JBL's most recent speaker offerings can only be described as creatively ambitious. From the Pulse to the Voyager, and now the Spark, JBL is pushing ahead with some of the most uniquely designed and innovative speakers we've seen yet. But we're here to talk you about the Spark, not the AllSpark, but JBL's new and trendy Spark speaker. With a unique funky translucent design which just so happens to be Harman Kardon's signature weapon of design language choice, the Spark brings a visually fun play on wireless speaker styling. Jump into our full review to find out what we think about JBL's Spark, and how it compares to other wireless speakers!
We see the $130 Spark as JBL's attempt at bringing something that's playful and affordable to market which will stand out to consumers as a refreshing take on current wireless speaker designs. And the Spark does exactly that. It's a very unique item, one that looks like nothing else out there. As much as I dislike saying this, it'll be a conversation starter without a doubt. That being said, to some it may also look like something you'd expect to find at the children's section of your local Swedish home furnishing giant. The aforementioned "playful" description wasn't implied loosely.
Our particular Spark speaker comes in what I’d like to refer to as a quirky ketchup and mustard colorway, which needless to say is eye-catching. Other bright colors such as red and blue are also available though, and JBL is also expected to release white and black flavors down the pipeline.
From the front, the Spark just looks like a single big speaker driver but in fact it houses two small 40mm audio drivers and a bass port behind that round metal perforated speaker grille. You'll notice that right behind the JBL logo is a soft white LED light which turns on solid when the speaker is on and paired with your device, or blinks to notify you that it is in Bluetooth pairing mode. That's about it.
Turning the Spark to the side, a colorful transparent megaphone-inspired enclosure forms the Spark's unique design – which needless to say is what attracted you to it. You can also see the power cable running straight down the middle and into the back of the actual speaker dome which is really cool.
That's about all there is to see here though. And by not implementing some type of internal lighting effect I think JBL has missed an opportunity to really make the Spark electrify visually as a home decor mood light much similar to the company's impressive Pulse portable LED speaker we reviewed.
So you can get a good idea of how big or small the Spark is compared to other speakers, we put it up against some of the most recognised Bluetooth speakers on the market - the UE Boom and UE Mini Boom. As you can see, the Spark is really small. It's roughly the size of a common portable wireless speaker with a perfect 7" diameter at its tallest and widest points, only that it wasn't designed to be portable or thrown in a gear bag. That, and there's the cone-shaped design and long non-detachable power cord that make the Spark very inconvenient to carry let alone stuff into your pants.
Build quality is about as average as it gets. Overall the Spark doesn’t make any grand first impressions with its construction, yet neither does it make you think that it’s fragile. Though I would say that the translucent plastic coned body certainly isn’t adding any value to the Spark’s build quality prowess. That being said, the Spark doesn't seem cheaply made, nor is it anything worth getting excited about. The Spark is augmented by a rubber rim which forms a steady stand and feet for the Spark's seemingly round body as well as enough traction for it to grab hold of any surface you place it on. The same can be said regarding the Spark's rear which features the same color matched rubber in the shape of a plug that keeps the Spark planted in its place.
The Spark's flashy power cable is a nice hefty long one with a braided fabric exterior that is seemingly durable enough to sustain the weight of the entire speaker, and undoubtedly a prominent part of the unique and funky design language.
JBL skipped on the most commonly implemented features in wireless speaker history it seems. That's because the Spark is strictly designed to be fully dependent on wireless Bluetooth connection. Meaning it has no speakerphone functionality, and no inputs or outputs; which is disappointing. To test the Spark's sonic performance during hardcore gaming complete with gunfire and explosions, I thought that I would at least try and pair it up with my PlayStation 4 – not that you'd even want to after reading more about the Spark's audio performance. Using Bluetooth, the PS4 wouldn't accept a handshake from my little yellow buddy. I couldn't plug in a 3.5mm audio cable neither because the Spark has no auxiliary input. At the time, I was a sad panda indeed.
Like a pair of headphones with an in-line remote, you’ll find a rubbery tab-looking remote control attached to the Spark’s fabric cable that allows you to power the speaker on or off, adjust the volume and pair it over Bluetooth. What’s missing are basic play/pause and track skip controls though. To add insult to injury, the buttons are poorly labeled and are very hard to read, and if not memorized, you’ll find yourself looking at them very closely just to find out which button does what.
Perhaps the most interesting feature is that you can mount the Spark on a supplied stainless steel hanger to sort of shower yourself with audio, ideally from the corner of your wall up near the ceiling. Unfortunately this particular mounting capability would have really had merit if JBL made it so that you could pair at least two Spark speakers simultaneously to a single audio source over a Bluetooth connection in order to create a separated stereo audio experience similar to Ultimate Ears’ app-powered dual pairing technology. And if you do end up hanging the Spark on your wall, you might as well leave it powered on and paired with one of your devices, because you'll need to climb up in order to reach the upper end of the cable where the inline remote control is attached.
At the very end of a long thick braided power cable is a yet another big power adapter that looks a power brick. It's got retractable prongs yes, but it's already too bulky for us to care that is does. Good luck finding a spacious power strip for this fella.
Disappointingly, the Spark's large indoor persona doesn't reflect it's ability to lay down good sounding bass, or anything remotely impressive for that matter. We assumed that this would be the case, and unfortunately it is because the Spark sounds way less impressive than its cool looking, large speaker design may suggest. Or to put it plainly to anyone who has ever heard JBL's Charge and Flip portable Bluetooth offerings, the Spark is a slightly more powerful version of the two, albeit not what we would call a significant upgrade. So if you already have a JBL Charge, there's no reason for you to even consider replacing it with the Spark.
However, because its got larger drivers in it with more room for the midrange bass to flow, and the fact that it's titled at an angle that gradually directs sound upwards, the Spark does sound a tad more defined from more positions. Its low-end performance is flat and not in any way better than a smaller, portable wireless speaker which will be a letdown for most people. The $200 SoundLink Mini for example can devour two Spark speakers at once. To be fair, it's not exactly right to compare those two in terms of price, but when you consider size and features – you have something worth considering. Granted the Spark costs $130 which puts it at an awkward place situated between many similar sounding speakers that by comparison are in fact portable and highly compact. It isn't looking very good, however, the Spark doesn't disappoint when it comes to high-end performance. Highs are as clean, crisp and clear as you'd expect from anything JBL, and so are the mids. Although the Spark's midrange is about as good as it can get, it sees no improvement over JBL's smaller Charge speaker.
The Spark does perform better in pushing out richer sounding bass when compared against the Flip and even the Charge, but surprisingly it isn't as loud as the $80 TouchTone speaker and only powerful enough to barely fill up a small sized flat compared to the TouchTone's ability to sufficiently be heard all throughout a similarly sized apartment even when placed inside one room. The Spark's midrange is a little more detailed sounding with slightly superior bass response when compared to the TouchTone.
So how does the Spark fare compared to other wireless speakers with similar internal speaker hardware? The Spark blows away the much smaller UE Mini Boom when it comes to audio separation and detailed audio signature which is nicely balanced - although does tend to favor high-end range using a very clean and clear sound with sufficient amount of ear-opening treble. We already knew the UE Mini Boom's warm, underwhelming midrange and lack of clarity throughout the audio spectrum wouldn't hold a candle up to JBL's Spark though. Then again there will be those who will prefer the UE Mini Boom over the Spark due to its ultra-compact and portable design.
That being said, JBL does have a bright and treble-heavy signature sound that so far has regularly found its way into practically every speaker we have tested. And so in terms of a sound signature, we would say that the Spark would be best suited for listening to alternative, acoustic, country and classical music more than anything else.
Other than hiding behind the convenience of an indoor use application through having to be plugged in to a consistent power source with no recharging requirements and low battery worries, the Spark offers little features and will appeal to a much smaller crowd. We like the unique, self-standing translucent single-like speaker coned design of the Spark, however, its limited use and less than capable sounding audio doesn't compel us to recommend it. If only JBL priced the Spark at $150 and equipped it with a passive bass radiator we would have had a really great product worth writing home about. You know your speaker is mediocre when a much smaller and portable $80 wireless speaker from a case company performs just as well, albeit with less midrange detail.
JBL did however, create the innovative and powerful $250 Voyager wireless Bluetooth speaker which features a detachable portable speaker sphere with a built-in rechargeable battery that is specced similarly to the Spark and should sonically be identical, albeit with one big difference. It docks into a larger powered subwoofer unit with a 77mm driver creating one seamlessly single powerful indoor Bluetooth speaker system that should have plenty of bass to back up those great sounding dual 40mm audio drivers. All we wanted was more low-end presence, and the Voyager should in theory strike a perfect balance between vocal clarity and enriched full sounding audio.
It would be fair to say that JBL's Spark falls under the desktop speaker category as it isn't portable nor does it have a built-in rechargeable battery which limits it to a wired wall power source like virtually all proper desktop stereo speakers. So with that in your mind, you might as well pick up one of these wireless options: Logitech's Z600, Audyssey's Wireless Bluetooth Speakers, or Harman Kardon's impressive and also translucent wireless SoundSticks speaker system. The latter will cost you more than you've probably bargained for though.
We can’t help but think that the Spark is already obsolete. JBL put very little into it, and we’re expecting an even greater model release sometime in the near future. But if you can’t wait and you’re willing to enlarge your spending budget, we definitely think you should consider JBL’s Voyager. Alternatively, you could grab a UE Boom which has incredible battery life and impressive wide range of audio quality in a portable, and very durable package. With that in mind, if you're not an audiophile and you just need a space-saving compact wireless Bluetooth speaker for your dorm, room or office that's inexpensive but can still deliver a clean, decent sound and have no intention of using it out and about, the Spark may be a good option for you. Because the Spark is practically a Bluetooth speaker in a category of its own, we think it's unique enough and fairly priced to merit a mid-level good rating.