Review: Jawbone BIG Jambox

Last year Jawbone launched the BIG Jambox, a large portable speaker serving as a more powerful alternative to its smaller Jambox sibling. These releases served as the company’s first entrance into the world of speakers, while previously Jawbone had only manufactured Bluetooth earpieces since the company launched in 2006.

With the Jawbone BIG Jambox’s MSRP of $300, I am going to check out every inch of this device and see if Jawbone’s years of experience with Bluetooth audio deserve the green in your wallet.

Design

The BIG Jambox’s design feels striking, yet simple, when you open the package. The unit is a rectangular-shaped box, weighing in at under three pounds and surrounded on all sides by metal, excluding the right and left sides, which are a solid rubber. The top of the unit  presents media buttons, while the right side of the unit is stocked with ports and a couple additional buttons.

The portable speakers comes in three colors including white, black, and red. There isn’t a barrage of color options for this unit, like it’s younger brother, but each color is marked with its own unique design pattern. The red BIG Jambox has a dotted speaker design, the black –  a hex design, and the white – a wave design. Each variation of the unit is eye catching, yet not overwhelming due to its simple speaker grill pattern. The addition of a design is welcoming, as it prevents the portable speaker from looking like a gigantic brick on your desk.

The media control buttons on the top of the speaker are raised just slightly above the unit’s top, just enough to feel a solid click with each press, but not raised enough to detract from the overall design. The media buttons include volume control, play/pause, previous/next, and a dedicated Jawbone battery to fetch battery life or to interact with your phone.

While the left side of the unit is all rubber, the right side includes additional connections and buttons, including a power port for fast charging, a USB port for slow charging and firmware updates, and a 3.5mm auxiliary jack to hook up any devices that might not support Bluetooth. Two additional buttons mounted on the side include a power button and a pairing button. The power button changes color to indicate various states of the unit, including charging, syncing, and pairing.

On the bottom of the unit sits eight circular rubber pads that keep the BIG Jambox firmly in place without worry of the unit moving around from the bass. In addition, the serial number and FCC information are inscribed into the feet, keeping the unit’s design clean.

Audio quality

Bluetooth hasn’t always had the best reputation for clean and crisp audio. The BIG Jambox seems to have made great strides within wireless audio, no doubt related to the company’s previous years of experience with Bluetooth earpieces. This unit works on the Bluetooth 2.1 standard and supports enhanced data rate transmission. Wireless range of the portable speaker claims to reach a minimum of 33 feet; in my testing, this seems to be a valid statistic. I still recommend keeping your phone or device as close to the speaker as you can to prevent wireless interference.

While using this over Bluetooth, some other devices seem to produce a slight amount of barely audible static. Since the static disappears with most devices and only shows on a few, the BIG Jambox does not seem to be responsible – rather, your device’s low powered Bluetooth radio might be the culprit. I noticed that this static always vanishes once the unit’s volume is turned up.

Overall, the signal is clear and very little to no distinction can be made between playing audio wirelessly versus via the hardwired auxiliary cable.

The audio from the unit is very well balanced with vibrant highs, distinct mids, and (for a portable speaker) powerful lows. While playing classical music, the sound stage is marvelous and the unit’s LiveAudio (surround sound) brings the delicate sounds of Joshua Bell’s violin to life and the triumphant power of  Hans Zimmer’s soundtracks into reality.

Other genres of music of music are equally impressive, and most listeners will be more than impressed with the audio quality. The only wish I have for the unit is stronger bass, but it should be known that I am a bass junky with the knob turned all the way to max on most of my speakers.

Powering the wonderful sound of this box is a stereo pair of acoustic drivers and dual passive bass radiators. The unit can reach a maximum volume of 110 decibels, easily filling a large indoor space or medium sized outdoor space. For a reference, pain from sound begins at only fifteen decibels more and the loud pounding of a Jackhammer at fifty feet is only ninety-five decibels.

Battery life

Jawbone promises up to seventeen hours of your favorite tunes with its latest 2.0 software update for the BIG Jambox. In my everyday use of the unit, I can’t seem to get the darn thing to die. The speaker just keeps chugging on without stop. I began to wonder if the unit was battery powered or secretly powered by nuclear rods.

The latest 2.0 software update from Jawbone also promises “better battery life on paired devices.” While I haven’t been able to intensively test this claim, I find the BIG Jambox doesn’t hurt my Nokia Lumia’s battery life as much as other Bluetooth devices have in the past.

Features

The BIG Jambox has two major features that Jawbone hopes will help the unit stand out and justify its value. The first feature is known as LiveAudio. According to the folks at Jawbone, “LiveAudio for JAMBOX and BIG JAMBOX is a technological breakthrough that lets you experience your music, games, video and more like never before — as if you’re on stage, in the action, hearing it live.” Essentially, LiveAudio is surround sound technology that allows you to experience binaural audio without headphones. The actual experience of this technology is mixed.

LiveAudio sounds great with classical music and jazz, creating an immersive sound stage. With other genres of music, including rock, pop, and electronic, the vocals become muffled and the sound a bit faint. I took time to ask around the Jawbone forums, and it seems everyone has a different opinion on whether they like or dislike LiveAudio.It should be noted that to experience LiveAudio properly, you must be seated in front of the speaker; it is not suited well for a party of people.

The second feature the BIG Jambox has up its sleeve is Jawbone’s myTalk  service, allowing you to use the unit as a customized speakerphone and update the device’s firmware via the myTalk website. The microphone integrated into the unit is clear and perfect for making calls, no matter what direction the unit is facing. The website allows you to customize the voice you hear when the unit announces calls, declines calls, turns on, and turns off. In addition, the Jawbone or “Talk” button built into the top of the unit allows you to easily access voice command features on your unit including Siri and Google Now. The button can be customized via myTalk to access various mobile apps including “Voice on the Go,” “Dial 2 Do,” and few directory assistant applications.

Final verdict

The big question remains, is the BIG Jambox worth $300 of your hard earned money? The unit has an impeccable design, long battery life, and is packed to the brim with features. In addition, the audio is crisp and balanced, with LiveAudio presenting an exciting way to listen to your favorite classical concerts.

Bluetooth speakers aren’t cheap, and if you don’t need a wireless solution there are definitely more affordable options to choose from. If you are looking for a smaller sized speaker to thrown in your bag the original Jambox, Monster iClarity HD, or Logitech Mini Boombox will suit you well.

If you require the boom of a louder speaker with a better sound stage, your best options are between this BIG Jawbone option and the Bose SoundLink mobile speaker. I personally recommend this unit over the Bose counterpart due to the additional features and jaw dropping design.

Find out for your self though – head to a local Best Buy or other electronics store to check out the BIG Jambox by Jawbone. While you do that, I’m going to blast the new Daft Punk single on my own BIG Jambox. See you later, readers!

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Michael Archambault

Michael Archambault was an associate editor at Pocketables. He is a coder, a thinker, and a dreamer who lives on the "Microsoft side of life." His current gadget arsenal includes a Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Carbon with Windows 8, Nokia Lumia 900 with Windows Phone 7.8 OS, and a Microsoft Surface RT.