JBL has a rich history when it comes to speakers – it was founded in 1946 and since then has become a name synonymous with sound both for consumers and professionals alike. So, it’s no surprise JBL has leaned into its heritage with its latest release - the Authentics 500.
The faux leather casing, the tactile volume knob and the Quadrex grille that pays homage to the legendary L100 conventional stereo speaker range (although the grille is now made from 100% recycled materials), are all iconic features, which have been borrowed from JBL’s designs from the 1970s. While I’m not quite old enough to have experienced the originals, the speaker does give me a warm fuzzy feeling and makes me yearn for the days when home entertainment systems came as separates, terrestrial TV only had three channels, and you sent letters not email.
However, the nods to retro design are subtle rather than in your face. The faux leather casing could easily be mistaken for real leather, while the circular volume knob breaks up the angular design of the speaker - both giving the speaker a premium look and feel, which doesn't seem out of place in a modern home.
I'll admit the Quadrex Grillie is a Marmite feature - you'll either love it or you'll hate it. I usually prefer slight curves to angular designs, and always opt for white over black, which seems harsh and very masculine. But because the Authentics 500 is so different to everything else on the market right now, I'm not ashamed to say that in spite of my usual style rules, I actually kind of love it.
On the bottom of the speaker sits a 6.5-inch down-firing subwoofer. This is complemented by three 1-inch tweeters and three 2.75-inch mid-range drivers, which are located behind the Quadrex grille, while two bass ports sit on the speaker’s back, using JBL's Slipstream technology, borrowed from JBL’s high-end and pro audio speakers, and designed to maximise air flow to ensure atightly defined bass response.
The design is the only thing that’s retro about this all-in-one wireless speaker, however. Whether you prefer Spotify, Amazon music or Tidal, they can all be streamed through the speaker over wi-fi, so the music won’t stop if you receive a call on your phone. It can also be slotted into existing multi-room set-ups, providing you have AirPlay, Alexa Multi-Room Music or Google Chromecast to hand.
When it comes to bass, the Authentics 500 blows your socks off. It packs a punch – so much so that I was scared to crank the 500 up much further than half way for fear of reprisals from my neighbours.
The bass tones are full and well-defined, and the top-end sounds clear without any blurring or loss of detail. The speaker also highlights vocals, which all together makes for warm, rich sound. The Authentics 500 supports tracks in Dolby Atmos, and in my experience, these songs sounded like they were being performed live, as the instruments and vocals appeared to come from different directions, a perfect demonstration, despite what the detractors say, of just how absorbing Atmos mixed tracks can be. Talk about adding another dimension, that doesnt cover half of it.
Señorita by Shawn Mendes and Camila Cabello clearly sounded as if the singers were on either side of the room when played in Dolby Atmos on the speaker, something the standard version of the track fails to offer. Similarly, while listening to Fleetwood Mac’s Everywhere, we were able to pick up the delicate tinkle of the cymbal, something that can be sometimes lost in stereo
The Authentics 500 is one of three speakers in the range, alongside the Authentics 300 and Authentics 200. Given its moniker, it’s no surprise it’s the biggest and most-powerful of the triplets. When I say, it’s big – I mean it’s BIG.
Just a smidge over 25cm deep and with the two Slipstream bass ports requiring plenty of clearance around them, I initially struggled to find the best position for the speaker in my lounge. After finally settling on a spot on the sideboard, the soundscape more than filled the room, and even provided a good listening experience in the adjacent room.
There are options to tweak the treble, bass and mids in the JBL One app, which is also used to set-up control music playback on the Authentics 500. The bass and treble can also be adjusted from the speaker itself, as well as pausing playback, but you can only skip tracks from the app – or employ one of the two voice assistant choices. Whether you’re team Alexa or Team Google Assistant, you can be confident your requests for the time, the weather, or, in my case, my burning desire to scream along to Caught Out There by Kelis on a particularly challenging day dealing with my local council, are always actioned.
JBL have created the perfect match of retro design and excellent sound in its largest speaker in the Authentics range. Including technology found on its high-end and pro speaker, has given the bass a hefty boost and support for Dolby Atmos takes the listening experience on step further. There’s no compromise on smart features either.
Rhianna Only Girl (In the World)
Defined and controlled, the powerful booming bass and the electronic tones of this 00s RnB track were given equal presence, but without overshadowing Rhianna’s soulful vocals.
Elton John I’m Still Standing (Remastered)
The Authentics 500 made the upbeat Piano and Elton’s iconic vocals the stars of the show, while still ensuring the familiar guitar riff still got its moment in the spotlight.
Lizzo About Damn Time
The disco-esque guitar riff and the gentle melodic flute were centre stage on the Authentics 500, which also highlighted Lizzo’s uplifting vocals.
The JBL Authentics 500 is ideal if you’re looking for an all-in-one speaker that combines retro design with a stonking good sound, and plenty of smarts. At £559.99, its certainly an investment buy, so be sure your neighbours enjoy loud music before you go ahead and splash the cash!