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JBL’s Charge 4 is portable and powerful, but is it worth investing in?

Small but mighty, does the latest portable speaker live up to the brand’s reputation?

David RS Taylor
Friday 26 March 2021 13:06
<p>If you’re looking for a sturdy little unit that produces disproportionately big sound, JBL is usually a good jumping point</p>

If you’re looking for a sturdy little unit that produces disproportionately big sound, JBL is usually a good jumping point

It pays to have a recognisable “look”. Prince loved a bit of purple. Converse has somehow cornered the market on old-fashioned basketball shoes. Apple uses full stops seemingly after every. Single. Word.

Now JBL’s charge speakers, and a fair few of the brand’s other options, have their own distinctive look, the oblong/pill/can hybrid whose silhouette is unmistakeable.

Alongside this characteristic, if not mindblowingly-attractive design, JBL’s portable speakers have garnered a reputation for providing more than their price tag promises.

If you’re looking for a sturdy little unit that produces disproportionately big sound, JBL is usually a good jumping point.

But does the fourth chapter of the charge story continue this trend? We put it to the ultimate test, paying close attention to the design features and sound quality, and here’s what we think...

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JBL Charge 4 portable bluetooth speaker

Size: 22cm (L)x 9.5cm (H) x 9.3cm (W)

Weight: 960g

Battery life: 20 hours

Connectivity: Bluetooth, JBL Connect+

Design

If something works, why tinker? The design of the Charge 4 is almost identical to the Charge 3, with minor changes to the silhouette. It’s been a winner for the brand so far, with the shape strongly associated with JBL’s sound profile. It won’t win Monopoly’s beauty pageant, but the look screams rugged and ready for the drops and bumps it’ll most likely face during its lifetime.

Durability is a cornerstone of any self-respecting portable speaker, and the Charge 4 is no different. The fabric material covering most of the speaker and the underlying rubber housing both feel particularly sturdy, and the passive radiators on the ends, while looking fragile, are more than strong enough to stand up to the test of unknowing hands.

The IPX7 speaker’s waterproof rating means that not only will it work perfectly after spillages or a light shower, but you can fully chuck it into a pool and it should continue to produce the same sound after you’ve fished it out – JBL says the speaker can withstand both chlorinated and salty water, too.

The Charge 4 is a simple unit, but packed with some handy features. The battery life is an impressive 20 hours, the same as the Charge 3, but with the 4, this battery life stays firm at much higher volumes.

Read more: Is the new Ultimate Ears Hyperboom speaker worth the hype?

To top up the battery, JBL has moved to a USB-C charging port, which should give the speaker a bit of much-needed future-proofing. Like the Charge 3, you can also charge your phone via the speaker’s other USB port, making the Charge 4 a brilliant option for a day away from any handy plugs.

This is purely a Bluetooth speaker – no WiFi option or voice control – but JBL’s Connect+ enables up to 100 of its speakers to join together and play the same tracks.

Sound

While the design might be simple, the sound is anything but. The bass doesn’t boom, but this is deliberate, with a considered, rich bass pairing beautifully with the refined mid range and treble. The passive radiators at each end also vibrate pleasingly at lower frequencies, which adds to the spectacle.

Audio clarity is a cut above other speakers at this level, with a strong balance between all frequencies. Even at higher volumes, the sound stays pretty true and manages to avoid any major distortion.

Read more: 11 best noise-cancelling headphones

All this means that the Charge 4 is less a boomer party speaker, and more an option for relaxed days at the beach, or laid back garden parties. There’s a surprising sophistication and subtlety inside the rugged body that’s hardly seen anywhere else at this price point.

One sticking point is the lack of voice assistant support and speakerphone, something that was present in the Charge 3. These features aren’t something you’d usually look for in a speaker at this price, but as the previous generation offered them, it feels a little disappointing. However, JBL has obviously decided to focus on output quality, and has richly succeeded.

The verdict: JBL charge 4

The Charge series started out from a strong position with the first iteration, and it’s difficult to improve on something that works so well. JBL has managed to tweak each generation of the speaker, and the Charge 4 is no exception: it reaches a higher volume without distortion than its predecessor, levels are clearer and more balanced, and the USB-C charging port is a welcome addition for future-proofing your speaker, but there are no revelatory changes here.

This means that for someone who owns the Charge 3 (and has enough gadgets to ensure the old charging port isn’t a problem), the Charge 4 might not be necessary. However, for someone who wants a more modern unit, focussed on great sound and enough solidity to last for years, the Charge 4 is a worthy option. Its price has plummeted recently, due to the release of the Charge 5 (£159.99, Jbl.com), which means this is the perfect time to invest in a speaker that will do the business well into its old age.

Want a system that will fill your whole house with unbeatable sound? Then check out our review of the best Sonos speakers that will elevate your listening experience

IndyBest product reviews are unbiased, independent advice you can trust. On some occasions, we earn revenue if you click the links and buy the products, but we never allow this to bias our coverage. The reviews are compiled through a mix of expert opinion and real-world testing.

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