Which Is Better: JBL or Ultimate Ears? The Bluetooth Speaker Brands Compared


We’ve listened to tons of JBL and Ultimate Ears Bluetooth speakers over the past ten years, penned countless reviews, and read just about everything our fellow, lesser audio critics have to say about them as well.

They’re both excellent, and you ardent fan-ladies and fan-men of either brand should just hold the fights for a moment. What we want to nail down here is when (for what use, budget, size…) we’d pick each one.

Update History of This Article

This article was first published on July 27, 2020.

JBL vs. Ultimate Ears: Which Is Better?

There are lots of JBL and Ultimate Ears speakers and both brands are fantastic. Your average listener might not even notice much of a difference when comparing similarly sized and priced models. Both JBL and Ultimate Ears deliver punchy, balanced, powerful sound that tends to please critics like us. And both brands can usually get loud enough to dance to and annoy neighbors.

We think Ultimate Ears speakers usually sound a bit smoother, punchier, and more dynamic when compared to JBL speakers of the same size, though JBL’s speakers at those sizes come in a close second (or sometimes third—we do think Bose can be worthwhile sometimes too). Note, however, when comparing similarly sized speakers, Ultimate Ears’ options are also sometimes more expensive.

Ultimate Ears’ Bluetooth speakers are also generally more durable than JBL’s, with an IP67 rating in most cases, meaning that the speakers are not only fully waterproof (can be dunked for up to 30 minutes) but also dustproof. And they’ve survived the horrors of many malicious reviewers’ and users’ drop tests. One now-discontinued Ultimate Ears (then “UE”) speaker that I’ve had for nearly a decade is still going strong—an improbable feat for the number of charge cycles I’ve put the battery through. All that said, most of JBL’s Bluetooth speakers are completely waterproof and are plenty durable for practical use, however. Ultimate Ears generally has a two-year warranty as opposed to the one-year warranty from JBL.

JBL also has a broader range of speaker offerings, including both very small and very large Bluetooth speakers. At the larger/more expensive end, JBL has better large boombox-sized and shaped speakers that go lots louder and can really rock an outside party. Ultimate Ears doesn’t have anything to offer at these sizes except if you step all the way up to the Hypberboom, which as we discuss below is super interesting, but we’d generally opt for one of the big JBL options.

Overall, Ultimate Ears has often been the innovator over the years, and other brands like JBL have played catch-up. This is particularly evident with Ultimate Ears early emphasis on 360-degree sound; place their portable speakers in the middle of a room or a party, and they’ll sound equally good no matter where you are standing.

Below we explain our top picks, whether JBL or Ultimate Ears, for each category, along with links to longer articles detailing both our own and other critics’ reactions to the speakers.

If you want to know my personal favorite (and what I actually use while travelling, animating boozy dance-picnics, or inside listening while working out), skip down to the discussion of the Ultimate Ears Boom 3.

The Best Palm-Sized Speaker is from JBL

The smallest JBL speaker that we’d recommend is the JBL Go 2. It’s easy to throw into a purse, backpack, or even coat pocket. Ultimate Ears has nothing to offer at this tiny size (and super-cheap price).

The main use for this speaker is to boost the sound quite a bit over what your laptop or mobile phone offers; it goes surprisingly loud for its tiny size. You can read our brief review of the JBL Go 2 here.

JBL Go 2
The ultra-portable solution from JBL; Ultimate Ears has nothing this cheap, light, or small

If you want to go even smaller, we think you should leave the JBL and Ultimate Ears worlds and either opt for our favorite tiny wearable speaker or else our recommended neck speakers (i.e. headphone alternatives).

Small, Powerful Speakers: The JBL Clip 3 vs Ultimate Ears Wonderboom 2

At the next step up is at about 10 cm / 4 inch diameter speakers. The JBL Clip 3 is disk-shaped and has a hook on top; it’s incredibly convenient to attach it to a daypack, a hook in the shower, on a bike, etc. (It’s the speaker worn by The Guy on High Maintenance, though the Clip 3 is more apt for bicyclists in noisy cities than for stoners per se. See the Pulse 4 further down this page if you smoke the wacky tabacky.)

The Clip 3 offers the best clarity and performance of any speaker it’s size, and can even well outlast its advertised 10-hour battery life. It’s also completely (IPX7) waterproof.

All that said, we prefer the Ultimate Ears Wonderboom 2, even though it’s twice as thick (it’s a squat cylinder) as the JBL Clip 3, and twice as heavy at .926 pounds / .420 kilo.

The Wonderboom 2 knocks out a fuller sound than the Clip 3, with more bass. It goes loud enough to fill a small or mid-sized room and can even sound good outside, for example as a pleasant background for a picnic. (There’s an “outdoors mode” that’s activated with a button on the bottom.) There’s a fabric loop at the top, so if you couple that with a carabiner, you can clip it to anything. It’s fully waterproof and also dustproof (rated IP67) and survives drops and getting banged around. There’s an ample 13-hour battery, and it can go for even longer depending on volume.

For more, read our review of the Wonderboom 2 (and comparison to the previous, original Wonderboom).

Ultimate Ears Wonderboom 2
Powerful, pleasing 360-degree sound in a squat cylinder; easily beats the JBL Clip 3

Sonic Powerhouses the Size of a Tall Beer Can: The JBL Flip 5 vs. Ultimate Ears Boom 3

The super portable speakers that are the next step up in size and price are the JBL Flip 5 and Ultimate Ears Boom 3. Both are cylinders that can fit in a car’s cup holder or the water bottle sleeve in a backpack (e.g., handily fit into a full Osprey Meridian 60 daypack).

Here’s a quick summary; our discussion is after the table.

The Boom 3 (like the Flip 5) is waterproof, so not a problem in a kitchen, shower, or poolside.

Our preference (and that of most critics) is definitely for the Ultimate Ears Boom 3, but they’re both excellent and the JBL Flip 5 tends to come in at much cheaper. (Try the links in the table above to check prices on different colors for the Boom 3, however, as Amazon sometimes has steep discounts for this speaker depending on color.)

The JBL Flip 5 does offer clarity and full, punchy sound and is one of the best-sounding speakers for its price. The Flip 5 is a solid step up from the preceding JBL Flip 4, and it is one of the few speakers currently out there with USB-C charging, though it’s hard to say that’s a huge advantage; the Boom 3 charges via standard mini-USB.

The Ultimate Ears Boom 3 offers more depth and power in the bass department, and is simply the best-sounding speaker at this size, period. For that reason, plus its drop resistance and durability, it’s my favorite Bluetooth speaker for travel. The Boom 3’s sound is 360-degrees, meaning it sounds great from any angle, whereas the Flip 5 is directional, and sounds best from the front.

If you don’t care for the Boom 3’s (even) mix, you can adjust the EQ settings with Ultimate Ears’ dedicated Android and Apple apps, a feature that the Flip 5 lacks. Both speakers are completely waterproof and can be fully submerged for up to 30 minutes; the Boom 3 is also dustproof and survives drop tests.

If you buy multiple units of either brand you can pair them together for bigger sound; the Flip 5 is compatible with other JBL PartyBoost speakers and the Boom 3 pairs with other Boom 3s or Megaboom 3s via their apps.

Ultimate Ears Boom 3
Currently my favorite portable speaker on the planet; the right combination of lovely, listenable, even mix; pulsing, convincing bass; and a can-sized indestructible package

Larger Cylinder-Shaped Speakers: The JBL Charge 4 vs. Ultimate Ears Megaboom 3

The next step up in size is the JBL Charge 4 and Ultimate Ears Megaboom 3, both of which are about the size and shape of a wine bottle minus the top neck. The Charge 4 is designed to lay on its side whereas the Megaboom 3 is happier standing upright.

You can check out our full review of the Megaboom 3 vs the Charge 4, but to put it simply we think they’re both great, and here Ultimate Ears is just barely eeking out a win. Since it’s often more expensive, however, if you’re torn between the two just go for whichever is cheapest at the moment (and shop around at the links for best prices on different colors—they can vary enormously at Amazon).

There’s another, similar-sized option to consider from JBL: the JBL Pulse 4, which does a modern take on the lava lamp that syncs with your music. It’s obviously our favorite portable Bluetooth speaker for listening to tunes while getting high, and it’s still convenient to carry around though we’d expect the Megaboom 3 to survive drops and scratches much better. See our further coverage of the JBL Pulse 4 versus Charge 4 and Flip 5 for a full run-down of the differences.

Ultimate Ears Megaboom 3
Sounds a bit better than the Charge 4, but just barely, and is a bit more durable

If you’re looking for a better-sounding alternative to Amazon Alexa speakers or Google Nest speakers, both JBL and Ultimate Ears provide options.

I wouldn’t buy them, personally. Speakers are best for listening; it’s easier to talk to and get information from a device that has a screen, like your phone.

But if you must buy portable smart speakers, know that the main difference here is that JBL’s Link speakers run Google Assistant whereas Ultimate Ears’ Blast and Megablast have got Alexa brains inside. In both cases, these smart assistants only work when in range of WiFi. And in both cases, they sound much better than the official Google and Amazon smart speakers in the same range.

We have a review of the JBL Link 10 and Link 20, but in a nutshell the JBL Link 10 is the more portable option and the JBL Link 20 is comparable in size to the Charge 4 discussed just above, with rich, very loud, 360-degree sound. Both have excellent voice recognition, including if you’re far across the room and talking over your music, and both are completely (IPX7) waterproof.

The Ultimate Ears Blast and Ultimate Ears Megablast also sound excellent, and as you would expect from Ultimate Ears, offer strong 360-degree performance and are quite durable. You can check out our comparison of the Megablast and Megaboom 3 for more.

Boombox-Sized and -Shaped Speakers: JBL Has the Wonderful Xtreme 2 and Boombox 2; Ultimate Ears Has Nothing

The next step up is to honking boombox sized speakers, and here JBL wins triumphantly but also by default; Ultimate Ears doesn’t offer speakers at this size. JBL’s options are expensive, but the very best speakers you can get anywhere at this size, portability, and price combination.

They’re both waterproof, durable, and go louder and sound better than any of the smaller speakers discussed so far on this page.

The JBL Xtreme 2 is just under a foot (29 cm) long and is a five-inch (13-cm) cylinder; the JBL Boombox 2 is half again as long and twice as thick.

Both are highly recommended; check our comparison of the JBL Xtreme 2 and Boombox 2 to decide.

JBL Xtreme 2
Just under a foot of loud, lovely sound to go anywhere and animate an outdoor party; integrated beer bottle opener
JBL Boombox 2
Approximately twice as big and heavy but can still be carried in one hand; huge, deep bass; much louder, even delivery

Huge Party Speakers: the JBL Partybox 100 vs. Ultimate Ears Hyperboom

In the category for largest outdoor party speakers for picnics, tailgating, and yard parties, the winner is JBL, though the Ultimate Ears offering delivers beautiful sound too and might make more sense for some people. See our full comparison of the JBL PartyBox 100 and Ultimate Ears Hyperboom for more.

In a nutshell, the JBL Partybox 100 sounds more complete and goes much louder, with natural booming bass, even at a distance and outside. It’s set up for karaoke and hooking up a guitar too.

The Ultimate Ears Hyperboom is a significantly smaller box and easier to carry in one hand by its strap; it’s got a more subdued design that wouldn’t draw attention as part of a living room decor. There is a wider soundstage that spreads over 180 degrees, and the Hyperboom is ideally placed against a wall when inside to improve the bass. There is an optical input for use with a TV.

Ultimate Ears Hyperboom
The biggest portable Bluetooth speaker from Ultimate Ears with lovely, loud, smooth, punchy delivery for the outdoors; sounds and looks great inside too
JBL Partybox 100
A bit more to carry, but goes much louder and sounds great doing so, with huge, natural bass that travels much further

That’s it for our comparison of JBL and Ultimate Ears. Fangirls, fanboys, and fananywhereonthegenderspectrums of both brands are encouraged to discuss further, with the irrationally and great enmity typical of comments sections, below.

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