Sometimes something becomes so iconic and visible to the public perception that it becomes the standard for other devices to aspire to.
MP3 players had the iPod, video games had the Nintendo and now portable speakers have the cylindrical JBL Charges, Xtremes, and Flips.
Whether you are interested in mobile audio equipment or not, you have no doubt seen a myriad of JBL devices (possibly including the Charge 5). The easily maneuverable horizontal body with dual passive radiators and the fabric-covered center has started becoming synonymous with portable speakers.
To the surprise of no one, this has resulted in other companies “taking inspiration” from JBL’s superior design with their own versions of JBL products. The most notable competitor is Sony’s XB33, a speaker of very similar design and build quality.
Considering the notoriety of both companies, it is easy to see why both are so adamant about putting themself at the forefront of this emerging audio industry. To offer you an easier decision, let’s take a look at these musical monoliths to see which device is more deserving of consumer attention.
If you are in a hurry and want to know the bullet points of each speaker, this is perfect for you. We are going to cover the highlights of each product in no more than a paragraph so you can get the information you need without having to deep dive into this article.
The Sony XB33 is a very good addition to the portable speaker world and creates a good amount of concern for competing brands. This device is exceptionally cheap for what it offers at a sub-$130 price tag and comes with great battery life, exceptional power-saving features, competent audio quality, and enough additional attributes to keep you entertained for hours. To top it off, this device is as durable as anything on the market today and is likely to offer incredible longevity.
- Great price
- Long battery life
- An expansive list of useful features
- Durable and resistant to weather
- Inferior Audio
- The design hasn’t quite found its identity yet
JBL has a reputation for quality products and the Charge 5 is no exception to the rule. A bit pricier at an MSRP of ~$180, it makes up for the additional cost with more proficient audio, a subjectively better design, and several fundamentally necessary features like power bank capabilities. If you want a lower-end price for a mid-range speaker, then the JBL Charge 5 is as solid a pick as you will find.
- Exceptionally well-designed
- Resistant to weather and dust
- Great Battery
- Good Price
- More Expensive
- A smaller list of features and a clunkier mobile app
Despite the several advancements and additions to speakers in the last couple of decades, the quality of the audio is still the most important part of any device. You not only have to consider how loud a speaker is, but how good it sounds at higher volumes and how far-reaching the audio can actually project.
To determine which speaker offers more in this category, let’s take a deeper look at both.
The Sony XB33 has a problem that feels omnipresent across the smaller portable speakers – its bass is severely lacking. Even with all the marketing emphasis on its strong bass, it feels very limited which is hard to blame on Sony considering just how tiny these speakers are.
Its treble is satisfactory though admittedly a bit restrained on the vocals; the mid-range does come across quite nicely. The directivity of the audio is pretty one-directional and can feel singular in projection, which is never ideal.
Lastly, let’s take a look at the max volume of this Sony device. It’s not great and actually can be smothered by large crowds, though for a price as reasonable as the XB33 it is hard to expect Soundboks decibel levels from a 2-pound speaker that costs less than two hundred dollars.
For its price point and size, the audio is actually more than passable. If you want a speaker with more oomph, you will likely need to look for higher-end speakers that weigh a bit more.
The JBL Charge 5 does just enough to edge its competition, though these products are incredibly similar when looking at their audio capabilities. The frequency response sits at 65 Hz – 20k Hz and sounds crisper across the board. Regrettably, it comes with the small speaker curse – its bass is really hard to put emphasis on, especially towards the lower end. The audio projection is okay, though without multiple JBL speakers all audio will be played in mono.
The biggest separation between these two is likely the volume. While neither gets absurdly loud, the JBL does offer more in terms of decibels and less static at higher volumes. Because of its superior dynamics and overall audio quality, this product gets the nod, though neither is particularly brilliant in this category.
Verdict – The JBL Charge 5 is the better product in terms of sound. If you want exceptional sound quality you will need to look for more expensive and large devices.
Design & Durability
Likely the biggest test for the Sony XB33 is seeing how it can stand against the ultra-durable products of JBL.
It comes as no surprise to the informed consumer that most of these products will see some amount of damage and debris in their lifespan. What makes the difference is how your product can stand up to unforeseen rain, tipsy friends, and the occasional drop or dent.
Sony has done an excellent job making sure that its XB33 products didn’t fall short of the lofty goals set for it by JBL speakers. This miniature powerhouse offers an IP67 rating, incredible design, and materials that feel tough, secure, and high-quality. If you are worried about lugging this product around every time you want to go somewhere where music doesn’t live, your worries are unfounded.
The XB33 weighs a little more than two pounds overall and measures out to 10.39 x 4.96 x 5.35 inches. While ten inches can feel slightly bulky, it is important to remember that this speaker can be placed both horizontally and vertically. This offers quite a bit more efficiency for those who don’t have a lot of room (campers, canoers, etc).
When discussing the toughness and the visually stunning qualities of a product, it always feels like JBL gets the nudge over most speaker brands. This has nothing to do with the lack of quality put into other speakers, but the overwhelming superiority of most JBL products.
The Charge 5 is no different and comes with all the integrity of previous JBL iterations. An IP67 rating ensures protection from the elements, the materials, and protection against the exterior is as beautiful and tough as any speaker you will find today.
It is a bit smaller than its competitor overall, though neither speaker is bulky enough to warrant any genuine concern from customers. Sitting at 2.1 pounds and quietly filling up 8.7 x 3.67 x 3.76 inches of space. The JBL Charge 5 is exceptionally compact and made not just for portability but for overall comfort to whoever has to carry it.
Verdict – The JBL Charge 5 is a tad bit smaller and in the opinion of this writer, more aesthetically pleasing. This was a very close call, however, and both speakers performed exceptionally in this category.
The deflating feeling of a dying speaker is a hard thing to shake, especially if it’s the only means of music you have access to.
Because of this common problem, brands everywhere are looking to find ways to add hours to your listening time. Whether this comes in the way of a battery life that lasts throughout the day or power-saving features that aid the forgetful DJ, companies are getting very good at making two-pound speakers last the better part of your evening.
All listed battery lives vary wildly depending on how loud you are listening to music, so your own experience is likely to be slightly different.
The XB33 on the surface has a mildly better battery life at twenty-four hours, though these listed specifications are not entirely accurate on either side. Secondary tests have shown the Sony device sits closer to around 12 hours of battery life, while its competitor sits closer to 14. The XB33 comes with the ability to auto turn off after fifteen minutes of activity, which is always a nice feature to offer.
Despite the modest average battery life of this product, it should be noted that Sony specifies its 24-hour battery life under a few conditions. The volume needs to be set to 36, you need to turn on its eco or “Stamina” mode, then turn all the LED’s on the device off. While this certainly will help improve the battery life, it hasn’t been fully tested to verify if the device can in fact last a whole day.
Charge time is four hours across the board for both the XB33 and the Charge 5.
The Charge 5 sits incredibly close to its Sony doppelganger in terms of battery life. Keeping with tradition, the listed time of 20 hours of battery life seems to likely be inaccurate for most cases.
What the consumer will experience is somewhere around 14.5 hours per charge with a similar auto-turn-off feature that triggers after a period of inactivity. This again is still a fantastic battery life for most, especially considering just how light these products really are.
Verdict – The Sony XB33 offers just a bit more in terms of customization when it comes to battery life, complete with a Stamina mode to extend playtime
Features & Software
It is hard to comprehend just how intelligent technology has gotten in the last twenty years. Phones double as personal computers, sunglasses can now overlay messages directly through the lens, and portable speakers can play music like a hivemind across multiple products.
It can be hard to figure out precisely what you are getting when you purchase a tech product nowadays. To better inform you of what goes into each of these devices, let’s take a look at the accessories, apps, and attributes of each product.
Sony is without question one of the leading names in tech, and it shows in the company’s effort to jampack the XB33 with countless additional features.
You can use the power bank to charge your mobile device, it offers multispeaker functionality, a hardwired microphone, live sound mode, dual passive radiators, optional speaker layout (horizontal or vertical), Bluetooth with NFC (Near field communication, which makes short distance pairing much easier) and several LED options.
This product – like most Sony portable speakers – offers compatibility with the Sony Music Center app and Fiestable. Both of these software applications are actually fairly highly reviewed for accompanying music apps, though the Fiestable app has been known to be finicky to work with.
The Charge 5 offers far less in terms of additional features, though the ones it does bring to the table all feel necessary and thoughtful.
The best example of this fact is the JBL Partyboost which allows for multiple JBL speakers to play in tandem with one another. If that is a bit outside of your expectations, look toward its built-in power bank that allows you to play music while it charges. It comes with Bluetooth pairing, a very convenient on-speaker menu, and more with the additional JBL App.
The JBL app is by no means bad and actually stands out as one of the better speaker apps you can find today. While it offers necessary improvements like a graphic equalizer, many people have complained that the software is often too simple and archaic in its design and can be unresponsive or hard to work with.
Because of this, I would lean more towards the Sony product when considering accompanying mobile features.
Verdict – Sony crushed it with the features of the XB33 and comfortably leaves the Charge 5 behind. It offers more customization, and its mobile apps are far superior overall.
While many would pick a favorite between the two of these very capable speakers, I think it depends more on what you want from a speaker of this quality.
If you are on a limited budget and value features, software and battery life, the Sony XB33 will offer more for you.
If you can throw a bit more cash towards a speaker and want competent sound quality and exceptional design, you could do a good bit worse than the Charge 5. Regardless, both products are outstanding lower-end speakers that I would recommend to anyone in the market!