JBL’s Link Music Wi-Fi speaker is a handy listening device with built-in Bluetooth and Chromecast, and it’s AirPlay 2 compatible. It also includes Google Assistant -- it responds to verbal commands -- and it can serve as the hub for a home’s worth of smart appliances, controlling lighting and much more. At its current low price of $69.95 USD, it seems a winner -- but how does it perform?
In the box
The box is a mix of JBL’s usual orange, with color photos of the Link Music. One side of the box is devoted to its “Dare to Listen!” slogan, with an orange exclamation point. The other panels show photos of the speaker from various angles, with promotional hype. The bottom of the box contains a lot of small print and an abundance of logos. An important bit of information printed on the Link Music’s box is that it requires iOS 11.4 or later for AirPlay 2 operation. What the box doesn’t tell you is that, for Bluetooth to work, you must connect to Google Home. Inside is the Link Music itself, a 59”-long power cord, a quick-start guide, safety instructions, and information about its one-year, limited warranty.
The Link Music is a short, fat, slightly squared-off cylinder with rounded top and bottom rims, and is almost entirely covered in fabric that comes in a choice of black or gray, with a rubberized bottom to keep it stable. Its unobtrusive design and small size -- 5.25”H x 4.4” diameter -- mean that it should suit almost any décor and location. It weighs 1.6 pounds.
At the center of the slightly concave top panel of black plastic is a Google Assistant button, should you not wish to wake it up by calling out “Hey Google.” This button is flanked by volume up and down buttons. There are also two small holes for the microphones. On the tiny plastic rear panel are Bluetooth and microphone on/off buttons and a socket for the power cord.
Inset on the front, at the bottom, is a JBL logo. Above the logo, hidden behind the cloth at the top of the Link Music, are four LEDs that glow white when Google Assistant is active, blue during Bluetooth pairing. There is no power-on LED, and no 3.5mm input jack. Unless you’re operating it via Google Assistant, there’s no way to know if the Link Music is on.
Additional specifications from JBL: The Link Music has a single 2.5”, downfiring driver; two side-firing passive radiators; and total amplification of 20W. Its frequency range is 60Hz-20kHz, its signal/noise ratio >80dB, and it supports Bluetooth 4.2 and these audio formats: HE-ACC, LC-AAC, MP3, Vorbis, WAV (LPCM), FLAC, Opus. The Link Music has dual-band (2.4 and 5GHz) Wi-Fi.
To set up the Link Music, first download the Google Home app, which you’ll use to connect the Link to your Wi-Fi network. That done, you’re ready to connect the Link to your smartphone or other device(s). Because the Link Music offers so many ways to connect a device or phone, this will vary with the listener.
I tried Bluetooth connection, and downloaded Apple’s HomeKit app so that I could connect to the Link Music via AirPlay 2. Both worked fine, but I did most of my listening via Google Chromecast -- unlike Bluetooth, it doesn’t employ lossy compression, and it draws minimal charge from the battery.
Thanks to Google Assistant, I was able to operate the Link Music without ever having to touch it, other than to turn its mikes on or off. Change the volume? Just say, “Hey Google, 80% volume.” Connect Bluetooth? “Hey Google, Bluetooth pairing.” Using the controls on your smart device, you can adjust volume, skip tracks, and pause -- or you can tell Google to “pause” or “play.” No need to rise from your comfy chair.
You can also start the music playing by saying, for example, “Hey Google, play me some Elton John.” If you have a Google Play Music account, you can be more specific; if you don’t, Google Assistant will find you an Internet Radio station devoted to your artist and his/her contemporaries.
The physical range of voice operation was excellent. I could give Google commands in a normal speaking voice when the speaker was cranked up to 80% volume -- any louder and I had to shout.
The JBL Link Music could play very loud, and I wasn’t surprised by its rich, warm midrange and crisp but slightly rolled-off highs -- they reminded me of the sound I’ve heard from other JBL portable speakers. The difference was that the Link Music produced a lot more bass. Bass lovers should love this speaker, particularly when playing music at high volumes. Unfortunately, at lower volumes, that bass intruded on the midrange.
I first listened to Witches’ Brew, with Sir Alexander Gibson leading the New Symphony Orchestra of London (16-bit/44.1kHz FLAC, Decca Eloquence/Primephonic HD). Based on some initial casual listening to the Link Music, I was prepared not to like what I heard -- surely this tiny speaker couldn’t do justice to classical music. I was pleasantly surprised -- the sound was evenly balanced, with a strong suggestion of bass. Brasses were pungent, upper strings sweet, cymbals had good ring, the tam-tam crashes in Sir Malcolm Arnold’s Tam O’Shanter Overture were weighty and ominous, and the cellos and double basses rumbled a bit.
I’ve recently been making my way through all of Beethoven’s piano sonatas, in the brilliant performances by the young German-Russian pianist Igor Levit: (16/44.1 FLAC, Sony Classical/Primephonic HD). Levit is a virtuoso with soul -- he provides just about everything you could desire in a pianist, or in these works. And the Sony engineers have done themselves proud, providing sound with great presence, sharp focus, and appropriate ambience. The little Link Music did very well by these recordings, with highs that were crisp but not overemphasized, and full midbass.
Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Bad Moon Rising” (16/44.1 FLAC, Fantasy/Amazon Music Plus Ultra HD) sounded fine through the Link Music: John Fogerty’s driving lead vocal and blazing guitar, Stu Cook’s thumpy bass -- everything sounded as it should.
Jazz, too, sounded good through the JBL, as did music of almost any genre, with nary a harsh high that I could hear. The bass was generally strong, if sometimes a bit too strong, but the midband was mostly clear.
For $69.95, JBL’s Link Music is a particularly good choice for those on a budget and in the market for a Wi-Fi speaker that can do many more things than just play music. It can serve as the hub for smart home devices, play the news, look up facts, tell you how to bake a cake. JBL’s own Link Portable does all of that, too, but can also be removed from its charging base and carried around with you, and it’s waterproof -- but its summer sale price is gone, and it once again costs $179.95. The Link Portable doesn’t produce quite as much bass as the Link Music, but that makes its sound a bit smoother. If you want a speaker that can travel with you and you can afford it, go for the Link Portable. If you want to save some money and are content with a speaker that must be plugged in to work, the Link Music should do very well indeed.
. . . Rad Bennett
- Portable music player -- Apple iPod Touch (sixth generation)
JBL Link Music Wi-Fi Speaker
Price: $69.95 USD.
Warranty: One year, limited.
Harman International Industries, Inc.
8500 Balboa Boulevard
Northridge, CA 91329
Phone: (800) 336-4525