JBL has some really nice portable party speakers, and the new Charge 5 is, as expected, pretty darn good for its price.
So let’s talk design.
The major materials used here are fabric and rubber. The bulk of the body is covered in this fabric mesh, which does feel rather resilient to scratches, although I’m certainly not going to take a knife or something to it to test it out. On the sides though, it’s covered in rubber bumpers, which is great, because if you drop the speaker, it’s most likely going to fall on either one of the sides, meaning there’s some shock absorption and protection.
On the bottom, you get some rubber feet, which helps to raise the speaker off whatever surface you’re putting it on, meaning less friction on the fabric, a pretty smart choice here. It also has the advantage of keeping the speaker upright, since it’s actually a cylinder, and without the feet, it would probably roll around on tables and such. Right under the logo, there’s a white strip that glows white when you’re charging it, although it turns off when the speaker is in use. It’s not an easy way to tell the remaining battery though, so you’ll probably want the app for that.
Behind, there’s a USB-C charging port as well as a USB-A port that can be used to charge phones and other devices that is hidden behind a rubber flap, presumably to ensure water resistance.
Inside, there’s a woofer, a tweeter and passive bass radiators on either side.
On top, you get a bunch of buttons, all with raised rubber legends. From left to right, you get a JBL PartyBoost button, a lower volume button, the power and Bluetooth buttons that light up, a raise volume button and a play/pause button that doubles up to skip tracks forward. Yeah, there’s only the option to skip forward, not to skip back. Always look forward I guess?
If you’re wondering what JBL PartyBoost is, it’s JBL’s daisy-chaining feature where you can pair their speakers with other speakers so that all of them are playing the same song. It’s pretty handy if you have a big house and you’re having a party, although most of us wouldn’t really be throwing one anytime soon. It’s really quite impressive, JBL claims you can chain up to 100 other speakers, although I doubt anybody would ever have that many. That being said, it is limited to Charge 5, Boombox 2, Flip 5 and Pulse 4, so you can’t chain Charge 4 and older speakers.
You’ll want to download the JBL Portable app for sure, since firmware updates are there, although I did notice the first firmware update took quite a while with the download and transfer taking almost half an hour. Do make sure not to exit the app while it’s in progress though, it actually ends up with the speaker disconnecting and dropping the transfer. Keep the page open while the updates are downloading to make sure everything goes smoothly. Aside from software updates, though, there’s very little else in the app, just the ability to turn off feedback tones and connect multiple speakers through PartyBoost.
The speaker runs on Bluetooth 5.1, so the connection is pretty much solid and it’s supposed to be more energy-efficient than 5.0. There was one occasion when I noticed a short pause, like two seconds, but it was just that once, so I wrote it off to some interference in my room.
JBL claims 20 hours on a full charge with the 7,500mAh battery inside, and that’s pretty decent. Unfortunately, I haven’t tried playing music for 20 hours on end, but I have gone four or five days with occasional music playing without having to charge the speaker, so yeah.
As for durability, it’s IP67 rated so it’s dust resistant and can be submerged in one metre of water for up to 30 minutes. So while the IP rating isn’t a free pass to go soaking your speaker in water, if someone accidentally splashes a drink on it or whatever, it won’t die immediately.
As for sound, well, the first thing you’ll notice is that these get really loud, which is clearly an attribute you want for a party speaker. That being said, there’s very little interference up until the 70% volume mark, and I rarely ever listened at that volume. 15% was enough to fill my room, and if I was using it for the whole house, 50% was more than enough. Vocals are particularly decent here I feel, it’s crisp and very well defined.
Bass is super juicy and impactful, no doubt thanks in part to the passive radiators. Mids, guitars and all are also clear and instruments just feel dynamic and cohesive. The treble is ever so slightly brighter than usual, which I’m a fan of.
The speaker sounds pretty good no matter where I’m listening from, it’s really able to project the audio and yeah, the sound quality is good. For US$180 or S$279, it’s a very decent option.