JBL is the figurative king of wireless Bluetooth speakers. The popular US brand has a plethora of wireless speakers, ranging from super-cheap to feature-packed, portable to boombox – and every one we’ve reviewed has bagged either a top-honours five-star review or a very commendable four stars.
Ultimately, it's a safe brand to buy into. But should you buy JBL’s recently introduced but already very popular Charge 4 (£119/$179.95)? Or might a popular alternative serve you better? How about the smaller, cheaper Flip 4, more powerful Xtreme 2 or Boombox, or a dinky Clip 3 wireless speaker?
If you're considering investing in the Charge 4, read this guide first. We're about to work out if it's the best wireless speaker for you.
Remember: Black Friday is just around the corner, so keep an eye out for a heavy discount on the Charge 4 and its siblings.
JBL Charge 4: Should you buy it?
JBL launched the fourth generation of its Charge wireless speaker in August 2018, and it’s as well specified as you’d hope for for the price. Dual external passive radiators and a proprietary developed driver kick out 30 watts of power, and a 7500mAh battery offers 20 hours of playback from a single charge.
Wanna cut to the chase? The sound quality to be had here is great: "classy and surprisingly refined for a mainstream speaker". If you read our full Charge 4 review, you'll see we have elaborated further. On top of a levelled-up sonic performance, you can charge a smartphone or tablet through its USB connection, it is waterproof to IPX7 (meaning its can be immersed in up to one meter of water) and it has a 3.5 mm audio cable input, allowing you to connect older music devices.
It’s also compatible with JBL Connect+, meaning you can connect other JBL speakers (up to 100 compatible JBL speakers, in fact) for simultaneous playback. Two smartphones or tablets can connect to the Charge 4 at the same time, too. And like almost every JBL wireless speaker, the Charge 4 comes in more colour finishes than you could comfortably eye up in one glance.
The fact that we really liked the Charge 4 will come as little surprise to those who read our Charge 3 review, which we praised for its “rugged and sturdy build”, “weighty and extremely powerful” sound and “useful features”.
Short answer: Yes, you should buy it. JBL has fine-tuned the sound to please even pickier ears and, with increased battery capacity, we can’t reasonably ask for any more at this price. The Charge 4 is a wireless speaker we wouldn’t hesitate to consider for those after a well-built, portable wireless speaker. It's ideally-sized to carry from one room to another, and has a generous battery life that won't need topping up too regularly. As we said in our review, "you wouldn’t be able to guess it, but this is one of the sweetest-sounding sub-£200 Bluetooth speakers around".
The new Charge 4 is a true all-rounder, with a decent power rating, 3.5mm input, Bluetooth connectivity, decent battery life, rugged, waterproof build, and refined sound. A top Bluetooth speaker for the money.View Deal
JBL Charge 4 vs JBL Charge 3
Naturally, when a new model comes along, its predecessor drops in price – as is the case here. The Charge 3 is currently £99.99 in the UK or $99.95 in the US, making it a little cheaper than the Charge 4.
So should you buy the Charge 3 or the Charge 4?
Most of the Charge 4’s features above are present and correct in its predecessor. Although unsurprisingly the Charge 3 slightly less well equipped – it has a 20-watt output, 6000mAh battery and only dual external passive radiators. It does pip the Charge 4 with a speakerphone for taking calls, however.
Both are good options, but ultimately it depends on how willing you are to pay a premium for a boost in usability and performance. We would say, however, that if you want to keep your expenditure under £100, the 2019 What Hi-Fi? Award-winning wireless speaker, the Ultimate Ears Wonderboom 2, is our ultimate pick at £89.48 / $79.99.
Excellent value, the Charge 3 now offers much of the Charge 4's features for almost half the price. This five-star speaker has proven that it sounds great – and unlike its younger brother, you can take calls on it. View Deal
JBL Boombox, Xtreme, Pulse, Flip and Clip?
Of course, there are plenty more JBL Bluetooth speakers, both new and old, to consider. Most (though not all) of the signature JBL features, such as JBL Connect+, the waterproof design and the 3.5mm audio input, span several models, but each speaker justifies its existence with unique twists to its specs.
JBL Flip 4
The Flip 4 ($89.95/ £99.99) is no longer the latest model in the Flip range. At CES 2019, JBL announced the Flip 5, though we're yet to review it. That said, the Flip 4 will undoubtedly be around for some time, and likely at a good price too.
The Flip 4 sits just below the Charge 4 in the JBL line-up and, despite being smaller, is fairly similar in design. It offers only 16 watts of power and a 12-hour battery life, though, and can’t charge your smartphone or tablet.
It can simultaneously connect to two phones as music sources though, is waterproof to IPX7 standards, has a 3.5mm jack and supports JBL Connect+. It also has speakerphone functionality and offers direct access to both Siri and Google voice assistants.
As for the performance, it exceeds volume expectations and has plenty of weight and scale, although we hanker for a touch more clarity and dynamism – the UE Wonderboom pips the Flip 4 in these areas.
Overall the Flip 4 is a good portable speaker – intuitive to use, with pretty solid sound quality, and small enough to slip into the side pocket of any rucksack.
If you're after a more modest offering and don't need to entertain a house full of people, the Flip 4 won't disappoint. As we said in our four-star review, we’d be happy to take this one on our travels.View Deal
JBL Xtreme 2
This speaker is ideal for anyone after a more powerful and room-filling sound than the Charge 4 can muster, though be prepared to house a slightly larger unit. After all, compared to its smaller siblings, this is something of a brute!
The Xtreme 2 matches its predecessor in power, with a 40-watt output, can wirelessly connect up to three smartphones or tablets at any one time, and can charge devices via dual USB ports. It offers 15 hours of playtime, a speakerphone, an IPX7 waterproof design and JBL Connect+.
The Xtreme 2 wins our affection with its full, large-scale and dynamic sound, and solid, chunky build. In fact, in our review we call it "one of the best portable speakers around", praising the Xtreme 2 for "sonic subtlety you wouldn’t expect from first impressions".
Bold and powerful, but capable of great subtlety, the JBL Xtreme 2 is a heavyweight with lots of bass and a durable, rugged build. Want a speaker that makes a huge sonic and aesthetic impression? Here it is.View Deal
JBL Pulse 3
The current Pulse 3, meanwhile, is a unique offering, arguably more of a party-crowd pleaser than any other JBL speaker with its 360-degree sound and ‘light show’ feature.
The Pulse 3 offers many of its siblings’ functions (simultaneous connectivity up to two devices, JBL Connect+, IPX7 waterproofing, 3.5mm audio input and speakerphone). However, uniquely it can light up with the music thanks to built-in LEDs. Oooh. It offers up to 12 hours of playtime with music and light show.
Much more than a Bluetooth speaker, the Pulse 3 also has the appeal of a disco light with its flashing LEDs. A 360-degree sound also makes it stand out from JBL's other offerings too.View Deal
Almost top and tailing the JBL wireless speaker line-up are the Boombox and Clip speakers, respectively.
The Boombox is an all-singing-all-dancing... well, boombox. At 50cm long and weighing around 5kg, this Bluetooth speaker is the largest and priciest single-unit speaker in the company's line-up.
It's a real monster, with four active transducers and two bass radiators pumping out 60 watts of power. Battery life is a class-leading 24 hours, and every feature talked about above is present and correct.
While we'd say the Flip, Charge and Pulse models are more than suitable for moving around the house for bedroom, kitchen or bathroom listening, the Boombox really is a more serious, heavy-duty proposition.
The largest and priciest of JBL's wireless speakers, the 60-watt Boombox is a serious proposition for those after considerable volume and sound coverage.View Deal
JBL Clip 3
The palm-sized Clip 3 really is an on-the-fly-only option for when you want something slightly better and louder than your smartphone speakers. But it's ideal to throw in your suitcase for a holiday or for a child's bedroom.
It still boasts a respectable 10 hours of playtime, is IPX7 waterproof certified and has a 3.5mm input jack.
One of the cheapest around, meanwhile, is a basic speaker and an ideal, easy-to-carry companion for anyone simply after sound quality better and louder than your smartphone's speakers. View Deal
Wireless speaker alternatives
Of course, while JBL is a reputable wireless speaker brand, it isn't on its own. Ultimate Ears (often shortened to UE) is behind some of our favourite budget, portable models, so if you'd rather stick to proven winners, the below may be of greater interest.
The aforementioned, Award-winning UE Wonderboom 2 (£89.48 / $79.99), pictured above, is one of our most popular tried-and-tested picks for those on a very tight budget. Ideal as a travel companion, it also impresses with its great-value sound, long battery life and Bear Grylls levels of durability, making it a fantastic alternative to the JBL Clip 3 and Flip 4.
Last but not least, we'd hugely recommend considering Audio Pro, who in the last couple of years has made a bigger mark in the wireless speaker market than any other brand. The biggest selling point of its wireless speakers is sound quality, which in our experience topples its competitors at nearly every price point it covers.
They also all work in a multi-room capacity over wi-fi, and they tend to expand upon Bluetooth and 3.5mm connectivity with Apple AirPlay and streaming service support, such as Spotify Connect.
They're much more than just Bluetooth speakers, then. So if you're partial to their mostly box-like design, can afford their price tags and are after multi-room features in addition to Bluetooth, Audio Pro's offerings should be considered.
Our favourites? The Audio Pro Addon C3 is a previous What Hi-Fi? Award winner and packs all of the features mentioned above for $299 / £249, plus a 15-hour battery life and Alexa voice control when used with Amazon Music.