JBL PartyBox 1000 review: Prime Bluetooth speaker
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The niche genre of “party speakers” often gets a bad rap for being toys with gimmicky features and subpar sub-bass-focused sound. So what happens when a pro-audio company like JBL goes all-in on über-party speakers with a huge and gorgeous sound, an undeniably eye-catching light display, and the largest array of interactive extra features? You get a room-booming behemoth with connectivity for Bluetooth, USB, and multiple types of analog audio inputs. At $1,299, the JBL PartyBox 1000 is a prosumer party speaker worthy of a professional party-thrower’s consideration.
The JBL PartyBox 1000 design
At first glance, the JBL PartyBox 1000 cuts an imposing figure measuring 41.3 inches tall, 15.6 inches wide, and 15.3 inches deep, with connectivity that towers above the average party speaker. Weighing in at 76.5 pounds, it has two rugged wheels at the bottom and a handle at the top for tilting it back and rolling it into the ideal party position. Fortunately, all that mass is not just for show. The JBL PartyBox 1000 is truly a powerful PA on wheels—you push it, and it pushes air. Its loudspeaker configuration includes a rear-ported 12-inch subwoofer, two 7-inch mid-frequency drivers, and a high-frequency tweeter; together, they deliver a combined 1,100W power. (What to know more about each component? Check out our primer on what makes up a speaker.)
Some of its features are just for show but in a good way. A full-color, dynamic light show spans the front panel of the PartyBox, behind the grated metal enclosure. Otherwise, a large rectangular cuboid with rounded corners, the PartyBox 1000’s light show gives it an immediately distinctive look. If you like electric, vivid colors writhing along to music, it will appeal to you. The light show also includes six mini strobe lights along the side of the enclosure. If you’re photosensitive or don’t like the lights, you can turn them completely off.
The PartyBox 1000’s extended legs with rubber feet at the bottom keep it very stable on flat surfaces. It also has four rubber feet on each side, either for setting the speaker on its side (likely during transportation) or to protect against whatever objects you wedge it between.
Setting up the JBL PartyBox 1000 speaker
Once you’ve wrestled the JBL PartyBox 1000 speaker out of its packaging, you’ve already accomplished the most difficult part of its setup. With the heavy lifting done, it’s plug, play, and party down. The “figure-8” power cord plugs in between the unit’s wheels, though the included 7-foot cable feels a bit short, given that the speaker is likely to be used outside and in spread-out indoor venues. Pack an extension cord.
When powering up or down from the top-panel power button, the speaker plays an indicator sound to let you know it’s on or shutting off (a hallmark of all JBL Bluetooth speakers, really any portable Bluetooth speakers). You can play music wirelessly via Bluetooth 4.2 or, if you prefer to plug in, the speaker can pull tunes from a USB flash drive, the stereo RCA (Line-In) inputs, or the stereo 3.5mm Aux input (think headphone jack, like phones used to have) on the back panel. Wireless pairing is a simple matter of pressing the Bluetooth icon button on the top panel and selecting “JBL PartyBox 1000” from your device or computer. A top-panel audio source button indicates which source is currently selected.
When playing music from a USB stick, the JBL PartyBox 1000 handles songs in the MP3, WMA, and WAV file formats and plays them automatically in alphabetical order from the drive. So, if you want to play songs in a particular order, you have to prepare the file names in advance to be alphabetical in the order you want (“A Baby Got Back,” “B Get Ur Freak On,” etc.). The USB port also charges mobile devices, and there is a slot on the top panel that acts as a convenient stand for tablets and smartphones.
The JBL PartyBox 1000 only plays from one of the four audio sources at a time. However, there are also ¼-inch Mic and Guitar inputs, each with its gain level knob on the back, that work along with playing music. So, for example, a singer/songwriter could perform over backing tracks, or singers could do karaoke to the music. (See the “Sing its virtues?” section below for more on Karaoke mode.)
If one of these sizable speakers just lacks enough power (or you hate your neighbors), you can link two PartyBoxes together via their RCA connections. Or you can use Bluetooth TWS (True Wireless Stereo) technology by pressing the Bluetooth button of two PartyBox speakers simultaneously for five seconds (not surprising from a company that makes excellent portable, pairable PartyBoost speakers like the Flip 6 and Charge 5). That connects them in TWS mode, and then the L/R Channel button on the back panel sets which speakers are the left and right channels. Using TWS, the two speakers have to be within Bluetooth range of about 33 feet.
Key features of the JBL PartyBox 1000
Despite the many included bells and whistles (or airhorns), the JBL PartyBox 1000’s big, luxurious sound is its star attraction. Its 1,100W output is enough to (quite literally) blow your hair back if you crank it to its extremes. Using it as the monitor for my weekly DJ livestreams, where I like loud volume and stomach-shaking bass, it had all the necessary power and then some. There was no sign that the speaker would give out before my eardrums would. A single PartyBox 1000 easily filled up an entire one-bedroom loft condominium with plenty of Saturday-night, neighbor-unfriendly volume. Stringing two of them together could threaten to turn even the biggest backyard barbecue into a block party.
The PartyBox 1000’s huge sound is generally a good thing, but when connected to Bluetooth devices, there’s a small problem arriving at the right volume level. Using the top-panel “+” and “-” volume buttons when connected to Bluetooth resulted in sizable jumps in volume; it was often hard to achieve the perfect level. It would be too quiet, and the next interval was too loud. However, when playing music from USB, Line-In, or Aux inputs, the up and down volume intervals were much smaller and easy to dial in.
A sound investment?
Sure, it’s loud. But this JBL speaker also sounds outstanding. JBL has imbued it with all the quality of the company’s professional PA loudspeakers (and features from the wide range of JBL Bluetooth speakers), so even though it’s a “party speaker” it still puts out a clear, accurate sound across the entire frequency spectrum. I tested it with many styles of music—hip-hop, pop, jazz, rock, dubstep, and other varieties of electronic dance music—and it always treated the sound well, not favoring any genre with boosts in different areas of the frequency range.
If you want extra power in the low end, the Bass Boost has you covered with two levels of added thump. Pressing the Bass Boost button once gives you a mild but noticeable notch up in the lows. Press it a second time for a heavy dose of bonus bass. Results vary, of course, depending on the bassiness of the source material. But, for already bass-heavy music, the second level of Bass Boost produces an impressive and satisfying low-end boom that can rumble your innards and rattle nearby windows. Even when pushed with very bass-heavy jams at high volumes, the Bass Boosted sound stays round and smooth, rather than distorting.
Engaging the Smart DJ button either plays a pre-canned dance beat in time with the music’s tempo or applies audio effects like flanging or chorus. When playing music from a USB drive, Smart DJ is there to play some beats between tracks to avoid dead air. When engaging Smart DJ on music from other sources, it’s hard to know exactly what you will get when you press it.
Blinky lights and performance pads
What separates a party speaker from just a regular ol’ speaker? Not just a “fun” (a touch more treble- and bass-rich) sound. In this case, it’s a pack of interactive add-ons that vary in novelty and frivolity.
For instance, the JBL PartyBox 1000 has a grid of 16 backlit pads on the top panel. The cluster looks similar to the drum pads found on many professional electronic instruments, such as the Akai MPC samplers. A top-panel button toggles between the pad modes: drums (yellow lights), synthesizer (green), piano (blue), DJ sound effects (magenta). You can play these by themselves or along with the music. The piano and synth pads play single notes or chords all in the same key; the drums provide a variety of kick, snare, tom, and cymbal sounds; and the sound effects include different vocals, record scratching sounds, and others like the ubiquitous airhorn (bwah-bwah-bwaaaaah!). With a USB drive connected, there’s also a red-lit pad mode, which loads the first 16 audio files (alphabetically and MP3 format only) to the pads.
Made for durability rather than sensitivity, the pads are not as responsive as most of those on the aforementioned production tools. Still, there is a way to record patterns with them on the PartyBox. You press the record button, play a pattern, and press record again to loop what you played. You can repeat that process to layer up to 8 recorded tracks, using any onboard or USB sounds. This was fun to mess around with and if you can get the rather tricky timing of the recording down, you could make beats and patterns to go over the music or to accompany you while singing or playing guitar. A final feature lets the pads cycle the speaker’s light colors and patterns.
Yet one more party favor is included: an Air Gesture Wristband that anyone can wear like a watch to control certain aspects of the JBL PartyBox 1000. When turned on, the battery-powered wristband syncs to the speaker and lights up in the same color as the speaker’s light show. Then the wearers can rotate their wrist clockwise or counterclockwise to change the light show’s pattern; clap twice to play sound effect 1; or shake their wrist four times to play sound effect 2. The sound effects played are from the currently selected pad mode.
Sing its virtues?
Several of the PartyBox 1000’s top-panel functions are only available in Karaoke mode, which activates when you plug a microphone into the Mic input. The Voice Cancel button attempts to dampen the vocals from the playing song so that a person can sing over the music. In most cases, this function succeeded in somewhat lowering the level of a song’s vocals and altering some aspects of the music in the process. It doesn’t actually cancel out vocals, but it’s still an improvement compared to singing over regular songs, rather than dedicated karaoke versions.
The Key knob pitches the music playing up or down, which can sound strange, but also can help adjust a song to a better vocal range for the singer. Turning Key left pitches the sound down, while turning right pitches it up. Finally, the Echo knob applies a varying degree of subtle echo to the microphone’s sound.
So, who should buy the JBL PartyBox 1000?
The JBL PartyBox 1000 speaker stands tall in the field of party speakers due to its substantial power, excellent, pro-level sound, and vibrant, bold lighting effects. Its sheer scope would lend a presence to the proceedings for karaoke DJs, mobile DJs, musicians, and other frequent event-holders. Like many of the company’s best Bluetooth speakers, it could be the centerpiece of any music lover’s setup. Suppose partying in the privacy of your own property is your aim, but you don’t fancy parting with that much coin. In that case, JBL has several smaller PartyBox models, each with Bluetooth connectivity, light effects, and other similar features (including the far more compact JBL PartyBox 110 and JBL PartyBox Encore Essential, both of which we enjoyed). The closest step-down option to the 1000, the PartyBox 710, retails for $799 and has a similar level of JBL sound technology, although featuring only 8-inch woofers and 800W. However, for the full effect of venue-level audio output, a one-of-a-kind, full-panel light show, and a slew of add-on playthings, you’ll have to spring for the PartyBox 1000, the king of the block.
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