One of the great things about both the Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa voice control platforms is that they’re open. Unlike with Siri — which is only available in Apple-made devices — it’s easy for third-party companies to make compatible smart home devices that work with both of them. That means, in effect, that companies can make smart speakers to compete directly with the Google Home and Echo speakers manufactured by Google and Amazon, respectively.
One of the latest companies to take up the Google Assistant smart speaker mantle is JBL, which released a new line of voice-enabled speakers in late 2017 under its new Link sub-brand. The Link 500 ($399.95, £350, AU$500) is currently the largest speaker in the line and competes with such products as the Siri-powered Apple HomePod, the Google Max and the Sonos Play:5. That final product costs more and is merely Alexa-compatible — the voice assistant isn’t built in as it is for the Sonos One.
In addition to the Link 500 reviewed here, the smaller and more affordable Link 300 ($199.99 at Crutchfield) is also AC-powered. The Link line also features two fully waterproof battery-powered portable speakers — the JBL Link 10 ($119.99 at Crutchfield) and Link 20 ($159.99 at Crutchfield). The upcoming Link View, meanwhile, is one of a new wave of Google Assistant devices with a built-in screen.
In addition to using Google Assistant for voice commands, all Link speakers are equipped with Google Chromecast platform compatibility, which enables them to join up with not only other Link speakers but also any Chromecast-based audio device to create a multiroom audio setup over a Wi-Fi network. (All Android apps and many iOS apps can send audio to Chromecast speakers at the touch of a button.) The speakers are also equipped with Bluetooth, which offers universal compatibility.
Given that the Link 500 is the largest speaker in the line, it’s not surprising that it also plays the loudest and has the biggest bass output. It’s got some real kick — and by that I mean it can really thump. But the bass does get a little too boomy for my taste. In other words, it lacks some definition and I liked the step-down Link 300 better for that reason.
Setting up the speaker is relatively simple. You use the Google Home app on iOS and Android devices to log in to the speaker with a direct Wi-Fi connection. Then you log on to your chosen network to get the speaker on it. You can then give it a label for a particular room and link it with other Chromecast-enabled speakers if you have them.
It’s worth noting that the Link 500’s power supply is built into the speaker (there’s a simple cord you plug in) whereas the Link 300 has an external power supply. That’s not a huge deal but it is a difference.
Like other Link speakers in the line, the Link 500 has two microphones at the top along with some physical buttons, including volume controls. You can access Google Assistant by pressing the middle button on top of the speaker and issuing commands without having to say, “Hey, Google” or “OK, Google” first.