and dynamics of larger, more powerful speakers like the 140-watt Soundcore Boom 2 Plus ($250). It also outperformed one of my favorites, the excellent Marshall Middleton ($300), in terms of richness of sound and articulateness.

Should you buy it?

The JBL Xtreme 4 Bluetooth speaker. [Embargoed image 06/03]
Derek Malcolm / Digital Trends

Let’s be honest: The biggest hurdle for anyone considering the Xtreme 4 is going to be its price. $380 is nothing to sniff at, and as I mentioned earlier, there are other, less-expensive options out there if all you want is something loud, sounds decent, and is rugged enough for all your summer fun. Not to tug on this ancient adage, but with the Xtreme 4 you get what you pay for.

First, you’re getting step-up, AI-driven JBL sound that you’ll appreciate whether you’re on the beach or listening at home. And you can dial it in with a solid app. You’re also getting a battery that can last an insane 30 hours and that you can replace, which means you’re not going to have to fork over cash for a new speaker for a while. And if you do, you can add another Auracast-enabled JBL speaker to expand your speaker empire.

If price is still a hangup for you, then take a hard look at the Xtreme 3, which you can still get for around $230 and is still a close competitor to its fresh-faced sibling.

All said and done, the Xtreme 4 is premium priced but offers premium sound and features, and is one of the best Bluetooth speakers of 2024 so far.

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Derek Malcolm
Derek Malcolm is a Toronto-based technology journalist, editor, and content specialist whose work has appeared in…
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