When you’re in the market for a Bluetooth speaker, one brand tends to stand up more often than another. JBL has options at almost any price point, but for the price, one of their best speakers has always been the Charge series. The latest in the lineup is the JBL Charge 4 speaker, but how well has it held up since its first release? This is our JBL Charge 4 Review.
JBL Charge 4 Review: Design
At first glance, the Charge 4 looks no different than the previous Charge 3. But if you take a closer look, you start to notice some small differences in structure, or should I say, in size. The new Charge 4 is in all respects a centimeter larger, but also 165 grams heavier. Of course, that’s not very much, but it’s not a good idea to rely on the portability of the speaker. If you go for a walk, an ounce is an ounce in the morning. It shouldn’t make a practical difference in everyday activities.
You should be able to throw it in a backpack without any problems. JBL also upgraded its battery from 6000mAh on Charge 3 to about 7500mAh on Charge 4. Besides, Charge 4 still retains most of the features that made the Charge 3 so great. First of all, the durable waterproof fabric makes a comeback, along with the IPX7 certification that allows you to submerge it in a meter of water for up to 30 minutes. It also floats a little when you drop it in the water, so you don’t need to worry about losing it if it falls off a boat or deck.
They also have the characteristic exposed dual passive radiators at both ends, as do most new JBL speakers in recent years. At the top, you get the display buttons that are just above the fabric, along with an on/off and a Bluetooth button. The bottom has a small built-in stand with five small LED lights that let you know how long the battery lasts when you tap the power button, and around the back is a rubber flap that protects all ports from water. You’ll want to make sure it’s closed when you take it to the beach or swing by the pool.
If you don’t know it yet, the JBL Charge 4 is not too different from the previous model. But connectivity is where things start splitting. The Charge 4 covers all your bases with a secure connection up to about 30 feet, just like most Bluetooth speakers. The playback control works excellent, and the buttons are nice and clicking, although I wish the buttons were white plastic or all lit up like the power button because it’s hard to tell which one is which when it’s dark.
Charge 4 doesn’t have a built-in microphone either, so if you tend to use your speaker for phone calls, you might get irritated. I never want to have a microphone on my speaker, and I’ve always tampered with disconnecting my phone every time I got a call, so this is a positive thing for me, however, I can see how that can be a deal-breaker for some buyers.
On paper, you will notice that the Charge 4 has Bluetooth 4.2 instead of the older 4.1, which is decent, but the real differences have to do with JBL Connect. If you have never had a JBL speaker before, JBL Connect is the feature that allows you to sync a pair of speakers to play the same song. It’s not the equivalent of a Sonos system, but if you’re having a party, it can certainly get the job done. JBL Connect+ is an upgraded version of the older JBL Connect app and lets you connect up to 100 JBL speakers together.
If you happen to have a big home, this would be a neat party trick. Unfortunately, if you bought an older speaker with the regular JBL Connect (like the JBL Charge 3), it’s not compatible with this new plus version. So if you and your friends are going to splash out at 100 of these and throw a “Project X” style, this could be a feature you might be interested in.
JBL Charge 4 Review: Performance
This was the part where I was surprised because I expected the sound quality to be an improvement over Charge 3, but it looks very similar to my ears. JBL went this time with a single driver over dual-drivers, but besides a few small complaints, I don’t think many of you who’ll buy this speaker will notice. Like the previous model, the new JBL Charge 4 has a sharp low end for its size, which is undoubtedly helped by those passive radiators.
Like the older Charge 3, this model will sound better in larger rooms and open spaces – especially because the bass tends to lose power faster over distance than the treble. If you use Charge 4 in a barn, garden, or garage, the sound will be a little less emphasis on bass and sound a little more pleasant. The bass notes in the whole song Tearing at the Seams by Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats were clear and easy to follow, but the speaker suffers from the same lack of clarity in the mid-tones as the last model.
Vocals were still perceptible, but it sounded as if they took the back seat to part of the instrumentation of the song. This was especially the case in the song Lost on You by LP, where the vocals sounded as if they competed with the strings and background melodies throughout the chorus. If you’re a high-end lover, you don’t have to worry, because nothing sounds loud and I didn’t hear any distortion at high volumes either.
Overall it seems that JBL has only concentrated on tuning the speaker to sound as close to the Charge 3 as possible, and it’s impressive how close they’ve come given the switch to just one driver. But if you like the way the last Charge 3 sounded, you’ll like it too.
Although the JBL Charge 4 has a battery with a much larger capacity than the Charge 3, they are both touted as an identical 20-hour constant display. During our tests, we managed to pump out Charge 4 for 13 hours and 46 minutes of music. It wasn’t quite the 20 hours they promised, but it’s still not bad. That will be a blow if you decide to charge your devices via the USB-A output on the back.
You will 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 are hoping to charge your new Android phone or iPad Pro through that port, you are out of luck. You need to use the USB-A port for everything to do with charging.
At first, I thought the Charge 4 wasn’t enough for an improvement over the Charge 3 to justify such a significant price difference. But over time the Charge 3 started to rise in price for some reason, which in turn made me realize that there was no point in recommending it over the newer one, even though you wouldn’t save much money. Now, however, prices have started to move in different directions again, with the Charge 3 becoming cheaper and the Charge 4 becoming more expensive.
Hoping to make this part of the JBL Charge 4 review future proof, because when you read this, I’m going to say that the JBL Charge 4 is only worth the money if you can’t find a Charge 3 for a decent price (sub-$100). The differences between the two are small, and if you can save money by going with the older model, then at least go for it. Check out our JBL Flip 5 Review
While the Clip series has always been good, the greatly improved battery life and light redesign make the JBL Charge 4 a must-have for almost everyone.
- Great battery life
- IPX7 waterproof build
- Redesigned carabiner
- Connection strength is solid
- Lacking in bass
- Charges via micro-USB