Is JBL’s Small, Powerful Speaker Upgrade Worth It? The JBL Clip 3 vs Clip 4

The latest ultra-light clippable bike or backpack speaker from JBL is the JBL Clip 4, and it’s as you might expect a slight step up from the previous JBL Clip 3.

In a nutshell: A few features have been gained, a few minor features have been lost, and the sound is overall improved and slightly more powerful in the JBL Clip 4. We’ll give a quick comparison chart and then go into detail about our thoughts and the best reviewers’ takes from around the web.

Update history of this article

This was published on July 25, 2022.

Quick Take: JBL Clip 3 and JBL Clip 4 Side-by-Side

The Main Feature Differences Between the Latest JBL Clips

Both the JBL Clip 3 and JBL Clip 4 excel as rugged, tiny speakers you can clip to front backpack straps as you bike or hike through a downpour, or to a belt loop to listen to music or podcasts while gardening.

They both have easy-access front controls and a ten-hour battery life that they actually achieve in multiple reviewers’ real-world tests. The feature differences are minor, but here’s what you should know:

  • The JBL Clip 4 integrates the carabiner clip into its housing in a way that certainly seems sturdier. This also gives the clip more ample interior space to fit over larger straps, hooks, or poles. But we liked the clip on the JBL Clip 3 just fine as well.
  • The JBL Clip 4 is completely waterproof and dustproof with a rating of IP67, which is a specific and binding promise that its construction withstands certain tests without ill effects on performance. The JBL Clip 3 is rated IPX7, or the same rating without the dustproofing. In practice, both are very resistant to the elements and capable of handling rough outdoor use.
  • The JBL Clip 3 has a mini (3.5 mm) input, the kind of plug you see on consumer headphones, if you have seen wired headphones out there still. The JBL Clip 4 does not have this input and works via Bluetooth only. Most people do not use this anymore to literally wire speakers to something, so it’s not surprising to see the feature discontinued.
  • The JBL Clip 3 has a built-in mic and speakerphone feature that the JBL Clip 4 lacks. This is another feature that used to be common on Bluetooth speakers but that was rarely actually used; it’s much more convenient to take calls using the speakerphone feature on your phone itself—and this sometimes avoids lag.
  • The JBL Clip 4 charges with a USB-C cable like you find for most modern electronics;the JBL Clip 3 uses the older but quite common USB-micro standard. Both include charging cables; if you don’t already have a charging wall plug for USB-C and USB-micro, we think everyone should own a universal travel USB-C charger like we review here, which works in any country and charges anything, basically. The JBL Clips do not come with their own wall plugs.

How They Sound: The JBL Clip 3 and the Slightly More Powerful JBL Clip 4

With its Clip line of speakers, JBL has focused on getting surprising loudness and clarity out of a very small, rugged, and relatively affordable speaker. And as always with speaker design, a small physical size means there are limits; neither the JBL Clip 3 nor JBL Clip 4 offer gut-punching bass.

What they focus on instead is loud, even, effective delivery of the mids. That means that a lot of instrumental and pop vocal music sounds great in both the JBL Clip 3 and JBL Clip 4. The good audio, travel, and tech critics who listened to the JBL Clip 4 were very universal, giving it high ratings even though they are mostly clearly used to critiquing much larger and more expensive portable speakers. Back in its day, the 3 watt JBL Clip 3 was also quite enjoyed by critics, but with its slightly more-powerful 5 watt rating, the JBL Clip 4 has fared better.

The most-used words for the JBL Clip 4’s sound profile were “punchy”, “bright”, “clear”, and “accurate”; mids are able to ring out powerfully, making the speaker enjoyable in chaotic and mildly noisy settings. This is similar to the sonic profile of the JBL Clip 3, but the JBL Clip 4 has more power behind it and the performance is more even from song to song.

Should You Upgrade from the JBL Clip 3 to the JBL Clip 4?

As usual, we urge you to reduce electronic waste and not upgrade from the JBL Clip 3 to the JBL Clip 4 unless your older speaker starts experiencing problems that reduce its useability, such as no longer holding a battery charge. This happens to all portable speakers after a time. We suggest if possible waiting to upgrade until battery or other issues force you to do so.

On top of that, as noted above, the improvement in sound quality and loudness is a minor step up from the JBL Clip 3 to the JBL Clip 4 and the feature changes are hardly make-or-break for most people.

What should you do when the JBL Clip 3 doesn’t hold a charge anymore? Is it worth replacing the battery?

Here is when we think that yes, you should probably upgrade to the new JBL Clip 4.

If you’re patient and good at this sort of thing, it is possible to replace the battery and iFixit has a guide for doing so with the JBL Clip 3. Note that the replacement battery plus tool costs are currently about half the cost of upgrading to the JBL Clip 4, so at this point we would consider just upgrading and avoiding the hassle.

That doesn’t mean you should throw away a JBL Clip 3 with a useless battery however! You can use the Clip 3 indoors to fill any small space with sound as long as you have it close to an outlet. The JBL Clip 3 is IPX7 waterproof, which makes it a great bathroom and shower speaker; it will stand up just fine to the humidity.

What Other Brands Are Comparable to the JBL Clip 4? What Offers More Bass?

To most critics the similarly small, clip-on Tribit Stormbox Micro sounds just as clean and loud in the mid range as the JBL Clip 4.

I loved the Tribit Stormbox Micro too when I reviewed it. Like the JBL Clip 4 and any speaker of this size, the bass is a bit limited, but the Tribit Stormbox Micro sounds great in the mids. The clip-on design is different but just as useful (there’s an attachment band on the back), it has the same IP67 dustproof/waterproof rating, and unlike the JBL Clip 4, you can pair two Tribit Stormbox Micros together for stereo sound.

If you want more bass and volume with even delivery in a portable speaker, you’ll have have to step up a bit in size and price to the JBL Flip 5 or JBL Flip 6, or, leaving the JBL universe, to my favorite travel speaker the Ultimate Ears Boom 3.

Wrap-Up: So What’s Right for You?

We’ve seen the best prices at both Amazon as well as sometimes direct from JBL; you can check both at the moment with the links below. JBL tends to offer a wider selection of colors.

Sometimes better prices are possible by choosing different colors; check the Amazon links in particular for discounts on different color options.

JBL Clip 3
Completely waterproof, excellent loudness and midrange for listening while active and outdoors
JBL Clip 4
Completely waterproof and dustproof, a bit more powerful with the same excellent mids and a strong bass presence for its size