If you’re in the market for a Bluetooth speaker, one brand tends to come up more often than others. JBL has options at basically every price point, but at around $150 one of their best speakers has always been the Charge series. The newest in the line-up is the JBL Charge 4 speaker, but how different is it really? Let’s find out.
Editor’s note: The conclusion of this review was updated to reflect changes in pricing.
How’s the build?
At first glance, the Charge 4 doesn’t look like it’s any different than the previous Charge 3. But if you look a little closer you begin to notice a few slight differences in build, or should I say, in size. The new Charge 4 is slightly bigger by roughly a centimeter in every way, but it’s also heavier by 165 grams (7.05 ounces). While that obviously isn’t a huge deal, it’s not good news if you were relying on the portability of the speaker. If you’re hiking, an ounce in the morning is a pound by the evening. That said, it shouldn’t really make a practical difference in everyday activities. You should be able to throw this in a backpack with no problem.
JBL also upgraded the battery from 6000mAh on the Charge 3 to around 7500mAh on the Charge 4. Besides that, the Charge 4 still keeps most of the features that made the Charge 3 so great. For one, the tough waterproof fabric makes a comeback along with the IPX7 certification that lets you submerge it for up to 30 minutes in a meter of water. It also floats for a bit if you do drop it in the water so you don’t have to worry about losing it if it falls off of a boat or a deck. These also have the characteristic exposed dual passive radiators on either end just like most of the new JBL speakers over the last few years.
Up top, you’ll get the playback buttons that are just slightly raised above the fabric along with a power and Bluetooth button. The bottom is a small built-in stand with five tiny LED lights that let you know how much battery life is left when you tap the power button, and around back is a rubber flap that keeps all of the ports protected from water. You’ll definitely want to make sure this is closed if you’re going to be taking this to the beach or rocking out poolside.
What’s new with the connection?
If you can’t tell you yet, the JBL Charge 4 isn’t too different than the previous model. It’s an iteration on an iteration, but connectivity is where things to start to split. The Charge 4 has all of your bases covered with a strong connection up to around 30 feet just like most Bluetooth speakers. The playback controls work great and the buttons are nice and clicky, though I do wish the buttons were made of a white plastic or were all lit up like the power button, as it’s hard to see which one is which when it’s dark. The Charge 4 also doesn’t have a built-in microphone so if you tend to use your speaker for phone calls you might be annoyed. Personally, I never want a mic on my speaker and always ended up fumbling to disconnect my phone every time I got a phone call, so this is actually a positive thing for me.
On paper, you’ll notice that the JBL Charge 4 has Bluetooth 4.2 instead of the older 4.1 which is nice, but the real differences have to deal with JBL Connect. If you’ve never owned a JBL speaker, JBL Connect is the feature that allows you to sync up a few speakers together in order to play the same song. It’s not really the equivalent of a Sonos system, but if you’re having a party it could definitely get the job done. JBL Connect+ is a better version of the older JBL Connect, and lets you connect up to 100 JBL speakers together instead of one or two. If you happen to have a mansion, this would be a cool party trick.
Unfortunately, if you bought an older speaker with the regular JBL Connect (like the Charge 3), it isn’t compatible with this new plus version. So if you and a few friends are going to splurge on 100 of these and throw a “Project X” style party, this could be a feature that you might be interested in. For the average person, I doubt it matters much.
How’s the battery life?
Even though the JBL Charge 4 has a battery with a much larger capacity than the Charge 3, they’re still both touted as having an identical 20 hours of constant playback. During our testing, we managed to get the Charge 4 to pump out music for 13 hours and 46 minutes straight. It wasn’t quite the 20 hours they promised, but it’s still not bad. That will take a hit though if you decide to also charge your devices via the USB-A output on the back. You’ll also find a 3.5mm input and a USB Type-C input on the back, but the Type-C can only be used for charging. So if you have a Type-C to Type-C cable and were hoping to charge your new Android phone or iPad Pro through that port, you’re out of luck. You have to use the USB-A port for everything charging related.
This was the part where I was most surprised because I was expecting for sound quality to be an improvement over the Charge 3, but it seems to be extremely similar to my ears. JBL went with a single driver over a dual-drivers this time around, but besides a few minor complaints, I don’t think many people who buy this speaker are going to notice. Just like the previous model, the new JBL Charge 4 has a strong low end for its size which is no doubt helped by those passive radiators.
Like the older Charge 3, this model will sound better in larger rooms and open areas—mostly due to the fact that bass tends to lose power over distance faster than higher-pitched sounds. If you use the Charge 4 in a barn, yard, or garage: the sound will drop a little bass emphasis and sound a little more pleasing to you.
Bass notes throughout the song Tearing at the Seams by Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats were distinct and easy to follow along with, but the speaker suffers from the same lack of clarity in the mids that the last model did. Vocals were still discernible, but they sounded like they were taking the backseat to some of the instrumentation of the song.
This was especially true in the song Lost on You by LP, where the vocals sounded like they were in competition with the strings and background melodies throughout the chorus. If you’re a lover of the high end you don’t have to worry because nothing sounds harsh and I didn’t hear any distortion at high volumes either. Overall, it seems like JBL just focused on tuning the speaker to sound as close as possible to the Charge 3, and it’s impressive how close they got considering the move to only one driver. But if you liked the way the last Charge 3 sounded, you’ll like this one too.
Should you get the Charge 4?
Yes. You know how I know the Charge 4 is good? Because it’s extremely similar to the Charge 3, which is also good. New speaker buyers will love the waterproofing, sound quality, and battery life this unit offers for a competitive price. The Charge 3 was tough to beat, and the Charge 4 just adds to that legacy. Initially, I didn’t think this speaker was enough of an upgrade over the previous model to justify the price increase, but since it’s been a while since the initial release the price has dropped to roughly the same as the Charge 3. In that case, there really isn’t a reason to not get this speaker. Now that you’ll only be spending a little bit more for the Charge 4, it makes sense to spend the extra cash to future proof your device with USB-C charging and the new JBL Connect+.