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JBL Authentics 500 - This Is the Coolest Speaker I've Ever Seen... and Heard

Glenn Hart,
Publish Date
Fri, 20 Oct 2023, 7:22AM

JBL Authentics 500 - This Is the Coolest Speaker I've Ever Seen... and Heard

Glenn Hart,
Publish Date
Fri, 20 Oct 2023, 7:22AM

Well I guess I've kind of blown it all in the headline, haven't I?

Before I even got my hands on this speaker I had a feeling we were going to get on... a bit like online dating.

What I didn't realise is it would be love at first sight - and double love at first listen.

Come on. How cool is the JBL Authentics 500? Just look at it. It's as though JBL was commissioned to create the illustration for the picture dictionary definition of "Retro."

It shouldn't be too much of a surprise; JBL is a genuine heritage brand, powering a long list of significant rock'n'roll moments in history dating right back to Woodstock in 1969.

Everything about the Authentics 500 is organic and tactile and screams, "Vintage." With its leather-feel outer surface, big, chunky volume, bass and treble knobs and trademark Quadrex front grille, this chillybin-sized box of wonder looks more like something you might find gathering dust in a hidden corner of a second-hand store than a cutting-edge example of smart speaker technology.

And boy is it solid. That's not a criticism, by the way - I was raised to believe the heavier the speaker the better. Basically, there's nothing about the Authentics 500 that bears any resemblance to JBL's other brightly-coloured, cylindrical, splash-and-tumble ranges of bluetooth speakers - although to be sure, they're all fine products in themselves.

This is a different beast altogether. This is a work of art.

When it comes to sheer power, you'd be hard-pushed to find another smart speaker that crams so much into one enclosure; there are three aluminium tweeters, three mid-range woofers and a big, juicy, downward-firing sub that'll definitely get the floorboards rumbling if you really crank up all 270 watts.

There are even a pair of JBL's patented Slipstream Ports - the horn-shaped holes in the back panel that ensure there's no distortion, vibration or "chuffing" from low frequencies played at high volume.

And you can definitely fill a room with this speaker alone. The Authentics 500 is Dolby Atmos-rated for high-res ("lossless") streaming services like Tidal or Qobuz. What's rather unique about the Authentics 500 is it'll connect to virtually anything, via any connection. Want to play audio straight from your phone via Bluetooth 5.3? Too easy. Airplay from your Apple device? Yup, got that covered. Or maybe you're more of a Google/Android kind of person? No problem - you can Chromecast too.

But that's only the beginning of how connected the Authentics 500 can be - not just bluetooth and Wi-Fi - there's even an ethernet port at the back so you can hardwire into your home network. This ensures a more reliable link to your preferred streaming services - especially for the high data transfer rates required for more lossless formats. 

You can use both Alexa and Google Assistant to control the speaker and ironically, I've found the built-in mics on the Authentics 500 to be even more sensitive and responsive than most of the Alexa or Google branded speakers I've tried. Even when the volume is up fairly loud, I can generally get the speaker's attention with just my voice.

There's also another way to get your party going straight away, with the "Moment" button. This is a button with a loveheart on it below the bluetooth button in the middle of the control console. Using the JBL One app, you can choose a specific playlist from a selection of subscribed services to start playing when you push that button. When you program the Moment button, you can even set your preferred volume level.

Unfortunately this feature doesn't work with Spotify playlists, which is odd as you can select Spotify as your default music service. Perhaps this is something that will change with a future firmware update - also something you do via the JBL One app.

This app also features an on-screen EQ setting - although as I've already mentioned, there are manual jog-wheels for bass and treble on the speaker itself.

So as you can see, however you prefer to access your music library, the Authentics 500 has you covered - there's even a mini-jack input at the back if you want to physically connect another device.

But all of this is a waste of technology and design if it doesn't sound good, right?

No worries there. The Authentics 500 sounds every bit as great as it looks. Warm. Rich. Deep. Roomy. Intimate. Powerful. Think of an adjective, I'll add it to the list.

My favourite playlist at the moment is "Gregory Porter Radio" on Spotify. This is a varied and mellow mix featuring artists like Jamie Cullum, Stevie Wonder, Katie Melua and of course, Porter himself. It's the perfect, retro sounding jam to compliment the style of this speaker and I can't get enough of it.

As I always say, for me, the true test of a speaker is not so much how it sounds when you wind it up loud. I'm more interested in how it fills the room when you're using it down low - you know; for a bit of background atmos. This is where the Authentics 500 absolutely reigns supreme. The good vibes and retro grooves reach every corner of the room, no matter the volume.

There's an organic, home-cooked feel to the sound of this speaker that's made me fall in love with music again. The sterile, repetitive and formulaic nature of streaming music over cheap, bright, plasticky speakers had slowly turned me off over time, to the point some days I wouldn't even bother listening to anything.

That's all changed now. Now I can't wait to get home and ask for a mix of my favourite artist as soon as I walk in the door. By perfectly blending a combination of the latest connectivity technology, the most iconic retro aesthetics from JBL's long history and truly great audio design, this is easily my favourite device of the year. Perhaps ever.




Click here for more information and pricing on the JBL Authentics 500.

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