JBL knows how to deliver the goods when it comes to portable Bluetooth speakers.
The previous iteration of the Charge was a hit, and the JBL Charge 4 ($179.95) is not dropping the baton.
With a waterproof design, the speaker outputs huge sound for its size, and it's small enough to be thrown in a tote. The bass depth here is also impressive, thanks mostly to dual passive radiators that add richness and thump.
The only two bummers are the lack of a speakerphone function and that the speaker is mono (this is forgivable, though, since the size would prevent true stereo separation anyway).
The JBL Charge 4, like its predecessor, wins our Editors' Choice award.
The cylindrical 3.7-by-8.6-by-3.7-inch (HWD), 2.1-pound Charge 4 is available in a multitude of colors—10 in all, including mustard yellow and teal, as well as more standard black or red models.
The speaker has an IPX7 rating, meaning it has an unspecified level of dust-ingress protection and is fully waterproof.
In fact, the Charge 4 can be submerged up to 1 meter for about 30 minutes, making it an ideal poolside companion, or simply a great splash-proof, rainproof option.
The front face of the speaker is mostly a cloth-and-metallic grille.
Underneath, the Charge 4 employs a racetrack-style driver, measuring 1.9 by 3.5 inches and delivering mono audio.
The side-firing passive radiators help push out a greater sense of bass depth, and the system outputs 30 watts of audio and a frequency range of 60Hz to 20KHz.
Some may fault the decision to go mono when there's enough room for dual drivers here, but you wouldn't hear the separation dual drivers would provide unless you pressed your head right against the speaker grille.
Going with a single, higher-quality driver provides a better overall audio experience, albeit mono.
Across the top, there's a control panel housing buttons for Power, Pairing, and Volume Up/Down, as well as a Play/Pause button that, when pressed twice, skips forward a track.
Oddly, there's no backward track navigation function.
There's also a JBL Connect+ button for linking to various other compatible JBL wireless speakers—you can chain together more than 100 speakers to play the same audio.
The Charge 4 lacks a speakerphone function, so all calls will need to be fielded on your mobile device.
It's common for larger Bluetooth speakers to not have phone functionality, but the Charge 4 is sort of an in-between size, and this feels like an omission.
JBL estimates the Charge 4's battery life to be about 20 hours, but your results will vary with your volume levels and your mix of wired and wireless usage.
On tracks with intense sub-bass content, like The Knife's "Silent Shout," the Charge 4 doesn't disappoint, delivering powerful deep bass response cleanly and clearly, even at top volumes (and the speaker can get quite loud for its size).
It sounds like the Charge 4 is packing a larger woofer than it is—maybe not a subwoofer, but definitely a capable low-frequency driver.
The highs are sculpted and boosted a bit to match and balance the lows, meaning that, between the sculpting, boosting, and mono delivery, this isn't an ideal speaker for purists.
Bill Callahan's "Drover," a track with far less deep bass in the mix, gives a better sense of the Charge 4's general sound signature.
The drums on this track get some extra depth through the Charge 4 without sounding thunderous.
Callahan's baritone vocals also receive a solid low-mid richness, while the higher register percussive hits and acoustic strumming get enough high-mid presence to keep the sound balanced.
On Jay-Z and Kanye West's "No Church in the Wild," the kick drum loop receives the ideal amount of high-mid presence, allowing its attack to retain its punchiness.
The sub-bass synth hits that punctuate the beat are delivered with solid depth, though you won't be looking around the room for the hidden subwoofer.
The sustain of the drum hits get more bass response than lower, sub-bass attention.
It's still a powerful sound, and the vocals have ideal clarity here—clean, with no added sibilance.
Orchestral tracks, like the opening scene from John Adams' The Gospel According to the Other Mary, get some pleasant added low-mid and low frequency push here, adding some depth to the presence of the lower register instrumentation.
The spotlight still belongs to the crisp, brightly delivered higher register brass, strings, and vocals, however.
The added bass depth may not appeal to purists, but it anchors the mix nicely, and doesn't overshadow the higher-register elements.
The Charge 4 sounds excellent for a mono speaker at this price.
Its solid build is waterproof and, for all of its output, not terribly big.
There are other solid options in this price range—the EcoXGear EcoSlate, the Bose SoundLink Color II, and the Sony SRS-XB3 are all winners, and if you want to go bigger, the JBL Xtreme 2 is a true powerhouse, but it costs twice as much as the Charge 4.
For the size and price, though, the Charge 4 is a tremendous value, and it easily wins our Editors' Choice award.
The Bottom Line
The JBL Charge 4 is an excellent option for those who want a waterproof, powerful-sounding portable Bluetooth speaker in a moderately sized frame.