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.
Both companies’ portable Bluetooth speakers are great for loud, crisp, gorgeous sound on the go, 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 in this article is when (for what use, budget, size…) we’d pick each one.
- JBL vs. Ultimate Ears: Which Is Better?
- Which Is Better for a Limited Budget: JBL or Ultimate Ears?
- The Best Palm-Sized Speaker is from JBL
- Small, Powerful Speakers: The JBL Clip 4 vs Ultimate Ears Wonderboom 2
- Sonic Powerhouses the Size of a Tall Beer Can: The JBL Flip 6 vs. Ultimate Ears Boom 3
- Larger Cylinder-Shaped Speakers: The JBL Charge 5 vs. Ultimate Ears Megaboom 3
- “Smart” Speakers: The JBL Link 10 & 20 vs. Ultimate Ears Blast & Megablast
- Boombox-Sized and -Shaped Speakers: JBL Has the Wonderful Xtreme 3 and Boombox 2; Ultimate Ears Has Nothing
- Huge Party Speakers: the JBL Partybox 100 vs. Ultimate Ears Hyperboom
Update History of This Article
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’ larger models can get loud enough to rock a dance party 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. That said, JBL has now added IP67 ratings to its middle-sized Flip and Charge lines as outlined below, and those two JBL speakers also tend to do fine in drop tests. At the larger end, the JBL Xtreme and Boombox lines are currently completely waterproof but not dustproof, with an IPX7 rating.
One now-discontinued Ultimate Ears (then “UE”) portable Bluetooth speaker that I’ve had and used heavily for nearly a decade is still going strong—an improbable feat for the rough road handling and the number of charge cycles I’ve put the battery through. Also, Ultimate Ears generally has a two-year warranty as opposed to the one-year warranty from JBL. So based on personal experience, reports from others, and the manufacturers’ own warranties, I expect Ultimate Ears to generally be a bit better in terms of durability, though I know many people and readers have had their JBL speakers also hold up fine for many years.
JBL has a broader range of speaker offerings than Ultimate Ears, 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 now most often use while travelling, animating boozy dance-picnics, or inside listening while working out), skip down to the discussion of the Ultimate Ears Boom 3.
Which Is Better for a Limited Budget: JBL or Ultimate Ears?
Under $50: JBL Has the Cheapest Option
At the cheapest end, JBL is the only game in town. Check below for our pick the JBL Go 3.
Under $100: Ultimate Ears Best for Sound
The Ultimate Ears Wonderboom 2 listed below is the best option for sound, though the JBL Clip 3 is much cheaper and more portable.
Under $150: Ultimate Ears Offers Our Favorite Portable Bluetooth Speaker
The portable speaker I actually use most is in the middle price range: the Ultimate Boom 3 described below.
Over $150: We’d Choose JBL
The larger rugged speakers that are worth a few hundred our in our opinion the Xtreme 3 and Boombox 2 from JBL.
The Best Palm-Sized Speaker is from JBL
The smallest JBL speaker that we’d recommend is the JBL Go 3. 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 over what your laptop or mobile phone offers; it goes surprisingly loud for its tiny size. But since it costs nearly as much as the JBL Clip 4, we’d recommend stepping up to that slightly larger and much more powerful option for listening to music. The JBL Go 3 is more of a “personal speaker” that’s fine for gardening with podcasts or when out jogging, but is not really suitable for creating a mobile dance party.
The JBL Go 3 boasts an impressive IP67 rating, meaning it is completely dustproof and waterproof. Should it get dirty just rinse it off and you’re ready to go again.
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 4 vs Ultimate Ears Wonderboom 2
At the next step up is at about 10 cm / 4 inch-wide speakers. The JBL Clip 4 is oval-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. (A previous version of this speaker was worn by The Guy on High Maintenance, though the JBL Clip is more apt for bicyclists than for stoners per se. For those wanting music to enjoy their highs indoors in a quiet room, see instead the JBL Pulse 4 discussion below.)
The JBL Clip 4 offers the best clarity and performance of any speaker it’s size, and depending on the volume can even outlast its advertised 10-hour battery life. It’s also completely (IP67) waterproof and dustproof. The Clip 4 is a more powerful step up from its predecessor JBL Clip 3.
But honestly, the Ultimate Ears Wonderboom 2 sounds much better than the JBL Clip 4; the problem is simply that it’s twice as thick (it’s a squat cylinder) and twice as heavy at .926 pounds / .420 kilo. So it’s not really an accessory that you’d attach to your front backpack strap, which is why for us at least JBL wins in the tiny speaker category.
The Ultimate Ears Wonderboom 2 does knock out a fuller sound than the JBL Clip 4, 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 attach 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).
Sonic Powerhouses the Size of a Tall Beer Can: The JBL Flip 6 vs. Ultimate Ears Boom 3
The super portable speakers that are the next step up in size and price are the JBL Flip 6 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.
Our preference (and that of most critics) is definitely for the Ultimate Ears Boom 3, but they’re both excellent and the JBL Flip 6 tends to come in a bit cheaper. (Try the links in the table above to check prices on different colors for the Boom 3, however, as Amazon sometimes has discounts for this speaker depending on color.)
The JBL Flip 6 does offer clarity and full, even sound and is one of the best-sounding speakers for its price. It is one of a growing number of speakers that now come with USB-C charging, though it’s hard to say that’s a huge advantage; the Boom 3 charges via the older standard mini-USB. For more on the JBL mid-sized travel option, check our comparison of the previous JBL Flip 5 and what’s new with the latest JBL Flip 6.
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 6 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 is available in simpler form on the JBL Flip 6. Both the Boom 3 and Flip 6 speakers are completely waterproof and can be fully submerged for up to 30 minutes; they’re also dustproof (rated IP67).
If you buy multiple units of either brand you can pair them together for bigger sound; the Flip 6 is compatible with other JBL PartyBoost speakers and the Boom 3 pairs with other Boom 3s or Megaboom 3s via their apps.
Larger Cylinder-Shaped Speakers: The JBL Charge 5 vs. Ultimate Ears Megaboom 3
The next step up in size is the JBL Charge 5 and Ultimate Ears Megaboom 3, both of which are about the size and shape of a wine bottle minus the top neck. The Charge 5 is designed to lay on its side whereas the Megaboom 3 is happier standing upright and in the middle of the action.
You can check out our full review of the Megaboom 3 vs the previous-version Charge 4, as well as our comparison of the JBL Charge 4 and the Charge 5. But to put it simply we think both speaker lines are great, and here Ultimate Ears is just barely eeking out a win. Since it’s often more expensive, 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.
“Smart” Speakers: The JBL Link 10 & 20 vs. Ultimate Ears Blast & Megablast
I wouldn’t buy these or any smart speakers, personally. Speakers are best for listening; it’s easier to talk to and get information from a device that has a screen to give you visual feedback, 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 5 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. (Update as of December 2021: These speakers appear to have possibly been discontinued already—apparently nobody else saw much of a point in them either.)
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 3 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.
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.
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.