JBL Authentics 500 wireless speaker review

hcc_recommendedRetro design and Dolby Atmos support help this 3.1 sound system stand out from the crowd, says Steve May

The top dog in JBL's retro-themed Authentics wireless speaker range, the 500 is a hefty, high-powered music system that plays loud with impressive bass extension. If you want delicate hi-fi, look elsewhere. This big boy is bad to the bone.

Launched at IFA 2023, JBL's Authentics 200, 300 and 500 models unashamedly embrace the company's heritage, most obviously channelling the L100 loudspeaker popular in the early 1970s. But there's nothing vintage about the feature spread.

All three are Bluetooth 5.3 and Wi-Fi enabled, with Chromecast onboard. Unusually, there's also dual voice assistant support, so you can flirt with both Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa on the same device. Inside is a 96kHz/24-bit DAC for hi-res audio.

The Authentics 500's performance is crisp and tight, capable of huge dynamics. It's particularly good with bouncy club anthems, and isn't too bothered about annoying the neighbours.

Highs 'n' lows
Significantly, this flagship design is also Dolby Atmos compatible (the others are stereo only), but it's more about lateral spread than vertical immersion. Upon receiving an Atmos stream (I used Tidal), it applies appropriate post-processing able to enhance spatial width.

The Dolby Atmos mix of Wizkid's cover of Bob Marley's 'One Love' (from the album inspired by the recent feature film biopic) places the chorus away from the main vocal, thereby expanding the soundstage without diluting the central performance.

The speaker's widescreen presentation gets similarly exercised with Sick's 'The Warning', but the Authentics 500's handling of immersive mixes isn't hugely different from its full-bore two-channel attack. Slipknot's pounding anthem 'Psychosocial' becomes a veritable wall of satisfying sound.

Bottom's up
Behind the distinctive Quadrex grille is a trio of 1in dome tweeters, angled gently upwards and out, and three front-firing 2.75in midrange drivers. Up-end the speaker and you'll discover a 6.5in down-firing woofer. This configuration is listed as 3.1, and its cumulative power output rated at a not inconsiderable 270W.

Build quality is up to the standard you'd expect at the price, and with its seductive grille, bronze-coloured trim and generous dimensions, JBL's premium speaker is nothing if not an attention seeker.

It's also a delight to use, with quick and easy setup. Once you've downloaded the JBL One app (which has a three-band equaliser, should you feel the need to tinker), it'll discover your speaker and provide a helping hand to connect it to your Wi-Fi network. On the top of the cabinet is a volume and track control dial, alongside individual treble and bass pots. There's also a Bluetooth pairing button and a personalised playlist 'Moment', which can be set in the accompanying app.

Bluetooth and Wi-Fi are the headline connections, but the Authentics 500 also has an Ethernet socket for those that would prefer to hardwire their network, plus a 3.5mm stereo audio minijack and a USB-C port for service duties.

There's no HDMI input, though, which strikes me as something of a missed opportunity, as this could have been a potent alternative to a soundbar.

Authentically powerful
JBL's new smart speaker is not the most overt of Atmos designs – Amazon's Echo Studio, for example, has a dedicated upfiring driver for a wider, higher soundstage – but its general demeanour is no less exciting for all that. This is powerful all-in-one music system with fetching aesthetics and a penchant for bone-vibrating bass. If you can stomach the price tag, it's easy to recommend.

HCC Verdict: 4/5

JBL Authentics 500
Price: £559

We say: This retro-styled wireless speaker is a beast, with big, bruising bass and advanced, smart connectivity. Expensive but exciting.


DRIVERS: 3 x 1in dome tweeters; 3 x 2.75in midrange; 6.5in down-firing subwoofer ONBOARD POWER (claimed): 270W CONNECTIONS: USB-C (service); Ethernet; 3.5mm minijack REMOTE CONTROL: No, use app instead DIMENSIONS: 447(w) x 240(h) x 255(d)mm WEIGHT: 7.8kg

FEATURES: Built-in dual-band Wi-Fi; Bluetooth (v5.3); Dolby Atmos decoding; Google Chromecast; Amazon Alexa; JBL One app with three-band EQ; 40Hz-20kHz claimed frequency response; bass reflex cabinet; Quadrex grille