JBL has had a spring clean of its audio range – and that’s good news for those who really value sound quality. It cleaned up the sound of its big Bluetooth speaker with the excellent JBL Xtreme 2, and has now done the same for the Charge range.
Looking at the JBL Charge 4, you wouldn’t be able to guess it, but this is one of the sweetest-sounding sub-£200 Bluetooth speakers around.
The JBL Charge 4 looks similar to the Charge 3. It’s a mid-size portable speaker with styling similar to that of the Boom range from Ultimate Ears. But unlike the UE Boom 3, this speaker sits on its side, rather than upright.
Whereas Ultimate Ears has simplified its designs, JBL has kept the Charge 4’s chunky passive radiator at each end. To satisfy the urge to press these, JBL has embossed an exclamation mark into the rubber surface.
The good news is that it doesn’t matter. These aren’t fragile speaker cones, but much tougher resonating structures that can withstand a bit of rough treatment from the hands of unruly kids or clumsy adults.
In fact, the JBL Charge 4 is hardy all-round. There’s a chunky rubber foot on the bottom and the front and back are covered with a rugged, water-resistant fabric.
IPX7 water resistance means the Charge 4 can handle being submerged in water to a depth of 1.5m. Unlike similarly water resistant phones, JBL claims that the speaker is suitable for environments with chlorinated or salty water.
“Take Charge 4 to the beach or the pool without worrying about spills or even submersion in water,” it says. As long as the chunky connection port cover on the back is sealed, water resistance doesn’t get much better.
The Charge 4 has the same claimed battery life as the Charge 3, at 20 hours. However, battery capacity has actually been substantially increased, from 6000mAh to 7500mAh. This means you can use it at a higher volume without sacrificing longevity so much. A handy white LED indicator on the front shows the battery level.
Like the last generation, you can also use the JBL Charge 4 to charge your phone or tablet – in fact anything that will charge over USB from a 5V supply. A rugged design, excellent battery life and ‘battery sharing’ make this a near-perfect speaker for camping holidays, long days at the beach and use at home.
This is still a fairly simple speaker, though. The JBL Charge 4 has Bluetooth and click button controls built into its top. There’s no wi-fi, no native support for digital smart assistants or proper multi-room functionality.
The most advanced feature is the one you are least likely to use. Connect+ lets up to 100 JBL speakers hook up to play the same song. It may make a good marketing video, but won’t be of much use unless you can get your hands on multiple JBL speakers.
JBL has given the Charge 4 a similar generational treatment it applied to the five-star Xtreme 2. That means a greater focus on coherence, separation, and giving the midrange more room to breathe. Again it comes at the expense of the size, or at least shape, of the bass, but this too is largely deliberate.
These changes are not simply down to a different EQ profile or a tweaked driver. Whereas the JBL Charge 3 has two small active drivers, the Charge 4 has a larger single oval-shape driver. It isn’t necessarily better, but does show JBL has put much more thought and effort into this update than you might assume from its exterior.
Battery life 20 hours
USB output Yes
IPX7 water resistance Yes
Bluetooth version 4.2
JBL Connect+ Yes
Aux input 3.5mm
Frequency response 60Hz-20kHz
The JBL Charge 4’s sound is classy and surprisingly refined for a mainstream speaker. There’s an unusual consistency of substance and texture throughout the mids and treble, and better than average clarity to the midrange. That’s an excellent characteristic to help render vocals lines realistically, and project them properly in the mix.
Those who buy the Charge 4 expecting big bombastic bass based on its looks, may not find what they are after. But it would be wrong to call this a bass-light speaker. The low-end is tasteful, not notably hyped, but with plenty of power and depth.
The JBL Charge 4 can deliver punchy dance and pop synth beats with convincing punch, but like every speaker this size, there is a limit to its bass floor. The JBL Charge 4 can’t deliver real sub-bass, but in the context of most songs it gets close enough to satisfy.
But at high volume, the strain starts to show a little. With certain tracks, the proportion of bass is reduced and the upper-mids take on a harder tone. The JBL Charge 4’s single forward-facing active driver also makes sure there’s a definite, if acceptably wide, listening sweet spot. This is not a 360-degree speaker, so its placement matters.
That we like the JBL Charge 4 a lot should come as no surprise to those who read our Charge 3 review. JBL has fine-tuned the sound to please even pickier ears and battery capacity has increased. We can’t reasonably ask for any more at this price.
- Sound 5
- Features 4
- Build 5
Read our Ultimate Ears Boom 3 review
Read our JBL Charge 3 review