JBL Flip 4 review

Test the elements or host a backyard bash with JBL’s Flip 4 Bluetooth speaker

JBL’s life-proof Flip 4 is durable, affordable, and perfect for all kinds of outdoor excursions.
JBL’s life-proof Flip 4 is durable, affordable, and perfect for all kinds of outdoor excursions.
JBL’s life-proof Flip 4 is durable, affordable, and perfect for all kinds of outdoor excursions.

Highs

  • Take it anywhere
  • Durable, waterproof shell
  • Powerful bass response
  • Good battery life
  • Cool connectivity features

Lows

  • Middling clarity in upper register
  • Doesn’t play well with other speakers (yet)

Nobody beats JBL for accessible, affordable audio – especially when it comes to wireless speakers. The company’s Flip and Charge series perennially offer competitive sound quality in rugged, dependable form factors, with each iteration bettering the last. In our JBL Flip 4 Review, we examine the company’s latest take on the tubular sound maker.

For less than $100, the Flip 4 offers a dependable and versatile way to jam out on the go, whether you’re trudging through the elements or just hosting a backyard barbecue. Indoors or out, the Flip 4 brings the beat at a great value.

Out of the box

The Flip 4 arrives in a cardboard box, heavily branded and splashed with some cool renderings of the speaker in action. Pulling the small cloth tab opens the box, revealing some snazzy black-on-black designs. Pulling the affixed plastic tab away removes the sleeve and unveils the Flip itself, a tubular speaker in splashy red, housed in a standard foam casing.

The cardboard sleeve contains warranty info and a quick-start guide, while another smaller, cleverly concealed sleeve is home to the Micro USB charge cable.

Setup

If you’ve ever set up a Bluetooth speaker before, you shouldn’t have much trouble here. Press the power button once and an audio cue will let you know the Flip is alive, while the power LED glows white, indicating that the speaker is unpaired. Press the Bluetooth button once, and then simply pair to the speaker in your device’s Bluetooth menu.

The Flip is capable of connecting with two devices simultaneously, so you can repeat the above process to pair it with another device to allow either one to control music. This is a pretty cool feature, though it can get frustrating if and when power struggles arise over music choices.

Features and Design

As mentioned above, our review model is a loud crimson, though we would have preferred the more muted black version. Other color options include shades of grey, teal, and blue.

Most of the cylindrical speaker is covered in a fabric-mesh weave. JBL’s logo appears twice – once on a small aluminum plate in the center of the speaker, and once on its edge, adorning one of the Flip’s external passive radiators at the far sides.

The Flip 4 is extremely water-friendly, and thrives in the shower.

The speaker’s caps are buffered with a hard, rubbery plastic; this material stretches across the back of the Flip 4, providing a home for the power button and the JBL Connect+ button, as well as the five LED battery indicators. Here you’ll also find the charge port and the auxiliary port, protected by a sealed rubber cap. The cap is difficult to pry open without long fingernails or some sort of tool, but that seems fair, given its purpose – namely keeping the inputs from getting wet. The rest of the Flip’s buttons – play/pause, volume up/down, Bluetooth pairing — lie on its mesh skin.

Above the power button is a tiny handle with a cord designed to hang the Flip from backpacks, canopies, and the like; the cord is smartly threaded, making it a breeze to attach and detach the speaker from pretty much anything.

If you’re familiar with the Flip series (or, really, with outdoor Bluetooth speakers in general), there’s not much new here; as the saying goes, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. In fact, unless you line up the Flip 3 and Flip 4 side by side, you’re unlikely to notice any differences at all – the Flip 4 is a bit bigger, but not by much. Compared to the Charge series, it’s thinner and lighter.

JBL Flip 4 logo
Bill Roberson/Digital Trends
Bill Roberson/Digital Trends

The speaker is extremely water-friendly. It’s IPX7 rated, meaning it can be submerged in three feet of water for up to half an hour. The Flip thrives (and sounds great) in the shower, and we even dropped it in an above-ground pool for ten minutes with no ill effects. It doesn’t float, though, so be wary around deeper bodies of water.

Wireless range is impressive – even with 20 feet of distance and several walls in between, the Flip continued to play with no hiccups. The Flip 4 is also compatible with Siri and Google Now. In our experience, this worked fine, but we’re not sure how useful this feature really is unless you plan on using the speaker as your home speaker of choice. The Flip 4 also works seamlessly as a speakerphone, with voices coming through loud and clear.

JBL claims 12 hours of playback for the 3000mAh Lithium-ion battery; using the speaker at mostly full volume, we reached ten hours before it started to cut out, so this seems accurate. Unlike the JBL Charge series, you can’t use the Flip to charge other devices.

One minor frustration: Previous JBL speakers used JBL Connect (Android | iOS) to pair with each other, creating a chain of speakers for big events. This feature returns, but now the protocol is called JBL Connect+, and the Flip 4 is the only speaker currently compatible. If you bought a bunch of these, awesome! If you wanted to connect your new speaker with the Flip 3 or Charge 2, you’re out of luck. Happily, all new additions to JBL’s family of wireless speakers should be Connect+ enabled.

Audio Performance

For $100, you’re probably not expecting audiophile-quality sound – and that’s good, as you won’t get it. Still, the Flip holds up surprisingly well on the performance side, sounding good no matter how you use it — indoors or out.

Wireless playback is solid, even with 20 feet of distance and several walls in between.

The Flip’s dual 40mm drivers pump out legitimately powerful sound, with a bass response that manages to avoid sounding boomy or drowning out the treble. You can see the external passive (i.e., unpowered) at either side of the speaker buzz in bass-heavy arrangements, and you’ll want to lay the speaker on its side (or, better yet, hang it up) to avoid muffling its boom.

The Flip sounds best when you’re playing dance-ready electronic songs or hip-hop tracks to make the most of its beefy low-end response. Progressive, synth-laden house tracks like Porter Robinson’s Language sound awesome, and pronounced boom-bap beats – Asher Roth’s Lark on a Go-Kart, for example – pop satisfyingly.

Even more subdued, atmospheric songs like The Weeknd’s What You Need are evocatively eerie, making for awesome campfire accompaniment. When lots of live instruments come together, though, the Flip struggles a bit, with small details on songs like Daft Punk’s Giorgio By Moroder getting lost in the mix.

In the same vein, tracks with powerful vocals – say, Whitney Houston – can strain the Flip at high pitches. Indoor-oriented, hi-fi speakers like the Riva S are better for that. Comparable waterproof speakers like Ultimate Ears’ Roll and Wonderboom don’t have the bass depth to compete, though, and the Flip sounds clearer at high volume levels, where the UE speakers begin to struggle.

JBL Flip 4 app
Bill Roberson/Digital Trends
Bill Roberson/Digital Trends

Probably the most impressive aspect of the Flip’s audio performance is its ability to sound great outside, with lots of ambient noise around. It may not be the best speaker for intimate listening sessions, but it’s fantastic for powering a small pool party.

Warranty information

JBL offers a limited one-year warranty – valid only in the country of purchase – which covers defects in workmanship and materials. If you live in a European Economic Area (EEA) country or in Russia, local consumer law supersedes the product warranty. In the event of damage occurring during the shipping process, you must contact the carrier directly.

Our Take

The Flip 4 doesn’t reinvent the wheel – or even reupholster it – but it’s a solid upgrade to an already-strong line of speakers from JBL. There are plenty of wireless speakers, gobs of affordable ones, and plenty of waterproof ones, too, but few speakers check all three boxes.

If you’re an audio snob with the ears of Mozart, you’ll probably want to look elsewhere. If you want a durable mini-boombox to take on hikes, camping trips, and to the pool, the Flip is for you.

Is there a better alternative?

There are tons of durable portable speakers out there, but few offer the Flip 4’s pedigree and price point. If you want a smaller, simpler speaker to take on adventures, UE’s Wonderboom is a good choice, but it doesn’t sound quite this good. Those looking for multi-room functionality may want to look into JLab’s Block Party, which is durable, though not waterproof.

Those willing to spend a little bit more to get the clearest, richest sound in a waterproof portable will want to try UE’s Megaboom on for size.                     

How long will it last?

The Flip 4 is ultra-rugged, tailor-made to take abuse. So long as you don’t dunk it in water overnight (or with the rubber cap ajar), it should last several years without issue.

Should you buy it?

Yes. For $100, the Flip 4 is an excellent portable outdoor speaker that brings the bass without weighing you down.

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