JBL rarely gets it wrong when it comes to portable speakers. The excellent Flip 5 and Flip 6, the booming Xtreme 3, the adorable little Go 3 and, of course, the Award-winning Charge 5 – this is a brand that gets audio on-the-go like few others. With such pedigree, the new JBL Charge 5 Wi-Fi has a lot to live up to.
Instinctively, many of JBL’s large roster of portable speakers revolve around outdoor use via the convenience of Bluetooth, with most of the brand’s models sold as free-roaming units that don’t require tethering to a stable wi-fi connection. As long as you have a phone or other music source that can handle basic Bluetooth, you’re sorted as far as your JBL unit is concerned.
The introduction of a new model that adds wi-fi to the Charge 5's talents, then, is an interesting choice, and while some may question the decision, there could be a lot to be said for such an addition. A wi-fi connection offers greater versatility and flexibility to your listening experience, and while many do take their portable speakers up mountainsides or down ravines, an equal number likely use them as party speakers or domestic stalwarts for use in the home or garden. As the Charge 5 Wi-Fi retains both Bluetooth and internet streaming options, you’re hardly stuck for choice.
The ability to use features such as Chromecast and AirPlay, not to mention access to Alexa voice control, may well elevate the Charge model to the next level. With some boosted specs and new ways to listen, this boosted Charge 5 Wi-Fi could be far more than a sidestep for the entire product line. It could, in fact, represent a major upgrade…
Build & design
It almost goes without saying that in terms of build and design, this is the area in which the Charge 5 Wi-Fi excels. After all, JBL has built a brand reputation on producing rugged, hardwearing speakers that will last longer than a nuke-proofed Nokia 3310 phone, so it’s no surprise that the Charge 5 Wi-Fi continues that pleasingly rough and ready heritage.
Hold the speaker in your hands and you’ll immediately get that reassuring feeling of weight and solidity for which JBL is so well known. It isn’t a particularly revolutionary design rehaul when compared to the standard Charge 5, with roughly the same shape, profile and embellishments as the classic model, yet that’s to be expected from a speaker that touts itself as mainly having internal, rather than external, changes over the standard iteration.
If anything, the Charge 5 Wi-Fi is a fraction heavier than the classic Charge 5, tipping the scale at 40g over the standard 5's 960g. The rest remains practically the same, bringing back that rubberised underbody, USB charging port under a rubber cap and those distinctive, indented sides. It’s a stocky and handsome unit, still, and we like that solid black finish punctuated by hints of gold on the main logo and at the sides. Classy.
That said, considering the fact that JBL is usually happy to furnish most of its speakers with a raft of colour options that make the Dulux colour range look monochromatic by comparison, it’s a little bit of a shame that this new Wi-Fi model currently only comes in black, nice as it is. Good for Batman and Slipknot-obsessed teens, a little disappointing for those of us who might like a bit of colour to brighten up our listening pleasure.
No surprises where we start with this one. The clue’s in the name with the Charge 5 Wi-Fi, and it’s this feature that sets the new model apart from the standard, Award-winning Charge 5 (which still carries on in JBL's line-up). It’s worth noting that the newer iteration’s Bluetooth version has been updated from 5.1 to 5.3, alongside some noticeable sonic changes, as we’ll get to later.
What that wi-fi compatibility gives you is greater freedom when using your source player. This burly Bluetooth speaker obviously lets you stream music over wi-fi in addition to Bluetooth, but crucially, you can continue using your phone to take calls or use social media without it interrupting or affecting your music. Control of AirPlay 2, Spotify Connect and even Chromecast are all available at the touch of a button, allowing you to cast your music from the JBL while using your phone, say, as a handy remote.
Bluetooth Yes (5.3)
Mains-powered or battery-powered: Battery-powered
Battery Life: Up to 20 hours
Features: Wi-fi connectivity, Spotify Connect, AirPlay 2, Alexa Multiroom, JBL self-tuning, IP67 rating
Connections: USB-C, USB-A (charging)
Dimensions (hwd): 22.3 x 9.7 x 9.4cm
Finishes x1 (black)
There’s a new app for this model, too. Whereas the standard Charge 5 made use of the rather serviceable JBL Portable app, this newer model is compatible with the new and improved JBL One App. From here, you can set up your sturdy new speaker, customise the EQ and browse integrated music services, such as Tidal and Spotify, all in one place, and we find the platform intuitive and easy to navigate.
If you are the sort who feels instinctively cheated by the idea of paying £60 / $60 extra for wi-fi connectivity, you may not find your position is softened much by the supposedly upgraded model’s lack of improvements to overall battery life. The standard Charge 5 offers 20 hours of playback with a four-hour charging time, and while the Charge 5 Wi-Fi offers the same overall playback time, it now takes up to six hours to fully charge. On the subject of charging, the aptly named Charge 5 Wi-Fi, like its Bluetooth-only brother, will juice up your phone via its USB-A port – a really nifty little feature that makes a welcome return here.
Maybe this longer juicing time is to be expected from a speaker that now has to house the hardware capable of making it wi-fi compatible. On a less downbeat note, a strong IP67 rating keeps things consistent with the classic Charge 5, assuaging fears that adding in new hardware would make this latest speaker more vulnerable to the ingress of small particles and moisture.
What the Charge 5 did feature was JBL PartyBoost for linking the speaker with multiple other JBL units, something that the Wi-Fi model doesn’t support for other JBL speakers, including the basic Charge 5 model. Considering this is a more expensive, ‘upgraded ‘model, that’s a peculiar omission that could limit this iteration’s versatility and ability to bed in within an established JBL ecosystem.
This is an area that could raise a few eyebrows. The Charge 5 Wi-Fi is a full £60 / $60 more expensive than the standard model, taking the cost to a rather substantial £230 / $230 in comparison to the standard Charge 5's more affordable £170 / $170 asking price (this plummets to around £130 or lower during seasonal sales). That’s a big increase for what we’ll admit are some useful features, yet there will certainly be those who question whether such features are worth it for a product of this type.
For comparison, the attractive and refined Bang & Olufsen Beosound A1 (2nd Gen) will currently set you back roughly £240 / $240, whereas the more premium Dali Katch G2 is available for between £350 / $350 and £380 / $380 depending on where you look. The five-star mains-powered Sonos Era 100 wireless speaker, meanwhile, clocks in at £249 / £249 / AU$399, and considering how highly we rate that particular performer, the Charge 5 Wi-Fi will have to push hard to justify its own lofty price tag, even if it boasts portability in contrast to the Era 100’s reliance on a mains power supply.
This all puts the Charge 5 Wi-Fi somewhere between the mid-price to premium price category, hovering between the Beosound and the Dali Katch and sitting just a little under the Sonos Era 100.
If you want a more direct competition, the classy Audio Pro Addon C3 was tested at £249, and that also offers access to AirPlay, wi-fi connectivity and some seriously refined sound. It's also portable, albeit not as rugged as at the JBL.
The Charge 5 was tweaked and refined over the preceding Charge 4 rather than JBL opting for a complete reinvention, but that doesn’t mean we are underwhelmed by the ensuing result. If anything, sometimes all you need to do is refine a winning formula with a few meaningful improvements to deliver an even more winning outcome. The Charge 5 Wi-Fi does have a slightly larger woofer than the standard Charge 5 model (53 x 93mm vs. 52 x 90mm), as well as support for Bluetooth 5.3 rather than 5.1, yet most of the internal hardware remains unchanged.
We start things off by listening to the Charge 5 Wi-Fi as a traditional portable Bluetooth speaker to try and distinguish whether this newer model has an altogether different character to its older brother. We charge in (pun intended) with Tom Petty’s Yer So Bad and find the same power and sonic confidence that characterised the Charge 5 to be back in spades this time around. With a discernible weight and force, combined with a mature and pleasingly wide soundstage, this feels like textbook JBL sound, with a little extra forthrightness and spark added in for good measure.
Being what is still ostensibly a portable speaker, we consider this a good excuse to take the new kid outside to see if this wi-fi-boosted Bluetooth big boy can still cut it in the great wide world (or just outside the back door of our testing rooms). We give the JBL a challenge with Brook Benton’s Rainy Night In Georgia, a really tricky soul track that is still given a really good rendition here. It doesn’t quite hit the warm, smooth heights of a proper hi-fi performance, but it’s a fine effort that holds together nicely, a tricky feat for a Bluetooth speaker that’s just been placed in the great outdoors.
Back inside, it’s a similar story when the Charge 5 Wi-Fi utilises AirPlay, only this time it sounds as though slightly increased levels of refinement, not to mention some welcome flourishes of dynamic musicality, are introduced to the party. Yer So Bad has us tapping our toes a little more as we struggle to resist the urge to sing along to that rockabilly chorus, while new space and clarity open the track up more generously than before.
There are occasional glimpses of weakness when the portly portable has to deal with some of our trickiest test tracks, and we have to concede that the piano from a recording of Debussy’s Clair de Lune has a slightly synthetic, Casio keyboard-esque quality, but that’s a quibble rather than a dealbreaker for a speaker of this type. From De La Soul’s Eye Know to Massive Attack’s Teardrop, the Charge 5 Wi-Fi does a sterling job of balancing detail and refinement with punch and dynamic interest. For what is still a very small speaker in relative terms, it’s a commanding and versatile sonic presence, and we wouldn’t expect anything less.
The JBL Charge 5 Wi-Fi builds on the excellence of the base model with the smooth, effective integration of its updated wireless connectivity options combined with that signature JBL sound. The new model brings in the small adjustments and extra streaming features you’d expect from a model still bearing the same numerical value as before, tying together JBL’s rugged durability and sound quality with upgraded wi-fi capabilities.
The only real hurdle to those considering the JBL Charge 5 Wi-Fi comes with regard to price, but if you are a fan of the original model and are keen on the significant versatility and improved usability offered by having features such as AirPlay or hands-free Alexa controls, we’d have no issue recommending the Charge 5 Wi-Fi as yet another excellent wireless speaker from JBL.
- Build 5
- Features 5
- Sound 5
JBL Charge 5 vs JBL Charge 5 Wi-Fi: which five-star JBL speaker should you buy?
Read our review of the standard JBL Charge 5
Also consider the Bang & Olufsen Beosound A1 (2nd gen)