JBL has a long history of making great Bluetooth speakers and the Charge line has always stood out for its value. Historically, the Charge series offered incredibly impressive sound for its size. Battery life has always been impressive, allowing users to use their Charge speakers as a battery bank in a pinch.
In terms of features the JBL Charge 5 is relatively basic compared to something like the JBL Pulse 4 – which provides a customizable lightshow for users – but for this fifth generation JBL has incrementally improved sound quality and volume while still offering all-day battery life.
We’ve heard every Charge speaker since the JBL Charge 2 and it’s been interesting to see the speaker line evolve from a bass monster to something more balanced and mature.
In short, the JBL Charge 5 offers only subtle changes, but add them to the speaker's legacy as a rock-solid portable Bluetooth speaker, and you've got a serious contender for one of the best Bluetooth speakers on the market.
Price and availability
The JBL Charge 5 launched in 2021 and is available now around the world for $179 / £159 / AU$229. That's actually a pretty good price considering what's on offer here, however there are more affordable portable speakers out there like the JBL Flip 5, Anker SoundCore Flare 2, and Tribit XSound Go for folks who don't want to spend as much.
The design of the JBL Charge 5 is an iteration of the cylindrical design it has had for years. The biggest visual change is the large JBL logo on the front of the speaker. On the front, the individual power LEDs have moved from the bottom base to an LED strip under the JBL logo, which looks sleeker.
Physical controls remain the same with slightly raised buttons on top of the speaker. There are buttons to control playback, volume, power, Bluetooth pairing, and “Party Boost” (more on that in the Features section).
Around the back, the JBL Charge 5 has a waterproof USB-C charging port as well as a flap hiding the USB-A port that can be used to charge up your smartphone. The Charge 5 drops support for the 3.5mm aux jack from the JBL Charge 4, which is a bummer for some who have legacy devices they want to hook up.
The Charge 5 retains the exposed bass drivers on the left and right of the speaker, which lets you see the woofers moving in and out. The drivers are protected by a lip around the speaker, but you’ll still be able to touch the drivers without damaging them.
One subtle change is that the JBL Charge 5 is shaped like a trapezoid with the sides tilting inward. This difference isn’t a big deal until you want to set the speaker up vertically, allowing the speaker to look like the Leaning Tower of Pisa. We preferred the stability of the Charge 4’s square design to allow for easier vertical placement.
In terms of technical specs, the Charge 5 includes Bluetooth 5.1, a 7500 mAh battery capacity, and a frequency response rated 65 Hz - 20k Hz. However, like other JBL portable speakers, the Charge 5 features the “PartyBoost” mode, which allows users to pair a second JBL speaker to either amplify music or use as a stereo pair.
The feature is great if you want to play music across a large area where multiple speakers can help amplify sound. It’s also nice to get true stereo playback out of a pair of speakers.
JBL offers a nice mobile app that allows you to customize its speakers and to download software updates, though it's worth noting that firmware updates can take upwards of 15 minutes.
In terms of battery life, the JBL Charge 5, like the Charge 4, is rated for 20 hours of playback, which we had no problem reaching while playing at 50% volume. If you’re pushing the speaker at higher volumes or are using it as a battery bank to top off your phone, expect that number to drop.
Overall, the sound quality of the JBL Charge 5 hasn’t changed much from the Charge 4. There’s an additional tweeter in the Charge 5 that helps with overall clarity, and bass is slightly more impactful than the Charge 4, too.
Tonally, the JBL Charge 5 sounds balanced at medium to low volume. Bass is impactful and deep, which is surprising for a speaker of this sound. We’ve heard bookshelf speakers that produce less bass than the Charge 5. Mids are clear with vocals given good presence, and highs are rolled off for a warmer presentation, until you start pushing the volume up and up.
Both the JBL Charge 5 and Charge 4 play extremely loudly and still distort at higher volumes. Distortion starts kicking in above 60% volume, resulting in harsh-sounding highs and bass stops getting louder beyond this point, leading to a bright tonal balance.
For the best sound quality, we recommend keeping the speaker around 50-60% volume – when you have to push beyond this volume, there’s likely so much ambient noise that sound quality isn’t the first priority.
Like the previous Charge speakers, the Charge 5 is directional, with its tweeters and woofers behind the front of the speaker. This means don’t expect an enveloping 360-degree sound like you would from the JBL Pulse 4.
Should I buy the JBL Charge 5?
Buy it if...
You want impressive sound quality for a small speaker
The JBL Charge 5 sounds like a bigger speaker than it is. It dishes out an impressive amount of bass for its size without sacrificing on the mids or highs.
You need to play loud
The Charge 5 gets extremely loud, especially considering its size. While the speaker sounds best around 50-60% volume, it can play extremely loudly with some distortion and brightness.
You need a battery pack
The Charge 5’s namesake is its ability to charge up your phone in a pinch. Its 20 hours of battery life means you’ll have all-day battery life, and then some to top up your phone if you’re running out of juice.
Don't buy it if...
You need to play extremely loudly
If you’re looking for max volume, you’ll need to look at bigger speakers. Physically, the Charge 5 can’t keep up with big party speakers like the JBL Xtreme 3 or PartyBox 100.
You’re looking for an affordable portable speaker
At $179.95 / £159.99 / AU$229.95, the Charge 5 is a good value for what you get but if your budget is lower, check out the JBL Flip 5, Anker SoundCore Flare 2, or Tribit XSound Go.
You want more unique features
If you want a party speaker with a light show and more, check out the JBL Pulse 4 or the Sonos Roam that offers a clever Automatic Switching feature that pushes audio to other Sonos speakers when you bring it back inside.
- Don't miss our guide to the best wireless speakers