JBL Clip 3 review: Still a no-brainer

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Shot of the JBL Clip 3 on top of a book with a game controller visible.

The JBL Clip 3 has a few design changes, but it’s still easily recognizable.

For the last few years, the JBL Clip series has been one of the top options if you’re looking for a tough little speaker that won’t break the bank. The latest of which is the Clip 3, which kept the best aspects of the previous Clip 2 and improved on some of the most important features. But how much better did it actually get? Let’s find out.

Editor’s note: This post was updated on December 30th, 2019 to reflect changes in pricing.  

Who’s the JBL Clip 3 for?

  • Hikers. If you like camping or hiking you likely already have a carabiner or two, but this one has a speaker on the other end of it. I mean, c’mon.
  • Shower singers. With the IPX7 waterproof rating and the built-in carabiner, the Clip 3 is perfect for hanging in the bathroom.
  • Podcast listeners. The Clip 3 is definitely lacking in the low end, but the emphasis on vocals makes it a solid choice for anyone that just wants to listen to a podcast while going about their business.

What’s it like to use the JBL Clip 3?

At first glance, there isn’t much of a difference between the new JBL Clip 3 and the previous version, but then you look a little closer and notice the subtle differences. Sure, it still has a carabiner, but unlike the Clip 2—this one is built into the frame of the speaker instead of just being a small metal triangle.

Pictured is the JBL Clip 3 attached to a backpack strap.

The JBL Clip 3 weighs less than half a pound making it easy to bring with you on a hike.

The JBL Clip 3 also still has the same three playback buttons as the previous model, but now you’ll find them embedded in the front fabric of the speaker as opposed to the small indents around the edge. With its latest model, JBL seems to have a coherent design language across its products now as the buttons are consistent with the other speakers in the product line-up. The biggest upgrade is around the back of the speaker, which is now a solid plastic instead of a cutout for a 3.5mm cable. Especially since there’s still a 3.5mm input so if you did want to plug in all you have to do is provide your own cable.

Pictured is the JBL Clip 4 against a gray background with a synthesize and pen.

The JBL Clip 3 is still IPX7 waterproof and has three buttons for playback controls.

That said, you’re probably not getting a JBL Clip 3 based on whether or not it has an audio cable attached. So you’ll be happy to know that this speaker is just as tough as its predecessors. You can completely submerge it if need be thanks to the IPX7 build, and the carabiner being built into the frame just gives it a more rugged feel overall. Not that I was worried about the hard plastic being ripped off of the older model, but the new design introduces less moving parts which is always good for devices meant to take a beating. Plus, the carabiner feels sturdy and doesn’t feel flimsy at all. At 0.49 pounds it makes the perfect hiking companion if you want to hang it from your pack, or even if you just want to hang it from a flimsy showerhead.

How’s the connection?

Shot of the JBL Clip 3 in the shadows with light showing the three playback controls.

The carabiner isn’t new, but the integrated design into its frame is.

The Clip series has never been a speaker on the forefront of connection strength and quality, and that doesn’t change with the Clip 3. You won’t find any high-quality streaming codecs or anything like that, but if we’re being honest that shouldn’t be a surprise considering the price point and target use case of the speaker. It does have Bluetooth 4.1, which means that it has a standard range of about 30 feet which I found to be pretty spot on. In regular use there I never had any problems and I find 30 feet to be more than enough.

Close up of the JBL Clip 3 buttons for power and Bluetooth pairing.

On the side are the power and Bluetooth pairing buttons.

While you can make the case for why some larger speakers should have a bigger range (walking around the house, watching videos on your phone, etc), I can’t think of too many times when you’ll be pushing the range of this speaker. As far as playback controls go, you can pause or play music, adjust volume, or skip to the next track by double-clicking the play button in the middle. You can also answer or end phone calls thanks to the built-in microphone which I can personally attest to its usefulness in the shower. Even if it’s just to say, “Let me call you back.”

How good is the JBL Clip 3’s Battery Life?

Man holding the JBL Clip 3 with the protective flap open revealing the micro USB and 3.5mm input.

Under a protective flap is where you’ll find the micro USB port for charging and the 3.5mm input.

The design is a pretty welcome improvement in my opinion just because of the overall look and feel of the product, but it’s the battery life that is the biggest improvement. JBL says you’ll get about ten hours of constant playback, but in our testing, we were able to push this to 16 hours and 11 minutes at a constant output of 75dB which is super impressive.

It’s worth mentioning, however, that if you’re outdoors you’ll likely be playing music at a higher output to make it easier to hear—so you should expect battery life to suffer accordingly. One downside to note is that it only charges via microUSB which is a bummer for a recent product release, even at this price point.

How does the JBL Clip 3 sound?

Shot of the JBL Clip 3 from the front clipped to a hiking backpack.

The carabiner isn’t new, but the integrated design into its frame is.

The sound quality of the JBL Clip doesn’t seem to be much different from the past versions, so if you’ve had or listened to one of those before then you know what to expect. The speaker does a pretty decent job with mids and listening to songs like Swans and the Swimming by Iron & Wine, I didn’t feel like I was missing too much. Guitars and vocals come through loud and clear and while it does struggle with clarity when songs have more going on, I found it perfect for relaxing acoustic songs and also podcasts.

Now if you like to listen to bass-heavy music, then this is going disappoint. There’s a hard drop off in the frequency response when it comes to low end, and the thumping bass of Kids with Guns by the Gorillaz ended up sounding more like something in the lower mids rather than the bass. Still, it’s hard to expect much else from something that’s so small. Similarly, highs aren’t going to be super detailed either and tend to sound more subtle and less clear.

What are some other options?

Pictured: The JBL Flip 4 speaker dangling over a body of water; skies are minimally cloudy around sunset.

The IPX7 waterproofing means that the JBL Flip 4 can be submerged in one meter of water for 30 minutes.

If you like the idea of portable Bluetooth speakers that are tough, waterproof, and still sounds good, then luckily you have plenty of options. For those looking to stick with JBL, there’s the JBL Flip 4 that’s definitely worth checking out. It has the same waterproof fabric you’ll find here and the same IPX7 build. You’ll also get a good battery life and a larger speaker that gets louder than the Clip. Still, that speaker is usually around $100, give or take a few bucks.

Holding the Anker Soundcore Flare in the hand.

The Anker Soundcore Flare isn’t too big and can be easily carried around.

Anyone looking for a speaker that won’t break the bank but is still portable and fun should go with the Anker Soundcore Flare. Anker doesn’t just make battery packs, and the Soundcore line of audio products is full of bang for your products that are worth checking out. The Soundcore Flare features a colorful LED ring along the bottom of the speaker that changes colors as the music plays. It’s also small enough to easily throw in your backpack and sounds surprisingly good for a speaker of that size. There are plenty of other options as well if you don’t mind spending a little more, but for those make sure to check out our full list.

Final thoughts

The Clip 3 is basically a refinement of one of my personal favorite speakers to date. It has a new, tougher design that’s more in line with other JBL products and also now has much-improved battery life. While the sound quality isn’t going to reach backyard barbecue levels of loudness, it’s perfect for small gatherings, hikes, or just listening to podcasts in the shower. The Clip series has always been a no-brainer at around $50, but this new and updated version is the first time I’ve thought of it as an absolute steal. It’s worth mentioning that the price usually fluctuates anywhere from $39 to $69, so make sure to wait until you see it for around $50 before picking one up for yourself. At the time of this update, it’s only $40 which is a nice deal, though it’s worth mentioning that CES 2020 is just around the corner and JBL usually reveals the new models of their Bluetooth speakers at that time. So if you’d rather wait for the new one, then you don’t have much longer to go as CES is the first week of January. But if you don’t really care and just want a good speaker, this is one of the best prices you’ll find

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