JBL JR Pop dHere’s the problem with cheap Bluetooth speakers; you don’t get the chance to listen first. So you won’t know if they sound good or bad until you buy them. They’re usually shrink wrapped and hanging on pegs. Ask salespeople for a listen and they’ll look at you like you’ve just arrived from Mars, and even if you score a listen the places that sell them are usually too crowded and noisy for a proper listen anyway. As for comparing one against another, no way. So you have to go by appearances, brand and intuition. Weight is good too, the heavier the better.

This was on my mind when I received JBL’s JR Pop for a listen; would I buy one if I couldn’t have a listen first? The JR Pop is a Bluetooth wireless speaker made for kids and it costs $49.95. It’s gives up to five hours of playing between charges and it has an IPX7 waterproof rating, meaning it can be immersed to a depth of one metre for 30 minutes without damage.

Appearances? It looks good. It’s nicely made, solid and there’s a sturdy strap and clasp to attach it to a belt or backpack.

JBL JR Pop cBrand? No worries there. JBL has been making speakers since 1927 when James Bullough Lansing and Ken Decker started the business It was a pioneer of movie sound and has made a number of iconic speakers including its best-selling L100 of 1970, which was recently re-born as the L100 Classic and immediately won the Judge’s Choice Award at the Sound and Image Awards.

Intuition? The flashing lights worried me a little, not because they were happy and colourful, but because they cost money that could have gone towards improved sound.

Otherwise it ticked the boxes. If I were looking for a Bluetooth speaker for kids I’d probably buy one. I took it out of the hard plastic package, charged it up and paired my portable, and the first song (Invisible Touch by Genesis, a rocking number with lots going on) sounded terrific. Maximum volume is loud enough to be heard clearly in a noisy environment, not loud enough to hurt anyone’s ears. The more challenging tracks on my audition playlist revealed a propensity towards high range sound. With strong bass it tends to get muddled and poorly defined, but not enough to worry kids unless they’re listening closely. Kids, I suspect, seldom listen closely.

I guess I’d wind up quite pleased with it. But then the reviewer in me took over. Ages ago I had a big rave about Sony’s XB10 Bluetooth portable which, at $59, remains one of the great bargains in hi fi. With enough volume to fill a hotel room I don’t go anywhere without one. So I put mine side by side with the JBL and listened.

JBL JR Pop bThe Sony ate the JR Pop. Comprehensively. Far deeper and better defined bass, more powerful mid range and stronger body. It’s bigger, about the size of a sawn-off drink can, and heavier, it’s nowhere near as suited for carrying around although it does have a belt loop, and there are no flashing lights. Kids like flashing lights. Nor is it IPX7 rated. But it’s worth every cent of the extra ten bucks it costs and, unlike the JBL it has a 3.5 mm auxiliary input.

Sony SRSXB10bIf your kids want something for the playground, something that will take some knocks and get the other kids saying wow, the JBL is it. But if you want to foster enjoyment of music, maybe even a love of music, get the Sony.

Published January 2019


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