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JBL Go 3 review: A punchy, pocket-sized waterproof speaker

The JBL Go 3 is a cheap Bluetooth speaker you can take anywhere — even underwater

JBL Go 3 review
(Image: © Future)

Our Verdict

While it doesn’t entirely avoid the weaknesses of small, cheap Bluetooth speakers, the JBL Go 3 is an impressive little unit with full waterproofing, plenty of bass and better-than-expected battery life.

For

  • Very affordable
  • Portable and waterproof
  • Relatively long battery life
  • Six color options

Against

  • Sound is warm but lacks detail

Bluetooth speakers don’t come much smaller than the JBL Go 3. Weighing a feathery 7.4 ounces and compact enough to fit in a pocket, the Go 3 emphasises the “portable” part of portable speakers. 

JBL GO 3 SPECS

Price: $39

Colors: Red, blue, teal, grey, pink, black

Size: 3.4 x 2.7 x 1.6 inches

Weight: 7.4 ounces

Durability: IP67

Battery life: 5 hours 

Often, this approach can spell trouble for audio devices: smaller drivers are rarely better than deep, wide ones, and the battery will have necessarily shrunk. But, as our full JBL Go 3 review shows,  its full waterproofing, plucky bass output and surprising longevity add up to a winner. Read on to find out why this isn’t just one of the best waterproof speakers, but one of the best cheap Bluetooth speakers overall. 

JBL Go 3 review: Price and availability

  • $39 MSRP
  • Six color options

The JBL Go 3 retails for $39, putting it in the same bracket of such cheap Bluetooth speakers as the Anker Soundcore 2 and the Tribit StormBox Micro. You can buy it from Amazon, B&H, Walmart and Target, among others.

You get a decently wide choice of colors, too: red, blue, teal, grey, pink and black. The availability of certain colors may vary between retailers, though at the time of writing Amazon has all six in stock.

JBL Go 3 review: Design

  • Extremely portable
  • Basic but useful onboard controls

While the previous JBL Go 2 was never ugly, the more rounded corners and woven texture of the Go 3 are major improvements. And it’s even more practical for mobile usage, thanks to the new, rubber-reinforced rope loop. 

JBL Go 3 review

(Image credit: Future)

Measuring 3.4 inches wide and only 1.6 inches thick, the Go 3 is very slightly bigger than the Go 2, but remains genuinely pocket-sized. It’s one of the few worthwhile Bluetooth speakers that can make the UE Wonderboom 2 look bulky, and while the Go 3 doesn’t have that speaker’s 360-degree sound, it’s even easier to toss in a small satchel or backpack. It’s even smaller than the StormBox Micro, too.

A skip button would have been nice, but the basics are present in the form of volume up/down buttons and a combined play/pause button. These are perched on top of the speaker, while the more discrete power and Bluetooth pairing buttons sit on the right side.

JBL Go 3 review: Waterproofing

  • IP67 rating
  • Protected against dust ingress and submersion in water

Despite its low price, the Go 3 promises waterproofing to the IP67 standard: the same as premium waterproof speakers like the UE Megaboom 3 and Sonos Roam. That means it should survive being fully submerged in up to 1 meter of water for up to 30 minutes — and it’s fully protected against ingress by dust and dirt as well. 

JBL Go 3 review

(Image credit: Future)

It works, too. I completely submerged the Go 3 in my sink for a while, and it emerged in full working order. And should you drop it in the bathtub or a pool, you don’t even need to worry much about full submersion, as it floats to the surface unless held down. That should make retrieval easier, too.

The USB-C charging port is exposed, so I’d recommend waiting for it to dry out before attempting to recharge, but otherwise the Go 3 lives up to its ruggedization promises.

JBL Go 3 review: Sound quality

  • Strong bass with warm profile
  • Higher frequencies workable, not great
  • Can go loud but sounds best and low-to-mid volume

The Go 3’s sound profile is a mix of pleasant surprises and, considering the compact design, totally expected limitations. Let’s start with the latter: this is not a particularly detailed-sounding speaker, and although it can go loud enough to fill a decent-sized room, distortion kicks in well before the volume maxes out.

The Wonderboom 2 is drastically crisper and clearer, so remains your best bet if you want a diminutive waterproof speaker. But then, that’s more than twice as expensive as the Go 3. Can JBL’s speaker still offer enjoyable sound on a tight budget?

JBL Go 3 review

(Image credit: Future)

As it happens, yes. The firmness and presence of the low-end is impressive for such a small speaker, so Audioslave’s riff-heavy “Cochise” rocked along nicely while the iconic bassline in “Feel Good Inc. by Gorillaz kept all of its sleaziness.

In fact, there’s a general warmness to the Go 3’s sound signature that you rarely get from tiny speakers. This can be great for giving presence to solo instruments, like the opening guitar in Krewella’s “Surrender the Throne,” and it works well with classic recordings that already have that “old vinyl” quality.

Again, though, don’t expect too much. Higher-pitched elements can sound a little recessed, unless they’re really being pushed in the mix, and vocals are clear but don’t have the sharpness of more expensive speakers. 

JBL Go 3 review: Battery life

  • Up to 5 hours, officially
  • Could go for much longer in testing

Normally, the reason you shouldn’t take manufacturers’ battery life estimates as gospel is because they rarely last that long in everyday usage conditions. With the Go 3, however, it’s the opposite: I got much more than the quoted 5 hours from a single charge.

JBL Go 3 review

(Image credit: Future)

Granted, I was usually listening at under 50% volume, but I still squeezed about 10 hours out of the Go 3 before it finally ran dry. That’s Sonos Roam territory, and takes the edge off what would otherwise be the Go 3’s biggest disappointment.

Of course, 10 hours isn’t amazing either, but unlike 5 hours it’s enough for a day out at the park. Just remember that if you crank the volume up, you won’t be able to stretch it out as long.

JBL Go 3 review: Wireless and setup

  • Bluetooth 5.1 is reliable
  • No PartyBoost or stereo pairing

There’s no aux port so the Go 3 exclusively connects over Bluetooth 5.1. It paired to both my Android phone and Windows PC nice and quickly, and the signal didn’t drop out when I put a few walls in-between the speaker and the source device.

JBL Go 3 review

(Image credit: Future)

There’s no multipoint support, so only one device can connect at a time, and unlike the Charge 5 you can’t create a stereo pair or PartyBoost network using multiple Go 3s. That’s a little disappointing, but then, you do need to take the Go 3 out and about to get the most out of it. It’s not the kind of speaker you’d shackle to a multiroom or desktop setup.

 JBL Go 3 review: Verdict

The smallest speakers will always deal in trade-offs, but the JBL Go 3 ultimately makes a deal in your favor. Its ruggedness and portability are hard to beat, especially without spending a whole lot more money, and even the relative weak points of sound quality and battery life are still pretty good for $39.

The Wonderboom 2 is a better choice if you can afford, but the Go 3 holds up against the $49 StormBox Micro just as well as it will an accidental dip in the pool.

James Archer

James joined Tom’s Guide in 2020, bringing years of experience in consumer tech and product testing. As Audio Editor, James covers headphones, speakers, soundbars and anything else that intentionally makes noise. A PC enthusiast, he also covers the occasional spot of computing and gaming news, usually relating to how hard it is to find graphics card stock.