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JBL Go Matchbox Sized Bluetooth Audio


Richard Dale
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I've been using a pair of B&W MM-1 speakers as portable speakers when I'm working away from home staying in a hotel or apartment. They sound great, but they are 1.8 kg each, and I also take a Raspberry Pi/USB hard disk/iFi iPower PSU which adds up to nearly 4 kg. I can only take something that heavy when I've got a hold luggage allowance, and it's a bit of a hassle to set up if I'm only away for a week.

 

So I've been looking for something more portable, and I been wondering around the Bluetooth speaker sections of the local shops. The problem for me with Bluetooth is that I'm a bit of an audio snob, and it just seems to be a solution searching for a problem when my Android mobile phone and iPod Touch can run full WiFi and easily work with uncompressed audio files while not running their batteries down much at all. Then I noticed these dinky JBL Go speakers that look like toys (8cm x 6cm x 3cm) and cost peanuts (26-30 euros in Spain), and I thought I could use them as a Bluetooth testbed and try out different apps on my phone and iPod. I got a black one which has a white JBL logo on the back and the front which makes them look like mini PA speakers. As well as playing music they have a noise cancelling microphone and you can use them as a speakphone.

 

When I switched them I heard them make a very satisfying juicy beep sound, which got me encouraged. The first app I tried was the Android JBL Music app, it found the music on my phone OK (all ALAC Apple Lossless with both Red Book and higher res tracks), and showed the cover of the currently playing track, but I couldn't get any sound and the speaker was stuck in speaker phone mode. When I said 'OK Google' the ever helpful lady replied with good clarity, and so the built in mic was working.

 

Being a Bluetooth newbie I had thought that you needed a special music app to play via Bluetooth, and so I tried Google Play Music next and that didn't work either. Then I thought I give the Onkyo HF music app a try as that's what I normally use to drive my iFi iDSD Nano via USB. To my surprise it just worked - I had expected it to be USB only but the JBL Go appeared as an output option. The first track I played was from The New Appalacians album Mountaintop, which is a 24/192 Chesky recording, and so somewhere the original is being down sampled to whatever is needed for Bluetooth. So my audiophile brain started to wonder what was going on and where. Which software was doing the down sampling, what Bluetooth codec was being used? After a bit of googling I failed to find any way of indicating what codec was in use with Bluetooth - ie standard SBC, Apt-X or AAC. I'm pretty sure that both my iPod and Moto G phone were only using SBC, but I would like to find some why of finding out what is going on. Similarly with the down sampling from 24/192 I couldn't find a way of telling whether it was being done by the Onkyo apps or by the Android system software.

 

Next I tried my iPod Touch with the excellent Music Streamer app that I found out about recently on this forum and have been using quite a lot. It just worked, but I still couldn't find out what codec was being used from the IOS UI. I tried the aux input with a 3.5mm jack cable and thought it might be sounding a bit better with less of a digital sound in the treble, although Bluetooth was still better than I would have expected.

 

My favourite apps so far with the JBL Go have been for listening to the radio with TuneIn app or the spanish RNE radio 3 app. I've just spent an hour listening to 'Discopolis Jazz' on RNE 3 and I was pretty knocked out by the voice quality of the announcing and quite how realistic piano was for such a tiny speaker. It sounded like a high quality portable FM radio but about a tenth the size of the B&O Beolit that I used to listen to a long time ago. Obviously no low bass, everything else was very clear.

 

Although a single Go is fine for listening to the radio, I would prefer to listen to my own music collection in stereo, and so I went off searching for how to get Bluetooth working with two devices, one for each channel and it seems that there is no standard. Some devices can relay the Bluetooth signal to the other channel and work in stereo that way, but there is no way of getting your phone to send two Bluetooth signals, one for each channel, as I expected there would be. Unfortunately the JBL Go doesn't support chaining two devices for stereo.

 

At this point I was so taken by the sound of a single Go, that I bought a second one. I intend to drive them both with a pair of Chord C Line RCA 0.5m interconnects with RCA to 3.5mm jack adapters on the ends. It might be possible that the RCA outputs of the iFi Nano will sound better that the headphone jack and I'm looking forward to experimenting and seeing what the JBLs will do as a stereo pair - will the imaging and bass improve? Each speaker weighs 132 grams and so a pair is not much heavier than a pair of travelling headphones like the Sennheiser Momentum over ears that I use.

 

This kind of messing around is why I find being an audiophile such fun, and although I might have record decks and DACs costing thousands of euros, I've had a great time playing with the cheapo JBLs.

System (i): (Stack Audio Link/MoOde > 2Qute+MCRU psu; Gyrodec/SME V/Ortofon 2M Black/EAT E-Glo Petit/Magnum Dynalab FT101A) > Glow Amp One > Klipsch RP-600M

System (ii): iUSB3.0 Nano/Allo USB Signature/MoOde > Bel Canto uLink+AQVOX psu > Chord Hugo > (Tandy LX5; JBL LSR305 ; Audeze LCD-3)

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