JBL Authentics 300 smart speaker review: two assistants at once

JBL’s Authentics line of smart speakers is the first to support Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa working simultaneously on the same audio device. Yeah, somehow it took until recently for that to happen. But if you have a split smart home – or prefer to use Assistant for general questions and Alexa for controlling gadgets – these speakers can do that. It’s a unique selling point that no other company can match (yet), although it’s also a fairly niche market.

I’ve been testing the mid-range Authentics 300 for a few weeks now, and thankfully the dual assistant trick isn’t the only thing that does that. It offers plenty of connectivity options, dials for EQ adjustments on the speaker itself, and a 70s-style vibe. Plus, this is the only Authentics speaker with a built-in battery, so you can take it with you on the go. But there are obvious downsides, including the $449.99 MSRP, inconsistent sound tuning, and lack of protection from the elements.

How we rate and review products

I’m a fan of retro-style speakers, and JBL particularly hits the mark with the Authentics 300. The black leatherette design has gold accents, which I think is a tasteful combo that doesn’t go overboard or enter flashy territory. And the patterned acoustic fabric on the front gives the speaker a classic look that looks great on any shelf. Considering the gigantic logo that JBL often stamps on its Bluetooth speakers, I also appreciate the restraint shown here with a small emblem on the bottom left of the 300’s face.

Weighing in at almost 11 pounds, the Authentics 300 packs a punch. At 13.5 inches wide, it’s far from small. This thing is a far cry from JBL’s regular Bluetooth speakers. But at least there’s a built-in carrying handle that makes moving the 300 around the house easier. Inside the housing are a pair of 25-millimeter tweeters and a single 5.25-inch woofer. Looking at the bottom of the speaker, you can’t miss the downward-firing passive radiator intended to maximize the speaker’s bass response. There’s no Dolby Atmos or spatial audio support to be found here; you’ll have to buy the flagship Authentics 500 if you want that.

At the top are the controls: power; a Bluetooth button for pairing; and a heart button that you can assign to activate a particular playlist from any music service integrated with JBL’s mobile app. Unfortunately, Apple Music and Spotify aren’t among them, but you can still stream those services directly to the 300 via AirPlay or by casting on Android. I recommend doing this whenever possible, as the Authentics 300 is limited to the base SBC codec via Bluetooth, a disappointment at this price point.

A stylish, feature-packed speaker that’s priced too high

The volume rocker on the left doubles as a multi-function button when you press it – once to play/pause, twice to skip tracks and three times to go back – and there are treble and bass buttons on the right . Each of these dials is surrounded by an LED that provides an easy visual representation of what level you are currently on. On the back there’s a 3.5mm auxiliary input (we’d love to see this one), Ethernet, a USB-C input that supports MP3 and WAV files from connected hard drives, and a figure-8 power connector. Last but not least, for the privacy-conscious among us, you’ll notice a physical switch that allows you to disable the speaker’s built-in microphones.

So that is the hardware layout, but a large part of the Authentics 300 is of course JBL’s software. I’m happy to report that the companion mobile app is generally easy to use. However, the three-band EQ leaves some room for improvement: I would have preferred more detailed control over the sound for such a premium device. I had no issues setting up either Alexa or Google Assistant on the device, and once I did, voice commands worked relatively seamlessly. It’s possible to turn the 300 up a bit – for example if you’re playing a song with one voice helper and then ask the other for details about the current song – but chances are you’ll only encounter those edge cases when you look for them goes looking. In everyday use the pair worked refreshingly well, with the speaker responding quickly to the activation phrase for both. I never encountered any noticeable bugs or freezes, so the framework of what JBL is doing here seems strong. Hopefully we’ll see other speaker manufacturers follow the company’s lead soon.

You’d expect very impressive audio quality for the asking price of the Authentics 300, and I’d say you’ll get that about 75 percent of the time. In my testing so far, this speaker has excelled in acoustically driven music, jazz, and classical playback. There’s a nice, perceptible warmth to it that matches the vintage styling, and the detail and clarity are top-notch. The 300 has a lot of it presence that’s enough to envelop any reasonably sized room. You’ve got a 100-watt amp to work with, so this thing can also go impressively loud without distortion or audible strain. At those higher volume levels it outshines other speakers I’ve recently reviewed, like the Sonos Move 2 and UE Epicboom, but across the frequency range it’s not quite on par with the Sonos Five.

It felt like every now and then I would land on a song in a playlist that wasn’t the right fit for JBL’s tuning. I’ve rarely complained about the vocals at pronounced on a speaker, but something about the 300’s tuning can make them cut through the mix more than I’d like, especially on rock songs. I generally left the 300’s EQ alone, but the dials make it easy to experiment from track to track with different amounts of high-end sparkle and bass. However, they are not enough to solve those random numbers where the Authentics 300 is not at its best. Overall, this unit is a cut above JBL’s portable speakers. You can technically use this portable too; I felt JBL’s battery estimate of eight hours was good for the money. Keep in mind that the Authentics 300 doesn’t have any dust or water resistance, so you’ll only want to take it outside in nice weather.

This speaker, and the others in JBL’s Authentics line, mark a big moment for voice assistant harmony. But as long as it took to get here, it seems unlikely that JBL will be able to claim this two-assistant-at-a-time feature as an exclusive perk for very long. If you judge the Authentics 300 in other ways, it’s a very capable speaker with great looks that gives you plenty of functionality and different ways to play music, whether it’s via Bluetooth, Wi-Fi or connected via the auxiliary connection or USB-C. However, the price here is hard to swallow. At the time of publication, the Authentics 300 retails for $350. That seems more appropriate to me for what you get in return, especially if you find yourself trapped in a split, chaotic, smart home life.

Photography by Chris Welch / The Verge

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *