The summer months provide ample opportunity for the best outdoor speakers and the best waterproof speakers to do their thing. Namely, providing great sound while enduring unexpected introductions to pools, oceans and unseasonable rainfalls.
But waterproof speakers are also well-suited to somewhere much closer to home, as I learned after recently acquiring two JBL Charge 5 speakers. With these, I could finally take quality audio somewhere it’s never been (in my flat, anyway): a multi-speaker setup for my shower.
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If this sounds dumb, remember that the modern bathroom is where sound quality goes to die. All that ceramic, glass, metal and plastic, in a relatively confined space and with nothing but a few towels for sound absorption? You might get a briefly entertaining reverb effect for your bathroom singing but if you like playing real music while shaving or showering, as I do, the echo effect is a spoiling one.
That’s why I’ve started seeing bathroom acoustics as a challenge to overcome, and while my pint-sized UE Wonderboom 2 has made many decent attempts, multiple speakers would inevitably be the way forward. But traditional stereo and multiroom speakers tend to be neither wireless nor waterproof, a potentially lethal combination for the forgetful or clumsy — of which I'm both.
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The Charge 5 is much better suited to bathrooms. As it’s a fully wireless, battery-powered Bluetooth speaker, I can put each unit anywhere without tripping and/or electrocuting myself on an errant cable. It’s fully waterproof too, up to the IP67 standard — enough that I could leave it soaking in the bath for 30 minutes, let alone splash it with the showerhead, with no ill effects.
Then there’s the Charge 5’s very literal party trick. Its PartyBoost Mode lets you sync up playback between up to 100 compatible JBL speakers, and to do so at the touch of a button. Or up to 100 buttons. If you’re using a more modest set of two, as I was, you can alternatively create a stereo pair via JBL’s mobile app.
This combination of waterproofing and easy grouping meant “building” my shower sound system took mere seconds. My only, very brief consideration was where exactly to place each speaker — I wanted an enveloping, surround sound-like effect to overpower and block out echoing from the tiles. Eventually I settled with one perched on the shower fitting itself and one at the back of the bathtub.
And it worked! The Charge 5 is a smooth-sounding speaker by itself, but with two working in tandem I’d finally found a setup that stood up to all the acoustic harshness of water and echoing. PartyBoost Mode kept the music utterly in sync, though stereo pairing allowed for the more intricate-sounding tunes. The former simply plays the same mix out of every linked speaker, at the same volume, which in practice made the rear speaker more of a backing performer to the front speaker’s lead simply due to my ears being closer to the latter.
Even so, there was a gigantic step up in clarity from using a solo Wonderboom 2, and ultimately I still achieved the immersive effect I was hoping for. Sonic properties of bathroom construction materials, consider yourselves vanquished.
Not perfect — but it works
I’ll admit there are some shortcomings to the system. For instance, I can keep the front speaker close enough to the ideal head height, but my lack of shelving means the second Charge 5 needs to sit on the rim of my tub — closer to my ankles than my ears. Perhaps a couple of hooked suction cups and some strong string could be fashioned into a cheap wall-mounting kit.
The speakers themselves certainly aren’t cheap, totalling about $360 for a pair. And unless you have one of the best waterproof phones, your in-shower playback controls are limited to the Charge 5’s onboard play/pause and volume buttons.
Nevertheless, I’m sticking with my new aquatic audio setup, and if you’ve found your own bathroom saps all the fun out of music, I’d recommend a similar approach. I’m smitten with the Charge 5 but there are cheaper, fully waterproof speakers that can form stereo pairs or form PartyBoost groups, like the JBL Flip 5.
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