What has a 27Wh battery and is not afraid to share? The JBL Charge 5 is an IP67 portable, loud, Bluetooth speaker and power bank that can entertain you for up to 20 hours on a charge.
JBL has made quite a name in the portable Bluetooth speaker market, ranging from mono ultra-portables to the amazingly loud and proud Party Box 310. But the best thing is that you can buy any of these and get JBL build quality and its excellent JBL neutral and natural sound signature – more on that later.
If you are looking for the best BT portable at $199 – this is it.
It’s a bit bolder than the Charge 4 with the new JBL orange and steel grey logo (on our black version), but otherwise, it’s a typical waterproof, rubberised fabric-covered cylinder with a little middle-age spread and a rubber base. It sits in landscape mode – it is not a 360° speaker. Size is 223 x 96.5 x 94mm x .98kg.
Controls are power on/off, BT, +/- volume and fast forward. There is a dedicated PartyBoost button, so you don’t need the app. It comes in different colours – Pink, Teal, Blue, Forest Green and boring black!
It supports BT connections to two BT 5.1 devices – PC and phone. The BT signal is very strong – we could connect at 60m. Latency (BT 5.1 devices) is around 100ms, so you don’t get lip sync video issues.
JBL Portable app Android and iOS (formerly JBL Connect)
While you don’t need the app, it is handy to check for firmware updates. It does not require a login, but it does need location data, Bluetooth access, and storage access (to play on-device audio).
Otherwise, the app does nothing extra.
It also has JBL PartyBoost to join with up to 100 like-minded JBL speakers. These include Xtreme 3, Boombox 2, Pulse 4 and Flip 5.
PartyBoost is a great concept but is supersedes Part Connect that may upset some owners of older JBL speakers that cannot use it.
Power bank and battery life
The battery is 3.6V/7.5A/27W, which is significantly larger than most BT speakers. Charge time using any USB-C PD charger is about four hours – there is no fast charge. It will also charge at 5V/2A/10W or less, but charge times can be longer. That also means it can charge from a car utility socket (cigarette lighter).
The Power Bank bit means it has a USB-A port capable of 5V/2A/10W charging. To put that in perspective, it should charge an iPhone 13 about 1.5 times. Of course, that reduces playing time accordingly. It can charge a USB device while charging, but that also increases the speaker charge time.
JBL claims up to 20 hours, based on 50% volume and BT 5.1 SBC low-res MP3 audio content from a BT 5.1 device.
We tested on a continuous loop under the same parameters, and it achieves just over 19 hours. At 100% volume (test over an hour and extrapolated), that gets closer to 13 hours.
1m for 30 minutes provided the charge out socket cover is in place.
Mono 90 x 52mm woofer (30W) and 20mm tweeter (10W RMS) plus the characteristic JBL passive bass radiators at either end. See exploded video below.
Missing (and not usually expected from a BT speaker)
Aux or USB Input
Wi-Fi (buy the JBL Essential)
EQ would be nice
Voice assistant (no mic)
Backwards compatibility with JBL Part Connect/+ speakers (it’s a BT 5.1 thing)
How does it sound? Amazing
JBL calls it Pro Sound. I call it terrific with JBL’s neutral sound ‘signature’ that neither adds nor subtracts from the original content. Just to reinforce this – few speakers achieve this nirvana that is a delight to listen to and certainly you don’t expect this at $199.95.
To put this in perspective it has significant low to mid-bass, powerful high-bass and flat all the way to about 8kHz (low treble). It covers all the significant audio characteristics. The top end is a little harsh but back off a few dB and that goes.
But the lack of an app EQ means garbage in, garbage out, so have a little pride and play at least 16-bit, 44.1kHz ripped music that Spotify et al., provide.
We found podcasts to be clear and clean courtesy of the new tweeter – it adds clear dialogue missing from the Charge 4. Outdoors it is loud enough, but the passive bass radiators struggle to ramp up the bass in the wide-open spaces.
We did not have a second unit to play stereo in PartyBoost, but it has a decent enough signature to handle that.
Volume-wise it reaches 84.4dB (loud), but there is a little too much distortion at 100% volume. It is not so much distortion but clipping or compression and backing off a few dB fixes that.
Well done, JBL.
JBL has done it again with its expertise in water-resistant, no-frills, Bluetooth speakers that sound great. Above that is the JBL Xtreme 3 9.5/10 ($399.95), and below are the JBL Charge Essential ($199.95) and JBL Flip 5 ($169.95). Interestingly the speaker it replaces, JBL Charge 4, was $229.95.
I review many BT speakers, and I would put it close to the Ultimate Ears Mega Boom 8.2/10 ($299.95) and well above the Boom 3 8.2/10 ($199.95). But to be fair, these are 360° speakers focusing on volume, and comparisons are not all that objective. The BlueAnt X3 8.9/10 ($239) is a closer competitor
JBL Charge 5 portable BT speaker and power bank
It is the perfect portable with a terrific sound signature and heaps of volume. At $199.95 you can't go wrong with the JBL Charge 5.
Value for money
Ease of use
Excellent flat, neutral sound signature – impressive for a water-resistant speaker
Big battery with up to 20 hours playback and power bank facility