JBL Authentics: Vintage inspired Looks and Legendary JBL Sound

You know how first impressions can turn into lasting impressions?  Usually they are little things: like, did they get out of their chair when someone entered the room, did they hold the door open for a stranger, or was there a follow up note thanking you for whatever warranted a follow up?  Sadly, these little things are so rare that we are becoming immune to the sadness that we should all feel when they don’t occur.  Such manners as a follow up, a thank you or countless other common decency characteristics just seem to be missing from our daily interaction these days.

Clockwise from top, JBL Authentics 500, 200 and 300

While I digress, let me come back to my first impressions unboxing the JBL Authentics speakers for which there are three in the series.  JBL has completely blown me away by using zero plastic or Styrofoam in the packaging. Most purchasers will never pick up on this nor see why this is so important, but for me it stresses that JBL is a company that gets it.

JBL Authentics 500 paired with the new JBL Spinner turntable that seamlessly pairs to the Authentics product line via Bluetooth.

I recently watched a viral video making the rounds on Instagram of a bunch of rich kids on a million-dollar boat dumping bucket loads of plastic and garbage into the ocean off the coast of Miami, Florida. Turns out they were getting rid of the boozy evidence of a day of underage drinking before heading back to port. The video enraged me for the entitlement of these kids, the lack of respect for the ocean and for the bucketloads of plastic that they had just freed to the ocean floor.  I hope these kids, who did get caught with the outrageous video blowing up on social media, are now spending the summer in community service cleaning up the beaches and that they never get the keys to the parent’s boat again. Watch the shocking video below.

With that video fresh in my mind, anytime I see unnecessary disposable plastic being used for packaging, I conclude the company is lazy.  First impressions, right? For consumers, our choice of amazing products have never been greater.  Does one brand make better products than another?  That’s a tough one since the bar is already so high. If you are flipping a coin, why not support the company that’s made a conscience effort to rid themselves of unnecessary disposable plastic packaging?  With that said, the next few paragraphs are going to be fully (ok, mostly) filled with praise for the JBL Authentics line.  They have made a great first impression.

The JBL Authentics 300 with lithium battery to easily carry from room to room

The Authentics line was first introduced in September 2023 during the IFA Consumer Tech Fair in Berlin, Germany. The rollout came earlier this spring and now all speakers in the Authentics line are readily available across Canada.

The down-firing subs from each model

The series offers three speakers, the Authentics 500, the largest of the portable speakers, the Authentics 300 that houses a lithium battery for additional portability, and the smallest speaker, the Authentics 200.  Outside of the 500 (the flagship and most expensive featuring Dolby Atmos capabilities), all three speakers share a similar functionality and appearance.  Indeed the 8” top plate that houses the control panel for volume, bass and treble, functionality is a shared part between all three speakers (with an added power button for the battery operated 300). All three speakers have a black foam waffle grill inspired by the iconic JBL L100, the best-selling speaker of the 1970s, and the three also share down-firing subwoofers proportionally sized to the speaker.

Each speaker grill features a matte bronze aluminium housing

The grill is framed in a matte bronze-coloured aluminium and subtly etched into the metal is “Authentic Sound By JBL….Since 1948” a nice touch and a reminder that JBL has played a big role in the story of music from Hollywood to Woodstock.  It’s also nice to be able to use the word ‘subtle’ when describing a JBL speaker; the logo can usually be seen from a football field away!

The Authentics series are not outdoor speakers and don’t follow the product roll out of the popular Charge, Flip and Extreme line of outdoor waterproof speakers.  The Authentics are clearly shooting across the bow of companies such as Sonos and Bluesound as an alternative brand capable of providing wireless whole home sound.

Could the Authentics series challenge the Sonos and Bluesound heavy weights off the perch as a third option?  Probably not, based on the series being limited to three speakers and no product offering like a Bluesound Node or Sonos Connect to incorporate legacy gear into the whole home equation, but for a young person in a small condo looking for a stylish (non-white or standard black) speaker, the Authentics has plenty to offer.

The JBL Authentics 200, the smallest in the line but still impressively powerful with 90 watts

The first speaker that I unboxed was the 500, the largest that features three 25mm aluminum dome tweeters working in tandem with a trio of 2.75-inch midrange drivers and a down-firing 6.5-inch subwoofer. The system delivers a frequency range of 40Hz to 20kHz and boasts 270W of power. At 18” wide by nearly 10” high, this is a really big speaker.  My first day was listening to the 500 exclusively through Bluetooth 5.3 SBC codec. Surprisingly, the Authentics line (for now) does not support Bluetooth AptX or AAC but for my first day introduction, the Bluetooth pairing was easy and capable. In a small apartment the Authentics 500 would have your neighbours complaining!  Classic JBL loud with amazing bass.

The easiest way to pair all Authentics speakers is to exit the JBL One App and select the speakers from Apple Airplay by swiping down the Home Screen from the top right corner.

But what I really wanted to experience is how the whole Authentics series navigates together for a multiroom experience.  To do this you must download the JBL One App that connects each speaker to your home network.  For the purpose of this review, I stuck with Spotify Connect and synched the speakers via Apple Airplay.  While hooking up the speakers to a home network is fairly straight forward, the JBL app could use an upgrade to synch each speaker inside the app.  It’s not intuitive nor an easy pairing. I couldn’t figure it out without reading the tutorial that instructed me to exit the app and select the speakers I wished to hear through the Apple Airplay app.  Tricky at first, but once you figured it out, the speakers automatically play on subsequent listening sessions.  Another upgrade to the app would be to make it easier to control the volume of each speaker independently.  It’s possible, but you have to spend some time figuring it out.

Back side of each model

With all three speakers connected, the sound was immense, detailed and loud!  Each speaker has a bass and treble dial and even with bass dialed to 25%, the low-end detailing was still dominant in each of the three speakers.  JBL has been banging bass for 70 years and the company makes no apologies for bringing a concert inspired sound to your living room.  Bass, treble and mid can also be controlled inside the JBL One app. Indeed there was a classic retro balancing to the soundstage, warmth and inviting and dare I say almost analog!

JBL One App, decent but could use a refresh to simplify multi-speaker synching and volume control

While the 500 is the largest speaker, the Authentics 300 with battery power instantly became my favourite of the three-model offering. While mid-sized, the 300 still weighs 11lbs and is 13.5” wide so still plenty big aided with a nice cast aluminum carry handle.  While not as loud as the 500, the two 25 mm tweeters and a full-range 5.25” woofer and down-firing 6.5” passive radiator that power the 300 created the crispest and detailed sound of the three speakers connected to my house.  But more than that, the ability to place the speaker in dead zones where I don’t have an electrical outlet for a dedicated speaker was pure joy, as was wandering from living room, to the patio, to the hot tub without missing one chorus of sound.  The battery is rated at eight hours of continuous playback and the Authentics 300 quickly became my travel companion from lower level of the house to the garage, to outside and everywhere else that I don’t have a dedicated speaker.

Each speaker features a grill inspired by the iconic JBL L100 the best selling speaker from the 1970s

The Authentics 200 is the smallest of the series and is powered by two 25mm tweeters and a 5” woofer with a total 90 watts of sound. I used the 200 for filler in the kitchen when I still wanted to hear what was playing, but at a more ambient level.  If my daughters were about to head off to university, the Authentics 200 would be the speaker that I would send them off with.  Then when they graduate, I’d add the 300 for their apartment and then the 500 as a housewarming! The 200 would also be an easy speaker to pack for an Airbnb or hotel. (Wait, am I the only one that brings a sound system to an Airbnb?)

All three speakers have AirPlay, Chromecast Built-In, Spotify Connect, and Tidal Connect. There is also a wired connection to play MP3 and WAV files via the USB-C port. Also on the control panel of all three speakers is a small heart button that can be used to trigger a playlist from any music service that’s integrated with JBL’s mobile app. Unfortunately, Apple Music and Spotify aren’t among those embedded services, but you can still stream those apps to all three speakers in the Authentics series via AirPlay or by casting on Android, a better option than the basic Bluetooth codec.

Another feature that needs to be mentioned is that the JBL Authentics series is the first product that features both Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant voice assistants that can function simultaneously. Just say “Hey, Google” or “Alexa” and the speaker will trigger your voice prompt of choice. If you are still wary of voice prompts and big tech listening in, all three speakers have a button on the back that can turn off the internal microphones.

If you are a lover of classic 1970s style, muscle cars, stadium rock concerts where you count the amps on the stage, and you don’t want your house to look and sound the same as your neighbours, the JBL Authentics is a stylish and very loud alternative to other whole home streaming brands. The punchy bass and ability to play at high volumes without distortion or muddiness is classic and authentic JBL. No apologies needed.

JBL Authentics 500: $799.00. Authentics 300: $549.00. Authentics 200: $499.00. JBL is exclusively distributed in Canada by Erikson Consumer