Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Review: Don't buy the JBL Link 10 or the JBL Link 20! Junk speakers have unavoidable ugly popping noises.

TL;DR

The JBL LINK 10 and LINK 20 should have been amazing products. Unfortunately, all three units purchased from two different Best Buy stores have the same major audio problem. The audio cracks and pops even at medium volume of the most delicate content. I cannot get through Clair de Lune (at medium volume) or even streaming of voice content from NPR without very noticeable popping at random instants – the kind of popping you might expect if you had a loose connection within a speaker amplifier that generates discontinuous movements of a speaker every time it vibrates loose for a moment. We have returned all three speakers. I do not recommend you waste your time or money with these things.

I was originally very excited by the announcement of the JBL LINK Series, with the JBL LINK 10 (below, left) and the JBL LINK 20 (below, right) models being particularly interesting to me.

JBL LINK 10: New Google-Assistant-enabled speaker from JBL (available at Best Buy)            JBL LINK 20: New Google-Assistant-enabled speaker from JBL (available at Best Buy)

In short, both speakers are like portable versions of the traditional Google Home with the promise of potentially better audio quality because they are made by speaker companies. There have been several 3rd-party Bluetooth speakers with Amazon Alexa integration, but they are more similar to the Echo Tap than the full Echo because they required pressing a button to call up Alexa. Instead, members of the JBL LINK series are fully voice activated just like Google Home, and the LINK 10 promises a 5-hour battery life when unplugged and the LINK 20 promises a 10-hour battery life when unplugged. Furthermore, both the LINK 10 and LINK 20 have an IPX7 waterproof design which means you can not only take them outside but you can put them in the shower. My wife and I have been looking for an elegant way to extend our voice assistants and multi-room audio systems outside, and this new line of speakers seemed perfect for that. Plus, when we brought them inside, they could serve as full-featured voice-activated Google Home replacements (albeit without the beta features that we get early on our real Google Homes).

On the day the JBL LINK 20 was released, we purchased a $199 JBL LINK 20 from a local Best Buy. Setting it up was identical to setting up a Google Home. The unit came with a JBL's characteristic orange 10W USB charger and micro-USB cable; however, the unit had plenty of charge and could be used off the charger out of the box. Once I set it up, I asked Google Assistant to stream from our local NPR station. I was surprised to hear subtle but very noticeable popping at random times during the stream. I thought this could be a problem with the stream (although I did not notice these popping noises when I streamed on true Google Home or Amazon Echo devices in our home), and so I played a nice song called "Tennessee Whiskey" by Chris Stapleton, and I noticed the same problem. Finally, I played the gentle, all-piano "Clair de Lune" by Claude Debussy at medium volume (2 or 3 dots on the front of the unit) and heard the same random popping. The popping is unrelated to whether the speaker is plugged into the charger or not; it is consistent in all operating conditions.

Being an optimist, I assumed I must have received a dud. Trying to minimize the chances of getting another from a batch of duds, I returned the unit back to a different Best Buy and purchased BOTH a $149 JBL LINK 10 and a brand new $199 JBL LINK 20 to try them out. I was surprised to find out that the $50 difference between the two not only paid for the larger speaker and battery but also paid for the USB charger! Although the LINK 20 comes with a 10W charger, the LINK 10 only comes with the cable. Regardless of that, they BOTH had the exact same problem as the first LINK 20 we purchased – they couldn't pass the "Clair de Lune" test at medium volume! So I have to conclude that there is something fundamentally wrong with the JBL LINK series (at least in the LINK 10 and LINK 20 varieties).

I'm extremely disappointed by this result. It makes me think that the sale of Harman (and JBL) to Samsung earlier this year is starting to take its toll on product quality. I guess I should be happy the device didn't explode in my hands. Still, I'm sad it doesn't provide the awesome sound quality of the much older JBL products I own. Even the $80 JBL FLIP 4's that I have clearly out-perform these much more expensive LINK 10 and LINK 20's. I was thinking about pairing the new Google Home Mini with a JBL FLIP 4, but I just learned that the Google Home Mini has no 3.5mm audio jack and only has Bluetooth support as a target speaker and not as a source (so you are stuck with the Mini's apparently crappy speaker). If only the Chromecast Audio could directly connect to a Bluetooth speaker (without some ugly dongle), then at least I'd have a path toward an elegant solution to outdoor casting. Meanwhile, back to the drawing board!

18 comments:

Mike Stevens said...

I've been having this problem too, although it's only just developed this week, after having played perfectly fine for about two months. Very disappointed, returning it today.

Unknown said...

Bought a link 20 on december. Started having the same problem today

packofkids said...

Same here, and when I call they always tell me that this hasn't happened before.

packofkids said...

Same here, and when I call they always tell me that this hasn't happened before.

j matias said...

Same here, cracling and pooping sounds when playing music.

Kandungan m-bio porasi said...

wow, I thought it just happen to me only

Unknown said...

What about JBL Flip-4 model, i want to purchase it. .

Unknown said...

Hey I had this problem. I found that when I put it in a group with a Chromecast audio with the high dynamic range turned on it took on those ISSUES with the JBL speaker. I deleted from that group and turn off the HDR sound.seems to have fixed it

Unknown said...

Does this happen both when connected to power and when not charging?

John Roberts said...

Just took 2nd one off of the google home app....using it as a straight Bluetooth audio device. Not a single crack or pop so far. I exchanged my original (said something was wrong on my end) after half a dozen different reset methods I finally told them I was done trying to fix something for them that was under warranty. This speaker has Wi-Fi/Bluetooth frequency issues that Samsung, JBL, Harman, whoever doesn't wanna fess up to. Out of curiosity I took it off Bluetooth and strictly used it wi-fi. No pops or cracks. It's not bad as far as being just a speaker. It's just unfortunate that this will not be added to my home audio system group. It's a shame you can't get it to work with google home and Bluetooth. Glad all my other JBL, Harman, Infinity, products were pre buy out. Quality control should have caught this. Have a feeling ten years ago they would have already put out a recall. Shame really, if this is any indication of things to come I think these once great devices will be off my brand list.

Unknown said...

John, are you usually using your Link connected to power, or on the battery? I've encountered users that had problems specifically depending on the type of power it was plugged into. That is to say, the popping only occurred when using USB power, not an A/C adapter.

Ted Pavlic said...

Someone asked about the Flip-4. I don't have any trouble with the old Flip-4 models (I imply this in my original post). I'm actually using a couple connected directly to some Amazon Echo Dot's.

Ted Pavlic said...

UPDATE: In case you're looking for an alternative, I ended up doing with the Insignia Voice Smart Portable Speaker (with Google Assistant). It's a little quirky of a device, and the speaker isn't as good quality as other devices, but it doesn't crackle and pop and seems to be reliable:

Best Buy: Insignia Voice Smart Portable Bluetooth Speaker and Alarm Clock with Google Assistant

This unit is normally $149.99 (at the time of this post). They make a non-portable and slightly smaller version of the same product in both black and gray as well. That smaller (and non-portable) version is normally $99, but it is currently on sale for $39.

You can find all three products at: BestBuy: Insignia Voice Speakers with Google Assistant

Because it's Insignia, you can only buy them at BestBuy (or via BestBuy's website).

Anonymous said...

No one above has indicated whether the issue occurs regardless of whether it's plugged in or not, or what power source it's using? This is something that is important to determine the steps to use in diagnosing the problem, yet people have more than once ignored the question on this thread. Guess it's just easier to cry "junk speaker".

Unknown said...

This fixed mine! Thanks so much!!

Unknown said...

Also what the big kill is....if you have a smartphone with Google assistant. You have a louder, more inexpensive link 10/20.

Unknown said...

"Also what the big kill is....if you have a smartphone with Google assistant. You have a louder, more inexpensive link"

Aside from the fact that "cheaper" makes more sense than "more inexpensive", I'm going to have to say I've yet to see the smartphone that is louder than even the Link 10. Care to link to the magical smartphone you speak of, and we'll take a look at its price? (since, you know, it's "more inexpensive")

Like ANY smartphone is EVER going to cost you less than $100, all said.

Rachel R. Fore said...

Thank you for sharing this information.