JBL Link 500 – Design and build
If you know the Link family well already, then the JBL Link 500 basically looks like the Link 300 with a couple of protein shakes under its belt. For those less familiar, the Link 500 measures 37cm wide and sports a mesh grille that stretches across the majority of its middle and a sturdy plastic top panel that holds a handful of controls. It looks hefty, but is actually surprisingly light at 3.5kg.
As well as buttons for volume, playback and Bluetooth pairing, you’ll also find physical controls for firing up Google Assistant, as well as a mute button for when you want to block it out entirely. There’s no remote control included with the speaker – and, perhaps surprisingly, no JBL-branded remote app either; but then with voice assistance to control everything you need, it would be pretty redundant.
- Around the back you’ll find JBL’s signature passive radiator, which vibrates to give this speaker its oomph, plus there are double the number of drivers at play here over the Link 300: two 89mm mid/bass woofers and two 20mm tweeters.The speaker’s edges have been curved in a way that suggests how it looks has been a consideration. Nevertheless, it can’t quite compare to the Google Home Max and its soft-touch material finish.
JBL Link 500 – Features and setup
The JBL Link 500’s main feature is of course its voice control, which is left in the very capable hands of Google Assistant. As a result, not only do you have a digital butler in control of your music playback, but it’s also at hand for all manner of other voice-assisted requests.
Setup is quick and simple via the Google Home app, which walks you through all you need to get the Link 500 up and running on your home network. You’ll see the small Wi-Fi logo along the bottom of the front panel light up when it’s been successful.
If you’ve used Google Assistant before, some of your settings will be ready to go; if not, you can add them in here. This includes details for your music service of choice (Google Play Music, Spotify, YouTube or Deezer), your linked Google account, your favourite news services and so on.
You can set up Voice Match from here, too, which allows the Link 500 to tell you apart from other members of your household, in order to provide more tailored results for shopping lists and calendar requests, for example.
It doesn’t take long to get everything set up in its entirety, but it’s also something you can come back to and fill in later if you’re keen to get streaming.
Speaking of which, the Link 500 plays music using two methods: Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. Google Assistant will use your home network for anything you ask, with Bluetooth on hand should your network be down, or for streaming from services such as Tidal that aren’t supported by Google Home.
Being a Google Assistant device, Chromecast is built in as standard. This allows for multiroom capabilities from the off, as well as playback up to 24-bit/96kHz. It also allows you to control the playback of a Chromecast-enabled TV using the speaker and just your voice.
JBL Link 500 – Performance
As its size might suggest, the JBL Link 500 puts forward a very confident performance. It’s an authoritative speaker that will certainly aid in getting the party started.
That doesn’t mean the Link 500 is all bass and no britches, though. In fact, it’s a very well-balanced speaker that leaves no part of the frequency range unloved. The mid-range arguably tips the focus in its favour just slightly, with crystal-clear and focused vocals that display excellent detail and expression. Instruments show a similar level of insight, sounding natural and nuanced.
I’m also pleasantly surprised by the treble, which hasn’t been excessively rolled off and shows enough bite and sparkle to keep things exciting. It drives the music forward in a way that will happily get your toes tapping.
The Link 500’s bass performance gives a suitable amount of authority to the speaker’s sound, but isn’t as warm and full-bodied as you’ll hear on something the Sonos Play:5 for example, nor is it as detailed.
Depending on how you like your bass, this might no be an issue – it isn’t lacking; it’s simply less of a focus. There’s still plenty of rumble when it’s required, and although it makes for a leaner overall sound, to call it ‘lean’ would very much be underselling it. It’s a presentation that can lend itself to most genres – not just pop, rock and R&B.
The only thing I notice is that the Link 500 sounds its best with a bit of volume behind it. Those looking for a background speaker might be better off looking elsewhere; this speaker likes to be the centre of attention.
Low-level dynamics aren’t quite as impressive as they are with the volume up past half way; you lose out on some of the snap, punch and expression that makes this speaker such a fun one to be around.
Turn it up and it jumps into life, getting behind big dynamic shifts with conviction, while also giving the more contemplative moments time to breathe. It can handle volume, too; you’ll have to go pretty near max volume before there are any signs of distortion.
Timing is pretty good for the most part, but it can become confused when things get really busy. A play through of Hans Zimmer’s Cornfield Chase proved a step too far for the Link 500 when it comes to poise and organisation.
As for Google Assistant performance, the JBL Link 500 picked up all my voice commands without issue, even when the speaker was playing music at a decent volume.
Google Assistant is improving all the time, but being a third-party product, there will be some delay in receiving more recent features. For example, the Link 500 has no voice-calling as yet, and the sleep timer functionality doesn’t work either.