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JBL Link 300 review: A HomePod competitor that sounds almost as good and costs less

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The Good The Google Assistant-enabled JBL Link 300 has Google Chromecast built in and can be linked to other Link and Chromecast speakers to create a multiroom set-up. It delivers excellent sound for its size and has both Wi-Fi and Bluetooth.

The Bad There's a little bit of presence boost, aka treble push.

The Bottom Line For the money, the JBL Link 300 matches up well against the Sonos One and Apple's HomePod.

8.4 Overall
  • Design 8
  • Features 9
  • Sound 9
  • Value 8

One of the great things about both the Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa voice-assistant platforms is that they're both open. It's easy for third-party companies to make compatible smart home devices that work with both of them. In fact, companies can also make their own smart speakers to compete directly with those manufactured by Google and Amazon.

One of the latest companies to take up the Google Assistant smart speaker mantle is JBL, which released a new line of voice-enabled speakers in late 2017 under its new Link sub-brand. The Link 300 ($250, £200, AU$350) competes with such products as the Alexa-enabled Sonos One and the Siri-powered Apple HomePod. It may not look quite as sleek as those speakers, but it is attractively designed and seems well built. It does share some similarities to JBL's Playlist ($150, £90 or about AU$160), an affordable Chromecast speaker we liked that lacks the voice-control option.

The Link line also features a combination of two fully waterproof battery-powered portable speakers -- the JBL Link 10 ($60 at Dell Home) and Link 20 ($200 at ABT Electronics) -- as well as two AC-only models, the Link 300 ($250 at Dell Home) and Link 500. The upcoming Link View, meanwhile, is one of a new wave of Google Assistant devices with a screen built into it.

In addition to using Google Assistant for its voice commands, all Link speakers are equipped with Google Chromecast ($25 at eBay), which enables them to join up not only with other Link speakers but any Chromecast-based audio device to create a multiroom audio setup over a Wi-Fi network. (All Android apps and many iOS apps can send audio to Chromecast speakers at the touch of a button.) The speakers are also equipped with Bluetooth, which offers universal compatibility. 

While you can debate which speaker sounds best, particularly for the money, there's no doubt that the Link 300 sounds impressive for its relatively small size. It hangs tough against the competition, with a wide soundstage and deep bass. In fact I liked it more than the Link 500 ($400 at Crutchfield), which has more bass but gets a little too boomy for my taste.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Setting up the speaker is relatively simple. You use the Google Home ($99 at Crutchfield) app on iOS and Android devices to log into the speaker with a direct Wi-Fi connection. Then you log onto your chosen network to get the speaker on it. You can then give it a label for a particular room and link it with other Chromecast-enabled speakers if you have them.

The Link 300 has two microphones at the top along with some physical buttons, including volume controls. You can access Google Assistant by pressing the middle button on top of the speaker and issue commands without having to say "Hey Google" or "OK Google" first.

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