When it comes to Bluetooth speakers, there seems to be one company that is constantly in the conversation. JBL has a speaker for almost every price point, ranging from the small and portable JBL Clip 3 to the giant Xtreme 2, but if you’re looking for something in-between, then the Charge 4 is probably the speaker for you. As the fourth iteration of the product, JBL has had plenty of time to get it right. So how is it? Is the JBL Charge 4 worth spending your money on?
Editor’s note: this JBL Charge 4 review was updated on June 8, 2020, to address the JBL Flip 4 and 5 as alternatives.
What is the JBL Charge 4 like to use?
On either end of the speaker, the Charge 4 is still rocking dual exposed passive radiators.The JBL Charge 4 looks very similar to the previous model, but there are a few notable differences worth paying attention to: for one, the Charge 4 is slightly larger, both in size and in weight. It isn’t a huge difference, but if you plan on making this the speaker you toss in your backpack when you go camping then every ounce counts. The battery inside has also been upgraded to a bigger 7,500mAh battery which could explain the slightly heavier weight.
Besides that, the overall design of the Charge 4 hasn’t changed much. You’ll still get the IPX7 waterproof fabric that makes the speaker water resistant for up to 30 minutes in a meter of water and the 30W USB output underneath the waterproof flap that lets you charge your devices. On either end of the speaker is a dual passive radiator. Not only do these help with the low end, but they just look cool. Then you get the control and playback buttons up top, which are slightly raised to help you know which is which in a low-light situation. The bottom has a small built-in stand, so you can place the speaker without worrying it’s going to roll away. Plus, there are five small LED lights to let you know roughly how much battery life is left.
How to connect the JBL Charge 4
Like most Bluetooth speakers the Charge 4 has a range of about 10 meters, and during testing, I experienced no skips or stutters unless I was intentionally testing the range. The playback controls are nice and clicky, though the buttons are somewhat hard to see in the dark seeing as only the middle two (power button and Bluetooth pairing button) light up.
Up until now everything with the Charge 4 has been fairly identical to the previous JBL Charge 3, but this is where the differences begin to show. Not only does the Charge 4 have the newer Bluetooth version 4.2, it also has JBL Connect+, which lets you connect up to 100 other JBL speakers simultaneously — something that isn’t possible with the Charge 3. I’m not sure how necessary of a feature this is, but at least you know you have the option to have a giant JBL rave with you and 100 other friends.
Under the waterproof flap around the back, you’ll get the previously mentioned USB output as well as a headphone jack if you want to hardwire in a device, and a USB-C port for charging. You can charge your phone and your Bluetooth speaker with the same cable, which is great considering the older JBL Charge 3 only had the microUSB.
Let’s talk battery life
There isn’t much of a difference in battery life between the JBL Charge 3 and Charge 4. Both speakers are rated for 20 hours of constant playback. In our testing, the Charge 4 got less than that: 13 hours and 46 minutes of constant playback, which is still pretty solid. One thing to note is the USB-C port on the back is only for charging the speaker, so if you were planning to use it as an output to charge your devices you’re out of luck.
How does the JBL Charge 4 sound?
As far as sound quality goes, the Charge 4 doesn’t sound like much of an improvement over the previous version. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, considering the Charge 3 was one of the better sounding Bluetooth speakers we’ve tested.
The Charge 4 still features the same strong low end. 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 buy the JBL Charge 4?
The Charge 4 has an IPX7 water resistant fabric so you don’t have to worry about water damage.
Absolutely, you should get the Charge 4. Well, kind of: when the JBL Charge 4 was first released, it seemed a little overpriced. After all, you could get many of the same features in the older and less expensive Charge 3. The only real differences that will matter to most people is the JBL Connect+ feature and the USB-C charging. If those features are worth the ~$25 difference, than more power to you.
Don’t expect much of an improvement over the Charge 3, since you’ll get similar sound quality, the same IPX7 build, and the same battery life. But, considering the Charge 3 was already a great speaker, then by default so is the Charge 4. If you already have a Charge 3, there isn’t any reason to rush out and pick up this model, but if this is going to be your first Bluetooth speaker, then you won’t be disappointed, as the Charge 4 is still one of the best around.
Put portability first with the JBL Flip 4
The JBL Flip 4 is one of JBL’s most successful portable speakers. Its svelte cylindrical shape is easy to pop into a bag, and it shares the same IPX7 rating as its big brother the Charge 4. You can also use the speakers as a speakerphone in a pinch, thanks to its microphones. For less than $100, it’s a great little adventure buddy. If you want the newest technology, go ahead and get the Flip 5, but if you want the best value for your travels, go with the fourth-gen model.