JBL Charge 3 vs Charge 4: Is the Upgrade Really Better?


Newer is not always better; we’ve seen this sometimes even with JBL’s speaker designs. So we were curious to unravel the differences between the JBL Charge 3 and the newer JBL Charge 4.

First of all, let’s be honest. If you already have the JBL Charge 3, you do not need to upgrade to the Charge 4. The sound improvement is small, and a few minor features have been gained, a few lost. Let’s not contribute to unnecessary consumerism and tech waste.

But if you’re deciding between the two, there are good reasons you might choose one over the other, depending on your needs and the prices at the moment. We’ve got a side-by-side comparison and then our thoughts on how they sound below.

Update History of This Article

This article was first published on July 25, 2019.

Side-by-Side Comparison: JBL Charge 3 vs JBL Charge 4

The Differences in How JBL’s Large Road Speakers Sound

JBL did a thorough overhaul of the design of one of it’s most popular portable speakers when it upgraded from the Charge 3 to the Charge 4.

Whereas the JBL Charge 3 had two 50 mm transducers, the JBL Charge 4 now has one oval 50 x 90 mm transducer placed facing frontwards and a little bit to the right inside of the speaker.

In spite of this major design change, JBL’s goal was clearly to make a speaker that sounds nearly the same, and this is what a number of  consumer organizations and tech reviewers have reported in their takes on listening to the new version.

Overall, when compared to speakers of its similar size and price range, the JBL Charge 4 performs quite well and just a bit better than the Charge 3. The Charge 4 is energetic and lends a lot of dynamism to music across all frequencies. Such a portable speaker can’t go super deep, but the bass is there and it’s punchy. The bass on the Charge 3 was just slightly deeper, but it’s more satisfying on the Charge 4.

The balance and smoothness of the Charge 4 is a bit improved over the Charge 3. There isn’t enormous clarity in the mids but the Charge 4 does have at least a somewhat improved sense of placement and separation of instruments.

Feature Differences in the JBL Charge 3 vs Charge 4

Aside from the slight differences in how the two speakers sound as described above, there are some features lost and gained in the upgrade:

  • The JBL Charge 4 no longer has a speakerphone nor access to your phone’s Siri or Google Assistant through the speaker. The Charge 3 had both of these. Our take has long been that it’s much better to use these functions directly with your phone in any case; apparently JBL’s engineers now agree.
  • The JBL Charge 4 can be doubled up with other JBL Connect + speakers, whereas the JBL Charge 3 has only the older JBL Connect compatibility (in spite of what it says on JBL’s site at the moment, the Charge 3 does not have Connect +). Unfortunately, these two systems are not compatible (so go fart in your own face, evil JBL!). If you’d like to be able to create a bigger portable party with another JBL speaker, check whether your speaker is Connect or Connect + and get the one that matches.
  • The JBL Charge 3 uses the older micro USB plugs to charge, whereas the JBL Charge 4 uses the new USB-C standard. You probably have both types of devices already in your home so this may not make much of a difference, but it’s nice to know that the Charge 4 is a bit more future proof. Note that this does not mean that the Charge 4 actually charges faster, and that the USB charge out on both speakers (to charge your phone from the speaker) is a standard USB-A out, which you can then use with either a micro USB or USB-C cable, depending on what device you want to charge.
  • The Charge 4 is a fraction of an inch bigger in each dimension and weighs 20% more, at just over 2 lbs (just under 1 kg.).

Quick Lowdown on the Pros and Cons of the JBL Charge 3 & 4 Speakers

Pros:

  • The Charges are frequently cited as being some of the best-sounding speakers of their size and price range, especially for their evenness, fluidity, and strong bass, and for their sturdy build.
  • They’re both completely IPX7 waterproof, meaning they are rated to be dunked under one meter of water with no ill effects. This is a binding claim from JBL to meet the IP standard.
  • Both speakers allow you to charge a phone or any other USB device from the speaker’s battery. This is an incredibly useful feature in practice, especially if you’re DJ-ing a long party outside with music from your phone.
  • Both have very long battery life at 20 hours; most testers found that it came close or exceeded this in practice, depending on the volume.
  • Both have a 3.5 mm input for older devices, like an mp3 player (which can be a great alternative to providing music that leaves your phone free for calling).

Cons:

  • The newer JBL Charge 4 loses the ability to function as a speakerphone, so if this is important to you, you’ll have to settle for the older model.
  • While these are at or near the top of many critics lists, we actually slightly prefer the waterproof Ultimate Ears Boom 3 or Megaboom 3 at this size.
  • No cross compatibility between JBL’s Connect and Connect+ systems.

Wrap-Up: And the Winning Super-Loud Road Speaker Is…

Note that especially if you’re going with the JBL Charge 3, we don’t recommend buying used or refurbished Bluetooth speakers as there is no possible way to tell how many cycles the battery has already been through. (All batteries will eventually lose their ability to recharge, and how long they last varies greatly depending on conditions and use.)

Overall we recommend the JBL Charge 4 unless there happens to be a good deal at the moment on the older model. The prices listed below are updated automatically daily.

JBL Charge 3
Fantastic-sounding, even, detailed portable speaker; has speakerphone and voice assistant access
JBL Charge 4
Essentially the same sound profile but slightly improved; more sense of space with more satisfying bass; USB-C charging

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