JBL continues to upgrade and refine its Bluetooth speakers. The Charge 4 is very similar in outward appearance to its predecessor, the Charge 3, but with significant internal differences. At $149.95 USD, it’s a good bargain in a midsize Bluetooth speaker, while allowing the Charge 3 to be sold for two-thirds its cost at Amazon.com and other retailers.
In the box
The Charge 4 comes packed in JBL’s usual compact box with easy-open pull tab and magnetic clasp lock. At 8.66”W x 3.74”H x 3.66”D and 2.12 pounds, it’s slightly larger and heavier than the Charge 3, and it comes in 11 colors: Black, Blue, Forest Green, Gray, Pink, Red, Sand, Squad, Teal, White, or Mustard Yellow. In the box are the speaker, a quick-start guide, warranty and safety information, and one USB-C cable -- an upgrade from the Charge 3’s Micro-USB cable. There’s no USB AC adapter -- you’ll have to supply that yourself.
The controls on the top of the Charge 4 are pretty much the same as on the Charge 3: Power On/Off, Bluetooth pairing, Play/Pause/Next (press twice for Next), Volume Up/Down, and a second pairing button to connect the Charge 4 with other speakers. As on the Charge 3, the 4’s rubber base has five little LEDs that indicate the status of the battery charge. Next to the base, at the bottom of the rear panel, is a sealed bay -- open its hatch to access the charging jack, a 3.5mm jack, and a charging jack for your phone, which you can use while listening to the speaker. But remember, that hatch must be securely closed before you can use the speaker in a wet environment.
The build quality is rock solid. The Charge 4 is covered in hardened fabric material with a grille of superfine mesh that makes the speaker easy to handle; it feels like a small football.
As in the Charge 3, on each end of this cylindrical speaker is a 2” passive radiator sporting a large JBL logo. However, the interior driver arrangement is very different. Instead of the Charge 3’s two round, 2” drivers, the Charge 4 has a single 2 x 3.5” rectangular driver. In addition, the power output has increased, from 20W to 30W. The battery capacity is also a bit greater: JBL claims 20 hours of playing time, depending on volume level.
Other changes from Charge 3 to Charge 4: There’s no speaker phone function or voice assistant, but Bluetooth has been upgraded from 4.1 to 4.2. The charge time of 5.5 hours is about half an hour less. JBL specifies the Charge 4’s frequency response as 60Hz-20kHz, and a waterproof rating of IPX7.
It was easy to pair my devices with the Charge 4, whose range in my cluttered house was about average: 20’ to 25’. Outdoors, with no obstructions, I could get 50’. Fitting my hand as if made for my grip, the Charge 4 was easy to carry from place to place. The base anchored it securely -- no matter how much the passive radiators bounced in and out, the speaker stayed put, never “walking” itself away.
I didn’t get a chance to try multiple speakers using JBL’s Connect+ app, but JBL claims that you can connect up to 100 speakers for “multi-mono” output, or pair two of them for actual stereo. It’s apparently best to pair two speakers of the same model: the Charge 4 (with Connect+) or the Charge 3 (with the older Connect app). JBL has made a downloadable fix for the Charge 3 that upgrades it to Connect+, but apparently mixing and matching models causes problems: you have to reconfigure every time you use the speakers. This is covered pretty fully in several YouTube videos.
I never got 20 hours of playing time from the Charge 4 -- the best I did get was about ten hours at fairly high volume. Of course, if you use the speaker to charge your device, that reduces the time a bit.
Like the Charge 3, the Charge 4 could play very loud -- louder than any speaker in its class that I’m aware of. However, it could be driven into distortion, so take my usual advice: Turn up the volume all the way, then back it off two to four clicks. I’m sure the sound will still be loud enough to drive you out of a small room.
I’d found the Charge 3’s sound brassy and forward. The Charge 4, too, sounded forward, but its highs and midrange were much more refined. The bass was still full and focused for a Bluetooth speaker of this size -- good for any music, but great for rock. Overall, the sound, though geared to outdoor listening, was just about perfectly balanced from top to bottom, making it a contender for indoor use as well.
The voice of k.d. lang ranges from sweet to brassy, and you can hear both styles, especially the latter, on her Absolute Torch and Twang (16-bit/44.1kHz ALAC, Warner Bros.). Track 1, “Luck in My Eyes,” perfectly demonstrated the Charge 4’s qualities. The opening bass and kick drum had punch and focus, and lang’s voice was crisp and clear -- yet the delicate nuances of her singing were preserved. Higher-pitched guitar and percussion had wonderful presence, striking a perfect balance between illumination and irritation.
Steely Dan is noted for an eclectic style that agreeably blends jazz and rock, and for the very close attention they pay to recorded sound. The title song of one of their best albums, Aja (16/44.1 ALAC, MCA), sounded wonderful through the Charge 4. Even in mono, the entire audioband except the deepest bass was reproduced with equal care; again, I couldn’t help but be impressed by the solid midbass and the overall presence in the midrange.
All voices, solo instruments such as guitar and piano, and jazz ensembles sounded just dandy. Even pipe organs sounded rich and full -- although the very lowest pedal notes, from the 16’ and 32’ ranks of pipes, sounded an octave above their actual pitches. Nonetheless, overall, the Charge 4 sounded much bigger than it is.
JBL has refined an already admirably designed speaker into something nearly ideal. The Charge 4 has good-rockin’ bass, and an overall sound that combines palpable presence with welcome refinement. It’s waterproof, so you can safely take it along to a pool party or the beach, but it sounds good enough that you’ll want to use it indoors, too. And shop around, and you can get it at a bargain price. For my money, the JBL Charge 4 is the best-sounding Bluetooth speaker in its midsize class.
. . . Rad Bennett
- Portable music players -- Benjie Rocker, Apple iPod Touch (fifth generation)
JBL Charge 4 Bluetooth Speaker
Price: $149.95 USD.
Warranty: One year, limited.
Harman International Industries, Inc.
8500 Balboa Boulevard
Northridge, CA 91329
Phone: (800) 336-4525