The JBL Charge 4 is a good speaker that fills a very specific niche: a long weekend trip car camping or to a remote cabin with a large group of people. In that instance, the waterproofing and rugged build let you toss it around the campsite with reckless abandon, the almost ridiculous battery life (we got 34 hours of playback on a single charge) provides at least a few nights worth of music, and the large size allows for enough volume to keep a dozen or more people dancing around the campfire. However, though the Charge 4 sounds reasonably good and isn't absurdly large and heavy, if you place more of a premium on sound quality or/and portability, there are much better options available.
JBL Charge 4 Review
Pros: Loud, long battery life, waterproof
Cons: Large and heavy
Compare to Similar Products
Our Analysis and Test Results
The JBL Charge 4 is large, loud, and durable. That combination is perfect for certain situations, but not ones where you'll be carrying your speaker longer distances.
The JBL Charge 4's sound hits that minimal bar for entry where it's melodious enough that you're really not going to notice any shortcomings unless you're really looking for them. Basically, unless you're an audiophile that is willing to pay extra for the best possible portable music experience, the Charge 4 is quite likely to pass muster.
The Charge 4's bass is actually a bit weakened compared to previous iterations of the speaker, but in most cases that's actually a good thing. Where older versions tended to have a very bottom-heavy, overpowered kind of sound to them, the Charge 4's sound palette feels a bit more balanced. This may be disappointing if your main goal is to get people dancing, but in most circumstances it makes for a better overall listening experience.
This speaker is also impressively clear. That clarity doesn't come through so much in heavier, more aggressive songs, where even the more nuanced bass can make things feel a bit muddled. But in acoustic numbers or when listening to podcasts there is a sharp edge to the sound that makes everything sound a bit more lively.
There's no getting around the fact that the Charge 4 is heavy. We measured it at just a smidge over 2 pounds, making it one of the heaviest speakers of the group. That may not sound like a lot, but that's almost as much as a Nalgene bottle full of water weighs, and think about how much lighter your backpack feels after drinking all that water.
This speaker is also quite large, measuring in at nearly 9 inches by 4 inches. This, combined with rough edges on the ends of the speaker, make it somewhat unfriendly towards fitting in crowded bags or backpacks.
The one positive portability note for this speaker is its IPX7 waterproof rating. This means it can handle full submersion in a meter of water for 30 minutes, and can easily shake off any spilled beverages you throw at it.
This is where the Charge 4's large size starts to pay dividends. It is one of the loudest portable speakers we've tested. It was able to easily fill our large testing apartment with sound, even when we packed in over a dozen, sound-absorbing people. It has plenty of power to keep people dancing into the night. We would just suggest you never crank it up to its absolute maximum volume setting. At that point it started to sound a bit overblown and like it was straining, but drop it down just one click and it settles into a more comfortable (and still impressively loud) sound.
The Charge 4 was a champion in our battery life test. It bested its manufacturer spec of 20 hour by more than 50%, pumping music into our office for a full 34.5 hours on a single charge.
This new iteration of the speaker also offers a USB charging port, so you can use it's battery to top off your phone if the need arises. It only takes standard USB charging cables, however, not USB-C.
The Charge 4 certainly isn't cheap, but isn't the most expensive speaker out there either. If its combination of ruggedness, battery life, and loudness suit your needs, it's a worthwhile purchase. However, if you're looking for the best possible sound quality, or something that is very portable, there are definitely better ways to spend your money.
If you need a loud speaker that can last all night and won't skip a beat if it gets spilled on or dropped in the dirt, the JBL Charge 4 fits the bill. Just don't expect absolute top-tier sound, nor a particularly portable design.
— Max Mutter and Michelle Powell