If you’re in the market for a waterproof portable Bluetooth speaker, chances are you’ve come across the JBL Charge 5. With a reputation as an incredibly rugged portable speaker, the JBL Charge 5 is an IP67-rated waterproof and dustproof speaker with a whopping 20-hour battery life and a built-in power bank functionality that allows you to charge your device while listening to music — which is a game changer for those interested in long adventures outdoors. With a retail price of $179.95, however, the JBL Charge 5 is also a bit pricier than other outdoor-friendly portable speakers on the market today. So if you’re wondering if it’s worth the splurge, here’s what you need to know.
The JBL Charge 5 is gorgeous
First things first, I’m not new to the JBL Charge. I purchased a JBL Charge 3 back in 2017, and it’s survived a lot. From kayaking and hiking, road trips, and even an outdoor wedding, this is a tiny little speaker that packs a powerful punch…and I still use it regularly. Obviously, when I was offered the chance to try out the updated JBL Charge 5, I jumped at the opportunity to put it to the test.
Straight out of the box, the JBL Charge 5 has clearly gotten a facelift since the days of my aging Charge 3. The speaker both looks and feels luxurious, and JBL’s super sleek packaging seems to have taken cues from Apple products to offer a top-of-the-line experience that goes well beyond the $180 price tag. It’s roughly the same size as my old JBL Charge 3, but while the form factor is relatively similar, there are some major design upgrades that I really appreciated. It’s a bit bigger than my old Charge 3, with a larger logo splashed across the middle of the speaker, an updated battery indicator, and sleek non-slip rubber feet slashed across the bottom. Beyond that, the JBL Charge 5 simply feels better. The rubber bumpers on either end of the speaker are incredibly smooth to the touch without sacrificing sturdiness.
How does the JBL Charge 5 sound?
After charging the JBL Charge 5 for a few hours with the included USB-C cable, I was eager to test it out for myself and was immediately impressed by the sound quality. It’s rich, dynamic, and surprisingly clear with a decent bass that fills the room without overpowering the rest of the audio. The speaker boasts an optimized long excursion driver, a separate tweeter, and dual pumping JBL bass radiators — all of which probably sound like nonsense to the average user — but I can tell you that it absolutely translates to a noticeably improved audio quality. And, with a basic equalizer included in the free JBL Connect companion app, you’re able to customize your audio experience further, which is another major step up from the JBL Charge 3.
Compared to the JBL Charge 3, the Charge 5 is a clear winner
The Charge 5 is a noticeable upgrade from the Charge 3.
Credit: RJ Andersen / Mashable
I did a side-by-side comparison of the two speakers, and I was stunned by the improvement in the overall audio experience. While I love my Charge 3 and I’ve used it for years, the sound quality is surprisingly muddy. The built-in “bass boost” feature helps with this a little bit, but it’s bad enough that the Charge 3 is basically unusable for other forms of audio like podcasts or audiobooks when there’s significant background noise.
In contrast, the sound quality of the Charge 5 is incredibly clear, both at lower volumes and fully maxed out. Even when I was standing right next to the speaker at maximum volume, it didn’t reach the same levels of crackling distortion that many other speakers, the Charge 3 included, tend to reach. At a distance, the Charge 5 sounds even better, and I was able to walk down a 50-foot hallway before the Bluetooth connection started to have some major struggles. In comparison, I made it around two-thirds of the way down the same hallway before the Charge 3’s Bluetooth connection gave up.
The charging time and battery life are pretty much the same between versions, with a four-hour charge time and a 20-hour battery life (depending on volume). Plus, both the JBL Charge 3 and the Charge 5 offer power bank functionality, meaning you can use them to charge your device while on the go. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to test the speaker on a kayaking trip yet given the season, but both the Charge 3 and the Charge 5 are rated to withstand being submerged in water for 30 minutes — and the Charge 5 boasts the additional dustproof rating — so I’m confident that it would either match or outperform the Charge 3 in that arena as well.
There are a few things I don’t love about the JBL Charge 5
Clearly, I’m a fan of the JBL Charge 5, but there are a few things I didn’t like from the beginning. One, the Charge 5 ditches the 3.5mm audio jack input, which isn’t a huge deal in today’s Bluetooth-enabled world, but it also makes connecting the two speakers difficult. While both the Charge 3 and the Charge 5 offer the ability to connect to other JBL devices for a multi-speaker experience, they actually have different versions of the same feature. The Charge 3 offers “JBL Connect” while the Charge 5 upgraded to “PartyBoost,” which means I wasn’t able to connect different models of the same device to test out connected play. Ordinarily, I’d work around this by plugging my older speaker into the newer one with an audio jack, but again, JBL decided to forgo this feature, which feels like a big miss.
The outside of the speaker feels sleek, though some reviewers noted the rubber feet on the bottom of the JBL Charge 5 peeled off in the first few months after purchasing.
Credit: RJ Andersen / Mashable
Beyond that, my other major concern is one that I spotted in reviews on Reddit and Amazon, which is the updated rubber “feet” on the bottom of the JBL Charge 5. Previous models offer a more uniform base that feels a bit more solid and non-slip than the updated version. While I like the visuals of the new design, several users reported the rubber stripes peeling off the Charge 5 within the first few months of use. Considering the JBL Charge 5 is quite a bit more expensive than other outdoor-friendly portable speakers, I don’t love the idea that part of the base is at risk of peeling off over time.
Is the JBL Charge 5 worth it?
Despite its flaws, I’m going to have to say yes, the JBL Charge 5 is worth it but with a few caveats. With a retail price of $179.95, the JBL Charge 5 is definitely pricey compared to other Bluetooth speakers on the market, but it’s also got a reputation to back up the price tag. I’ve used my JBL Charge 3 long enough to warrant the splurge, and it’s survived a beating with minimal wear and tear, so I think it depends on how you’re planning to use it.
If you’re looking for a reliable speaker that will survive any adventure outdoors, I do think it’s worth the splurge. The sound quality is much improved from previous models, it’s got a longer battery life than most other outdoor-friendly Bluetooth speakers on the market, and the durability is pretty incredible. I also love that it functions as a power bank, which is a stand-out feature that most other portable outdoor speakers I found online didn’t have.
That being said, I do recognize that it’s not the most budget-friendly option on the market, especially if you don’t care as much about durability, sound quality, or power bank functionality. There are certainly other options available that would work for more “passive” outdoor activities such as sitting by the pool or hanging out at the park, and I wouldn’t blame you for choosing one of those instead of the Charge 5. However, if you’re looking for a speaker that will perform and last, then the JBL Charge 5 is definitely worth considering.