The JBL Charge 5 features marginally improved sound quality, and adds a few updates to the well-regarded JBL Charge 4. There are some minor design changes that slightly improve upon the Charge 4, like added rubber on the base for traction, a dust-proof design, and an oversized logo that looks better with the esthetic of the speaker.
On the other hand, by “upgrading” from the Charge 4 to the Charge 5, you pay more and also lose the aux jack. And some of the complaints about the Charge 4 (like the device lacking a built-in microphone, and the app not offering an equalizer) are unchanged with the new version.
Continue reading for a detailed discussion of both the JBL Charge 4 and JBL Charge 5 — two of our favorite bluetooth speakers overall.
Most users agree that there is a slight sound improvement with the Charge 5. The Charge 4 rated very high for sound quality, especially among speakers in its price range. With the Charge 5, you get a little more crispness, clearer treble, and less distortion at high volumes.
Output power on the Charge 5 is 40 watts, versus 30 watts on the Charge 4. The Charge 5 does provide more volume, but only slightly. This will only be noticeable in a side-by-side test.
Overall, the sound quality is excellent on both the Charge 4 and the Charge 5. If one speaker meets your expectations for sound quality, so will the other. But in a true side-by-side comparison, the Charge 5 wins by a small margin.
[JBL Charge 5 pictured above]
[JBL Charge 4 pictured above]
The design is modified on the Charge 5, but whether these changes are improvements just depends on personal preference. The size of the Charge 5 is essentially the same as that of the Charge 4. The spec sheets will show minor differences, but you won’t notice or feel that one is larger or smaller than the other.
The biggest change in design is that Charge 4 has an auxiliary jack, which has been removed on the Charge 5. I do understand that it is 2021, and Bluetooth has far surpassed aux cables in terms of connecting devices. However, my gripe here is that the aux port was removed, but there is no real improvement or addition to justify the change. It seems like there should be some new feature, port, increased battery size, or something to compensate for the loss of the aux port.
Charge 5 has an oversized logo that is integrated into the speaker design. On Charge 4, the logo is smaller and looks more like a sticker that is slapped on the front of the speaker.
The Charge 5 is slightly more kidney bean shaped than the cylindrical Charge 4. And instead of the five battery status lights (on the Charge 4), there is now just one status light that fades in intensity as the battery drains.
None of these changes really adds much, just a slightly new twist on the Charge 4 design. And at this time, the Charge 4 has more color options.
As was the case with Charge 4, the Charge 5 lacks a built-in microphone (for phone calls, voice commands, etc.). And even though these speakers are “portable” and marketed as such, the footprint is still bulky and feels less portable than other portable bluetooth speakers.
There is some added rubber in a few places on the Charge 5, which theoretically improves the drop-protection on the device. But this probably doesn’t make much of a difference.
However, the wider rubber ridges on the base of the Charge 5 should improve the grip of the base, which improves stability and minimizes the number of drops. This change increases the expected durability of the Charge 5, but again is more of a baby step than a game-changer.
While Charge 4 is water-proof (IPX7), Charge 5 also adds the dust-proof label with an IP67 rating. More than anything, this is a formality. Charge 4 is a durable device, and there really aren’t any reports of the Charge 4 being vulnerable to dust, dirt, or sand. But obviously a higher rating is a good thing, and it does speak to the improved durability of Charge 5.
Perhaps this article sounds like a broken record, but here goes — Charge 5 is a slight improvement on Charge 4 for durability, but not a massive upgrade.
The battery size and life is the same on the Charge 5 as the Charge 4. Both have a 7,500 mAh battery that is rated for 20 hours of play time and can charge phones and other devices.
As is the case with Charge 4, the Charge 5 underperforms on the 20 hour battery life expectation. This underperformance is typical for most Bluetooth speakers we have tested.
The 20 hour rating is surely based on low listening volumes, because our tests yielded battery life of approximately 10 hours (for both Charge 4 and Charge 5). However, this is with the volume above 50%. If you push the volume towards the limit, you should still get 5+ hours on either device. And if you are content to listen with the volume at 30%, the device should last for 12+ hours.
Because Charge 5 uses Bluetooth 5.1 while Charge 4 uses Bluetooth 4.2 (more on this below), the Charge 5 battery should theoretically last longer than Charge 4. This is due to the lower power consumption of Bluetooth 5.1. In our testing, there was no significant difference observed in battery life.
(*In full disclosure, we lack the staff and budget to run a full-fledged test lab. Instead, we purchase one of each product and compare. We would love to see a test using dozens of speakers, to account for individual differences, that reveals the true average battery life for these products.)
We love that JBL kept the ability to charge phones and other devices with the Charge 5. This is a great feature that differentiates the Charge from other comparable speakers.
The only real change between the Charge 4 and Charge 5, as was mentioned above, is the battery indicator light. The Charge 4 has a series of lights, and the lights turn off like a status bar as the battery level drops. The Charge 5 has a single light that glows brighter when the device is fully charged, and fades dimmer as the battery level gets lower. This change is not really an upgrade or downgrade, but just depends on your personal preference. However, some users have complained that the status light on the Charge 5 is too bright, and can be distracting when the speaker is in a dark location.
There are two software changes of significance between the Charge 4 and 5.
First, Bluetooth 4.2 on the Charge 4 has been replaced with Bluetooth 5.1 on the Charge 5. Bluetooth 5.1 is faster, with longer connectivity range and lower power consumption.
The other software change is that Charge 5 features PartyBoost for connecting multiple speakers, whereas Charge 4 uses Connect+. PartyBoost is the updated, new version of Connect+. Performance is improved, and you can now use more speakers in tandem (for example, you could link 20 Charge 5 speakers and have them all play the same song).
The frustrating change with PartyBoost on the Charge 5 is that it isn’t compatible with Connect+. That means that if you have an older JBL speaker (like a Charge 4) and buy a Charge 5, you won’t be able to connect them and use them together. For many users, this won’t have any impact. But it is frustrating to us JBL loyalists that already have a Charge 4, a Flip 4, and other previous-generation JBL Bluetooth speakers.
We have written previously about the issues with the JBL app. Unfortunately, these problems are not solved with the Charge 5. The device is still missing an equalizer, so the sound of the speaker cannot be adjusted except for changing volume.
If you have any use for an auxiliary cord, stick with the Charge 4 since Charge 5 has eliminated the aux input.
Neither device is perfect. The app is unimpressive and lacks an equalizer, and there are sub-$200 speakers that provide equal or better sound.
But, all things considered, this is still one of our absolute favorite bluetooth speakers. Although you can always find a device to top the JBL Charge 4 or 5 in a particular category, the Charge scores high marks for nearly everything. For an all-around, waterproof portable speaker with great sound quality, we wholeheartedly recommend either the Charge 4 or Charge 5.