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JBL Charge 5 review

JBL’s popular waterproof speaker series gets a new look and slightly better sound

JBL Charge 5 review
(Image: © Future)

Our Verdict

With a new look, a little more ruggedness and improved sound, the JBL Charge 5 is one of the best Bluetooth speakers — just not one of the cheapest.

For

  • Full vocals
  • Rich bass
  • Good battery life

Against

  • Limited app
  • Few extras

The JBL Charge 5 is the latest evolution in the long-lived Bluetooth speaker line. With each generation, JBL has tended to add a little bit more to the Charge’s capabilities. With the Charge 5, it makes a few small changes — especially to the design — while also simplifying certain features. 

The result is a basic but rugged portable Bluetooth speaker, and one that sounds good enough to contend with the best waterproof speakers. However, it also ends up more expensive than even better-sounding speakers with more features. Keep reading our full JBL Charge 5 review to find out if it’s still worth your cash. 

JBL Charge 5: Price and Availability 

 The JBL Charge 5 has a list price of $179.95, and as a new product you’re unlikely to find it for much less than. You can buy it directly from JBL, or order it from Amazon, B&H or Best Buy.

It’s also worth noting the varied color schemes available. In addition to solid colors like black, red, teal, gray and the blue version we received, there’s also a version with a camouflage finish.

JBL Charge 5 review: Design

JBL Charge 5 review

(Image credit: Future)

The Charge 5 received a fairly significant redesign from the Charge 4. The biggest change is the JBL logo: it’s much bigger, so there’s no doubt who made this speaker. 

JBL also tweaked the shape and dimensions. At 8.7 x 3.8 x 3.7 inches, it’s slightly shorter and a little plumper in the middle than the Charge 4. The end caps, which house the passive bass radiators, are cut at a slight angle, similar to the JBL Flip 5. That gives the speaker a bit more visual flair, but also causes it to lean like the Tower of Pisa if you want to stand it on one end instead of laying it flat. 

As with the last few versions, the Charge 5 is wrapped in mesh — the same as you'd get on the JBL Go 3 — and has rubber end caps. Having six colors to choose from is nice, though this is actually a step back from the Charge 4, which was available in 12 colors. 

On the top, you’ll find buttons for power, Bluetooth and volume up/down. The play button can also pause a track, or with a double click, advance to the next song. The PartyBoost button pairs two JBL speakers together in stereo mode or multiple speakers in party mode to spread the sound more widely. 

On the back there’s a USB-C port for recharging the battery, and under a rubber flap, a USB-A port that you can use to charge other devices. At least JBL has kept the Charge’s namesake feature in each generation. But the Charge 5 ditches the 3.5 mm auxiliary connection that other generations included. 

Below the large JBL logo is a single light that shows the amount of battery power left. The light fades as the power decreases — a slick-looking way to see the battery life left, though it’s not as easy to get an accurate read as the five lights on the Charge 4.

JBL Charge 5 review: Waterproofing

JBL Charge 5 review

(Image credit: Future)

The Charge line has improved its ruggedness with each iteration. Along with being waterproof, the Charge 5 adds resistance to dust, giving it an IP67 rating. That means you can submerge the speaker in water up to 1 meter deep, for up to half an hour, without worry. 

Sure enough, I dunked the Charge 5 in a sinkful of water and it continued to play without problem. Light rain or shower jets won’t pose a threat in the slightest.

 JBL Charge 5 review: Sound quality

JBL Charge 5 review

(Image credit: Future)

The Charge 5 delivers very good sound for a speaker its size, with easy-to-hear vocals and impressive bass. It sounds more balanced than the Charge 4, but it isn’t as full or wide as our current Bluetooth speaker top pick: the UE Megaboom 3

On Black Pumas’s “Fire,” the horns came across bright and punchy, while the vocals were clear above the guitar and keyboards. The menacing bass and thumping drums were prominent on The Weeknd’s “Blinding Lights” but didn’t overwhelm his singing. However, both songs sounded much fuller and richer on the Megaboom 3, although the vocals weren’t as far forward in the mix. 

The difference between the two speakers was easier to hear when listening to Fleetwood Mac’s “Never Going Back Again;” while Lindsey Buckingham’s vocals were clearer on the Charge 5, the fingerpicked guitars were much fuller on the Megaboom 3. 

The Charge 5 put out about 94 dB at max volume — impressively loud, but the audio distorted pretty badly at that level. At a more reasonable 85 dB, the distortion disappeared and it was still loud enough to be heard over the din of a party or traffic. 

JBL Charge 5 review: Battery life

JBL Charge 5 review

(Image credit: Future)

JBL says the Charge 5 will run for 20 hours, the same as previous models and the same as the Megaboom 3. That seems accurate enough — after 15 hours of use at mostly low volume, I had about 25% battery left. 

Of course, a key feature of the Charge series is its ability to act as a power bank for your phone, though this draws from the same battery as the speaker itself. So, if you do use the Charge 5 to power other devices, expect a reduction in play time.

JBL Charge 5 review: Wireless and setup

JBL Charge 5 review

(Image credit: Future)

The Charge 5 paired quickly with my phone. It had a good signal up to about 50 feet indoors, with walls between my phone and the speaker. 

You can download the JBL Portable app to upgrade the Charge 5’s firmware and see its battery level. The app is also how you manage PartyBoost, to connect to another JBL speaker in stereo mode or party mode. I was able to get PartyBoost to work with the Charge 5 and a Flip 5, but strangely, not a Charge 4. 

The app doesn’t let you make any kind of sound adjustments. There aren’t any preset sound modes or an equalizer. The sound you hear out of the box is the sound you get. UE’s Boom & Megaboom app, by comparison, offers a five-band equalizer with several presets, as well as other features like an alarm and the ability to set a one-touch playlist.

JBL Charge 5 review: Verdict

The JBL Charge 5 is a very good Bluetooth speaker. It doesn’t have many frills, aside from being able to charge another portable device, but it delivers impressive vocals and bass, and it can withstand the elements. 

At $179, its list price is lower than that of the Megaboom 3 — but UE’s speaker has been out for much longer, and often sells at a much lower price despite the MSRP. And the Megaboom 3 is a better all-around speaker, too, in terms of both sound and features. The only thing the Charge 5 can do that the Megaboom 3 can’t is charge another device. 

Don't forget about the Sonos Roam either. This, too, is more affordable than the Charge 5, despite offering Wi-Fi connectivity and voice assistant smarts.

Still, if you’re a fan of the JBL sound, want that power bank functionality or simply prefer its looks, the Charge 5 is a solid choice for a portable (and waterproof) Bluetooth speaker.