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JBL Charge 5 vs Charge 4: Which Bluetooth speaker is better?

JBL Charge 5 vs Charge 4: Which Bluetooth speaker is better?
(Image credit: JBL)

The JBL Charge range comprises some of the best Bluetooth speakers around. And now a new member has joined its ranks – the JBL Charge 5.

It's a marked improvement over the JBL Charge 4, with a more durable design and better sound quality. But does it merit its higher price tag? Or would you be better off picking up a Charge 4 on the cheap?

Let's break down the differences between the two and see which is the better buy.

JBL Charge 5 vs Charge 4: at a glance

  • The Charge 5 adds dustproofing to the Charge 4's waterproof rating
  • It also has clearer, more detailed audio, with a wider soundstage
  • The Charge 5 is more rugged too, with rubberised sections making it withstand greater impacts
  • And it has a new look, with a bolder JBL logo and eight colour schemes

JBL Charge 5 vs Charge 4: price

JBL Charge 5 vs Charge 4: price

(Image credit: JBL)

The Charge 5 launched recently with a price tag of £159 ($180), which is a little more than the Charge 4's £140 ($150) launch price. However, the Charge 4 is a couple of years old now, and can be found for about £100 (around $140) if you know where to look.

That's quite a bit less than its successor. Though as we'll see, you might think the improvements are more than worth it.

JBL Charge 5 vs Charge 4: design

JBL Charge 5 vs Charge 4: design

(Image credit: JBL)

The Charge range is built to handle the great outdoors – as such, sturdy, chunky build quality is very much the order of the day.

Design-wise, there's not much to choose between the two. The Charge 5 has a larger logo, but it looks classier too, less like a badge with simple metallic accents around the letters rather than a block frame. 

The rubberised underbody now comprises pleasing diagonal lines for traction when you set it down (as first seen on the Go 3), rather than a block of opaque rubber.

Gone is the 3.5mm port for wired listening, and the new USB-C charging port is uncovered this time. Under a smaller rubber cap, you still get the useful USB-A port for using the Charge 5 to charge your devices.

The ends of the Charge 5’s trademark barrel-like bodywork boast a slightly more robust rubberised reinforcement, while the speaker itself is a whole 1mm taller, 2mm deeper, 3mm wider and 5g heavier than its older brother – although there’s little in that to the naked eye.

So, the Charge 5 is a bit bigger, but a lot sturdier. It's a trade-off we're happy to make.

JBL Charge 5 vs Charge 4: features

JBL Charge 5 vs Charge 4: features

(Image credit: JBL)

Bluetooth speakers at this price aren't usually bursting with features – there's no wi-fi, for starters, and no support for voice assistants. But the Charge 5 does bring some impressive specs to the portable party.

Firstly, its sonic abilities have been upgraded. The 52 x 90mm bass driver is a couple of millimetres wider than the Charge 4's, and there’s a new 20mm tweeter. These units both have dedicated power amplification – 30W for the woofer and 10W for the highs. 

There is also Bluetooth 5.1 rather than 4.2, expanding the wireless range from 10m to about 40m. Which is good news, considering the Charge 5 comes with JBL's PartyBoost mode. This is a step up from the Charge 4's Connect+ feature, letting you wirelessly daisy chain the Charge 5 with up to 100 other PartyBoost-enabled JBL Bluetooth offerings, although that is currently limited to the Boombox 2, Flip 5 and Pulse 4. But you can’t link the Charge 5 to the older Charge 4, or any older Connect+ enabled JBL speakers for that matter – they have to be running PartyBoost. Shame.

Both the Charge 4 and 5 can survive being submerged in up to 1.5m of water for half an hour, but the 5 is dustproof too. They both have the same 7500mAh battery offering the same 20 hours of playback from a single charge, and can both be used to charge your mobile device when out and about.

JBL Charge 5 vs Charge 4: sound quality

JBL Charge 5 vs Charge 4: sound quality

(Image credit: JBL)

We found the Charge 4's sound to be  surprisingly refined for a speaker of its class, with a consistent substance and texture through the mids and treble, and better than average clarity to the midrange. The bass also impressed – while it's not as bombastic as its looks might suggest, its low-end is plentiful and tasteful, with plenty of power and depth.

The Charge 5 builds on this sonic profile admirably. Tracks are marginally more impactful, turning in a more agile performance. Vocals are also more energised and feel well-placed in what is an expansive mix for a portable speaker of this size.

At high volume, the Charge 4 started to struggle, with the bass reduced and the upper-mids taking on a harder tone. But any brightness in the Charge 5’s new tweeter melts away once the speaker is run in, leaving only cleaner, clearer treble frequencies to enjoy.

JBL Charge 5 vs Charge 4: verdict

The Charge 5 only has a few improvements on the Charge 4, and you could argue that they're relatively minor. But we would argue that they're greater than the sum of their parts, and make for a compelling proposition that's among the best Bluetooth speakers around.

Of course, if you're on a tighter budget, the Charge 4's lower price could prove tempting, and chances are it will more than suffice. Whichever you choose, you're guaranteed a good time listening in the great outdoors.

Joe Svetlik

Joe has been writing about tech for 17 years, first on staff at T3 magazine, then in a freelance capacity for Stuff, The Sunday Times Travel Magazine, Men's Health, GQ, The Mirror, Trusted Reviews, TechRadar and many more (including What Hi-Fi?). His specialities include all things mobile, headphones and speakers that he can't justifying spending money on.