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Jawbone Big Jambox review: Jawbone Big Jambox

Jawbone Big Jambox

David Carnoy Executive Editor / Reviews
Executive Editor David Carnoy has been a leading member of CNET's Reviews team since 2000. He covers the gamut of gadgets and is a notable reviewer of mobile accessories and portable audio products, including headphones and speakers. He's also an e-reader and e-publishing expert as well as the author of the novels Knife Music, The Big Exit and Lucidity. All the titles are available as Kindle, iBooks, Nook e-books and audiobooks.
Expertise Mobile accessories and portable audio, including headphones, earbuds and speakers Credentials
  • Maggie Award for Best Regularly Featured Web Column/Consumer
David Carnoy
6 min read

Some products end up becoming so-called poster children for their category, and there's no doubt that Jawbone's Jambox is a premier portable Bluetooth speaker that's been one of the major driving forces behind popularizing the tiny wireless speaker category. What's always impressed people about the Jambox is how much sound -- and decent sound, at that -- comes out of such a small speaker. So, what does Jawbone do for an encore?


Jawbone Big Jambox

The Good

For a compact portable Bluetooth speaker, the <b>Jawbone Big Jambox</b> delivers impressive sound, has good battery life, and plays loudly without distortion. It also has a built-in rechargeable battery, an auxiliary input, a rugged design, and business-grade speakerphone capabilities.

The Bad

The Big Jambox is pricey and isn't as portable as its little brother, the original Jambox.

The Bottom Line

The Jawbone Big Jambox doesn't quite measure up to the Bose SoundLink Wireless Mobile and it carries a premium price tag, but it's an impressively designed product that offers strong performance and speakerphone capabilities.

It goes bigger and more expensive.

Yes, the latest addition to the Jambox family, the $299 Big Jambox, is three times as large as the original Jambox, measuring 3.6 by 10 by 3.1 inches (HWD) and weighing 2.7 pounds. It maintains its little brother's signature boxy design with a wraparound metal grille and rubberized top and sides. A sleek-looking speaker -- it comes in graphite, white, and red -- it's easy to pick up and carry in one hand thanks to the indented, geometric design of the perforated metal grille. It's also worth noting that Jawbone's designers equipped the bottom of the speaker with eight of what the company describes as "strategically placed rubber feet to help isolate vibrations [to] reduce movement caused by heavy bass."

The Big Jambox is three times the physical volume of the original Jambox. Sarah Tew/CNET

Unlike with the original Jambox, no protective cover is included, but Jawbone sells a $49 travel case as an accessory that looks like something you'd use to transport a long camera lens or a bottle of wine.

The Big Jambox is easy to set up to wirelessly stream audio from any A2DP Bluetooth-enabled device (as with most Bluetooth devices, you're supposed to be within about 30 feet of the speaker to stream music, but I managed a good 50 feet without any trouble). That means nearly any smartphone or tablet will work as an audio source -- with the notable exceptions of the Kindle Fire, the Nook Tablet and Nook Color, and the first-generation iPod Touch, which are not Bluetooth-compatible.

Feature differences
Aside from the bigger size and much bigger, richer sound, Jawbone has made a couple of feature upgrades to the speaker, one small, one more significant. This model has a dedicated Bluetooth pairing button on the side, which I appreciated, as it makes the pairing process slightly easier. The Big Jambox remembers up to eight devices that it's been paired with, and you can actually pair two devices with it at the same time, though it will only accept sound from one device (I know that doesn't quite make sense, but you can pause the music on one device and immediately start playing it from another that's already paired with the speaker).

With buttons on top of the unit you can adjust volume, pause/play tracks, and skip tracks forward and back. Press the button with the letter J on it and a soothing female voice tells you how much battery life is left. As with the original Jambox, Jawbone gives you a choice of voices, though you have to upload them through its MyTalk online app by connecting the speaker to your computer with the included USB cable.

The Big Jambox works well for streaming, music, movies, and games from iPads and other Bluetooth-enabled tablets. Sarah Tew/CNET

The more significant upgrade is to the speakerphone capabilities. Jawbone says the Big Jawbone speakerphone is a Type-1-compliant speakerphone that features a "newly designed omnidirectional microphone for 360-degree sound input, with improved echo cancellation and full duplex communication." That makes it suitable for conference calls in a business environment (yes, every startup in Silicon Valley will soon have one of these). I can't say that I was able to notice a big difference in the quality of my speakerphone calls, but callers said they were able to hear me well and I had no trouble hearing them.

It's also worth mentioning that you have to use the included AC adapter to charge the Big Jambox's built-in lithium ion battery, which is rated to deliver up to 15 hours of juice (it takes 2.5 hours to fully charge it). With the smaller Jambox, you charged the battery via USB. In the case of the Big Jambox, the included USB cable is only used for firmware upgrades and uploading the customization options available through Jawbone's aforementioned MyTalk. Next to the Micro-USB port on the side, you'll also find a stereo line input for connecting devices that don't have Bluetooth. However, there's no USB port for charging your phone like there is with the Soundfreaq Sound Kick (sorry, but I have a thing for speakers that offer this feature).

On a side note for Android users, Jawbone will soon release the Jawbone Companion for Android app, which announces calendar events and enables one-touch dial-in for calls.

How much better does it sound?
As you can expect from a speaker that's three times the volume of its little brother, the Big Jambox sounds significantly better, plays much louder, and delivers a good deal more bass.

In all, it sounds very good for a small speaker and easily beats out value products like the Soundfreaq Sound Kick. It's also a notch up from Logitech's Wireless Boombox for iPad, but that product, a good bargain choice, costs around half as much.

The Big Jambox features a business-grade speakerphone. Sarah Tew/CNET

The Big Jambox speaker offers good detail and fairly tight bass and can fill a medium-size room with sound. I played a wide variety of music through it, including lossless tracks we use for our headphone tests, as well as an eclectic mix from Spotify. I also played some games and movies from my iPad. For its small size, the Big Jambox did pretty well with all of it (it's particularly great for iPad movies and gaming), managing not to distort at higher volumes. But it does have its limitations. While the music holds together fairly well at higher volumes, it does feel a bit restrained and canned at times. The speaker is also a little on the bright side with a slightly edgy treble. By comparison, Bose's $299 SoundLink Wireless is a warmer-sounding speaker.

With the Big Jambox, you'll get the best sound sitting somewhere in the neighborhood of 4 to 8 feet away from it, and Jawbone has a feature called LiveAudio that's designed to open up the soundstage and make it seem wider and more three-dimensional. You engage it by pressing the volume-up and volume-down buttons simultaneously and turn it off the same way. I think it works better and is more noticeable with the Big Jambox than the small Jambox, and I left it on the whole time.

The original Jambox is an impressive combination of design and performance; the little guy can play loud and is great accessory for frequent travelers. That said, it's expensive for a portable Bluetooth speaker and you can find tiny speakers like the Logitech Mini Boombox that cost half as much and sound almost as good. But the smaller Jambox remains one of those products that's hard to resist once you see and hear it. And that's why people don't mind paying a premium price for it, though it's certainly facing stiffer competition these days.

The same is true of the Big Jambox. It, too, is a great-looking speaker that feels well-built and is thoughtfully designed. Of course, the drawback to going bigger is that you can't carry this one around so easily and tuck it into a laptop bag or purse. But it is portable and the upside to its larger dimensions is it sounds a lot better and plays significantly louder. It really can be a mini party box when called upon, whereas the original Jambox plays fairly loud but it won't play over a lot of people chattering away in your living room.

The big question, of course, is whether the Jambox is as good as Bose's SoundLink Wireless, which costs $299 for the model with the nylon cover (the model with the leather version retails for $349). The sound quality is pretty close, but overall I preferred the sound slightly more on the Bose. Both CNET editor Justin Yu and I felt the Jambox was a brighter speaker with edgier treble. I also preferred the Bose's design and found it slightly more easily portable.

That said, the Bose doesn't have built-in speakerphone capabilities, so if you're interested in that feature, the Big Jambox is a better choice. As for choosing between the Big Jambox and the little Jambox, it really comes down to portability over sound quality and how you think you'll end up using the speaker. If you plan on having it travel with you a lot, go small. If you think it's a speaker you'll move from room to room in your house (or the conference room in your office) or take outdoors, go big. But just know you are paying a premium for the design and the Jambox brand and try not to mind it too much.


Jawbone Big Jambox

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 9Performance 8