Review: JBL Charge 4 Bluetooth Speaker—A Personal Boombox for Wet and Wild Times

Review: JBL Charge 4 Bluetooth Speaker—A Personal Boombox for Wet and Wild Times

Review: JBL Charge 4


JBL makes bigger speakers, like the Boombox 2 and the Xtreme 2, but for most people, the JBL Charge 4 will prove speaker enough for more listening experiences. At 8.66 x 3.74 x 3.66 and a little over 2 lbs the Charge 4 won’t be the lightest item in a backpack, but it remains compact and light enough to make the case for joining the party.

What we like

I describe the JBL Charge 4 as stout. Its compact form makes it relatively easy to place almost anywhere. Its non-slip design makes it ideal for wet areas, like pools. But should it slip (or more likely get kicked) into the pool, the IPX7 rated waterproofing means even submersion will not stop the Charge 4 from turning the beat around.

Built into the speaker’s back, behind a flip-down rubber panel that protects the ports from dust and water, sits the USB-C charging port, auxiliary audio input, and the 30W USB-A output port. The speaker and the ports house a massive 7,500 mAh battery that tops the Charge 4 out at 20 hours of playtime. The USB-A port stands ready to charge a phone a tablet, or even a lesser speaker. To conserve power, the Charge 4 includes auto-power off when not receiving a stream. Be sure to keep the protective rear flap closed when around water.

For those with industrial sound ambitions, pair the JBL Charge 4 with the JBL Connect+ app and, well, keep pairing. Join up to 100 JBL Connect+ enabled speakers into a shared chorus of sound. In practice, the set-up and follow-through on this feature vary by use, and the set-up of just two speakers doesn’t result in stereo sound.

Once you crank up the Charge, it dances. The dual bass radiators bounce. This is one party-ready speaker. Deep bass you can see and hear. Highs feel distinct and solid vocal support makes for a well-rounded auditory experience. Sound will vary depending on the source device’s EQ settings. Directly connected music via the auxiliary cable will also sound slightly better because it does not require the compression that comes with Bluetooth.

The entire speaker sits atop a rubber base with LEDs that track charge. It’s a nice-looking modern speaker, with its fabric and rubber and slightly raised buttons. A wide array of available colors complement any décor.

My JBL Charge 4 is now my go-to bathroom speaker, especially when taking a bath and watching video on the iPad 12.9. Sound cuts through the running water, and should I mistakenly topple the speaker into the bathtub, I’m not going to worry about replacing it or finding myself shocked by my faux pas.

What can be improved

The “4” of course, in the JBL Charge 4 means this is the fourth version, and that equates to incorporating learning from previous devices and updating for new technology. The welcome addition of the USB-C charging port brings the Charge into alignment with the latest port options and helps keep cable needs to a minimum for those traveling with the device.

Unfortunately, the latest version did not opt to include Bluetooth 5.0, This means the Charge remains limited to the 30-meter range from a device, not the 120 meters of 5.0. Music streaming quality might also be affected because BT 4.2 limits output to 1 Mbps, not 5.0’s 2 Mbps.

Bluetooth 5.0 also supports multi-device connections, with two devices at a time. The JBL Connect + app goes to 100 devices, but they need to be a compatible JBL device.

It looks like audiophiles will need to wait for the JBL Charge 5 for Bluetooth 5, which perhaps, is fitting.

The JBL Connect+ app would improve if it supported channel separation/stereo for those who invest in multiple JBL devices.

Unlike most speakers that double as a speakerphone, the Charge 4 does not include speakerphone features. I don’t find this a negative for an entertainment-oriented product, but some may.

The biggest question for the prospective JBL Charge 4 buyer is one of value. At $179.95 good sound and waterproofing seem like table stakes for JBL product. But then, $179.95 isn’t the street price.  Though I wish they had upgraded to Bluetooth 5 as they did with the Boombox 2, the Charge 4’s size and power justify the increased price over lesser speakers like the JBL Flip (and the previous version of the Charge). Charge 3s remain on the market for now. Those who want to wait for the next version may want to invest in a less expensive (usually less than $100) previous version and wait for even more upgraded specs should JBL pursue a Charge 5.

JBL Charge 4: The bottom line

The JBL Charge 4 can be used anywhere. Responsive, intuitive controls and rich sound make it a pleasure to use and hear as a speaker, and its rugged design and waterproofing make it a good choice for almost any venue. The lack of Bluetooth 5 and easy availability of a less expensive predecessor cast some doubt on value, but the big power tank, USB-C charging, and wide palette of available colors will likely make the current model more appealing.

JBL provided the JBL Charge 4 for review purposes. Images courtesy of JBL.

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Daniel W. Rasmus

Daniel W. Rasmus, Founder and Principal Analyst of Serious Insights, is an internationally recognized speaker on the future of work and education. He is the author of several books, including Listening to the Future and Management by Design.

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