JBL has a talent for making visually stunning speakers and the PartyBox series (Encore Essential, PartyBox 110, and On-The-Go) is no exception. These illuminated devices look like they belong in a cyberpunk film and fit the comfortable aesthetic of most low-light rooms or decor.
With that said, these are not the cheapest items you can find on the market and skeptical consumers are going to want to know what separates these shiny pieces of tech from the rest of the speaker market.
If you find yourself in the same boat, you have come to the right article.
We are going to take a comprehensive look at each of these spectacularly designed products to give you the ideal choice regardless of what you are looking for in a modern boombox. We won’t just go over how they sound but we will look under the hood to see exactly what makes these products stand out from one another.
The Encore Essential is the new and improved On-The-Go with a smaller package, slightly improved audio, and far more important features. With an MSRP around $300, this product is also a few bucks cheaper than its predecessor as well. It isn’t the 110 and cannot hope to compete with the 110 in most categories, but for a hundred dollars less it feels like a more budget-friendly alternative.
I cannot recommend the PartyBox On-The-Go highly, or at all when taking note of all its shortcomings. Its battery falls flat, its audio is average, its feature list is quirky but ultimately flat-footed and the design is pleasing if not a bit one-dimensional. At the listed price (north of $300), there are simply better products at a more reasonable price tag.
The PartyBox 110 is a quality product with a lot inside of it, though you are footing a bill of nearly $400. With that said, the price feels fair for what you are getting. The audio quality is superior to its predecessors, it doubles in battery life, its design is great and it comes with a wide range of features. Its biggest downside is the slightly delicate nature of its design but that is hardly worth passing on this exceptional product.
When products all come from the same brand it can feel like an easy task to pick the best choice – the most expensive speaker must naturally be the highest performing. Prior to writing these articles I thought very similarly, although this isn’t always the case and doesn’t paint the full story of each product.
Let’s go over which product outperforms the others in terms of audio ability.
The Encore Essential packs a fairly big punch for a product priced well under its predecessors. It has a higher, cheerful sound profile that does a good job of expressing the mid-range quite nicely and for its size can get pretty loud. The bass isn’t abysmal but it will struggle at the lower end as much as most speakers of its size. It offers a frequency range of 50Hz – 20KHz and comes with a single 5.25-inch woofer as well as two 1.75-inch tweeters.
It also has an adjustable EQ through the JBL app which is unique to the Encore, giving those speaker heads that enjoy customization a bit more to play with.
Moving to the On-The-Go we have a speaker that sits in the dead middle of the pack in terms of price, though not in sound. It seems to match the Encore in terms of its overall sound profile, though falls short in terms of volume when unplugged (where it is noticeably quieter).
Its audio projection feels a bit underwhelming and sounds like the worst of the three. It isn’t a bad speaker in terms of audio, it just falls too far below the others to justify its shortcomings.
It matches the Encore Essential with a frequency response of 50Hz – 20kHz and is outfitted with a 5.25-inch woofer as well as two 1.75-inch tweeters.
The PartyBox 110 has done a fine job of making a hypocrite out of me with an audio quality that reflects its higher price point quite well. On every conceivable level, I struggle to find a point in the audio where the other two products are superior.
Its soundstage is solid, its volume output is clear and loud, and it feels like it is the most wide-reaching in terms of its highs, mids, and lows. Its biggest drawback is that it may feel a bit singular in audio projection due to the audio not changing depending on how it’s placed, though this is a small criticism for a good speaker.
It comes with a superior frequency response of 45Hz – 20KHz and is stuffed with two 5.25-inch woofers as well as two 2.25-inch tweeters.
Verdict – The 110 justifies its higher price point with a proficient sound quality that can’t be beaten by its cheaper competitors.
Design & Durability
It’s no small secret that I can be a bit of a JBL fanboy and if there is one reason for it, it has to be their focus on high-quality, durable designs.
Too many portable speakers feel like they are made out of delicate materials with several vulnerable ports and outlets that need to be handled with the utmost care. JBL products do not suffer from this issue and are typically some of the more robust products you can find on the market.
Unfortunately, the PartyBox series are some of the most delicate JBL portable speakers in their catalog so you may want to consider where they will be going before you start breaking out the tunes on your next canoe trip.
The Encore Essential is as visually beautiful as any product on the comparison list today. Considering that these products are not only all JBL but from the same product line, the exterior won’t change a great deal from one to the other.
The IP rating for all three is the same as well at IP4, meaning it is resistant to water (mind the speaker around dust and pollen). What makes this product stand out is its considerably lighter weight and more efficient dimensions at 16 lbs and 10.87 x 12.87 x 11.54 inches of total space.
The On-The-Go sits in a similar place that the Encore does. Its stunning outer shell is matched by both competing products, essentially neutralizing the added LED flair. It should be noted though that the longer shape of this product can make the LED surrounding its woofer feel a bit barren by comparison. It has an IP4 rating and should also avoid areas where inclement weather or heavy pollution can affect it, though it should prove resistant to rain. It weighs 18.5 lbs and measures 19.3 x 9.6 x 8.8 inches in total.
While the 110 can be forgiven for being a little chunkier than its stablemates, some consumers may not enjoy lugging a product that is just a few pounds shy of 30 lbs overall. As heavy as that is, this product personally has the most visually appealing light show of the three in this writer’s humble opinion. Like the other two, it has an IP4 rating which hopefully they can improve on in newer models of the PartyBox series. Beauty comes at the price of your knees as this thing weighs 27.5 lbs and is going to be a cumbersome 11.6 x 22.4 x 11.8 inches.
Verdict – For pure visual appeal, I personally prefer the 110. For efficiency and easy transportation, the Encore Essential wins out.
Imagine it is 1971 – you’re going to a Zeppelin concert and in the middle of Going To California Plant, Page, Bonham, and JPJ all pass out for three and a half hours to get their bearings. Having a portable speaker with limited battery life is somewhat similar. No one wants the party to stop because of technical or physical limitations.
Due to this, different speaker brands are pushing the limits of how long a battery can go. This casts a very negative light on products that have a more feeble charge life.
Battery life can vary depending on the volume, LEDs, and more. Your own experience may be different than the times listed.
The Encore Essential might be competent for some, but in the world of portable speakers, it really falls short of its competition. It has a listed battery life of six hours with the lights on and a bit more if they are shut off. (The JBL Xtreme 3 is listed at the same price for 15 hours of playtime, to offer some perspective). The charge time is specified to take about 3.5 hours overall so you will be charging this product quite often and for a good portion of time.
The On-The-Go is going to make me seem even more bitter about substandard battery lives, so strap in. This product offers a matching six hours of playtime and it’s starting to feel like the Encore is a slightly upgraded and downsized version of the On-The-Go, overall. Its charge time is a matching 3.5 hours and all the negative comments I have thrown at the Encore apply here as well. It will last you through most parties, but don’t expect it to carry you through a weekend trip.
Lastly, the 110 is the first product that offers an above-average battery life. It has a charge life of 12 hours if you throw on those cozy LEDs and up to fifteen without illumination. Considering it is also louder than its counterparts, that means you get higher volume for longer. It has the same charge time of 3.5 hours but thankfully you won’t have to plug it in nearly as much. Reviewers may disagree with me, but this fact alone makes the additional hundred dollars worth it for the sake of longevity.
Verdict – 110 has the same battery life as the other two products combined. Considering that batteries will eventually degrade over time, six hours is a pitiful place to start.
Features & Software
We all enjoy the superfluous addons to any product way more than any of us would ever want to admit. Additional features are great and help extend that initial honeymoon phase everyone has with their newest piece of technology just a little bit longer.
We all say we care about the audio quality (which we do) but we also like how the lights adapt to the music and how cool the graphic equalizer on the mobile app is. To help make our (slightly alarming) fascination with new speakers stand the test of time, let’s see which product offers the most additional benefits.
The Encore, like most Partybox series speakers, comes with an extensive list of addons. The most well-known is its karaoke functionality which is a big selling point for all three products.
Additionally, it offers Multispeaker functionality, LED customization, an auxiliary input, USB input, microphone input, and its own graphic equalizer through the app. This product stands in front of the others for no other reason than its newer release which has given it additional features that they did not think to add to previous models. It also comes with BlueTooth 5.1 compatibility.
The On-The-Go came out in 2020, though it is really starting to show its age, unfortunately. My biggest complaint is the Bluetooth 4.2 version (which tests as buggy and glitch-prone at times), though it also lacks the additional features they managed to slap onto the Encore.
What it does come with is a karaoke function with a wireless microphone that you can tweak the treble, bass, and echo on. You get a bottle opener (I have a soft spot for this weird feature), shoulder strap, LED customization, dual speaker compatibility, auxiliary input, USB input, and two TS inputs for electronic instruments.
The 110 is similarly well-equipped though lacks the equalizer that the Encore possesses. It offers BlueTooth 5.1 and the same karaoke functions the other products do, including a microphone input. LED Customization is present on the 110 as well as dual speaker functionality, one TS input, 3.5mm mono/mic input, and a 3.5mm auxiliary input. You can also plug in a USB if you want to play a playlist through this product.
Verdict – The Encore’s graphic equalizer and updated features give it a hair-splitting edge over the other two products.
Never thought I would discourage people from buying a JBL product, but the On-The-Go feels like an obsolete speaker. The Encore Essential is smaller, cheaper, offers additional options, and is slightly superior in categories that really make a difference. If you want a cheap, quality speaker the Encore isn’t bad despite its lower battery life.
That does not lessen the fact that the Partybox 110 is a fantastic speaker that you should absolutely purchase if you have the means to do so. It has good audio output, the best battery life, a beautiful design, and a good amount of features despite its missing EQ. The biggest concern for all three speakers is that they are a bit more vulnerable than other JBL products, so be wary when purchasing them.