Update as of December 2021: Note that these speakers have been replaced by newer models; see our comparison of the JBL Flip 5 vs. Flip 6 for more, as well as our comparison of the larger JBL Charge 4 and Charge 5. The broad differences between these speaker lines remain the same however, and the older models are still available and sometimes at quite a good price at the links in the table below.
JBL currently has three mid-sized cylindrical speakers that sound great: the Pulse 4, Flip 5, and Charge 4. Those names aren’t all that evocative of actual speaker features, so it can be a bit confusing to decide between them. Thus we’ve put together this quick guide to their contrasts, advantages, and disadvantages.
They’re all excellent speakers; JBL tends to produce evenly balanced rugged portable Bluetooth speakers that have held up well over the years. The Pulse, Flip and Charge are the mid-sized options, so if you want either even more portable or more booming, check out our reviews of the full range of larger (boombox) and tiny JBL speakers. This page is devoted to mid-sized speakers you can take anywhere, but that still deliver enough sound to fill a room.
First we have a quick side-by-side comparison of the latest models of these, the most popular portable JBL speakers. Further down we give our take and even a roundup of takes from the internet’s lesser websites.
But if you’re in a hurry: while all three deliver even, powerful, immersive sound, if you’re looking for the best-sounding of these three, it’s the JBL Charge 4.
Update History of This Article
Side-by-Side Comparison: JBL Pulse 4 vs JBL Flip 5 vs JBL Charge 4
The Differences in How JBL’s Mid-Sized Speakers Sound
The JBL Charge 4 is the granddaddy of these three fresh speakers; it was released aaaaaalllll the way back in October of 2018. But it’s hardly ancient technology; it incorporates the new USB-C standard charging input that has been appearing on so many speakers this year. We don’t expect an even newer version of the JBL Charge to appear for quite some time, so the Charge 4 will remain the latest in its line for a while.
The Charge 4 is the best-sounding of these three to most ears. The consumer organizations and audio reviewers have have extensively reviewed it and generally placed it near the top of their lists. It has the strongest, deepest bass of these JBL speakers and goes amazingly loud for its size without distorting. There is a reasonable sense of soundstage for a portable speaker, allowing you to pick out and follow instruments like they’re there with you. On a related note, it is a directional speaker, meaning it will sound best when you’re in front of it, not behind it.
The JBL Pulse 4 has a different sonic approach entirely, as it is a 360-degree speaker that is designed to sit in the center of a room (which makes sense as you’ll be admiring its LED light show). It also has JBL’s trademark even mix, and while it doesn’t go quite as deep as the Charge 4, critics say it does have a satisfying and punchy thump on the low end, and it goes quite loud without losing composure. The Pulse 4 doesn’t go quite as loud as the Charge 4 either, but it certainly fills a mid-sized room. The mix is neutral and the sound spread around the room is the same from any angle.
The Flip 5 is the smallest of the three speakers by an inch (a couple of centimeters) in both diameter and height. But its sound is far from puny. It’s a perfectly acceptable home speaker for small and even mid-sized rooms, and kicks out lovely detailed sound. Early critics have given its punch and liveliness high marks, noting that for its smaller size and price you’re unlikely to find better. In fact, most listeners will be delighted unless comparing it directly side-by-side with the other speakers on this page, in which case the Charge 4 will triumph.
Feature Differences in the JBL Pulse 4 vs Flip 5 vs Charge 4
The flashily obvious difference in these speakers is the JBL Pulse 4’s lightshow.
We thought it was a bit of a gimmick with the previous models, to be honest. But now, with the newest version of this go-anywhere, sound-coordinated mood lighting, we’ve had second thoughts. It’s a pretty trippy little speaker, and good for suggesting a romantic mood or dorm room decoration as well. But why waste words when you can see for yourself.
So if that appeals to you, there’s really no major drawbacks that should keep you from opting for the Pulse 4.
But if don’t really want a speaker that steals so much visual focus, there are some feature advantages to the Flip 5 and Charge 4, depending on your needs. Here’s the contrasts.
- The JBL Flip 5 and Charge 4 are a bit more rugged than the Pulse 4, in that they don’t have the glass LED casing. All three speakers are completely IPX7 waterproof however.
- The JBL Flip 5 is the smallest and lightest of the three; it makes a difference to have a light speaker if you’re packing a picnic backpack for example.
- The JBL Flip 5 and Pulse 4 can pair multiple units via an app using JBL’s most recent standard, PartyBoost. This allows for you to create a stereo pair if you have two of them, or to just double up for more sound. The Charge 4 uses JBL’s older Connect+ standard. You can’t do stereo but you can add as many speakers as you want to create huge sound. PartyBoost speakers are only compatible with PartyBoost speakers, and Connect+ speakers are only compatible with other Connect+ speakers.
- The JBL Charge 4 has an amazing 20-hour battery life, the Flip 5 and Pulse 4 have a not-too-shabby 12-hour battery life.
Other Pros and Cons of All Three
Here are the shared advantages of these JBL speakers:
- All except for the Pulse 4 have a 3.5 mini jack for connecting a typical headphone style plug for playing music from older, non-Bluetooth devices. This can be wonderful, for example, if you use an old iPod or mobile phone to DJ a party and keep your phone free and on your person for answering calls.
- All three have the newest USB-C charging and include the charging cable.
And they have a few shared disadvantages:
- None include the charging wall plug; it’s presumed that you have a wall-to-USB plug lying around but if not you’ll have to get one. If you do buy one, get a multi-country USB-C adapter; it’s cheap and great for plugging any devices into any plugs anywhere in the world.
- They don’t have speakerphone or voice assistants. You can try the older JBL Charge 3 or JBL Pulse 3 for speakerphones and Google Assistant integration, and for JBL’s smart speaker you could check out the Link 10 or 20. But personally we think all those features are rather gimmicky and never worked as well as just talking to your smartphone. We’re glad that JBL is focusing on more important things with its newest speakers.
- If you’re willing to spend a bit more than what the Flip 5 costs, an upgrade option would be the super-portable, wonderful-sounding travel speaker that is the Ultimate Ears Boom 3.
Wrap-Up: The Best Mid-Sized JBL Speaker For You Is…
The three latest mid-sized JBL speakers are all lovely; the lastest is the Pulse 4 with its light show at this JBL link.