The $130 Charge 2 offers strong battery life and bass while doubling as a mobile charger for your cell phone. But how good does it sound?
A couple of years ago, the JBL Charge stood out among its portable Bluetooth peers for offering strong sound and significantly better battery life in a compact, durable package that included speakerphone capabilities.
Its sequel, the Charge 2 ($130, £99, not available in Australia), is in some ways a better speaker, particularly in the design department, but in the meantime a lot more Bluetooth speakers have hit the market.
Like its predecessor, the Charge 2 has the added benefit of being able to double as an external battery charger for your portable devices (thus the name "Charge"). And while it plays loud and serves up a good helping of bass, its sound isn't quite what I'd hope it would be. It's good, just not great for this type of speaker.
The Charge 2 retains the cylindrical design of the original Charge, and you can lay it down horizontally or stand it up vertically. The new model charges via Micro-USB and has a built-in 6,000mAh battery for 12 hours of playback (or charging your portable devices or both). The Charge 2's little brother, the JBL Flip 2 , has a similar design, but it's a bit more compact and its battery isn't as long-lasting.
As noted, there's a built-in speakerphone -- it works well so long as you stay within about 5 to 10 feet of the microphone -- and a "social sharing mode" that allows multiple users to connect to speaker with their devices and play tracks alternately. (Sol Republic's Deck speaker offers this feature as well.)
I had no problem pairing both an iPhone 5S and Samsung Galaxy S5 with the speaker and re-pairing was automatic when I turned the speaker back on (there's a dedicated Bluetooth button on the speaker to enable pairing if you get disconnected). Range is the usual 33 feet/10m, and I managed to hold a steady connection with minimal dropouts so long as I stayed within that range.
Unlike the original Charge, this model doesn't come with a carrying case. It's a pretty durable speaker but it's not water-resistant and some people may want to find a pouch for some added protection when traveling with it.
As I said, the Charge 2 plays loud, and it sounds quite good with some material. When you're playing music through it, you can literally see the bass ports on each side of the speaker moving as air passes through them. At first, I was impressed with the amount of bass it produced, but the quality of the bass fell short at times.
The problem for me was that the sound was uneven and varied from track to track. It also distorted with heavier bass tracks and didn't handle complicated songs well (ones with a lot of instruments are playing at once). The Bleachers' "Wild Heart" is a challenge for a lot of these little speakers and the Charge 2 also had a hard time with it.
I compared it with the Bose SoundLink Color. The JBL has bigger bass, but it lacks clarity compared with the SoundLink Color, which is stronger in the midrange and treble. However, the JBL does deliver better battery life, and the Bose can't juice up your gadgets.
As far as the Flip 2 vs. the Charge goes, I'd actually give the nod to the $100 Flip 2 only because the sound holds together better overall (it doesn't have as much bass, but the Flip 2 sounds a little smoother).
I like the JBL Charge 2. Overall, it's a well-designed speaker with long battery life and a USB charging option for portable devices, and it plays loud and sounds very good with some material. In the end, however, it's held back a bit by its inability to offer smoother sound with more demanding tracks and those with heavier bass. I don't expect the world from these little speakers, but to get an excellent rating in performance, they really do have to keep the distortion down to a minimum.