JBL Charge portable Bluetooth speaker review: Jolt of sound with a dash of power

I did appreciate that the Charge comes with a protective neoprene carrying case; it's nothing fancy, but it's nice. In contrast, the AC adapter that ships with the product is pretty generic looking. But at least this unit charges with a standard Micro-USB cable. That means any standard tablet charger (two amps or better -- like the one that comes with the iPad) should juice up the Charge itself; don't expect to charge it with a cell phone adapter.

Alas, as I mentioned in the intro, the Charge has no speakerphone capabilities. Some people won't care, but some might.

The back of the speaker. Sarah Tew/CNET

Performance
A lot of people are really impressed by how much sound comes out of these small speakers, and I think they will be impressed by how big and loud the Charge can play. The main thing I'm looking for in these speakers is that offer decent clarity and some punch to their bass. The Charge exhibited those qualities, but as I say with all these speakers, you can't expect incredibly rich, open sound, with room-rattling bass. Also, because the drivers are so close together, if you stand more than a few feet away from them, you get very little in the way of stereo separation, so you're essentially listening to mono sound.

All of these little speakers do best with less-demanding acoustical material (your favorite singer-songwriter will sound good), but the Charge will sound a little bit restrained with tracks that have big bass lines.

What you get in the box. Sarah Tew/CNET

What I can tell you is this does sound better (not night-and-day better, but a little improvement) than a lot of other mini Bluetooth speakers in the $80-to-$150 price range. You're going to get a somewhat more pronounced bass and bigger sound than the Flip, and so long as you don't crank the volume too much or feed it ultraheavy bass, the Charge sounds comparatively clean. It does help to put it near a wall or in the corner of a room to get some reflection -- that will improve the bass response -- but it just can't handle big bass without distorting.

I put it up against several different speakers, and in terms of size at least, it was most similar to Philips Bluetooth speakers -- the ShoqBox SB7200 and ShoqBox SB7300 -- both of which we liked. While the moderately priced Philips SB7200 is more rugged and built to withstand impacts better, the JBL offered more in the way of clarity and sounded bigger and better overall.

The speaker has only a few buttons on it. Sarah Tew/CNET

Conclusion
I look at a lot of these mini Bluetooth speakers and think that JBL has done a good job with the Flip, Micro Wireless, and the Charge reviewed here. They all perform well for speakers in their size and price classes, and the Charge is a slight step up in the sound quality and bigger step up in battery life. That it also offers a charging component is a nice extra that gives it a small but significant differentiating point. (I suspect we'll see this feature in other portable Bluetooth speakers soon enough.)

While it may not be a steal at $150, comparatively speaking, it's a reasonable deal. The only strike against it is the lack of speakerphone capabilities. But if you can live without that, it's an enthusiastic recommendation.

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Quick Specifications See All

  • Release date Mar. 7, 2013
  • Color Blue
  • Wireless Technology Bluetooth
  • Amplification Type active
  • Connectivity Technology Wireless
  • Type Portable speaker
About The Author

Executive Editor David Carnoy has been a leading member of CNET's Reviews team since 2000. He covers the gamut of gadgets and is a notable e-reader and e-publishing expert. He's also the author of the novels Knife Music and The Big Exit. Both titles are available as Kindle, iBooks, and Nook e-books.