JBL is America’s sweetheart when it comes to waterproof Bluetooth speakers. The company puts out several new products every year, and theoretically, they keep getting better. The most recent addition to the Charge series is the JBL Charge 5. It has all the tell-tale signs of a good JBL speaker, but is the upgrade from the JBL Charge 4 worth the price hike?
Editor’s note: This review of the JBL Charge 5 was updated on September 16, 2021, to mention the UE MEGABOOM 3.
Who should get the JBL Charge 5?
- Party hosts should get the JBL Charge 5 as it produces exceptionally loud sound for a portable speaker. Thanks to the PartyBoost feature, it can be paired with other compatible speakers for an even louder sound.
- Beach-goers can take advantage of the IP67 dust and water-resistant rating. You can fully submerge it without issue and it’s lightweight enough to throw in your beach bag.
Start here: What makes a good Bluetooth speaker?
What’s it like to use the JBL Charge 5?
The JBL Charge 5 doesn’t come with a whole lot—just the speaker, a protective sock, a charging cable, and some documentation about the product. It’s always nice to open up a new audio gadget to see that it has at least a bit of battery charge in it, and the Charge 5 lets you dive right into music listening. The first time you press and hold the power button to turn on the speaker, it will automatically enter pairing mode. Just select the Charge 5 from your device’s Bluetooth settings and you should hear the signature sound of a JBL speaker being connected.
The speaker is nice to look at and hold, and it has the shape and approximate weight of a football. Everything is wrapped in a woven fabric cover with smooth silicone accents. The JBL Charge 5 adds a silicone foot on the bottom of the speaker, which is nice and helps it stay put on flat surfaces. However, while this Bluetooth speaker is marketed as portable, it’s definitely not going to fit into your pocket—for something like that, get the JBL Clip 4. The Charge 5 is surprisingly lightweight, though, so if you can find a place to put it, it won’t weigh you down too much on a hike or trip to the beach. The speaker has onboard controls, and while it doesn’t include a button to skip backward a track, double-pressing the play button will skip forward.
Is the JBL Charge 5 waterproof?
Some people don’t trust the waterproofing that IP ratings promise, and we don’t blame them. The Charge 5 has an official IP67 rating, which means it can withstand dust and handle submersion in up to 1 meter of tap water for up to 30 minutes—this squares with our experience. Even after a firm dunk in a bucket of water, the Charge 5 sounds just as good as when it’s dry—just make sure the charging port flap is securely closed. The fabric covering the speaker will still get plenty wet, but once it dries everything will sound normal.
In 2020, I tested a JBL Flip 4 that was out of warranty by submerging it in the pool and it subsequently broke, so it’s possible that the IP rating will degrade over time. This may also have been a result of the chlorinated water, since JBL does not ensure that its speakers can withstand saltwater or chlorinated water. If you do happen to break the speaker within 1 year of buying it, JBL will send you a new one.
Should you download the JBL Portable app?
Download the JBL Portable app to access JBL PartyBoost and firmware updates. Once you open the app, it will prompt you to pair your Charge 5. The interface of the app is pretty easy to use and offers helpful information about each of its components.
PartyBoost is JBL’s tool that allows you to connect multiple speakers together for a louder sound. You can connect two of the same speakers together to listen in Stereo Mode, or you can connect up to 100 of any compatible speakers together for Party Mode. Under Party Mode, all speakers will play audio in mono. If you opt for Stereo Mode, the next time you play music from the primary speaker, it will play music in stereo through both speakers. If you want to sometimes use the Charge 5 by itself, set it as the secondary speaker. The JBL Flip 5, Pulse 4, Boombox 2, Xtreme 3, and Charge 5 are all compatible with JBL PartyBoost.
Beyond what the JBL Connect app offers is the Charge 5’s power bank functionality. Use the same cord that you use to charge the speaker, but plug in the USB-A side into the speaker’s port under the silicone flap, and the Charge 5 battery will drain to charge up your Android phone or another device with a USB-C charging port. If you have an iPhone, you can use your lightning USB cord to charge it, but make sure it has a USB-A connector at the other end.
How is the Bluetooth connection on the JBL Charge 5?
Pairing the JBL Charge 5 is easy enough—simply press and hold the Bluetooth symbol on the top of the speaker and select it from your device’s Bluetooth menu. It uses Bluetooth 5.1, which means it’s slightly more energy efficient than Bluetooth 5.0. The Charge 5 also has Bluetooth multipoint functionality, so if you and a friend want to take turns playing music through your speaker, you won’t have to switch source devices each time.
The speaker can stay connected over a decent range too, easily handing the walk from my dining room to outside my house. Thick walls will get in the way and cause stuttering, which may limit the connection range for some. Locking my phone or opening up a different app like Instagram can also cause a rare hiccup while streaming music from Spotify. Unfortunately, the JBL Charge 5 doesn’t have an aux port so wired listening is not an option.
Does the JBL Charge 5 have long battery life?
The JBL Charge 5 has an official 20-hour battery life, which we’ll put to the test as soon as we get the speaker into our testing chamber. We can tell you that it charges via USB-C and takes 4 hours to completely fill up. That’s right, no fast charging here.
The speaker has an indicator light that glows white anytime it’s in use. When you plug the Charge 5 in, the indicator light will blink, showing you how full the battery is. If it flashes completely white, the battery is full. If it flashes half white and the rest of the indicator light is dark, it is half full.
How does the JBL Charge 5 sound?
The Charge 5 gets loud—like, really loud. In fact, SoundGuys Executive Editor Chris Thomas once DJ’d a small wedding with a pair of JBL Charge 3 speakers—the Charge 5 could certainly pull that off. Regardless of where you are positioned around the speaker, it sounds pretty good, which makes it excellent for parties. Even up to 30 meters away, it sounds great sitting outside in my backyard.
It's easy to parse apart all the elements of a song with the JBL Charge 5.
Vocals are clear thanks to the driver setup inside the speaker. It features a long-excursion driver, a separate tweeter, and each side houses a passive bass radiator. Taylor Swift’s Mr. Perfectly Fine sounds great through the Charge 5, with her vocals ringing out clearly during the bridge at 3:32, but it doesn’t mask the quieter guitar parts. When the drums and bass come back in at 3:46, you can clearly identify all the instruments and vocal tracks in the song, an impressive feat for a single speaker.
Read on: How do speakers work?
To contextualize the sound quality a bit more, the JBL Charge 5 has a more accurate, louder sound than the popular Bose SoundLink Mini. JBL’s bass response is certainly more powerful, which makes sense considering the speaker is larger.
Hold up! Something’s missing:
This section is typically where we display a frequency response chart to show you exactly where the audio output shines and where its deficiencies lie. Unfortunately, we’ve hit a technical snag in our testing. To combat this, we’ve purchased a Bruel & Kjaer 5128 test fixture (and the appropriate support equipment) to update our testing and data collection. It will take a while to reach our office in Canada, but we will update this review (and many others!) once we’re able with improved sound quality measurements and performance plots. These will be made obvious by an announcement explaining the change, and a new chart aesthetic.
Thank you for bearing with us, and we hope to see you again once we’ve sorted everything out.
Should you buy the JBL Charge 5?
The JBL Charge 5 doesn’t necessarily have enough upgrades to be worth buying if you already have the JBL Charge 4 or even the Charge 3. If you don’t already have an earlier model, however, the Charge 5 is a great choice. Its audio quality is really good for a Bluetooth speaker and I’m impressed with its volume output. It is a little bit bulky, so if you want a portable speaker, check out the JBL Flip 5—it’s essentially a shrunken version of the Charge 5.
What should you get instead of the JBL Charge 5?
If the near-$200 price tag of the JBL Charge 5 scares you, we’d recommend looking at the older JBL Charge 4. This speaker comes with an aux port, which may actually make it a more attractive option for some people. It’s a little annoying that JBL keeps implementing new methods to connect their speakers to one another—JBL PartyBoost is basically the same feature as JBL Connect+ in the Charge 4, but the two versions are not compatible with one another. The other main difference is that the Charge 5 has Bluetooth 5.1 and the Charge 4 has Bluetooth 4.2. The Charge 4 otherwise has almost exactly the same specs as the Charge 5.
To save even more money, look into JBL’s refurbished program. Customers send back defective products and JBL fixes them before reselling them at a discounted price. Products purchased from the refurbished program still have the full 1-year warranty and should not be distinguishable at all from a brand-new product.
If you’re looking to stray from the JBL brand, check out the UE MEGABOOM 3. This speaker takes a different approach to its design as it delivers 360 degree audio, but is similar to the Charge 5 in many other ways. It has an IP67 rating, can be paired to another MEGABOOM 3 for a more powerful sound, and has a strong bass response. The cylindrical speaker has a 20 hour battery life and you can set it up for one-touch access to your streaming service of choice.