For the last few years, the JBL Clip series has been one of the top options if you’re looking for a tough little speaker that won’t break the bank. The latest of which is the Clip 3, which kept the best aspects of the previous Clip 2 and improved on some of the most important features. But how much better did it actually get? Let’s find out.
Editor’s note: This post was updated on December 13, 2021, to address the Bose SoundLink Flex in the notable mentions section.
Who’s the JBL Clip 3 for?
- Hikers. If you like camping or hiking you likely already have a carabiner or two, but this one has a speaker on the other end of it. I mean, c’mon.
- Shower singers. With the IPX7 waterproof rating and the built-in carabiner, the Clip 3 is perfect for hanging in the bathroom. Plus, it gets pretty loud so you can hear what you’re listening over the water.
- Podcast listeners. The Clip 3 is definitely lacking in the low end due to its small size, but the emphasis on vocals makes it a solid choice for anyone that just wants to listen to a podcast while going about their business.
What’s it like to use the JBL Clip 3?
At first glance, there isn’t much of a difference between the new JBL Clip 3 and the previous version, but then you look a little closer and notice the subtle differences. Sure, it still has a carabiner, but unlike the Clip 2—this one is built into the frame of the speaker instead of being a small metal triangle hooked onto some hard plastic.
The JBL Clip 3 also still has the same three playback buttons as the previous model, but now you’ll find them embedded in the front fabric of the speaker as opposed to the small indents around the edge. With its latest model, JBL seems to have a coherent design language across its products now as the buttons are consistent with the other speakers in the product line-up. The biggest upgrade is around the back of the speaker, which is now a solid plastic instead of a cutout for a 3.5mm cable. Especially since there’s still a 3.5mm input so if you did want to plug in all you have to do is provide your own cable.
Is the JBL Clip 3 waterproof?
You’re probably not getting a JBL Clip 3 based on whether or not it has an audio cable attached, so you’ll be happy to know that this speaker is just as tough as its predecessors. One of the best features of the Clip 3 is that, yes, it’s actually waterproof. You can completely submerge it in up to 1 meter of water if need be thanks to the IPX7 build, and the carabiner being built into the frame just gives it a more rugged feel overall.
Not that I was worried about the hard plastic being ripped off of the older model, but the new design introduces fewer moving parts which is good for durability purposes. Plus, the carabiner feels sturdy and doesn’t feel flimsy at all. At just 222g, it makes the perfect hiking companion if you want to hang it from your pack, or even if you just want to hang it from a flimsy showerhead.
How to pair to the JBL Clip 3?
Pairing to the JBL Clip 3 is thankfully pretty simple. All you need to do is power it on press the Bluetooth button along the side of the speaker. From there you can find the speaker in your Bluetooth settings in order to connect to it. If you’re having problems and want to reset the speaker entirely then things get a little tricky. First, you need to power on the speaker by pressing the power button. Wait for the sound to play which means the speaker is on and then hold down the play button and the volume up button simultaneously. The indicator light should begin flashing between white and red before the speaker turns off. You should have completed a factory reset by doing this and then you can just power on the speaker and pair to it by pressing the Bluetooth button as if it were a brand new device.
The Clip series has never been a speaker on the forefront of connection strength and quality, and that doesn’t change with the Clip 3. You won’t find any high-quality streaming codecs or anything like that, but if we’re being honest that shouldn’t be a surprise considering the price point and target use case of the speaker. It does have Bluetooth 4.1, which means that it has a standard range of about 10 meters which I found to be pretty spot on. In regular use there I never had any problems and I find that 10-meter range to be more than enough for my average use.
While you can make the case for why some larger speakers should have a bigger range (walking around the house, watching videos on your phone, etc), I can’t think of too many times when you’ll be pushing the range of this speaker. As far as playback controls go, you can pause or play music, adjust volume, or skip to the next track by double-clicking the play button in the middle. You can also answer or end phone calls thanks to the built-in microphone which I can personally attest to its usefulness in the shower. Even if it’s just to say, “Let me call you back.”
How good is the JBL Clip 3’s battery life?
The design is a pretty welcome improvement in my opinion just because of the overall look and feel of the product, but it’s the battery life that is the biggest improvement. JBL says you’ll get about ten hours of constant playback, but in our testing, we were able to push this to 16 hours and 11 minutes at a constant output of 75dB which is super impressive. It’s worth mentioning, however, that if you’re outdoors you’ll likely be playing music at a higher output to make it easier to hear—so you should expect battery life to suffer accordingly.
How to charge the JBL Clip 3
One downside to note is that it only charges via microUSB which is a bummer for a recent product release, even at this price point. In order to charge up the speaker you’re going to need a microUSB cable (thankfully there’s one provided with the speaker). Plug the standard USB end of the cable into any USB charging brick and then locate the micro USB input underneath the plastic flap along the button of the speaker.
How does the JBL Clip 3 sound?
The sound quality of the JBL Clip doesn’t seem to be much different from the past versions, so if you’ve had or listened to one of those before then you know what to expect. The speaker does a pretty decent job with mids and listening to songs like Swans and the Swimming by Iron & Wine, I didn’t feel like I was missing too much. Guitars and vocals come through loud and clear and while it does struggle with clarity when songs have more going on, I found it perfect for relaxing acoustic songs and also podcasts.
Now if you like to listen to bass-heavy music, then this is going disappoint. There’s a hard drop-off in the frequency response when it comes to low end, and the thumping bass of Kids with Guns by the Gorillaz soundsway too quiet. Still, it’s hard to expect much else from something that’s so small. Similarly, highs don’t sound super clear with the Clip 4, but this is an adventure speaker and not much else.
Should you buy the JBL Clip 3?
The Clip 3 is basically a refinement of one of my personal favorite speakers to date. It has a new, tougher design that’s more in line with other JBL products and also now has much improved battery life. While the sound quality isn’t going to reach backyard barbecue levels of loudness, it’s perfect for small gatherings, hikes, or just listening to podcasts in the shower. The Clip series has always been a no-brainer at around $50, but this new and updated version is the first time I’ve thought of it as an absolute steal. It’s worth mentioning that the price usually fluctuates anywhere from $39 to $89, so make sure to keep an eye on the price fluctuations if you want to save a few bucks.
While the Clip 3 is still a very good travel speaker, it’s hard to come by these days. Instead, the JBL Clip 4 is a more modern option with new features like a sturdier carabiner, Bluetooth 5.1, and an IP67 dust and water-resistant build. If you feel like shelling out the extra money for JBL’s newest toy you’ll get these added perks, but otherwise, it’s very similar to the Clip 3.
What are some alternatives to the JBL Clip 3?
If you like the idea of portable Bluetooth speakers that are tough, waterproof, and still sounds good, then luckily you have plenty of options. For those looking to stick with JBL, there’s the JBL Flip 5 or the JBL Flip 6. The Flip 5 has an IPX7 rating, while the Flip 6 has an even more durable IP67 rating. Both speakers have the same cloth wrap that encircles the cylindrical speaker, though you’ll pay a bit more for the Flip series than the Clip series.
Maybe you want to step up to the big leagues with a loud, sturdy speaker outside of the JBL family. If that’s the case, say hello to the Bose SoundLink Flex. This speaker has an IP67 rating, shock-resistant body, and built-in carry loop. It’s a bit clunky, but you can easily attach this speaker to any carabiner and take it for a hike or along on your cycling commute. Sound quality is quite good, and more importantly, it’s quite loud. The controls are a bit hard to identify by touch alone, however. Listeners who like JBL’s cylindrical speaker may want to look to the UE BOOM 3 instead.