Review: JBL's Link 20 Bluetooth speaker with Google Assistant nails it

Posted:
in iPhone edited September 4
The JBL Link 20 is expensive as Bluetooth speakers go, but an absolute steal in the world of smartspeakers, especially ones with Google Assistant.

JBL Link 20


The Link 20 is part of the first wave of Assistant-compatible speakers by JBL, a pretty well-established brand in the audio realm. Accordingly, the Link 20 mostly resembles a traditional Bluetooth speaker -- it's tall and cylindrical, available only in black or white, and has physical control buttons up top, rather than anything hidden or touch-sensitive. It's also IPX7 waterproof, and its rechargeable battery provides up to 10 hours of playback if you're not hooked up to micro USB.

Some differences quickly pop up though. For one, there's a Wi-Fi indicator on the bottom, since you'll need to have an internet connection to get Assistant working. Separate indicator lights meanwhile tell you when Assistant is listening and responding. These are similar to those on the Google Home but not immediately recognizable, since they lack the Home's colorful scheme.

You can trigger Assistant commands by saying "Hey Google" or "Okay Google," or alternately by tapping a dedicated button. A mic mute button is on the back if you want to ensure privacy, or just prevent accidental voice triggers.

JBL Link 20


Supported voice commands are similar to those on the Lenovo Smart Display or any other Assistant-ready device, though of course missing anything that would require a screen. You can stream music services like Spotify, Pandora, and Google Play Music, control smarthome devices, or just ask general knowledge questions like "Who is Albert Camus?" or "How far is it to Albuquerque?" No Apple Music, but that's sadly par for the course with both Assistant and Amazon Alexa.

One of the most convenient things about the Link 20 is the ability to switch between Assistant and Bluetooth audio on the fly. We were able to ask it to "play the news" one moment then have it play podcasts from Overcast on our iPad the next. A catch, it should be said, is that you can't have two sources going simultaneously -- if you start audio on a connected Bluetooth device, it'll interrupt anything Assistant was doing.

It's best to temporarily disable Bluetooth if you expect to be making heavy use of Assistant, since even something as small as an iOS notification can potentially kill Assistant-based playback. Alternately you can use Google Cast technology to push audio from iOS and desktop apps, but of course this connection isn't permanent.

When things are humming along the speaker sounds great, even if it won't floor you. It's powerful enough for most media, sporting two 10-watt channels and response ranging between 65 hertz and 20 kilohertz. For contrast though, something like Audio-Technica's high-fidelity ANC700BT headphones span 5 hertz to 40 kilohertz, capturing more nuance.

The Link nevertheless delivers satisfying bass, and is quite clear regardless of what you're listening to. An Apple HomePod or Sonos One will sound better -- but probably only marginally until you crank up the volume.

Conclusions

JBL Link 20


I never thought I'd be saying this, but I think I'd rather have the Link 20 than the One or a HomePod. It's a question of convenience, since sharp sound and automatic room-tuning functions are all well and good, but hardly matter if you can't play what you want when you want. Apple and Sonos' speakers are Wi-Fi-only, and not meant to be portable either, whereas you can listen to the Link at work, by the pool, or in the shower.

For some people that won't matter, and certainly you should look elsewhere if your plan is to hook into a home theater setup. But it's also worth mentioning that Google Assistant is simply the best-performing voice assistant, able to tap into a broader knowledge base than either Siri or Alexa, and respond better to human interaction. You can for instance control two smarthome accessories in the same sentence, which is curiously missing from other AIs.

If you're already entrenched with Alexa devices or HomePods, it's probably best to stay in those ecosystems for simplicity's sake. If you're considering switching or not particularly loyal though, consider the Link 20.

Score: 4.5 out of 5

Where to buy

The JBL Link 20 retails for $199.95 and is available at B&H Photo with free expedited shipping and no tax collected on orders shipped outside New York and New Jersey.
gatorguy

Comments

  • Reply 1 of 12
    This is nowhere near HomePod sound quality and neither is a Sonos One. That’s just an ignorant thing to say. 
    chasmunbeliever2
  • Reply 2 of 12
    nunzynunzy Posts: 662member
    I do not want a Google, thankyouverymuch.
  • Reply 3 of 12
    I’ve got a nice Sony Speaker with AirPlay. Probably doesn’t sound as good as the home pod but it sounds good enough that I don’t feel a need to get a home pod. Don’t get me wrong if I won the lottery I’d buy one. But as is, I’ve got other things to save for. 
  • Reply 4 of 12
    boltsfan17boltsfan17 Posts: 2,044member
    snookie said:
    This is nowhere near HomePod sound quality and neither is a Sonos One. That’s just an ignorant thing to say. 
    Have you even heard one of these? The sound quality is really good.
    muthuk_vanalingam
  • Reply 5 of 12
    macguimacgui Posts: 958member
    snookie said:
    This is nowhere near HomePod sound quality and neither is a Sonos One. That’s just an ignorant thing to say. 
    And how long did you test the Link 20 before formulating your elucidating response. You didn't? Imagine my surprise.
  • Reply 6 of 12
    avon b7avon b7 Posts: 2,891member
    Thanks for the review. I've had a Charge 2 for a few years, which is very nice. The water resistant Charge 3 is sometimes on offer and I was considering getting one.

    The Charge 2 can handle phone calls but wierdly the volume is too low to make it useful. 

    Can the Link 20 manage calls?

    Also, would it be able to pull music off a Shield TV? 
  • Reply 7 of 12
    chasmchasm Posts: 994member
    No Apple Music = no sale.
    Google Spyware that's not secure = no sale.
  • Reply 8 of 12
    gatorguygatorguy Posts: 19,368member
    chasm said:
    No Apple Music = no sale.
    Google Spyware that's not secure = no sale.
    -You can play your Apple Music on it. 
    -You can also physically turn off the microphone to alleviate your spyware listening concerns.
    -I've not seen any issues with the security nor read about any.
    edited August 27 muthuk_vanalingam
  • Reply 9 of 12
    peteopeteo Posts: 332member
    How do you play music on this? With airpay or just blue tooth? If i use google assistant to play music, is it the speaker going out to get the music (so my phone is not used)? does it work with apple music?
  • Reply 10 of 12
    Roger_FingasRoger_Fingas Posts: 106member, editor
    peteo said:
    How do you play music on this? With airpay or just blue tooth? If i use google assistant to play music, is it the speaker going out to get the music (so my phone is not used)? does it work with apple music?
    You can play music either through Google Assistant (the speaker has its own Wi-Fi connection) or Bluetooth. If you use Assistant, your phone isn't involved.

    It doesn't support Apple Music directly, but if you have an iPhone or iPad you can of course start there and connect via Bluetooth.
  • Reply 11 of 12
    peteo said:
    How do you play music on this? With airpay or just blue tooth? If i use google assistant to play music, is it the speaker going out to get the music (so my phone is not used)? does it work with apple music?
    You can play music either through Google Assistant (the speaker has its own Wi-Fi connection) or Bluetooth. If you use Assistant, your phone isn't involved.

    It doesn't support Apple Music directly, but if you have an iPhone or iPad you can of course start there and connect via Bluetooth.
    ...and that's exactly how HomePod supports third-party music. You can airplay any music to it from any source (Pandora, Spotify, etc), but it only natively will "go out and get" Apple Music. This is sounds like the same, but in reverse. 

    Your mileage probably depends on what you subscribe to. If you're in the Apple ecosystem, I don't know why you wouldn't just use Apple Music.
  • Reply 12 of 12
    gatorguygatorguy Posts: 19,368member
    Aloysius said:
    peteo said:
    How do you play music on this? With airpay or just blue tooth? If i use google assistant to play music, is it the speaker going out to get the music (so my phone is not used)? does it work with apple music?
    You can play music either through Google Assistant (the speaker has its own Wi-Fi connection) or Bluetooth. If you use Assistant, your phone isn't involved.

    It doesn't support Apple Music directly, but if you have an iPhone or iPad you can of course start there and connect via Bluetooth.
    ...and that's exactly how HomePod supports third-party music. You can airplay any music to it from any source (Pandora, Spotify, etc), but it only natively will "go out and get" Apple Music. This is sounds like the same, but in reverse. 

    Your mileage probably depends on what you subscribe to. If you're in the Apple ecosystem, I don't know why you wouldn't just use Apple Music.
    Kinda the same except for the streaming music services with voice-support. On the Homepod it's only Apple Music. On Google Home/Assistant hardware there's several voice-controlled music vendors from Spotify to Pandora to Google Music to YouTube to Deezer. It appears Apple Music may even join that group. 
    edited August 27 muthuk_vanalingam
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