JBL Pulse 3 vs Charge 4: Choosing Between an Impressive Light Show and Slightly Better Sound

JBL has long had the best lava-lamp-cum-speaker on the market, first with its Pulse and Pulse 2, and the latest JBL Pulse 3 is even snazzier.

But how does it actually sound? Are we better off going with the Pulse 3’s sister speaker, the similarly sized JBL Charge 4?

We’ve got a side-by-side comparison table of the two, and we’ve done a thorough meta-analysis of all major critics and consumer organizations that we’ll discuss below that.

Update History of This Article

This article was first published on August 12, 2019.

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

JBL Charge 4JBL Pulse 3
Our take in a nutshell • Directional speaker with wide soundstage and good clarity, excellent, potent bass for a speaker of its size
• Goes loud enough to fill a large room or small outdoor gathering without straining
• Updated to USB-C charging (latest standard used with most new phones)
• Flashy, customizable, lava-lamp-like light show is the main selling point, it responds to the music in various ways and designs can be customized via the app; one can even take photos and have those colors load into the light show
• 360-degree sound, can be placed in the middle of a room
• Sounds smooth and slightly bass forward in small and medium sized rooms, energetic vocals
• Both light and sound can be synchronized between two of them
Interface • Bluetooth pairing
• Volume up/down
• Power
• Connect+ button (for pairing multiple JBL Connect+ speakers)
• Play/pause
• Bluetooth pairing
• Volume up/down
• Power
• Connect+ button (for pairing multiple JBL Connect speakers)
• Play/pause/answer calls/voice assistant
Notes • One 50 x 90 mm oval transducer
• Available in a range of solid colors as well as camouflage
• Three 40 mm transducers
• Produces a 360-degree, customizable light show that responds to the music
Connectivity • Bluetooth v4.2
• One USB output for charging other devices
• A mini 3.5mm (typical headphone) stereo input for playing music from older devices
• Charges via USB-C cable (USB-A to USB-C cable included, but you need your own wall outlet to USB converter like this if you don't have one)
• Bluetooth v4.2
• A mini 3.5mm (typical headphone) stereo input for playing music from older devices
• Charges via Micro USB-B cable and adapter (included)
Frequency range 60Hz - 20kHz 65Hz - 20kHz
Output power 30 W 20 W
Battery life (advertised) 20 hours / takes 5.5 hours to fully charge up; can charge a phone or other device off of the speaker's battery; auto power-off saves battery when not in use 12 hours / takes 4.5 hours to fully charge up
Speakerphone No Yes
Voice assistant No Yes; access your phone's Google Assistant or Siri Now through the speaker
Pair multiple units Yes; connect multiple (100+!) JBL speakers as long as they are labeled JBL Connect + Yes; connect multiple (100+!) JBL speakers as long as they are labeled JBL Connect+
Waterproof? Completely waterproof; can be submerged for up to 30 minutes (IPX7) Completely waterproof; can be submerged (IPX7)
Length (in.) 8.7 8.8
Height (in.) 3.7 3.6
Depth (in.) 3.6 3.6
Length (cm.) 22 22.3
Height (cm.) 9.5 9.2
Depth (cm.) 9.4 9.2
Weight (kg.) 0.960 0.96
Weight (lbs.) 2.1 2.11
Check latest pricesAmazon
Amazon pricing (updated daily) from $109.95 $199.99

One Is Flashy, One Is Svelte, But How Do They Sound?

While the JBL Pulse 3 and Charge 4 are similarly sized speakers with the same brand name and same basic control interface buttons, JBL didn’t just slap a light show on one of them and call it a day. Their innards are quite different, and that affects their sound.

The JBL Charge 4 is the first in the series of Charge speakers to have a single transducer; the oval 50 x 90 mm faces front and is placed a little bit to the right inside of the speaker.

This means a sound for the JBL Charge 4 that is directional, and in spite of the small size there is a decent sense of soundstage and placement of instruments. Consumer organizations and critics who reviewed the speaker were in general agreement that the bass was impressive for a speaker of its size, and while it obviously can’t go as deep as a full subwoofer or larger speaker, there is quite a bit of punchiness there. That dynamism continued across all frequencies and there is a good sense of smoothness. It can also go quite loud and animate a large room or smaller outdoor gathering with no problem, and without straining.

The JBL Charge 4 sounds best from the front and creates more of a soundstage. The Pulse 3 can be placed in the middle of a room and sound equally good from any direction, filling a space with immersive sound.

The JBL Pulse 3 is different in that it has three 40 mm transducers that help it produce 360-degree sound; you can place it in the middle of the room and it will sound good from any angle. This means there may not be as much of a soundstage as the Charge 4, which is directional and is better placed in a corner or end of a room and listened to from the front.

The top audio critics and consumer organizations were also generally enthusiastic about the JBL Pulse 3’s sound, just not quite as much. Most felt that there was a strong and satisfying bass performance on tracks that required it, though even a bit too emphasized for some. Smoothness is there, but it’s a bit less even across the frequencies than the JBL Charge 4.

Feature Differences in the JBL Pulse 3 vs Charge 4

The main feature difference to understand is the JBL Pulse 3’s light show. It’s a bit hard to understand the appeal of YouTube videos of speakers (none of their performance differences will be apparent when played through your laptop or computer speakers), but if there ever was a good case for a video review of a speaker it’s the JBL Pulse 3’s light show. The always-savvy Jim’s Review Room does a great job showing this:

Note that the lights and sound can be synced between two JBL Pulse 3s with the app, creating a synced light show and louder and fuller listening experience.

There are other feature differences to be aware of. While the Charge 4 is the newer speaker, JBL has actually taken away some features of note, as well as made some additions.

  • The Charge 4 has the newer USB-C charging, whereas the Pulse 3 uses micro-USB.
  • The Charge 4 has a USB-out jack for charging your phone or other devices off of the speaker; this can be incredibly useful if you’re outside and away from power sources.
  • The Charge 4 can play music from older, non-Bluetooth devices via its mini-in jack. The Pulse 3 cannot.
  • The Charge 4 has much longer battery life at 20 hours and could go nearly that long in tests, whereas the Pulse 3 is rated at 12 hours and could go 7-10 hours depending on volume and if the light show is on. Turning the lights off significantly extends the battery life.
  • The Pulse 3 has a speakerphone and allows you to access your phone’s Siri or Google Assistant through your phone; the Charge 4 has lost these features. We think they actually get limited real-world use, since you’re more likely to just do the same directly on your phone.
  • While both speakers are completely waterproof, the JBL Charge 4 doesn’t have the glass covering and may well stand up better to bumps and abuse.

Both speakers are almost exactly the same size and weight. They’re a bit big for portable Bluetooth speakers, if you’re looking for something more portable check out our recommended Bluetooth speaker for travel.

The Best Portable Speaker for Getting High on Marijuana and Using Psychedelics Is Obviously…

The JBL Pulse 3 is without a doubt the speaker to get if you enjoy the wacky tabacky, as my old man calls it.

JBL is unsurprisingly not so up front about this, but the JBL Pulse 3 is the stoner’s speaker par excellence. It’s also a quite obvious speaker choice to go with mushroom and LSD trips.

As we’ve noted above, the Pulse 3 excellent for filling a small to mid-sized room with immersive sound. And it is meant to be placed in the center of the circle (as the joint is passed) and sound great no matter where you are sitting.

But above all, this is a modern take on the lava lamp, with an unbroken 360-degree light show. And unlike the analogue version, this LED marvel:

  • Responds to the music, particularly to rhythm
  • Can be programmed and customized, you can set different patterns and combinations of patterns
  • You can add colors by taking a picture of the color you want with your phone
  • Two JBL Pulse 3s can be synced to play the same light show

So it’s an excellent piece to decorate an inside space such as a bedroom, lounge, dorm room, or small to mid-sized living room, and could easily serve as a permanent home speaker. But you can also take it outside and expect the battery to last much longer than your high.

The drawbacks to the JBL Pulse 3 from a stoner’s perspective:

  • It tends to gather fingerprints
  • The glass may be more likely to break than the hardier exterior of the JBL Charge 4 (though in browsing through the hundred-some Amazon reviews I have surprisingly not yet seen reports of the Pulse 3 cracking)

Wrap-Up: And the Right Portable JBL Speaker for You Is…

Note that in both cases we don’t recommend going with refurbished speakers as you are unable to verify how many cycles the battery has already been through, and you may get a speaker whose battery will give out after a small number of charges. (The exception to this is if you just want a small home speaker and you’re willing to always have it plugged in; then refurbished is fine and can save some bucks.)

To get the best prices, do click through to Amazon and try the different color options, some may be steeply discounted at a particular moment and cheaper than what shows on here (these prices are updated daily, but only for one color).

JBL Pulse 3
The best speaker-cum-conversation-piece, an excellent speaker for tripping balls, even performance across all frequencies and good, somewhat emphasized bass for a speaker of its size
JBL Charge 4
Somewhat better directional sound, more sense of space with more satisfying bass; USB-C charging

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