Portable speakers have a wide range of what can be considered mobile.
Some portable speakers weigh upwards of forty pounds and offer nothing more than a topside handle. The speakers we will be comparing today are portable in every sense of the word. If you want a product you can conveniently carry with one hand, these all fit the bill.
These products will never get above $200 and are considered lower- to middle-end speakers, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have plenty to offer. We will take a thorough peek at the strengths and weaknesses of the Soundlink Flex, JBL Charge 5, and Marshall Emberton II.
If you aren’t familiar with any of these speakers prior to this article, you will be comfortably knowledgeable by the end of it. More importantly, we will provide you the info you need to stretch your hard-earned dollars further.
The Emberton II has a surprisingly good sound quality for its size, is built well, and offers a good amount of durability. Its battery is fantastic at an average of 20 or more hours and all of this for a price that is well under $200.
The downsides to this product are fairly minimal, though they do exist. The volume is mediocre at best, it’s pretty distorted at higher volumes, the charge time can be as high as five hours and it doesn’t float. If none of these downsides are dealbreakers, we would very strongly recommend this product.
The Soundlink Flex is a great little device with a smart design that easily makes it the most efficient product to travel with. It can float on water, resist most forms of aggressive weather, and offers competent sound quality.
Its biggest negatives are its very limited battery (7 to 9-ish hours on average), its compressed audio at higher volumes, and its poor soundstage. Though for a speaker that is around $130 most days, it is still a recommended product.
The Charge 5 will not go down as the best JBL product ever, though it still is great for its price. The durability is as robust as they come and the design is very smart and attractive. The battery is close to 15 hours on average and it is the loudest product of the three.
The sound quality is competent, though limited and it is slightly bulkier than the rest of the devices. It isn’t going to be able to shake tables with its bass, though at a sub-150 price we would recommend it.
A few things to knock around in your head when looking over these speakers are that they are on the lower end of the price spectrum as well as pretty small. This is great for your portability and pocketbook, though you will feel it in the sound quality.
A smaller case creates a more limited space to work with, so you aren’t likely to get roaring bass from a six-inch speaker. In the same vein, a cheaper speaker will usually see some auditory limitations as well.
Marshall Emberton II
The Marshall Emberton II has some competent sound and packs a bit more thump than you would expect. Vocals and string instruments can be heard very clearly and will likely be the prevailing sound throughout most music. The bass is the best of the three and if you are someone who wants to listen to genres like rap, this is the ideal choice.
This speaker dwarfs the other two in terms of its ability to output sound in a wider area. The sound comes from both the front and rear of the device and it is able to play stereo sound.
Unfortunately, it does come with a few drawbacks. The volume is nothing to write home about, and outside of your office or bedroom it will fail to fill most spaces. This Emberton II has no equalizer though does come with a few audio presets in the mobile app.
Looking beyond the tasteful exterior, the Emberton II comes with two 2-inch drivers as well as two passive radiators. The listed frequency range is 60 Hz – 20 kHz.
Bose SoundLink Flex
The Soundlink Flex provides a good amount of clarity in the mid-range, though falls short in its bass. Like most small speakers, it can play songs with less bass really well, though audio on the lower end of the frequency range will be harder to distinguish.
As far as its sound quality is concerned, the device is competent though unremarkable across the board.
The audio is incredibly thin and narrow in its output and will not be as full in sound due to it being limited to mono audio (unless two speakers are paired). It is a bit louder than the Emberton II and will likely be heard a bit more clearly because of it. This comes with the downside that the lack of bass is much more noticeable at higher decibel levels.
The insides come with a driver and two passive radiators, though Bose is a bit tight-lipped outside of that. It also possesses what Bose calls “PositionIQ” which is marketed to adjust the equalizer depending on how the speaker is sitting.
JBL Charge 5
JBL’s Charge 5 is hard to place over the Soundlink Flex and impossible to put past the Marshall speaker. Getting into its audio performance, to my ear, it has the worst bass across all three products.
When a song had any real punch to it, it felt omitted over the rest of the track. The rest of the audio comes across well enough, and you do get that often sought-after graphic equalizer.
The Charge 5 has a mediocre audio output and plays in mono audio unless paired with another device. Where it shines the most is that it feels very much like the loudest of the three. This comes with the caveat that like the other two products – it has heavy static and grinding in its audio at the higher volumes.
Underneath the durable outer shell, you have a 2 x 3.5-inch woofer along with a .75-inch tweeter. As can be seen from the exterior, the product has dual passive radiators on either side of the speaker. Its listed frequency response sits at 60 Hz – 20k Hz.
Verdict – Marshall Emberton 2 is the superior product in terms of audio in everything but volume. While the Charge 5 and Soundlink Flex are more competitive, in my opinion, the Flex is slightly better.
Durability & Design
If you want durability, none of these products will steer you wrong. While they haven’t offered up much information as far as impact resistance is concerned, they all share an IP67 rating. This makes every product reliably waterproof and resistant to dirt, dust, and all other unwanted particles.
Marshall Emberton II
The Emberton II is one of those speakers that make it hard to not be biased when it comes to its design. To put it plainly, it’s beautiful and simplistic in a manner that is exceedingly rare in speakers nowadays.
It has a thick, robust plastic that encases the speaker and a metal grille on both sides of the device. The front side has raised gold “Marshall” lettering that matches the convenient multi-button on the topside of the device.
The Emberton II also comes in cream which is identical to the default “Black & Brass” product save for the plastic encasing.
The sticking point of this device is most definitely its focus on simplicity. While some folks will enjoy this lack of flare, others may find it limiting and look elsewhere for a speaker. This includes no auxiliary inputs, USB ports, and speakerphone options. Despite its resemblance to one of the several Marshall amplifiers we collectively drooled over as kids – it is not compatible with electrical instruments.
If you are worried about it weighing you down, you can breathe easily. This device is exceptionally compact at 1.5 pounds and takes up 2.6 x 6.3 x 3 inches of backpack space.
As previously stated, it has an IP67 rating, though it is unable to float should it find itself in still water. It also has a battery indicator on the right side of the top of the speaker.
Bose SoundLink Flex
The Soundlink Flex feels incredibly practical. It is resistant to most forms of electronic abuse, offers a fabric strap to hook onto, and can fit in your back pocket. On top of all this, you can toss it into a river and chase after it as it floats downstream.
While its design may be a bit on the duller side, it is as tough as they come and offers a good bit of color options. These colors include carmine red, black, white smoke, and stone blue.
The perimeter of the speaker is wrapped in a thicker silicone rubber that helps quite a bit with grip. The grill is powder-coated steel on either side, so even if it does get wet – it won’t rust the exterior. The shell of the product feels strong on its own and the included resistance to the elements ensures that you won’t need the warranty anytime soon.
It weighs just under 1.5 pounds and can slide into most back pockets at 3.6 x 8 x 2 inches. It comes with the downside that you do not get any additional auxiliary inputs or USB ports. With that said, I’m not sure how you could fit anything else into speakers this small.
JBL Charge 5
JBL makes great-looking products to the point that other companies have “borrowed” from their inspired designs. The cylindrical shape of the Charge 5 compliments the exposed dual passive radiators that hide behind silicone-wrapped ends on either side of the speaker. The middle mesh feels resilient and easy to grip and holds the raised logo of JBL toward the center.
Practically speaking, this product is excellent though you may need to secure it while traveling. For those that want a bit of variety in their speakers, JBL has you covered. The Charge 5 comes in a few different colors including red, blue, gray, teal, squad (camo), and black. Keeping with tradition, outside of its USB-C charging port; there are no additional inputs.
It is the heaviest of the three at a dense weight of 2 pounds. Folks may have a harder time keeping this product close to their hip as it is a bit more robust at 8.7 x 3.8 x 3.7 inches. Similar to the Emberton II, this product also has a LED battery indicator.
Verdict – In terms of design, the Emberton II is as attractive as the Charge 5 and it won’t roll around in your backseat. Concerning durability, the Soundlink Flex feels like it offers the most protected speaker. All are exceptionally well-made for their price, however, and should not be disregarded because of this category.
Considering that all of these speakers will be used primarily while out and about, it’s only fair to assume that they can last a good while as well.
In this category, we will be taking a look at the product’s ability to stay running, cut itself off, and how long it will take to charge. It should be said that volume plays a large part in how quickly a battery drains, so if you are blaring tunes – don’t expect the same results.
The Emberton II is marketed to have a 30-hour battery life after 3 hours of charge. Secondary testing has shown these numbers to be slightly optimistic. It still holds a charge for at least 20 hours on average, if not more.
The charge will likely take somewhere close to 3 – 5 hours for most consumers. It comes with an auto shut-off function that will switch on after fifteen to twenty minutes of being idle.
Someone always has to be in last, and the Soundlink Flex has won that honor for its fairly limited battery life. It is listed to last around 12 hours – though like all products on this list – that is not going to be the reality for most people using the speaker.
It runs for around 7 – 10 hours on average and requires about 3 – 4 hours to charge. To Bose’s credit, they offer a timer that allows you to choose when the device will shut itself off.
The Charge 5 has a good battery life that is listed at 20 hours, though 13 – 15 hours seems to be a more accurate average. The charge is listed at 2 hours, though estimates put it closer to 3 – 4 hours per charge.
Like the other two products, you get an auto shut-off feature that will power down the device after it hasn’t been in use for a few minutes. They list the device as giving 4 hours of music for a 20-minute charge. Importantly, the Charge 5 is the only speaker on the list that can be used to charge a phone or other device.
Verdict – Hard to compete with a 1-pound device with a 20-hour battery. The Emberton II is the best battery of the three and it takes it running.
Features & Software
Due to their limited space, these products are not going to have the extensive list of features some are accustomed to from bigger speakers. With that said, portable devices that are a bit more diminutive in size tend to make up physical features for additional options in the corresponding app.
Marshall Emberton II
If the Emberton II has an Achilles heel, it would have to be its distinct omission of features that most portable speakers utilize nowadays. Though compared to the previous model of the Emberton, some notable upgrades have been made.
The Bluetooth is now 5.1, it has added a new Stack Mode feature that allows multiple Embertons to stack atop one another and play music simultaneously. Simply stack the devices, pair them and you get a wall of booming speakers that at the very least is a cool aesthetic.
The on-speaker menu is fairly straightforward. You get the multi-button that not only feels great but works well. It allows you to skip and replay tracks, adjust the volume and pause the music. To the right is the LED battery indicator and to the left is the Bluetooth button that has a red light to show when it is paired.
The app allows for a couple more features, one of which is a graphic equalizer that offers presets if you don’t want to fuss with it. The app can adjust the volume of the Emberton II remotely, though if you aren’t into mobile apps – it isn’t explicitly required to use the device. This is nice, because even though they have recently put effort into fixing bugs; it can be a messy piece of software.
While we are on the topic of the Marshall Bluetooth app, let’s discuss what consumers should be aware of. Fortunately for Android users, we have finally caught a break. The app maintains an average rating of 4.7 on Google Play, though that doesn’t tell the entire story. While it certainly works better with Android, you still have to contend with a disorganized user interface and connectivity that is often very finicky.
Apple users have a bit more to contend with as the app holds an average review score of 3.8 on The App Store. From the reviews, it looks like about a third to a half of all consumers experience regular connectivity issues. This means that not only will you struggle to pair the device in the first place, but you can also expect infrequent disconnections from the app.
Bose SoundLink Flex
Moving to the Soundlink Flex, it’s the only speaker in this article that comes with a microphone and phone call compatibility. You can play and pause audio, adjust the volume, switch or go back on tracks, and you can answer and end calls all through one convenient button. There is also a Bluetooth button that can be used to pair or disconnect a device, and a battery indicator.
Let’s discuss one of the more marketed features of this product – the PositionIQ equalizer feature. Essentially what this does is it changes the audio preset to three different preprogrammed positions. If the device is on its back, the speaker will automatically switch to that preset. The same process can be seen when the Flex is laid out vertically or horizontally.
It comes with Bluetooth 4.2 which can be used to pair your device via the Bose Connect App. The app offers the majority of features you will find on the device including the auto-off timer which can be set to different lengths of time.
You can control the volume remotely and even check the battery. You can control and pair multiple compatible speakers and Bluetooth connections as well.
The Bose Connect app is fairly well-made and reflects that in its average ratings of 4.8 on The App Store and 4.3 on Google Play. Looking at reviews it seems like the few complaints that do exist go back years and have since been remedied.
If there is a problem we could find, people have expressed frustration with the “Party Mode” that allows multiple speakers to connect. Some note that it tries to pair with speakers even when they are off, and one or two folks have spoken about minor connectivity issues – which seem fairly common with Bluetooth apps.
JBL Charge 5
The Charge 5 is an uncomplicated device that gives all the essential features with none of the needless add-ons some products come with. It offers Bluetooth 5.1, a power bank, and a menu that comes with all the standard commands you would require.
You can play, pause and skip tracks, adjust the volume, turn the power on or off, and pair Bluetooth. You can also use the Partyboost button which resembles an infinity symbol. The Partyboost feature is one that has quickly spread to most products in the JBL catalog and is essentially an easy way to sync up two compatible speakers to play stereo sound.
Concerning app-related features, you have a bit of wiggle room in customization. You get a graphic equalizer that allows you to manually raise or lower the bass, mid, and treble of your music. You can also use it to play two speakers in stereo via the PartyBoost option which will sit just below the equalizer.
The JBL Portable app sits at 4.2 on Google and 4.6 on The App Store. To its credit, it works fairly efficiently and the user interface is better than most apps that work with Bluetooth speakers. The downside is that like the other two apps, connectivity can be touch and go for a few users. With that said, this app is reliable and should provide very few issues for most.
Verdict – None of these products are bejeweled in an exhaustive list of needless options, though the Soundlink Flex does the best job with its limited lineup of features. For software, the JBL Portable app seems the easiest to deal with, Bose Connect being a close second.
Comparisons become difficult when you realize that all three products are very good in their own ways.
Marshall Emberton II has the most positive qualities, though depending on what you are looking for the other two may serve you better. The Soundlink Flex has the most travel utility though its limited battery makes me want to recommend the Charge 5 for outdoorsmen.
The sticking point is that all of these products are incredibly adaptable and can fit in a wide range of environments. Because of that, it largely comes down to which one you prefer. While I wouldn’t hold up my nose at any of these products, it is the belief of this writer that the Emberton II is the superior product of the three.