JLab Audio carries a handful of products centered around audio – iPod Nano speakers, earbuds, iPod/iPhone cases, and USB speakers. I’ve had the opportunity to tinker with the latter of their offerings – the B-Flex 2 Hi-Fi Stereo USB Speaker. Now that’s a bit of a mouthful, so we’ll just call it the B-Flex 2 for our review purposes here.
The B-Flex 2 is small, dual set of speakers (with dual, Hi-Fi drivers) that fit in the palm of your hand. The speakers (housed in a single shell) are mounted on about a 6 inch flexible ‘cord’ with a USB plug at the end. At first glance, the design is slightly odd, and the size of the speakers made me wonder exactly what the point of adding these to my MacBook really was. (Or in Josh’s keen observation, “They’re small speakers for computers with small speakers.” Well said Josh!)
Luckily for me, I’m no stranger to working in noisy datacenters, so there’s been some good opportunities to use the B-Flex 2 in an environment that my MacBook’s onboard speakers clearly can’t stand-up to. On a recent Saturday of working in one of these places, I plugged the B-Flex 2 in so I could at least rock-out a little while I worked my weekend away… Being that I rock a notebook, I was working without the power cord plugged in – at least to begin with. So when I plugged the B-Flex 2 in, a warning message popped-up telling me that there wasn’t enough juice to power the little dual-amp speaker. My first thought was that this was pretty lame – afterall, if your target is to replace the smallish speakers of a notebook computer which is used on-the-go, it should probably be able to work in such an environment. Afterall, the unit is sized for such use.
Waving aside my dismay, I plugged my MagSafe into the MacBook and then reinserted the B-Flex 2. No power warning this go around – woohoo! I selected the new output option in my Sounds Preference Pane and launched iTunes. Expecting that I’d need to max my volume to get the most out of this little unit, I felt like Marty McFly in Doc’s garage – cranking all the dials I could to the maximum output. I hit play. Some of you may recall that years-old Maxell commercial of the guy in the chair getting blown-away by the sound…That’s more or less how I felt when Nickelback began to play through the B-Flex 2!!
In all honesty, this little speaker packs a mighty punch. It was more than enough to overcome the loud, server-filled, AC-blasting datacenter I initially tried the product out in. And it has fit the bill perfectly in scenarios where several people are working together in a conference – or war – room and the tunes need to be played loud enough for all to enjoy. They surely go the extra distance that the relatively weak MacBook speakers cannot.
That being said, the short 6 inch flex cord is a nice idea in that you can position it freely, but the sound of the dual speakers is limited to wherever your USB port is. On my MacBook, that puts the audio off to the left side. Not exactly a centere, or surround sound experience. But perhaps I ask too much… The other issue is that while small, the speakers are large, and heavy enough that the small USB plug tends to sag while plugged into the port of the notebook. It’s not a big deal, but I don’t feel great about the way it hangs its weight unevenly on the port itself.
So for $39.95 you can get some very impressive sound on the go (so long as you are able to plug your notebook into AC power). The downsides I experienced – in my opinion – were negligible compared to the excellent performance of the product. If you’re looking for a highly portable solution for your audio needs, the B-Flex 2 USB Speaker from JLab is at least worth a hard look.