Tech Review: JBL Charge 3 Portable Speaker (JBL, 2017) is a noisy, robustly-designed speaker for noisy, robust people

The number of bluetooth speakers on electronics store shelves today sits somewhere between Too Many and Possibly Infinite, and the audio and build quality of each varies just as wildly. As a result, when genuinely good speakers do appear, they tend to stand out. Of these speakers that sound great — your Bose’s, your B&O’s, and your JBL’s — there’s only one company with a model that will also charge your phone for you, cop a drenching AND keep on ticking. That’s JBL and their Charge series.
With their Charge 2+ device, JBL appear to have landed on a number of design bullet points they like because the Charge 3 is identical in a few respects to its predecessor. There are changes, however — the Charge 2+ was only water resistant while the Charge 3 has an IPX7 certification meaning that it is entirely waterproof. Don’t take that to mean that you should strap it to your surfboard or anything, however. IPX7 means that if you’re having a barbeque and your clusmy mate Baz accidentally knocks your Charge 3 into the pool, it will survive while fully immersed for more than long enough for you to come to its rescue. Another area where things have changed is that, while the Charge 3 looks very much like the Charge 2+ right down to the colour, it is a good deal larger and heavier than any of its predecessors.

This extra room in the chassis allows the storage of a battery capable of a 20 hour charge and, if you’re using the JBL Connect app, you can link it up with other app-compatible JBL speakers and expand the listening range.

In saying this, you might think that means the sound on the JBL Charge 3 isn’t up to snuff but that couldn’t be further from the truth. This thing is clearly built for long, loud outdoor play. Large, open areas, especially during  a party or gathering, devour sound quickly, making it hard to hear anything over the background chatter. The Charge 3 plants its heavy feet and demands to be heard.

But does it sound better than the Charge 2+? Does it constitute a generational leap in audio quality? The short answer, disappointingly, is no. Not quite. The JBL Charge 2+ has a better overall approach to sound balance in my opinion. This is not to say that the Charge 3 doesn’t produce a great sound, it does, but its forebear better managed its bass response and the treble sat in my own personal aural sweet spot.

On the other hand, I also owned the original JBL Charge speaker from 2013 and the Charge 3 blows that little guy out of the water (water it would not have survived in because the original Charge was not waterproof).

It’s possible I’m being an overly particular audio snob. I set the JBL Charge 3 up at a birthday gathering and it passed the party test with flying colours. It blared most of the night, and continued at a lower but still very clear volume once it got too late to continue blasting it, barely made a dent in its battery and was utterly compliant when pairing new devices. In terms of ease-of-use, you really can’t ask for more than that.

As a whole, the JBL Charge 3 certainly does a lot of things right. It’s a noisy, robustly designed speaker for noisy, robust people. Audiophiles may grimace at the looser sound balance compared to earlier models but for most, as they turn it up and party on, those changes won’t even register a blip on the radar.

Score: 7.5 out of 10
Highlights: Bloody loud; Epic battery life; IPX7 waterproof
Lowlights: JBL Charge 2+ sounded better; may be too bulky for some
Manufacturer: JBL
RRP: $229 AUD
Available: Now