Written by Guest Expert Contributor Eric Peterson
I will go ahead say it, I love portable Bluetooth speakers. I bought one as soon as they started to be regularly introduced to what is now a very competitive market segment and have owned 3 in total. These wireless stereo systems have created an entirely new way to enjoy a vast array of unique audio experiences. Aside from just playing the music stored digitally on any number of MP3 players, they can connect to your laptop, act as a speakerphone, and some can even charge any device that connects via a USB port.
In the world of consumer electronics, especially portable audio devices, a “generation” can be as short as 6 months. We are now entering approximately the fifth or sixth generation of the portable Bluetooth speaker in less than 5 years. The sound quality and functionality of these devices have made quantum leaps each successive generation.
Two current generation standouts in the rapidly growing market are the JBL Charge 2+ and the all new Infinity One which was engineered with the assistance of the rock band Linkin’ Park. While JBL has been making portable Bluetooth speakers since 2012, the One is Infinity’s first foray into the market. For the sake of full disclosure, I will admit that I own both a JBL Flip and the JBL Charge and love them equally for their incredible value and capability.
I value what the average wireless speaker buyer does and do not claim to have a degree in how music should sound at all times. I think the way people hear music is very unique, personal and individual so I am here to serve as the voice of the common man and woman. I am not really an expert but I am opinionated. Sometimes I think having an “audio expert” review a portable Bluetooth speaker is a bit like having a race car engineer review a sensible, fuel efficient subcompact commuter hatchback.
He or she will more than likely hate almost everything about that vehicle as they may be experts about things with four wheels but know nothing about the needs of ordinary buyers. Then they lose any interest a normal reader may have when the article focuses on complaints about a “torque curve plateau @3600rpm.” Don’t worry, I won’t do that here. Rather here is a head to head comparison of the new Infinity One vs. the updated JBL Charge 2+.
Both of these speakers are properly and improbably loud. Both speakers will act as a speakerphone if need be, both will accept multiple Bluetooth device users at the same time, both have auxiliary input jacks and both are “splashproof.” (Meaning they should be fine sitting by your pool during a cannonball competition but should not be thrown into the pool.) Lastly, both Infinity and JBL are owned by the same audio company Harman International.
Which one is more Portable?
Why are you buying a portable speaker? Where will I use it and how small should it be? I suggest you think about those questions long and hard before you spend your hard earned money, because there are vast differences between what one company deems “portable” and what another does. The Charge 2+ is about the size of a 24oz can of energy drink, and weighs less than 1.5lbs.
The Infinity One on the other hand is almost as big as a football and weighs as much as a Buick in comparison. Okay that was a slight exaggeration but the Charge 2+ with its rubberized plastic housing and metal speaker grille feels like it is ready for a day at the beach, a backyard BBQ, or my personal favorite—for use in the cupholder of a golfcart where it fits perfectly. The Infinity One on the other hand, with its ceramic-coated aluminum shell and polished mini-subs looks like it is most at home on a desk, countertop, or shelf. In other words, in a more polished and elegant indoor setting or at the very least someone’s dorm room. So long as a freshman doesn’t throw up on it. Although we are sure the Infinity’s sturdy ceramic coating could take the abuse.
After a week with both speakers and several trips around coastal Orange County, I can tell you the Charge 2+ is the hands down winner in the portable superiority department. It fits easily in your hands, and I was able to throw it in any bag I was carrying, even putting it in my jacket pocket to take it down to the car from the third floor of the building I live in. With the One, however, I always felt afraid I would drop it, I wasn’t always able to fit it conveniently into my backpack with the rest of my stuff, and no matter how it was transported it inevitably seemed to get scuffed. And it is too pretty looking for that.
So if your idea of portable is from one room of a house to the next, the One is a good choice. Otherwise, if you want a speaker that is up to not only a trip around the kitchen but a trip around the world, the Charge 2+ is for you. (Advantage: JBL Charge 2+)
When it comes to rating the overall sound quality of both of these speakers, I will tread lightly as I said earlier individual tastes vary. Let’s face it, sound quality is the MOST subjective area of any audio review much like the exterior styling of a new car. What I like is guaranteed to be different from what at least 50% prefers, possibly even more. What I can tell you is that in my house, as I write this, I am listening to the Infinity One at medium volume. It has a deep, rich, and crisp sound, closer to a standard home audio system than a compact wireless unit.
It has 4 small drivers, 2 on either side giving it a wider range and greater ability to separate bass, mid-range, and treble. From Beethoven to Hall and Oates and Aerosmith, everything played on the One sounds truly amazing, as long as it is kept below ¾ volume. The real trouble with the One occurs at high volumes, like those required at an outdoor gathering or when overcoming a great deal of ambient noise. Under these conditions when you play something like electronic dance music or bass heavy pop-music the system can become overwhelmed by its own no doubt Linkin Park influenced attempts at unrealistic bass reproduction. The result can be a sound best described as muddy.
For example, the song “Fun” by Pitbull best highlighted this issue. In order to achieve the deep, thumping bass, the passive radiators (mini-subwoofers) on either end of the Infinity have a wide range of motion so they can move a substantial amount of air. Unfortunately, the “air” and sound waves travel into and over the small midrange speakers inside it and can also make it sound as though the artist is singing into fan.
Although the “issue” was less evident and non-existent with some musical genres, it was still kind of embarrassing when it did occur. If I wondered what my neighbors thought, I can only imagine how red faced you would feel at a party with all of your friends when it happened. Really the Infinity One is best used as a stylish, solidly built and compact enough wireless sound system for use in a room in your home, your dorm or a small apartment. Indoors and without it being played at full volume the Infinity One impresses especially given it is the brand’s first attempt to design such a device.
However, there is no trace of this type of high volume distortion in the JBL, but the Charge 2+ also doesn’t achieve the One’s treble crispness or pump out the same level of inhuman bass as the Infinity. The JBL has a slightly more muted, flat tone than the One. I have found this to be true with all JBL portables, and it is not really a bad thing. It allows the tone to stay incredibly consistent throughout the entire volume range, much like with the best Bose systems.
The Charge 2+ is by far the best sounding JBL portable I have heard. I was blown away by the levels of improvement this device has made over the years and if you own a JBL already rest assured that the 2+ is much more than just “splashproof.” It only took one car ride with my “old” Charge to hear the quantum leap this current portable speaker has made over just the past 2 years. It really put into perspective how great both of these speakers really are regardless of any nitpicking. I would have given the victory in the sound department to the One, due to the overall richness and clarity if offers most of the time, but the high volume distortion was disappointing. Therefore, in this section it’s a tie. (Advantage: JBL Charge 2+ and Infinity One)
As I stated earlier, both the Charge2+ and the One have nearly identical connectivity features. One of my favorite new features that come with both is the ability to control master volume from the speaker. On older models, the speaker would only go as loud as your phone/ipod could be set. Now, the volumes are paired meaning that if your phone is showing 50% volume, that will be the volume of the speaker and vice versa. When it comes to battery life, both are respectable, but the JBL will last at least an hour longer at higher volume levels. You would think the One, with its size meaning it easily could be used to knock Justin Bieber unconscious at one of his concerts. Not that we would ever do that.
But don’t you think with the additional mass the Infinity would have a longer battery life? Both will go well over 6 hours at moderate to high volume, which is twice the capability of previous generations. As far as the Bluetooth is concerned, both speakers were very easy to connect to my iPhone 6. Less than 5 seconds. The Charge2+ has a slight range advantage, but only by a few feet rendering that somewhat irrelevant since you don’t always have to walk around a party with your phone with you. If you do, maybe seek help for obsessive compulsive disorder.
However, the Infinity does have a habit of cutting out slightly if there is more than one wall between the MP3 player/i-Pod/i-Phone and that speaker. Apparently other owners have suffered this problem as well as I found it mentioned quite often on message boards. But you can get around that by not walking into the west wing of your McMansion with your MP3 player still in your pocket. It’s a valid complaint but sometimes people need to learn to cope.
When it comes to the controls, both are easy to use and very straightforward. Both have attractive lighted displays on top, but for some very strange reason the volume buttons on both units are unlit. A particularly annoying omission at night, in the dark, after a few adult beverages. Not that I know anything about that.
Now, up to this point you may think this is a fairly even competition. The JBL Charge 2+ excels in many areas, and builds upon an already great reputation. And the Infinity One is an undeniably great sounding speaker with class leading looks. And for a first effort, the engineers at Infinity should be given kudos for attempting new sonic solutions within the design. Even if a few had odd side effects this proves the adage to expect progress not perfection. And we bet Infinity’s, um, Two perhaps will deal with any shortfalls. Lord knows Infinity makes the best affordable audio upgrade system In Kia models like the Soul, Optima, Cadenza, Sedona minivavn and Sorento. Yes, Kia offers the best sounding and best value audio upgrade among audio manufacturers. Period.
But this competition between the One and the JBL isn’t actually a truly fair competition at all. Don’t read the rest of this if you don’t know money comes in paper form and you live your life on a American Express Black. But for people who spend their own cash, I can go out and get a Charge 2+ for myself, and one for a friend for the same price of a single Infinity One. That’s right, the JBL is $149 ($129 right now on JBL’s site!) and the Infinity is $299 (on sale on Infinity Audio’s site for $249).
But despite any bargains, for a speaker 100% more expensive, its not really at my most generous 35% better in any area. It gets even more confusing considering they are both made by the same company, Harman. If the One were $199, it may have been a real competition that it really had a solid shot of winning. But as it stands, for my money and planned usage it’s a no-brainer—The JBL Charge 2+. Just don’t make mine in orange. (JBL offers the Charge 2+ in eight tame to lurid hues depending on your personality.)