JBL Authentics 300 speaker review: Allowed to be loud

Giving you the freedom to rock, our new favorite portable wireless speaker dares you to turn it up.
JBL Authentics 300

Brandt Ranj / Popular Science

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Over a decade since it introduced its first Flip, a “party in your palm,” JBL is a titan in the portable party speaker market. The speaker designer now has over a half-dozen popular verticals, so anyone searching for a Bluetooth speaker can find the features that fit their space and lifestyle. When JBL launched its latest wireless speaker line, however, the company introduced three speakers that aim to elevate active at-home listening. The mid-tier model, dubbed the Authentics 300, might be the Goldilocks of the bunch. JBL spared no expense with the speaker’s industrial design, which is top-notch and frankly unmatched. Coupled with a driver array that delivers stereo sound and the ability to connect two smart-home assistants at the same time, JBL took inspiration from the past with eyes on the future. The approach worked, and anyone looking to get a taste of a mobile home-stereo experience should be aware.

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Overview

  • JBL’s Authentics 300 is one of the company’s new flagship wireless speakers, launching alongside the Authentics 200 and 500 speakers.
  • The speaker offers true stereo sound by way of two 1-inch tweeters, a single 5.24-inch woofer, and a downward-firing 6.5-inch passive radiator.
  • This speaker’s audio quality does not degrade when its volume is pushed to 100% and gets loud enough that you’ll never need to push it that far.

Pros

  • Superb audio quality
  • On-speaker EQ knobs
  • Classic, classy design
  • Works with both Amazon’s Alexa and the Google Assistant
  • Made in part from recycled materials

Cons

  • No IP durability rating
  • So-so battery life for a large speaker

The Verdict: For music lovers who want “the best” sound quality possible, JBL’s Authentics 300 delivers the goods. The speaker’s price is steep, but it’s aesthetically peerless and makes good on the promise of “room-filling sound.”

The build

Take one look at the JBL Authentics 300, and you may find yourself in a bit of a trance. The matte metallic frame, black leather-like enclosure, and hard-padded grille bring to mind grandiosity you don’t typically see in speakers—or most other audio gear—below $1,000. That grid, a callback to the formed Quadrex foam of the L100 (a three-way speaker introduced in 1970), gives the speaker the feel of a vintage hi-fi with a 2020s twist. Though the materials feel—and are, in fact—extremely luxe, they’re also environmentally friendly. JBL says its speaker is made from 100% recycled fabric, 85% recycled plastics, and 50% aluminum. Even its box is made from recycled wood and soy ink.

Ironically, this design looks so good in a home office or living room environment that I was initially hesitant to grasp the solid, swiveling cast-alumminum handle and take it around. That feeling soon abated, and the Authentics 300 took many car trips and walks around different apartments and houses. This speaker isn’t subtle, though, so expect the brushed gold accents to catch people’s eye and for them to ask about it if they’re unfamiliar with higher-end audio.

JBL Authentics 300
Quick access to the Authentics 300’s most important controls. Brandt Ranj / Popular Science

The Authentics 300’s controls are located on its topside. There’s a power, Bluetooth, and heart-emblazoned “Moments” button alongside knobs for adjusting its volume, treble, and bass. The Moments button lets you immediately access a playlist on your selected streaming service or customize a favorite music track. All of the buttons are concave, which means they’re easy to push even when you’re not looking (the power button is larger, so you don’t accidentally turn the speaker off), and all three knobs move smoothly when turned. One favorite touch was the LED light ring surrounding all three knobs, which visually indicates how high or low they’re set.

The Authentics 300 is a portable speaker outfitted with the latest WiFi and Bluetooth standards—versions 6 and 5.3, respectively. That said, there are still a handful of ports around the back alongside where you plug in the removable power cord. The presence of an AUX input (for a preamp-equipped turntable, perhaps) was a welcome surprise on a speaker this nice, as was the Ethernet port for wired networking. A USB-C port around the back can be used for audio playback, but only on the model shipping in the USA. Authentics 300 speakers sold internationally don’t have this functionality despite having the port. It’s an odd omission but one that most people won’t run into frequently.

While this speaker is totally wireless, you may want to relegate its use to the backyard and different rooms in your house because it has no IP rating, aka dust or water resistance. If you use the speaker outside, we’d recommend checking the weather first. The lack of an IP rating is disappointing if you compare the Authentics 300 to other portable wireless speakers from UE, Sony, or even JBL itself. Still, the company doesn’t seem to be aiming to compete with those directly. This speaker is more of an at-home, connected speaker that happens to run on a battery, so you can take it place to place.

The setup

Setting up the Authentics 300 required making a trip to JBL’s One app, which is available on iOS and Android. An iPhone found and then asked to pair with the speaker, which required entering some WiFi credentials. The process was smooth enough, and music was playing within 10 minutes of unboxing the speaker. You can avoid this process entirely by using the speaker in Bluetooth mode, which only requires you to push the Bluetooth button on the speaker and then search for it in your phone’s settings app.

The JBL app can also be used to set up Moments, adjust a three-band EQ, manage streaming services, and update the speaker’s software. The app is thoughtfully designed and well thought out, so accessing (or all) of these functions is simple. We’re especially happy to see that the text for each section are larger and bolded, which makes them easier to read. There’s even some color coding, which provides an additional visual indicator.

You can also use the JBL One app to set up a voice assistant, which involves one of the features exclusive to the entire Authentics line. These are currently the only smart speakers that integrate Amazon’s Alexa and Google Assistant simultaneously. Other smart speakers support both hands-free systems but make you choose between one and the other, but with the Authentics speakers, you can use both. If you’re in a home with two people who use separate smart assistants or like some features from one and others from another, this feature will come in handy.

JBL-Authentics-300
JBL’s Authentics 300 pushes the world of wireless speakers forward in terms of both sonics and connectivity, sounding as great as it looks. Brandt Ranj / Popular Science

The sound

JBL is no stranger to premium audio gear—the company has been producing live sound reinforcement and stylish home setups for over 75 years. Back in 2014, JBL introduced its first AirPlay-enabled Authentics line, the tabletop L8 and L16 models, and in the last year, it has designed some outstanding high-end powered speakers, the 4305P and 4329P. All of that informs the current releases. Still, it’s surprising just how hard the company went with this portable speaker. The speaker’s larger size allowed JBL to build in a 5.24-inch woofer flanked by two 1-inch tweeters and augmented by a downward-firing 6.5-inch passive radiator, 100 watts of transducers translating to big, bold, crystal-clear sound. Capable of reproducing a frequency range of 45Hz to 20kHz, this is easily the best-sounding portable speaker we’ve tested from a raw performance standpoint, and if that’s what you’re looking for, you won’t be disappointed.

I listened to a variety of music and spoken word audio through the Authentics 300, and I can’t say I found any technical fault with what we heard. There was no sibilance, no overly shimmery highs or blown-out lows. Put on a flat, stable surface, the bass radiator allowed this speaker to punch well above its expected weight where low frequencies were concerned. The opening guitar strings to Warren Zevon’s “Carmelita” rang true, and we could easily hear Jackson Browne’s backing vocals during the chorus. Ditto for the dense mix of perfectly mixed instruments on “Pet Sounds,” the title track from the Beach Boys album of the same name. That song has a lot of ambiance with its classical-meets-contemporary composition, and the Authentics 300 handled them all perfectly.

Listening to older songs on a speaker is always interesting because they weren’t mixed or even necessarily with the idea of what audio equipment would be available half a century later. Sia’s “Gimme Love,” which certainly was, sounded absolutely enormous, with booming bass and incredibly up-front sounding vocals. The lilting, acoustic-guitar-filled “I Remember Everything” by Zach Bryan (featuring Kacey Musgraves) was a riveting experience not only for the excellent performance but how the speaker presented it. The track came across as almost hymn-like.

Because of its two-tweeter driver array, the Authentics 300 can play music in true stereo, but physics still apply; don’t expect the channel separation of discrete components. We could clearly hear different sounds coming from both sides of the speaker, but the drivers are so close together that the stereo effect was somewhat limited. The biggest benefit here is that stereo tracks (basically any music released after 1968) won’t be folded down into mono, impacting its mix. We’d argue more music made today is mono-friendly due to the explosive popularity of smaller portable Bluetooth speakers, but the point stands. Don’t worry; if you want better stereo separation, you could always pick up and pair two Authentics 300 speakers, spacing them far apart—just be ready to part with $900 to create this setup.

Most of our music listening tests were conducted by playing music from our local library and Apple Music through an iPhone using AirPlay 2. WiFi streaming offers better bandwidth and farther range, so we recommend connecting to the speaker this way if possible. Bluetooth worked, too, and there wasn’t an egregious dip in enjoyable audio when switching to lossy delivery. However, the only codec supported is the lowest-bitrate, plain-vanilla SBC, so we recommend sticking with WiFi, which the speaker was obviously designed for.

One mark of a good piece of audio equipment is that it doesn’t flatten the sound of everything you’re listening to the point that it sounds samey. The Authentics 300 features self-tuning that calibrates and optimizes it whenever you move the speaker, and very few companies can pull off an EQ that’s custom-tailored and tasteful. With this one, however, you may find yourself hearing new elements of older tracks or realize how different two songs by similar artists really are. Listeners with a diverse musical diet will be rewarded for their adventurousness by hearing all the different ways creators make their music.

JBL Authentics 300 Sony SRS-XG300
The JBL Authentics 300 (left) alongside the Sony SRS-XG300 (right). Brandt Ranj / Popular Science

But the Authentics 300 doesn’t live in a bubble; similarly sized speakers like Marshall’s Kilburn 2 and Sony’s SRS-XG300 are available for under $250, and neither is a slouch. Sonos is about to release its Move 2, which is smaller but targeting the same market for the same price (and if you’re not inclined to, well, move your speaker, the multi-driver multi-channel Sonos Era 300 brings Dolby Atmos to the party). With the Sony IP67 and the Sonos IP56, those are speakers for a pool party. However, none of the speakers we’ve been testing seek to offer the same type of on-the-go hi-fi experience. They sound great, don’t get us wrong, but the Authentics 300 is simply a step above in terms of the detail you can hear in your music, whether inside or out.

The speaker also launches alongside the Authentics 200 and Authentics 500, which share many of the same features but with a little twist. The Authentics 200 is a more compact, more affordable version of this speaker with the same speaker driver layout, but it lacks a rechargeable battery, so it needs to be plugged in at all times. The Authentics 500 is a more expansive, more expensive cabinet of captivation with additional drivers that support virtual Dolby Atmos, and it needs not only a wall socket but also a much larger shelf and understanding neighbors as it pushes some serious air. Get one of each speaker and station them throughout different rooms, and you can play the same song everywhere simultaneously.

It makes sense that JBL designed this new battery-powered new wireless speaker alongside a traditional at-home speaker—one that has to be plugged in all the time—and decided to go portable early enough in the process to avoid any compromises. Few considerations were made to weight—Sony and Marshall’s speakers are roughly half as light— or even battery life; the Authentics 300’s battery also lasts only eight hours compared to a 20- and 25-hour playtime on the Kilburn II and SRS-XG300, respectively. With the Authentics 300, JBL makes the statement that it’s all about sound first, and portability is a bonus.

The conclusion

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Specs

  • Dimensions: 13.4 x 7.7 x 7.1 (LWH)
  • Weight: 10.8 pounds
  • Battery life: Up to eight hours
  • Connectivity: WiFi 6, Bluetooth 5.3
  • IP Rating: N/A
  • Voice assistants: Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant
  • Price: $449.99
  • Release date: September 17, 2023

At nearly $500, the Authentics 300 isn’t a speaker for most people, but that higher price tag freed JBL to make choices to suit the most hardcore listener. It would have been easy to blow a majority of the speaker’s development budget on looks alone, but JBL dug deeper. The JBL Authentics 300 isn’t just a great-sounding speaker; it’s an outstanding-sounding speaker, and that makes all the difference. The company did have to make some trade-offs—this speaker is heavier than the competition and only lasts eight hours per charge—for the sake of building in the best audio components. But it made the right choice. The Authentics 300 is an investment well worth making if you want a single speaker with retro-modern appeal and the ability to deliver a powerful rumble in any room of the house.

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Brandt Ranj

Staff Writer, Commerce

Brandt Ranj is a commerce reporter at Popular Science. He writes about the latest and greatest gadgets, from headphones and TVs to chargers and cables. He splits his time between New York City, Long Island, and Croatia, carting test gear around the U.S. and the globe.

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