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!

49 comments:

Unknown 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.

galletto 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.

Unknown said...

Same here, cracling and pooping sounds when playing music.

Kandungan m-bio porasi said...

wow, I thought it just happen to me only

Haroon Mughal 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.

Anonymous said...

I missed this important and post and bought, Its really bad that this big brand selling trash on high price.

Anonymous said...

Again, have asked multiple people having this problem about how they're connecting it - if it's plugged in to power and if so straight through to an adapter or a USB port on a computer - ignored EVERY SINGLE TIME.

Guess it is just plain easier to say something sucks without answering questions?

Unknown said...

Just bought a link 10 yesterday. Connected it and liatened all night. No popping or crackling. This morning it hasnt stopped and is driving me nuts... Is there a fix?

Anonymous said...

Unknown who bought a Link 10 yesterday, is your Link 10 doing this when connected to power AND when not connected to power? If it is only doing it when connected to power, is it connected to a power adapter directly, or running off a USB port on a computer/other object?

Unknown said...

This fixed it for me as wel just keep it out of the group settings

Unknown said...

I'm having the exact same issue both plugged in and running on battery. It's amazing that a issue in the primary function of the device would slip through QC.

Anonymous said...

Jethro, thanks for actually providing details.

When it's "plugged in", do you mean to a USB port, or to an adapter? If to an adapter, is the adapter connected to a power strip, or directly to the wall?

Unknown said...

Ok here are some more details. after experiencing the crackling I started to experiment. The speaker crackles more after is has been playing for a little while (10 minutes or so) This crackle happens if its both running on battery, plugged into power via the power adapter included in the box or plugged in to any other power adapter. I also tested it purely on bluetooth and on wifi, it still crackled near constantly. Sometimes this crackle would become so bad that the speaker would cut out for about a half second and crackle loudly. I ran these tests through bluetooth with multiple devices, and wifi connected to different access points... the crackle persisted. There was nothing I could do to get the crackling to stop. I took some spectrograph images of the sound profile showing the cracking events (which happen every 20 seconds or so) into where I purchased the speaker.

HERES THE KICKER.

I got them to replace the speaker.I took it to the parking lot and tested it, within 30 seconds it was crackling. I took it back inside and the staff tested it using their devices.. still crackling on a speaker less than 5 minutes out of the box........ SO.....

that store is now sending 9... yes 9... JBL link speakers back to JBL because I sat down and tested the entirety of their stock, making them replace the speaker every time it started to crackle. needless to say they were stunned and not very impressed.

I am not going to let someone else buy a fundamentally faulty speaker.. I cleared their stock out because JBL needs to do some goddamn QC on their products. How on earth can such a huge issue slip through... If you want to give your link speaker a good test, play some white noise at about 80% volume and wait for it to crackle and pop.

I wanted to love this speaker, I really did. It has just what I was looking for in portability and smart features, yet its a broken system. I guess I will be waiting for an equivalent speaker to be released in future as I can find a single working link 10/20 anywhere.

Unknown said...

Some models CAN be broken, certainly, I'll take your word. I however have two, use them for work (I'm an ESL teacher, so they work well for playing songs for students to catch words from and write them on blanks in worksheets), the volume is great for 40 student classrooms, and the only thing I ever have an issue with is Google Home specifically (the school has different wifi connections, so if it's not the "home" connection, Home won't work).

To all reading the above, by all means, do the test the above speaker mentioned. Worst case scenario, you go back to the store and get your money back. But if not, it's a great speaker. Go on any online store website and compare the positive reviews to the negative ones, you'll see what I mean.

Unknown said...

You're right that many speakers work just fine, otherwise they probably would have recalled them by now from the public pressure. As I stands, this is the only place I have seen people complain about them.

I likely just got my hands on a botched production run.. I work as a teacher too and want to be able to use this speaker with it's smart features in the classroom. I am going to try my luck at another store and see if I can get myself a fault free one.
I put my infominform up there so people can be aware of the known issues with what seems like a unusually large quantity of speakers

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Unknown said...

My jbl link 10 won't charge .Its only a month old

Unknown said...

"I put my infominform up there so people can be aware of the known issues with what seems like a unusually large quantity of speakers"

What part of the fact that only you and a few other people online posting equals an unusually large number of speakers having problems? Have you tried what, a hundred in total? A drop in the bucket, even if it's a hundred you tried, which is doubtful.

"My jbl link 10 won't charge .Its only a month old"

Like what, when you have it plugged in to power, the lights on the back that show charging don't light up at all? Need more information here.

Anonymous said...

Interesting review, and what a disappointment for a device that should have been great.
My problem is that the USB power is not getting into the JBL Link 10. This happened, wouldn't you know it, about 2 days outside 12 month warranty, and it's apparently a reasonably common problem too.

JBL refused point blank to do anything about it. I wouldn't buy one of their branded devices again unfortunately.

Anonymous said...

"Apparently a reasonably common problem, too."

Says who?

Anonymous said...

Sheran, thanks for being a spambot. Can someone in charge here remove the spambot's comment?

Betto Arias said...

Please if some of you give a idea. Mi Brand New Link 20 (6 hours) wont authenticate .keeps saying "cant authenticate"... Consult Google Chromecast support... So frustrating Saludos desde AsunciĆ³n, Paraguay. Thanks in advance.

Unknown said...

Great sounding speaker,but after reading all these problems am returning, any suggestions on a speaker with same sound quality as the link 10

Unknown said...

Same here. Also mine keepskeeps saying pleaseplease connect with your Google account

Anonymous said...

"Also mine keeps saying please connect with your Google account"

So since that obviously is a tech issue beyond whether or not your speaker stays connected, have you spoken with JBL directly? Or did you just come on a comment board to whine about it without actually being proactive in resolving it?

camiot said...

As soon as I removed it from Google Home there were no issues. Obviously I want to use it with that so I will repair and try to check sound settings but ive been using bluetooth lately anyways

Anonymous said...

This obviously isn't a group of idiots but you are. Yeah that has nothing to do with the issue so let us know when you have something useful to contribute

Anonymous said...

Yesss that fixed it for me! Thank you.

Ajay Kumar said...

I bought JBL LINK 20 in January 2019 from BestBuy, I have not noticed any issues with audio quality but this was lower sound output when I compared with my Alex echo 2 which is smaller in size than this. The sound quality of alexa is far better and its much cheaper like $79 on amazon vs JBL LK 20 is $199.
During July 2019 I started using the speaker for audio with projector from my macbook pro. The audio was not in sync with the video no matter how much I tried the latency set up. Best Buy refused to return it and suggested to call JBL. They walked me thru the troubleshooting and they see the issue and they said its normal and this device is not designed to sync audio with video. I said Alexa does not have this problem when I play project video with audio on Alex. They realized to send me a new JBL LK 20 with the same issue. They said they cannot refund and cannot give a different device. Sadly, I am waiting for the new LK 20 to arrive and test. I hope they fixed this latency.
I strongly recommend you test the speaker with your phone blue tooth by playing a video while in store before you buy.

Unknown said...

Pretty much the above. They always have these models in the store, anything you're curious about, you have the ability to try before you buy, so why you wouldn't is beyond me.

Anonymous said...

Connected with bluetooth no more craking sounds

Unknown said...

I had the same problem with the crackling sound on two JBL link 20. Both when connected and disconnected from the USB power. The store claimed that they couldn't recreate the problem either in the store or during JBL's testing, but accepted the fact that the problem was there after all. After the problem occurred on the second one I returned it and looked for another speaker with similar specs, but haven't found one until now when I see that JBL has the "Link Portable". Anyone tried this one?

crazeeeyez said...

Removing it from all groups seems to have helped. That's kinda sucky though. Thanks for sharing.

Anonymous 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."

THIS. For me, I was using some other cable from an old android phone and a USB power adapter from some old iphone. I pulled it off the power and the problem went away completely! Went and found the original (ugly orange) adapter and cable that the Link 20 came with. Problem is GONE.

I bought this for use with the playlist and being able to group speakers up (whole house vs a room or two) so taking it out of a group was not OK with me.

The problem still occurs on the JBL playlist but it is also quite far from the router. Will do more investigation there (there is no option on how you power this as the power cable comes out the back/hardwired with an AC power plug).

Anonymous said...

https://aab-edu.net/

Anonymous said...

I got the link 10, 20 and 300 for a fraction of the retail price. The only time I have ever heard the popping cracking is when I have had it connect through bluetooth. I usually just have them as part of my home network along with 2 chromecast audios for whole house sound. I have not heard the cracking or popping when linked together via wifi.