JBL’s IFA launch was held beneath the Berliner Funkturm radio tower in the interconnected standalone IFA home of Harman (a Samsung company, as the signs outside remind everyone), and while they took a while herding us in, there were no complaints even when a delay was announced (time is very tight during IFA press days) given that this is one of the few IFA launches which is fully catered, and a delay left time for an extra round of drinks.

100 million smiles
A warm reception, then, for the news that JBL is about to ship its 100 millionth portable speaker, with some 20 million of those shipped so far being the Flip, and delivering a market dominance close to 33% of the global market. Optimistically assuming that each product has at some point delivered happiness to its owner, JBL is commencing a #100M smiles campaign, asking people which song makes them smile. What’s yours?

The future of listening
They also told us about a wider Harman survey of more than 8000 people from six countries into contemporary listening habits and how the future of listening might play out. This report leads off with some futurism — What if your headphones could detect your mood and adjust your music choice automatically to meet your mood, it asks? (We might note that Samsung has already tried this in one of its early multiroom apps, and we pointed out then that if someone is feeling depressed, feeding them depressing music might not be a wise implementation.) Or “feel like dancing? How about an app that could turn your favorite ballad into a bass-filled EDM track at the touch of a button?” (No. Just no.)   

So we were pleased that what the report concludes on is that “nearly all modern listeners agree on the importance of high-quality sound in the listening experience. If music has proven positive effects on the emotions, these effects can be either heightened or hindered by sound quality. According to survey respondents, good sound quality triggers positive emotions such as a sense of the music coming to life (60%), feeling uplifted (49%) or feeling relaxed (38%), while bad sound quality triggers negative emotions such as dissatisfaction (45%), annoyance (42%), or disappointment (34%). Moreover, survey respondents confirm that the make-it-or-break-it role of sound quality in the enjoyment of music is likely to grow over the coming years.”

Not exactly a world-shifting conclusion, but a pleasing one. We drank to that. 

Flips, Pulses and Links
As for new product, the Flip 5 is JBL’s latest in that line, and an interesting variation comes in a green Forest and blue Ocean ‘Eco’ editions, both made from 90% recyclable plastic. The standard edition is already on sale in Australia, priced A$149.95.

If it’s all-round entertainment you’re after, you can add a light show to your sonics with the latest JBL Pulse 4 Bluetooth speaker, “sound you can see”, now with a full-height multicolour display all around the circumference of the cylinder. The JBL Connect app allows you to choose colours and effects, and you can use your phone camera to scan and colour-match any object. The sound appears to be mono, coming from a single upfiring 6.5cm full-range driver backed by a passive radiator at the bottom. The battery is good for “12 hours of party time”, says JBL, and impressively it’s entirely IPX7 waterproof (to one metre depth for 30 minutes). Due October at an estimated $299.95.

If you want more, you can link up to 100 of them, and after the launch we visited a mirrored room where, well we didn’t count them but LOTS of Pulse 4s were all lined up in an eye-popping display (image above). We didn’t dare walk into the middle of the room in case, like an anechoic chamber, it sent us mad and we knocked them all over. Two wines and jetlag could do that to you. 

JBL's new Link Music (left) and Link Portable (right)

We were particularly interested in the latest Link products, as we’ve been impressed by the earlier ones. The ‘Link’ prefix used to indicate Google Assistant built-in; this is now being downplayed to emphasise the Wi-Fi connection, although the two new models do still have Google Assistant and Chromecast inside, in addition to Bluetooth. One is the JBL Link Portable, which is the size of the old Link 10 but now has the sound of the larger Link 20, we were told by the demonstrator when we did the rounds, thanks to its upgraded driver and other improvements. The portability is also made easier by sitting it on a charging platform, whereas with the old model you had to yank the power cable out, and we wonder if some people ever realised their Link 10s and 20s were portable. The speaker is again IPX7 waterproof, with eight hours battery life.

The second new Link is the JBL Link Music, permanently plugged into power. It’s shorter but fatter than the Link Portable, and we’d guess the physical volume of the two to be about the same, so that if you don’t need the portability and waterproofing, the lower price of the Link Music might make it a bargain. Same Google Assistant, Wi-Fi, Chromecast. Both are available in six colours, poor dealers having to juggle a multispectral order.

Both are estimated for November 1st launch at an estimated $229.95 for the Portable, and $169.95 for the Music.

The new JBL Bar 5.1 Surround

Bar time
Before moving to the new soundbars introduced by the very well-spoken Dorothee De Backer, we might mention the Link Bar, currently under review by Sound+Image, which as the Link suggests has Google Assistant and Chromecast built in, but also Android TV. So plug it into your boring old TV via HDMI, and you’ll suddenly have a smart TV. We love Android TV, so this seems a great solution, if it comes through well in the sound testing (we don’t know yet). 

The new soundbars start with the compact JBL Bar 2.0, a stereo bar though with “JBL surround sound” and also Bluetooth. Above this is the Bar 2.1 Deep Bass, which has a slightly longer bar and a subwoofer with 6.5-inch driver, Dolby Digital processing and Bluetooth. 

Top of the range is the Bar 5.1 Surround which also has a wireless subwoofer, with Chromecast onboard and AirPlay 2 built-in, and something proprietary called MultiBeam. It’s labelled on the literature as “delivers the ultimate panoramic surround experience”, to which anyone with a full surround speaker system might raise their hand and say “er…”, but perhaps they mean ‘ultimate’ within the context of JBL soundbars, which is certainly true.    

These new soundbars are expected in Australia in the New Year, with prices to be announced.

On your head
Finally we heard about JBL’s headphones, with an interesting diversion into an explanation of JBL Signature Sound, a response curve which is apparently suitable to nearly everyone regardless of age or location, which is a useful thing to know, so here it is, although our camera was, like a low-lumen projector in the afternoon, fighting somewhat against ambient light. A bit of extra bass, a 5k boost and a rapid roll-off of the high-end seems to be the go, a slap in the face for high-res audio, but undeniably successful for JBL, which has achieved 10% global market share in a relatively short time, with 85 million units sold, currently at the rate of one headphone a second. We think the wine was affecting our notes by this point, so Google the LIVE 300TWS Live True Wireless if that’s your bag. We need a lie down.

More as it happens via www.jbl.com.au