Bose vs JBL: which portable speaker should you buy?

If you’re ruminating on the question of Bose vs JBL, it’s likely you’re in the market for a high-quality portable Bluetooth speaker. For lounging about in the park with friends, for pumping out the tunes at a party, or for just unwinding with a podcast in the bath, nothing beats a speaker you can just pick up and take with you.

Bose and JBL offer two of our absolute favorite examples, so we’ve put them head to head in this round-up to help you figure out which is right for you. In the Bose corner, we have the mighty Bose Soundlink Flex. Retailing for $149.95, it does what a lot of Bose speakers do, and produces far better sound than you’d expect for a speaker of its size. When Bose launched this rugged speaker in 2021, it was with the tagline of, “bass that you can feel in your chest.” Marketing hype? Well, yes, but it’s impressive nonetheless.

For JBL, meanwhile, we’ve picked the JBL Flip 6. Also announced in 2021, this is a fun, powerful speaker that’s available in a veritable smorgasbord of color options. It retails for $129.99, though can frequently be found for less than that, and delivers sound with impressive clarity across the board – JBL loves pointing to its famous “racetrack-shaped” woofer that takes care of the low tones. Like the Bose, it’s tough enough to take anywhere (we’ll get into the particulars shortly).

As you can see, it’s shaping up to be a close-run contest. So, let’s not waste any more time in settling the question of Bose vs JBL.

Bose vs JBL: Design

Design-wise, in many ways these two speakers present quite a similar proposition. They weigh almost the same – the JBL Flip 6 clocks in at 1.21 lbs, while the Bose Soundlink Flex is very slightly heavier at 1.32 lbs. Both are also pleasingly tough, with each speaker bearing an IP67 rating. What IP67 means, in real terms, is that something is both dustproof and waterproof. The JBL Flip 6 and Bose SoundLink Flex are just that, able to be fully submerged to depths of 1m or so and come up smiling. You wouldn’t want to leave them in the bath indefinitely, but they’ll survive an accidental soaking.

The JBL Flip 6 is cylindrical and coated in fabric mesh, with four buttons on top for controlling volume, playback and connectivity, and as mentioned, it’s available in a ton of colors, everything from pink to teal to camo pattern. Four buttons on top control volume, playback and PartyBoost – we might have preferred a skip back button rather than dedicating that much real estate to PartyBoost, but it’s a small thing.

The Bose SoundLink Flex has a silicone finish and power-coated steel grille, and is designed to be able to withstand a drop or two. It comes in four colours – black, stone blue, white smoke and carmine red. One feature we especially like though is its clever little fabric utility loop, which allows it to be hung off objects or clipped onto bags (it benefits from a carabiner if you have one handy). The JBL Flip 6 has a fabric strap for carrying, but it doesn’t feel as sturdy. 

Winner: Bose

Bose SoundLink Flex

IP67 waterproofing means the speaker can take a dunking. (Image credit: Bose)

Bose vs JBL: Audio quality

The JBL Flip 6 uses a familiar configuration of components – at least, to anyone who used a Flip 5. A racetrack-shaped woofer combines with dual passive radiators to deliver clear and powerful low frequencies, while there’s a new tweeter to deal with the high end. The audio is pleasingly balanced, with clarity across the tonal range, and you can get plenty of volume out of this little speaker. For those who like to customise their listening experience, JBL also offers an adjustable equaliser. Bass not cutting through enough for your liking? Dive in and configure it! One thing to be aware of though is that some users have reported minor but noticeable sound distortion when pushing the Flip 6 to its highest volumes.

The Bose SoundLink Flex, meanwhile, uses a 60mm transducer and dual passive radiator to drive some of the deepest, thumpingest bass you can get out of a bluetooth speaker. But it’s not just a matter of power – the bass has real clarity to it, and the sound carries fantastically even when you’re outdoors. Bose also has its PositionIQ technology, which purports to adjust the EQ levels based on the speaker’s positioning and environment. A nice idea – though since there’s no way to turn it off, you can’t really get a sense of what it’s bringing to the table. Also, there’s no manual EQ option.

This is a really close category, and in all honesty, it could easily come down to personal preference for a lot of listeners. We’re going to give it to Bose for its bassy power and gorgeous clarity, but the JBL Flip 6 sounds fantastic as well.

Winner: Bose (by a hair)

Bose SoundLink Flex

Bose's speaker delivers incredible bass. (Image credit: Bose)

Bose vs JBL: Features

These are both fairly simple speakers – they pump out sound, and don’t do a whole lot else. Both connect via bluetooth, however the JBL Flip 6 uses the newer bluetooth 5.1 standard, while the Bose SoundLink Flex makes do with bluetooth 5.1. There’s no difference in audio quality (which is one of the main reasons Bose didn’t bother to upgrade) but you can expect a longer transmission range from the JBL.

Both speakers also offer stereo pairing. JBL has its aforementioned PartyBoost mode that lets you sync two or more JBL speakers of the same generation up together and have them all blast out the same tunes. Bose, meanwhile, offers similar connectivity functionality with the Bose Connect app – if you have other Bose speakers, or even a Bose soundbar, you can pair them all together quickly and easily.

One difference though is that the Bose SoundLink Flex manages to find room for a built-in mic, while the JBL Flip 6 does not, meaning you can take calls with your phone connected, and take advantage of the speaker’s excellent clarity. While we doubt this is a high priority for many users, it’s a nice option to have. 

Winner: Bose

Bose vs JBL: Battery life

Neither speaker distinguishes itself on battery life by the general standards of the market. The Bose SoundLink Flex and JBL Flip 6 both come packing rechargeable lithium-ion batteries that are rated to last around 12 hours, though if you push the volume above 50% or so, you can expect to get less than this.

One thing to note though is that the JBL Flip 6 juices up faster, requiring just 2.5 hours to get to a full charge, as opposed to 4 hours on the Bose SoundLink Flex. Both speakers charge via USB-C.

Winner: JBL

JBL Flip 6

The JBL Flip 6 in sedate black. (Image credit: JBL)

Bose vs JBL: Value

We’ve picked similarly priced speakers for the purposes of this round-up, but the Bose SoundLink Flex is the more expensive of the two, with an RRP of $149.95, at which you’ll consistently find it sold online. The JBL Flip 6, meanwhile, has a retail price of $129.99, and also seems to be discounted more readily – it’s currently listed for $99 at Walmart. A difference of $50 is quite significant for two speakers as closely matched as this, and it’s a very compelling argument for the JBL Flip 6 as being the best buy.

Winner: JBL

JBL Flip 6

JBL's Flip 6 is a slightly more affordable option. (Image credit: JBL)

Should you buy the Bose SoundLink Flex or the JBL Flip 6?

Two excellent portable bluetooth speakers have entered the ring here. For lazy outdoor days, pool parties and more, it’s hard to see anyone being disappointed with either the Bose SoundLink Flex or the JBL Flip 6, both of which produce a big sound belied by their small dimensions.

If we had to pick the better one overall, and the premise of the article says we do, we’d give it to the Bose SoundLink Flex, as the quality, clarity and power of its sound is just that bit better. However, it is the more expensive of the two, so if you’re working to a strict budget, the JBL Flip 6 will do everything you need it to for a cheaper outlay.

Jon Stapley

Jon Stapley is an NCTJ-qualified journalist that has contributed to a plethora of sites, including Shortlist, The Skinny, The Guardian, Digital Camera World and more. He covers photography and technology, covering news on the latest gadgets and sourcing fantastic deals on great tech products.