JBL Authentics 500 is a smart speaker with serious bass — and a questionable price tag

JBL’s Authentics 500 has room-filling bass and nifty smart features, but can it justify the asking price?

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JBL Authentics 500

JBL Authentics 500

Review Overview

Our rating


Our verdict

Tons of power and bass
Use two voice assistants at once
Very easy to set up and use

Virtual Atmos can’t compete with the real thing
No Deezer or Apple Music voice-control support
Too expensive compared to competing products

£560, jbl.com

JBL’s family of speakers spans almost every size you could want, from portable consumer models and boomboxes right through to large-scale PA systems. The new Authentics 500 is somewhere around the middle; designed for use in the home, it’s bigger than its sibling the Authentics 300 (which has a carrying handle) but, at 8kg, it’s easy enough to move from room to room. JBL says the series is “inspired by retro design” – you can detect something of the spirit of Marshall amps in its black and gold, faux-leather finish.

The classic approach extends to the top panel where you’ll find three large knobs for volume, bass and treble each with ring lighting showing the current value, along with a Bluetooth pairing button and a Moment button you can set up in the app to recall your favourite station or playlist from the hardware without needing your phone.

The rear panel hosts a microphone mute switch for privacy, 3.5mm aux input and ethernet port as well as a USB-C port which allows playback in the United States but outside that country, is just for servicing and charging devices. Also on the back are twin bass ports and on the underside, a large downward-firing woofer.

Lack of USB playback isn’t a huge issue since you’ll more than likely be streaming your music wirelessly in one format or another. After downloading the JBL One app for iOS or Android, you run through the set-up procedure which is very efficient – within a minute or two the speaker will be connected to your wi-fi network. It’s also possible to stream over Bluetooth should you be away from wi-fi though JBL doesn’t list the supported codecs meaning it’s most likely the regular SBC and AAC – when higher bit rates are supported, a company usually mentions it. AirPlay is supported of course, as are Alexa Multi Room Music, Chromecast and Spotify Connect.

JBL Authentics 500 (front)
JBL Authentics 500 (front)

It’s possible using Google or Amazon to link multiple units to the same source, should you own more than one. In the app you can configure voice-controlled streaming services including Amazon Music, Napster, Tidal and TuneIn though at present there’s no support for Apple Music or Deezer. JBL and Apple don’t seem to be able to sort this out for some reason which is a shame, though you can of course still use AirPlay to stream from your device.

This is a smart speaker so the built-in microphones – which are also used for periodic speaker self-calibration – will listen for your voice commands. Interestingly Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa are available simultaneously, where normally you would have to select one or the other. It’s a nice touch if you have smart home devices that use both systems for example, since you can control them through one device. The assistant functions work very well, with the mics able to understand you even when loud music is playing.

We’ve mentioned the 6.5-inch downward-firing woofer but the speaker also has three one-inch tweeters and three 2.75-inch midrange drivers for a total of seven drivers overall. Although virtual Dolby Atmos is supported, you don’t get the true Atmos that requires the speakers to actually point in multiple directions inside the case like you see in the Sonos Era 300 for example. The design here is more conventional and the virtual Atmos works by processing the sound in a specific way when it detects an Atmos source. It works pretty well – you get an extra sense of separation playing a proper Atmos mix compared to regular stereo, but it can’t compete with the remarkable experience of a true Atmos system, even a compact one. Incidentally, the Era 300 is cheaper and is a superb system.

JBL Authentics 500 (side)
JBL Authentics 500 (side)

The Authentics 500 has a ton of power under the hood, with 270W of amplification, making it capable of going insanely loud and while like most compact speakers it does lose directional focus at very high volumes, it doesn’t distort in our tests. Listening at more normal levels reveals a very capable speaker with impressive stereo separation and though the lower frequency response rating is only 40Hz, the downward-firing design of the bass unit – just like a subwoofer — gives it an extremely powerful and well-rounded bottom end. There’s an in-app EQ as well as the two physical knobs (software and hardware are linked) but we find no need to tweak it for our tastes. Indeed, on a flat setting the bass is quite solid enough. High frequencies are clear and sparkly and mids well-defined, with vocals especially centering in the soundstage very nicely.

As the largest of the three Authentics models the 500 has the most driver units and highest power, and it’s certainly capable of some serious volume, all while being portable enough to move around your house occasionally should you wish. The low end is huge and doesn’t need any boosting with EQ in our opinion, and overall reproduction is very good if perhaps not best in class. Voice assistant integration works seamlessly, even if there are a few omissions in the supported streaming services.

One thing that will be an issue for some however is the price. This is a very good smart speaker, but at north of £550 it’s an expensive one. The virtual Dolby Atmos makes a difference but without physically multi-directional speakers, it’s never going to compare. The Era 300 costs £449 though it has a unique design that not everyone will love, and Sonos has parted ways with Google, meaning no Home support which is a no-no if you’re invested in Google Home kit. If you’re in Apple world a HomePod costs £299, though it’s a somewhat different proposition to JBL’s more conventional offering. The Authentics 500 is a fine, powerful speaker with good smart functions, though in a rather crowded marketplace we’d hope to see its price come down a little to make it a more attractive proposition.

JBL Authentics 500 (top)
JBL Authentics 500 (top)

Key features

  • 3.1 and virtual Dolby Atmos sound
  • 7 drivers including a downward-firing woofer
  • 270 Watts total power
  • Frequency response 40 Hz – 20 kHz
  • Bluetooth 5.3, Wi-Fi
  • Aux input
  • Ethernet port
  • USB-C for charging
  • Amazon and Google voice assistants
  • Rear porting
  • Companion app
  • Physical EQ and volume controls
  • Weight: 8 kg
  • Dimensions: 447 mm (W) x 240 mm (H) x 255.7 mm (D)

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