JBL Charge 5, JBL Flip 6, and Bose SoundLink Flex are all 2021 releases from top-notch portable speaker manufacturers.
Because the devices are similar in size, performance, and price, it makes sense that potential buyers will want to compare the three speakers before making a purchase decision.
JBL Flip 6 is the newest (November 2021) of the speakers, and also the cheapest, with an MSRP of ~$130.
Bose SoundLink Flex was released in October 2021, and has an MSRP of ~$20 more than Flip 6 and ~ $30 less than Charge 5.
JBL Charge 5 is the “oldest” of the devices, having been released in April 2021. It is also the most expensive, with an MSRP of ~$180.
All three speakers are waterproof, portable, and have excellent sound quality.
Although Charge 5 is the largest and most expensive speaker on the list, it justifies the size and price with the highest volume output and strongest bass. Charge 5 also wins for best battery life, and includes a power bank feature to charge phones and other devices.
SoundLink Flex has the least impressive design, but arguably the most impressive sound quality, especially considering the price.
Flip 6 is the cheapest, most portable, and has great sound, especially for the price.
In the $100-$200 bluetooth speaker range, each of these products is a strong buy. The decision mainly comes down to whether you value portability, maximum output, or the Bose signature sound.
Comparing sound is always subjective, but these three speakers make things extremely challenging.
Charge 5 has the most volume and bass. SoundLink Flex brings more volume and bass than Flip 6 but less than Charge 5.
In terms of sound quality, all three speakers are close enough that it is a matter of personal preference.
Most users think the SoundLink Flex outperforms the Flip 6, but to my ear, the balanced profile of the Flip 6 is competitive with SoundLink Flex. Both SoundLink Flex and Flip 6 have minimal distortion and good clarity at mid- and high-ranges, without exaggerated bass.
Charge 5 packs the most bass and overall power, but it feels more like a party speaker in its sound profile. By this, I mean that bass can be overpowering at times, enough to partially drown out the clarity of the mids. However, even though it is a low-heavy sound profile, the excellent quality of the speaker means that you get booming low notes rather than a cheap subwoofer rattle.
The SoundLink Flex has, arguably, the best soundstage and clarity of the three speakers. Even though it doesn’t get as loud as Charge 5, it has a balanced profile that will be preferable to many listeners. So, you could say that SoundLink Flex is more powerful than Flip 6 while being more clear and authentic than Charge 5. In other words, SoundLink Flex may be the perfect happy medium.
As you can surely figure by now, there is no clear winner in this category. Further complicating the matter is the fact that, of the three, only Flip 6 has an adjustable equalizer. So, if you want to customize the sound, only Flip 6 gives you the ability to do so. The silver lining is that Charge 5 and SoundLink Flex both sound so great out of the box that customization may not be necessary.
The bottom line, in terms of sound quality, is this:
- If you want the most powerful speaker with booming bass, choose the Charge 5.
- If you want a crisp, clear speaker with an authentic sound profile, either the SoundLink Flex or Flip 6 is a good choice. But most users agree that SoundLink Flex outperforms Flip 6 in terms of audio.
- And if you want a quality speaker that gives you an adjustable EQ, choose the Flip 6.
The size of the speakers generally matches up with their prices, as well as the audio performance.
Flip 6, which has the lowest MSRP of the group, is also the smallest and most portable.
SoundLink Flex (which is priced in between Flip 6 and Charge 5) is slightly larger than Flip 6, but feels noticeably larger due to its rectangular, rather than cylindrical, design.
Charge 5 is the most expensive, largest, and heaviest of the three. However, even though it is the largest and heaviest, it is still small and light enough to be easily carried with just one hand. Charge 5 is less than 9” in length, less than 4” in diameter, and weighs just over 2 pounds.
In terms of cosmetics, Flip 6 and Charge 5 outperform SoundLink Flex by a wide margin. The redesigned JBL speakers have a stylish, cylindrical design with the JBL logo nicely incorporated into the face of the speaker.
SoundLink Flex, on the other hand, has a narrow rectangular design that looks like a fanny pack, complete with a “utility loop” on one end which allows you to hang the speaker from a clip. The speaker can’t stand on its end – only horizontally or if it is clipped on the utility loop. The design is simple and ugly, with no visual interest other than a Bose logo toward the top of the device.
Although SoundLink Flex lacks in cosmetics, the coating on the body and grill feels high-end and is easy to grip. The speaker feels sturdy and well-built.
Flip 6 and Charge 5 both come in 5+ different colors, with more design options likely to be added to the lineup in the coming months and years. SoundLink Flex has only 3 color choices, and it remains to be seen whether or not Bose will give us more color options.
From a functional standpoint, the Flip 6 and Charge 5 are similarly designed due to the fact that both are JBL products. The buttons are large and tactile, and function well. Even though the buttons lack backlighting, the raised shapes on the buttons allow you to locate each button without seeing the icon.
Controls on SoundLink Flex function well, but are basic and less impressive than either the Charge 5 or Flip 6.
None of the three devices have a 3.5 mm aux hack.
Only SoundLink Flex has a built-in microphone. And unlike most bluetooth speakers we have tested, the microphone quality on SoundLink Flex is actually impressive. So, it should work well for speakerphone and voice assistant function.
Charge 5 scores points for being the only device on the list with a power bank feature. This allows you to use the speaker to charge a cell phone or other device.
Flip 6 adds some portability with a carrying strap, while SoundLink Flex has a utility loop that can be used with a clip or hook.
SoundLink Flex loses points for utilizing Bluetooth 4.2, whereas Charge 5 and Flip 6 both have the newer Bluetooth 5.1.
All three speakers tested are IP67 rated, meaning they withstand both water and dust.
Charge 5 is probably the least durable to drops, due to its heavier weight. And SoundLink Flex is probably the most durable, due to its higher build quality.
Though we didn’t test the durability to any significant degree, all of these speakers should hold up well to wear and tear. The waterproof rating makes us feel comfortable with their durability, as do the JBL and Bose brands.
If you trust Bose and JBL marketing materials, the Flip 6 and SoundLink Flex both last up to 12 hours on a charge, and Charge 5 lasts up to 20 hours.
In testing at volumes near 80%, Flip 6 lasts for roughly 6 hours, SoundLink Flex lasts for 8 hours, and Charge 5 lasts over 10 hours.
Keep in mind, too, that 80% volume on the Charge 5 is much louder than Flip 6 or SoundLink Flex. So, in an apples-to-apples comparison at the same volume, Charge 5 will get 12+ hours on a charge while SoundLink Flex gets 8 hours and Flip 6 gets only 6.
In addition, Charge 5 adds value with the power bank feature.
All three devices use USB-C charging rather than microUSB.
Neither JBL nor Bose has perfect software, but Bose is the clear winner here.
Bose software is more reliable, and the Bose Connect app functions better than the JBL Portable app. And we give Bose credit for not only including a built-in mic, but including a high quality built-in mic.
JBL pairing tests better than Bose, with fewer failed connections and less lag time. JBL’s party mode (PartyBoost) also functions better than Bose, even though we dislike that PartyBoost lacks compatibility with the older, Connect+ party mode.
JBL also scores points with the Flip 6, which is the only speaker on this list with an adjustable EQ.
Although both apps are simple, it is nice that all three of these speakers can be used without connecting to the app. Some newer products lock a lot of functionality inside the app, but you can use your SoundLink Flex, Charge 5, or Flip 6 without ever even installing the JBL Portable or Bose Connect app.
SoundLink Flex features “Position IQ,” which Bose claims will detect the position of your speaker and adjust sound output to optimize sound quality. Most reputable reviewers have concluded that this is largely a marketing ploy. Although the speaker can adjust sound slightly based on the speaker orientation, there is no detection system on SoundLink Flex that allows the speaker to “read” the room or modify output based on its surroundings. Nonetheless, the speaker does test well in any orientation, so we can’t totally discredit Position IQ.
Ultimately, if you are looking for ease-of-use, any of these apps work pretty well. But if you are looking for feature density and the ability to customize your speaker, you will likely be disappointed.
Flip 6 and Charge 5 both have Bluetooth 5.1, while SoundLink Flex was surprisingly released with Bluetooth 4.2. This isn’t a huge issue, but it is still baffling that a late-2021 Bose speaker features the dated Bluetooth 4.2.
Charge 5 is the largest and most powerful of the three speakers.
Flip 6 is the most portable and also the cheapest, but doesn’t bring quite the volume or sound quality of the other two options.
SoundLink Flex gives you the Bose signature sound in a well-built, portable device.
All three speakers can be found for less than $200 and provide excellent sound quality, portability, and durability. Any of these speakers are a strong buy, you just need to decide whether you want portability, maximum output, or Bose signature sound.