The JBL Xtreme 3’s Small Upgrades from the JBL Xtreme and Xtreme 2: Worth it?

Dancers in a Barcelona park with the JBL Xtreme 2 speaker. The speaker at middle volume offered bass that still carried remarkably well kept people moving and enjoying their forró (a Brazilian dance).

The JBL Xtreme, Xtreme 2, and Xtreme 3 speakers offer an excellent, portable, rugged route to serious bass oomph and to getting a quite loud outdoor party going.

This series has long been a favorite in terms of ruggedness among the largest, loudest Bluetooth speakers we review; we think that for people who party a lot outdoors and who listen to bass-heavy music, the JBL Xtreme speakers are an excellent portable option. They doesn’t distort at high volumes and the bass can carries enough to be felt and get you moving, even in places with a lot of noise.

The JBL Xtreme 2 was a slight step up from the original JBL Xtreme, and the JBL Xtreme 3, as we’ll explain here, continues to make minor improvements—but it also loses a couple of things.

Update History of This Article

This article was originally published on October 29, 2018. It was thoroughly updated with nicer photos on June 5, 2019. The whole article was completely updated on Dec. 16, 2020 to include latest takes on the JBL Xtreme 3. Minor updates on May 29, 2021 with more takes from recent critics on the JBL Xtreme 3.

Side-by-Side Comparison: JBL Xtreme vs JBL Xtreme 2 vs JBL Xtreme 3

An Overview of JBL’s Updates for the Xtreme Lineup in Terms of Sound: Incrementally Improved Loudness and Bass

In each successive upgrade, JBL apparently took what was already going well for with its Xtreme speakers and made those areas even stronger, rather than changing course or trying something new. For those who want a large-but-still-portable, rough-and-tumble outdoorsy speaker with great emphasis and power on the bass end, this is good news.

The JBL Xtreme (original)  was celebrated by critics for going quite loud and getting surprisingly strong bass in a portable unit that is convenient for tailgating, picnics, and a drive to the beach, but too big to be a speaker you’d pack for travelling. That said, to some ears it was a bit too much on the bass end, and the high end could get a bit overtaken by the mids and sound somewhat harsh. But it went impressively loud, and sounded relatively great with little distortion at top volumes.

The JBL Xtreme 2 keeps this basic approach to a sound profile and got a similar response from critics, who found it a solid improvement. The bass goes even deeper than the original Xtreme and has more dynamism and detail. The volume is about the same—just a smidge louder—but mainly there is better performance at top volumes with less distortion.

The JBL Xtreme 3 again makes small improvements in the ears of the first YouTube critics, gaining a slightly deeper, fuller, more rounded bass than the Xtreme 2, and again, going just a decibel or two louder. The high end is more pronounced, which can add clarity, especially outside, but to some ears sound a bit piercing at the very top volumes when inside. Though the difference is small, to some the JBL Xtreme 2 thus seems a bit warmer than the Xtreme 3. The Xtreme 3 doesn’t need to boost its bass as much as the previous two Xtreme speakers, as it naturally has a slightly deeper and more present bass end in its mix.

As for more recent audiophile takes, PC Mag’s reviewer shares the view of many in summing up that Xtreme 3 isn’t “a sound signature for purists, but those seeking some powerful bass depth from a portable speaker will not be disappointed.” The takeaways from most reviewers are that the bass kicks out an impressive, satisfying thump and yet is not overbearing—there’s still an even mix and decent (if somewhat narrow) stereo soundstage from its left and right channels. And while it’s an improvement, most wouldn’t bother upgrading if they had the Xtreme or Xtreme 2.

We think generally that the JBL Xtreme speakers don’t sound as refined or carefully mixed as similar competitors from other brands that we recommend, like the Marshall Kilburn II or Ultimate Ears Megaboom 3, but they do go louder and most listeners will find that any JBL Xtreme speaker is fabulous for party use, particularly if paired with a second of the same speaker more soundstage and volume.

My experience using the Xtreme 2 to animate outdoor dance parties like that pictured up top is fenomenal. It’s hard to find a speaker whose bass carries so well and offers such a complete sound profile in a compact unit. The Brazilian melodies were lively due to the crisp delivery of intricate cavaquinho work and vocals were full and balanced. The thump of large zabumba drum kept our dancers alive.

Feature Differences Between the JBL Xtreme, Xtreme 2, and Xtreme 3

A main feature of all three JBL Xtreme speakers is this carry strap; there is an integrated bottle opener on the Xtreme 2 and Xtreme 3

In terms of features, JBL again chose to focus on its strengths and make just minor changes to the Xtreme 2 and then Xtreme 3.

  • A major feature on these outdoorsy speakers is waterproofing. The JBL Xtreme, for its part, was only rated “splashproof”, whereas the JBL Xtreme 2 is fully IPX7 waterproof, meaning that if you were a crazy person you could hold the speaker underwater for up to 30 minutes with no ill effects. The JBL Xtreme 3 goes one better and is rated IP67 waterproof and dustproof, meaning that it’s just as waterproof as the Xtreme 2 but also rated to keep out dust. In more practical terms, if you’re in lots of wet and dirty environments, you can expect the later models to stand up a bit better—and feel fine about hosing them off afterwards.
  • There is a bottle-top opener integrated into the Xtreme 2’s and Xtreme 3’s carry straps, which is thoughtful and might be a lifesaver in a pinch. The Xtreme 3’s strap is a bit grippier due to rubber inserts.
  • Another real lifesaver for the JBL Xtremes is the ability to charge a phone or other USB device off of the speakers’ battery. We really wish that many other Bluetooth speakers had this feature; it’s available on the Xtreme, Xtreme 2, and Xtreme 3. The Xtreme has two USB-out charging ports sharing the 2 amps of power, whereas the Xtreme 2 only has one USB-out that gives 2 amps. The Xtreme 3 has both a standard USB out and can charge from its USB-C port and can charge a total of 2.5 amps.
  • The JBL Xtreme 3 is a bit larger than the Xtreme and Xtreme 2, but also a bit lighter. The logos are much larger and more visible on the Xtreme 3.
  • The JBL Xtreme 3 upgrades to USB-C charging, which also enables it to charge from zero an hour faster; it is fully charged in 2.5 hours.
  • All JBL Xtreme speakers can be paired with multiple units of the same kind, so if you buy more than one of any can create a truly big party on the go. Note, however, that you cannot pair an Xtreme with an Xtreme 2, nor an Xtreme 2 with an Xtreme 3, and finally also not an Xtreme with an Xtreme 3. Each model is on its own pairing standard from JBL and they are not cross-compatible. The Xtreme uses JBL Connect, the Xtreme 2 pairs via JBL Connect+, and the Xtreme 3 uses the new PartyBoost. Finally, none of them pair with JBL PartyBox speakers either. Frankly, shame on JBL!
  • The JBL Xtreme and Xtreme 2 have speakerphone features; we think this is not particularly useful, especially for party speakers. JBL apparently agrees and there is no speakerphone (or microphone at all) on the Xtreme 3. So beware of that downgrade if that’s important to you. The clarity on the speakerphone on the Xtreme 2 was excellent.
  • The Xtreme and Xtreme 2 also both have a button that allows you quick access to Google Assistant / Siri, but we think you’re much more likely to use (and get a useful response) by talking to these assistants on your phone itself. But if you really want a rough and tumble waterproof speaker that is also a smart speaker, check out our coverage of the Ultimate Ears Megablast compared to its close (dumb) cousin the Megaboom 3. The Xtreme 3, since it has no microphone, also lacks these “features”.
The buttons on the JBL Xtreme 2 (and they’re almost identical on the Xtreme and Xtreme 3)

Which Is Right For You and Getting the Best Prices

We get it, we’re cheap, and we’re the last ones to recommend always buying the latest thing. Check the prices for each of the models below and particularly the different colors available at each link—sometimes there are unexpected discounts.

For our money, if there’s more than a $50 difference at the moment you’re shopping, we’d recommend you go for the cheaper model, as the sound differences are barely noticeable to most, and only when you have the speakers side-by-side.

But a caveat: Note that with Bluetooth speakers we generally don’t recommend getting used, “renewed” or refurbished models as it’s impossible to know how many cycles the battery has already been through, and thus how long the speaker’s battery will last. This is particularly important for speakers like these whose main use would be outside.

JBL Xtreme
Previously our favorite portable outdoor party monster; great bass, rugged
JBL Xtreme 2
Slightly deeper bass, more rugged with full waterproofing, bottle opener in carry strap
JBL Xtreme 3
Same as the Xtreme 2 but goes slightly louder, has even a bit deeper, fuller bass, and boosts the highs a bit; fully IP67 waterproof and dustproof; no speakerphone