Solid sound quality
Built-in powerbank is very useful
Dust- and water-proof
Not everyone will want/need the added charging feature
As you may have guessed, the Charge 5 marks JBL’s fifth iteration in the Charge line of portable Bluetooth speakers, and this is the best version yet. A rugged, waterproof option that delivers a robust, bass-forward take on music and has enough battery life to last for extra-long outings and charge the device you’re playing music from, keeping the jams jamming to the jamth degree.
That doesn’t mean the Charge 5 is perfect for everyone, of course. The Flip 5 is nearly the same product, minus the pass-thru charging and boosted battery life, and you’re paying a not-inconsiderable surcharge for those features. If you really don’t think you need the charging ability, you could save some money and get the Flip instead. In addition, it only makes minimal improvements over the more affordable Charge 4, so if you want this functionality at a bit of a discount, that's worthy of consideration. Regardless, the Charge 5 is an excellent Bluetooth speaker in every respect, and the latest version's new dust-proof design should make it the most rugged in the lineup to date.
About the JBL Charge 5
- Price: $179.95
- Width x Height x Depth: 8.7 x 3.76 x 3.67 inches
- Weight: 2.11 pounds
- Colors: Black, Blue, Grey, Red, Teal, and Squad (Camo)
- Battery life: Up to 20 hours per charge
- Speakers/drivers: 52x90mm woofer; 20mm tweeter
- Wireless connection: Bluetooth 5.1
- Charging: USB-C
- Dust/water resistance: IP67
- Special features: PartyBoost, built-in powerbank
Just like the Charge 4 and Flip 5, the Charge 5 doesn’t overcomplicate things—it’s fairly frills-free as features go. You’re getting the standard Bluetooth connectivity here (no Wi-Fi, etc.) as well as JBL’s “PartyBoost” feature, which allows you to chain connections to other JBL PartyBoost-equipped speakers, creating a multi-speaker setup. Otherwise, what really differentiates the Charge from something like JBL’s Flip line is the built-in power bank.
As mentioned, The Charge 5 is now dustproof, and has also received an upgrade to its Bluetooth version (from 5.0 to 5.1). In addition, the speaker has received some minor cosmetic changes. But generally, the approach here seems to be the age-old, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it" theory.
What we like
Robust, balanced sound
The Charge 5’s ability to charge up another device may earn it its namesake, but it wouldn’t be worth much if it didn’t sound good while doing it. Whether I was using it inside or out, the Charge 5 provided robust sound quality with both ample volume and well-balanced frequency distribution. There's plenty of bass and midrange support, but without skimping on higher treble frequencies either.
When first booting up the Charge 5 and playing some music, I was seriously surprised by how loud it was. You can tell it’s meant to fill an outdoor space such as at the beach or the forest on your next hike with plenty of sound: it was almost too much for my rather cramped office.
I toted the Charge 5 on a trip to northeast Pennsylvania and enjoyed it in a spacious hotel room. I used it alongside a soak in a jet-equipped bathtub, and it handily delivered the sounds of lush synths, sharp percussive beats, and warbling ‘70s guitars even after being (purposefully) splashed with a not inconsiderable amount of water.
JBL’s Flip 5 is one of our favorite Bluetooth speakers ever, primarily due to its well-rounded, warm, robust sound quality—and the Charge 5 captures that same efficacy. It isn’t jaw-dropping, shelf speaker quality, but for a portable speaker that doubles as a charging bank, it’s darn good.
Durable, intuitive design
I’ve always loved JBL’s portable Bluetooth speaker design, and that’s no different for the Charge 5. The first thing you’re going to want to do is figure out the controls, and it really couldn’t be simpler.
From left to right across the top of the speaker, you’ve got raised, tactile buttons for PartyBoost, Volume Down, Power, Bluetooth pairing, Volume Up, and Play/Pause. The power and Bluetooth keys are separated in the center of the other buttons in a small cutout, while the others blend in with the speaker’s fabric grille along the top of the device. Around back, you’ll find the small USB-C charging port and the power bank’s USB, the latter of which is covered by a rubber seal to keep out dust and moisture.
Speaking of dust and moisture, the Charge 5 is well-equipped to keep them at bay: its rubber-capped ends keep it safe from imminent destruction if you have the misfortune of dropping it, and help it to float in water to boot. The speaker is IP67-rated, meaning it’s essentially dustproof and can be submerged in 3 feet of water for up to 30 minutes, and it also floats so you won't have to rescue it from the bottom of the pool.
Our review unit came in Blue—it’s a handsome tone, and the (huge) JBL branding on the front has a burnished look with a reddish drop shadow on the letters that almost looks like unfiltered 3D images.
Finally, raised rubber strips along the bottom help keep it stable on a table, and a small, cleverly placed charge indicator beneath the JBL logo helps keep track of battery life. Despite all this, the Charge 5 is relatively light at a little over two pounds. The durability and attractive design touches—along with its robust sound quality—help to justify its price.
Ample battery life
Speaking of keeping track of battery life, you fortunately won’t need to be too fastidious: the advertised 20 hours of battery life are legitimate (give or take depending on mediators like overall volume and how long/often you’re charging another device). Most folks should be able to use the Charge 5 for a couple full workdays (or play days) before they need to plug it in for revival.
The hefty battery life is a big part of what you’re paying for. If you often find yourself shying away from using your phone to play music on outings due to the threat of its battery dying, the Charge 5 makes for an extra-helpful companion: not only does it sound oodles better than your smartphone, but it also can handle charging it back up while it blasts tunes, too.
Have you ever gone on a longer, multi-day hiking or camping weekend and found yourself constantly turning your phone off, switching battery modes, trying to eke out as much juice as possible over a few days? I know I have; I missed out on a lot of photo opportunities on those weekends because I didn’t want my only lifeline to civilization wholly depleted. If I’d had the Charge 5, I wouldn’t have had to fret so much.
The one thing I didn't test when it comes to battery life was connecting a bunch of PartyBoost speakers—I just don’t have enough JBL speakers sitting around. But I have to imagine that chain of connections also affects total battery life to some degree. Even still, the 20 hours you’re getting here (especially for how loud this thing is in general) is an excellent result.
What we don’t like
A little bit inflexible
Other than its power-bank ability and the proprietary JBL PartyBoost option, the Charge 5 doesn’t deliver some of the features you might expect for what you’re paying. You’re not getting Wi-Fi (which means no Spotify Connect, Apple AirPlay, etc.) nor any built-in voice assistant compatibility. While those features aren’t exactly standard, they’re available on the similarly priced Sonos Roam.
The only way to play music over this speaker is Bluetooth—you can’t even plug in an auxiliary audio device like an MP3 player, as there’s no 3.5mm input jack. This means it can’t double as a speaker for most desk monitors. It won’t interface with any of your smart home gear either.
This extends to your charging options, too. While the included USB-C cable is on the longer side, there’s no wall adapter included, which means if you need to charge while on a trip (or road trip), you need to either find your own or bring something like a laptop along. Unlike the Roam, there’s also no wireless (Qi) charging, so cables are your only option.
You’re paying a good bit for the big battery
Right now, you can get similar functionality, sound, and durability in JBL’s “standard” speaker, the Flip 5, for around $80 less. All you’re sacrificing is 8 hours of battery life and the ability to charge your other devices. Depending on your use cases, it’s worth keeping in mind if you don’t need the charging feature or don’t think you’ll be away from a charging port for extended periods of time.
Should you buy it?
Yes—especially if you were already shopping power banks
It took me a few days to wrap my head around the key stamp that this product makes upon the Bluetooth speaker market: it’s really two products in one. You can charge any USB-equipped device—be it a smartphone, tablet, game controller, or even some laptops—using the Charge 5’s pass-thru. So not only are you getting a robust, dust-and-waterproof Bluetooth speaker, you’re also essentially buying a portable battery pack.
This is worth considering if you’re interested in this product: if you don’t need a power bank, you could save money by buying something like the JBL Flip 5, or you could spend the same amount on a more feature-stuffed product like the Sonos Roam. It's also worth mentioning again that this model only changes a couple of things compared to the previous-gen Charge 4—the Charge 5 adds dust proofing and updates its Bluetooth codec—so if those aren't high on your list, you can get many of the same features for less money by opting for the older model.
Otherwise, you’re getting solid audio presentation, plenty of battery to go around, and excellent attention to durability and design, making the Charge 5 a very attractive buy.
Meet the tester
Editor, Home Theater@Koanshark
Lee has been Reviewed's point person for most television and home theater products since 2012. Lee received Level II certification in TV calibration from the Imaging Science Foundation in 2013. As Editor of the Home Theater vertical, Lee oversees reviews of TVs, monitors, soundbars, and Bluetooth speakers. He also reviews headphones, and has a background in music performance.
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