JBL Tuner portable DAB+/FM radio and Bluetooth speaker
4.4Overall Score
Name: JBL Tuner
Price (RRP): $129.95
Manufacturer: JBL

Sometimes people say, “They don’t make things like they used to!” I’m wont to respond, “Thank goodness!”. Take the JBL Tuner, for example. In some ways it’s like the old hand-held trannie of my youth. But in terms of sound? Hah, not even in the same ballpark.

JBL Tuner Features

I’ll return to that. But first, what is the JBL Tuner? Simply, it’s a compact Bluetooth speaker with DAB+ and FM tuners built in. Unlike that old transistor radio, there’s no AM.

JBL Tuner

The JBL Tuner is quite small. It’s 165mm wide, but only 66mm by 66mm in cross section. That’s not counting the telescopic antenna, which folds out and extends up to 400mm tall. The unit is portable not just in size, but in weight, coming in at 445 grams.

Actually, not just in size and weight, but also in independence from a power point. It has a 2,000mAh, 3.7 volt Lithium-ion polymer battery built in that gives up to eight hours operation. Included is a distinctive orange-coloured 5-volt 1-amp power adaptor and cable to charge up the unit. Most compact Bluetooth speakers don’t include the adapter. It’s a thoughtful inclusion on this one since I could imagine it also operating as a compact home radio, permanently plugged in.

JBL Tuner

The Quick Start manual also says that “other USB adapters can cause poor radio performance”. I guess many of them do tend to pump out a relatively noisy DC voltage.

That cable connects to the back of the unit by means of Micro-B USB. Next to that is a 3.5mm socket for analogue audio input. There is no cover over these. The JBL Tuner makes no pretensions to be waterproof.

Controls

At the left hand end of the intersection between top and front is a bevelled edge containing the display. This shows the source – Bluetooth, DAB+, FM, AUX – station information and volume level when you’re adjusting that. It also pipes up with useful information when you’re doing things like scanning the frequency bands for stations and so on.

JBL Tuner

On the top is a kind of elongated ring of control buttons. They are volume up and down, DAB+/FM, Auto Scan, Tune Up, Tune Down, Bluetooth and five numbered pre-set buttons. The power button is to the left side of the display.

Setting up just requires plugging in the power, switching it on, choosing a radio band and pressing Auto Scan. If you’re in DAB+ mode, the entire DAB+ spectrum will be scanned. You can skip between the found stations using the Tune Up and Tune Down keys. Hold down a pre-set for a few seconds to memorise up to five stations for ready access. If you’re in FM mode the scan stops when it hits a station. You can pre-set each one as you get to it, or not as you choose.

Listening

So why did I mention my old transistor radio? Why, it also had a nominally two-inch loudspeaker. But such devices were the very definition of “tinny”. Oh, so tinny. Yet we sometimes actually listened to music on them. Music from the AM band from one of the two commercial radio stations. We were deprived.

JBL Tuner

The sound from the JBL Tuner defies the fact that it has a mere 44.5mm speaker – “Transducer” JBL calls it – inside. Perhaps it’s the 5 watts of power that makes the difference. No doubt that helps, but modern compact design really does perform wonders.

No one is going to use the JBL Tuner as a party speaker, but for decent sounding background music it was fine. Sitting on my desk about a metre away from me, it was even better. Overall the tone was quite well balanced. Voices were clear, and there was no really marked distortion. Bass was hinted at rather than fully realised, but hinted at sufficiently well that the music didn’t seem lacking. Indeed, stations like ABC Jazz were surprisingly boppy.

I also played a fair bit of music using the unit via Bluetooth, and again it performed in a manner belying its size.

Just because two things have the same sized speaker doesn’t mean they sound the same. That transistor radio of yore was at best the primitive ancestor of the JBL Tuner.

DAB+

Hobart can welcome the JBL Tuner, now that it is finally receiving DAB+ radio. Here in Canberra, we remain on a “trial”. My office is covered in metal insulation and has a metal roof. There are a couple of rather large hills between my office and the DAB+ transmitter, which is perhaps fifteen kilometres away. But even within my office reception was adequate, in the sense of not dropping out or breaking up. I was impressed.