JBL Charge 5
A top-notch portable speaker and power bank that will surely attract attention at the top of its volume range. The new styling, enhanced Bluetooth®, and higher IPX rating make the JBL Charge 5 an ideal outdoor companion. Put it in PartyBoost mode, connect a few dozen speakers, and the symphony of sound will just drown out the outdoors.
JBL Charge 5 Review
My JBL Charge 4 accompanies every bath at our home as the audio streaming companion for music and video soundtracks. It has soap scum along its edges and often spots of water trickling like tiny rivulets across its mesh surface. Oversharing, perhaps. But the Charge 4 lived up to its billing of long battery life (we seem to rarely charge even after weeks of use) and durability. I have not submerged the Charge 4, but it has taken plenty of punishment for the in-home elements.
The IP67-rated JBL Charge 5 looks poised as a worthy successor, with updated styling, a dustproof rating, and a wider soundstage. Although the Charge 5 slightly increases the size and weight of the latest in the Charge line, it does so in service to ruggedness.
If you don’t already have an outdoor speaker that is ready to take on the elements with booming resonance, then the JBL Charge 5 should sit high on your list of speakers to consider.
What we like
JBL provided what I would call the urban style $179.95 JBL Charge 5. Matt black fabric with a red-tinged JBL logo emblazoned across the front. I say emblazoned because previous model logos were much more subtle. JBL wants you to know who is producing the sound you are enjoying. To further emphasize the power of the JBL Charge 5, a silver exclamation mark shouts from the radiators on either end.
In contrast, the controls subtly reside along the top of the mesh, easy to reach and understand, but not distracting to the design. Comforting tracks of silicon along the bottom provide traction and create a stable base.
Connecting the Charge 5 to a device is simple. Out of the box, it arrives charged and ready to pair. To pair a new device or another device, push the Bluetooth button on the top of the speaker. The Charge 5 also supports multipoint.
The JBL Charge 5 is a portable speaker. Not a pocket speaker, but more of a backpack speaker. In my hand, the Charge 5 feels a bit like a rugby ball but weighs about twice as much.
Remember, the Charge 5 isn’t just a speaker but a large power bank, so it’s not intended to be light, it’s intended to be useful. To charge devices, uncover the USB-A connector and attach the included connector or another connector, such as USB-C to Lightning, and plug in the other device. A single white LED on the front provides a graphic indicator of the battery’s charge state.
The Charge 5’s IP67 rating requires keeping a silicon flap closed over the outgoing charge port. Unlike the previous model, the water and dust-resistant USB-C port remains exposed. JBL recommends freshwater rinses after exposure to salt or chlorinated water, as either will reduce the seals that keep the device waterproof. Also, always make sure the USB-C port has time to try before charging.
The accompanying JBL Portable app works with the Charge 5 and other speakers to control sound profiles, connectivity between devices, and firmware updates.
The PartyBoost feature, which works from the PartyBoost button or the app, turns two Charge 5 speakers into a stereo pair, which sounds incredible—and will connect up to 100 compatible speakers into a mesh of mono-driven surround sound.
The Bluetooth 5.1 implementation will result in some power efficiency and support for more distance between the speaker and the transmitting device than various versions of Bluetooth 4.0 and earlier. The Charge 5 supports the A2DP 1.3, AVRCP 1.6 profiles.
On the sustainability front, JBL didn’t disclose anything about the Charge 5’s construction, but the box is mostly cardboard, and the speaker comes wrapped in a cloth sock. Minimal plastic is used to contain the charging cable and the manuals.
What we like: Sound
The JBL Charge 5 scales. Turn it down in the home office or kitchen for good background sounds. And I do mean turn it down. Start boosting the volume and the Charge 5 immediately makes its presence known, even into expansive spaces like backyards and beaches.
The driver, dedicated tweeter and passive base radiator create rich, nuanced sound. Near the highest volumes, the Charge 5 holds up to Jimi Hendrix’s opening licks in All Along the Watchtower and Avril Lavigne’s guttural start to Sk8ter Boy.
The speaker is a bit overzealous at the same volume on tracks like A Thousand Years by the Piano Boys and Dido’s White Flag, but a minor volume reduction puts the notes in the right places. The mono nature of the speaker loses the very stereo wisps that open White Flag.
Push the volume too far and the deepest riffs will edge over into distortion, but I was trying to make that happen. Most people won’t push the speaker that much, and if they do, they probably will expect it to bend under the weight of a Hendrix cacophony.
Overall, the JBL tuned sound proves pleasant at lower volumes, but as it should be, kicks in the base at higher volumes, but even then, put on something pretty, or heart-wrenching like Hamilton’s It’s Quiet Uptown, and the envelope of sound will evoke the emotion without distracting overtures to overly aggressive technology. Sound sits at the center of the experience.
What could be improved
It’s already too late to fix this, but JBL’s two options for connecting speakers don’t do them any favors. The Charge 5 uses PartyBoost, which isn’t the same as JBL Connect+. While the technologies do roughly the same thing, they are not compatible. Those who want to connect multiple speakers need to make sure to select JBL products with the same multi-speaker connectivity protocols.
The JBL Charge 5 would benefit from rapid charging, as a full charge takes about 4 hours via USB-C. Not horrible compared to some older models, but not fast either. Of course, real-world use involves overnight top-offs, as the 20-hour battery never gets depleted—unless it also spends its day charging devices. The battery life varies significantly based on the draw from the charging port.
Other features some might consider missing in the Charge 5 include an auxiliary audio input for wired audio and a microphone for taking calls. I don’t find either of these an issue as most people have adopted purpose-built devices for phone calls, and with Apple abandoning headphone jacks, Bluetooth® is the accepted standard for most listening. I don’t know any audiophiles looking to the Charge 5 for HD music experiences.
JBL Charge 5: The bottom line
If you own a JBL Charge 4, and it’s in good condition then you don’t need to rush out to buy a Charge 5. As with many replacement devices, the Charge 4 is still available new at about $100. If you want the more robust Charge 5 with its updated styling, retail pricing runs around $150, a roughly $30 discount off full retail. If you need a wired connection, then buy a Charge 4 before inventories deplete.
Either speaker will do a good job, but the Charge 5 feels more modern and more hip. I like the Charge 4 but it looks kind of bland compared to the Charge 5. Additionally, updated Bluetooth facilitates improved device connectivity, while the higher IPX rating and new exterior design make it more robust.
If you don’t need the overt loudness of the Charge 5, or the power bank feature, then you might want to consider a JBL Flip 5. If you have the budget and want a speaker made for the outdoors in an, “I’m not just playing this music for myself kind of way,” then the Charge 5 is the right choice.
Those attracted to the Charge 5 and looking for a better deal than standard discounts should stop by the JBL refurb outlet to see what they have in stock.
JBL provided the JBL Charge 5 for review. Images courtesy of JBL unless otherwise noted.
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