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

JBL has released a new speaker; for the latest, see our comparison of the new JBL Pulse 4 vs Charge 4.

But if you want to know about the previous JBL Pulse 3 and how it compares to the Charge 4, you can certainly read on…

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. Updated to point to the new JBL Pulse 4 article on Oct. 7, 2019.

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

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.

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