If you've made smart speakers part of your daily routine — using them for checking the weather, turning on the lights and playing songs, for example — it may be time to up the sound quality of your system. The best smart speakers don't necessarily have more features than your typical smart speaker, but they make the listening experience much more enjoyable. They also cost a lot more (see the $400 Google Home Max and $349 Apple HomePod). JBL's $250 Link 300 with Google Assistant seeks the middle ground, aiming to deliver improved sound without breaking the bank.
The oblong, 9.3 x 6 x 5.3-inch Link 300 is a midsize speaker similar to Sonos' Play:3; it falls in the middle of the Link series, between the larger Link 500 and the portable Link 20.
Available in black or white, the Link 300 follows the same aesthetic as the other members of the Link lineup: hard plastic on top and bottom, with mesh wrapped around the speaker drivers. The enclosure houses a 0.8-inch tweeter and a 3.5-inch woofer that pounds out powerful bass. The design also helps spread sound widely, allowing the speaker to easily fill a large room with sound.
On top of the speaker, JBL placed two microphones to handle voice commands, as well as a mute button to keep the device from listening when you don't want it to. The JBL features volume controls and buttons to activate Google Assistant and put the speaker in Bluetooth pairing mode. When you say, "OK, Google," or "Hey, Google," four white LEDs above the black mesh pulse to show the speaker is listening. Those LEDs also show the volume level when you change it.
Google Assistant acted on commands quickly; it gave me the weather, turned on a Wemo Switch, played a radio station through TuneIn and cued up recommended videos from YouTube via Chromecast.
But, as with other third-party speakers that have Google Assistant, the Link 300 couldn't make calls. Only Google's own Home speakers can currently do that.
If you like bass that rattles the furniture, the Link 300 is for you. It rounds out the sound with full vocals and midrange tones, producing very good audio overall. However, the bass lacks the detail that the smaller Onkyo Smart Speaker G3 ($200) delivers, and the bass overmatched the treble.
The thumping bass on The Weekend's "Pray for Me" shook my desk, but I could still clearly hear his vocals; the same song on the Onkyo G3 also had full bass, but the vocals weren't as prominent. On The Decemberists' "Severed," the bass again dominated but didn't overwhelm the vocals. On acoustic tracks like Miles Davis' "Summertime," the horns and acoustic bass had good warmth but lacked crispness, and on Big Star's "Thirteen," the guitars sounded less sharp than on the Onkyo G3.
The Link 300 is one of the loudest speakers we've tested, pushing 100 decibels — slightly more than the Onkyo G3. But at the top volume, the sound gets fairly distorted.
The Link 300 doesn't give you any way to tweak the sound profile — there is no equalizer or automated room correction — which means you'd better like bass.
Wireless and Setup
Setup happens through the Google Home app, and the process is simple. You connect to your Wi-Fi network — at either 2.4 or 5Ghz — for internet connectivity. You can also pair the speaker with mobile devices via Bluetooth, which is useful if Google Assistant doesn't support your music service.
The Link 300 can do almost everything a Google Home Max or Google Home speaker can, and it sounds very good — how good depends on your personal taste. The speaker's bass-forward sound profile makes it a good match for people who listen to music that focuses on deep grooves; if you like acoustic music, this might not be the right speaker for you. Onkyo's Smart Speaker G3 costs a bit less and offers more details, though vocals aren't as prominent on that speaker. If you're thinking it's time to upgrade your smart speaker’s sound, the Link 300 is worth a listen.