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JBL Charge 3 review: Waterproof Bluetooth speaker plays louder, but sound quality takes a step back

The JBL Charge 3 boosts volume and adds full waterproofing, but its sound quality takes a hit.

David Carnoy Executive Editor / Reviews
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 reviewer of mobile accessories and portable audio products, including headphones and speakers. He's also an e-reader and e-publishing expert as well as the author of the novels Knife Music, The Big Exit and Lucidity. All the titles are available as Kindle, iBooks, Nook e-books and audiobooks.
Expertise Mobile accessories and portable audio, including headphones, earbuds and speakers Credentials
  • Maggie Award for Best Regularly Featured Web Column/Consumer
David Carnoy
2 min read

There are a zillion wireless Bluetooth speakers you can buy these days, but three brands rise to the top of the heap: Bose, Ultimate Ears and JBL. And of those three, only JBL makes models that also double as backup batteries for phones and other USB-powered devices: the Charge line.

The Good

The JBL Charge 3 is a well-designed, fully waterproof portable Bluetooth speaker that features good battery life and doubles as an external charger for your portable devices. It also has built-in speakerphone capabilities, and plays loudly with strong bass for its size and price class.

The Bad

While it plays louder than the JBL Charge 2+ it doesn't sound as good.

The Bottom Line

The JBL Charge 3 is larger than its predecessor, fully waterproof, and plays louder -- but it should sound a little better.

The JBL Charge 3 looks similar to the highly rated JBL Charge 2+ and has the same list price of $150 and £150. In Australia, the sticker price is AU$229, but you'll be able to pick one up for under AU$200. While the Charge 2+ is water resistant, its successor model is fully waterproof, with IPX7 certification, which means it can be completely submersed in water for a short period. Like its predecessors, you can lay it flat or stand it up vertically. And, for better or worse, the new model is about 20 percent larger and heavier.

It delivers an impressive 20 hours of battery life and also has speakerphone capabilities. Using the JBL Connect app you can wirelessly link think this to other JBL Connect enabled speakers to amplify the sound and widen the soundstage.

Enlarge Image

The speaker is fully waterproof.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The big question, of course, is does this sound better than the JBL Charge 2+, which we loved at $150 and is now available for less? The short answer is no. The new model plays louder and delivers more bass, but the Charge 2+ sounds a little tighter -- and by that I mean it's a better balanced speaker with better bass definition and smoother sounding treble.

However, using this Charge 3 outside in a big open area such as a patio, its bigger sound will be an asset; it will carry further.

The bottom line is I'm not sure how much of an upgrade the Charge 3 is over the Charge 2+. It does play louder, is fully waterproof, and has strong battery life, so it has a lot going for it. But my reservations about its sound quality are a relative disappointment, given the fact is a larger and newer speaker should sound better than its predecessor.

Enlarge Image

The Charge 3 is available in multiple colors, including this blue version.

David Carnoy/CNET

It's worth noting that when JBL first released its Charge 2 speaker (the 2014 predecessor to the 2015 Charge 2+), it had some issues with its sound quality. The company quietly released a firmware upgrade after a few months that significantly improved the sound, but didn't really tell anybody about it.

It wouldn't surprise me if it did the same thing this time. If that happens, we'll update this review accordingly.


JBL Charge 3

Score Breakdown

Design 9Features 8Sound 7Value 7