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JBL Charge 3 review: A loud, rugged and very portable Bluetooth speaker

29 Jun 2018
Our Rating 
Price when reviewed 
150
inc. VAT

Not for audiophiles, but a loud and rugged outdoor companion for everyone else

Pros 
Built to handle life outdoors
Clear and powerful sound
Charges to other devices
Cons 
No aptX
Cold, hard mid-range
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Summer is here, and when it comes to picnics in the park, barbecues on the patio or even big weekend festivals, a battery-powered Bluetooth speaker is the perfect way to take your music with you while you enjoy the sunshine.

The JBL Charge 3 is tailor-made for just such a role. Its rubberised exterior will shrug off knocks and bumps, and it’s IPx7 rated, which means it’ll survive a spot of rain and even a brief splash in the lake, should things get out of hand. At the rear, a thick rubber flap covers up the micro USB charging port and a 3.5mm input jack. There’s also a USB-A port – a nice touch that, in a pinch, lets you recharge your phone from the Charge 3’s internal 6,000mAh battery.

JBL Charge review: Sound quality

The first thing to know about the Charge 3 is that it’s nice and loud – more so than you’d expect from its size. Dial up the volume and its twin 50mm drivers blast out an impressive wall of noise, helped along by a pair of passive bass radiators.

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We’re also pleased to say that no matter how hard we pushed the Charge 3, we heard not a hint of distortion or clipping: if you like to play your music loud, the only thing you have to worry about is annoying those around you. For even more juice, you can use JBL’s Connect system to pair the Charge 3 with a second JBL speaker and get a bigger, more ambient sound.

However, while the Charge 3’s output is undeniably assertive, it’s not entirely up to audiophile standards. For one thing, the aptX Bluetooth audio codec isn’t supported, so you’re limited to standard-grade streaming – not that the difference would likely be very noticeable on a speaker this size.

The bigger issue is that the mid-range feels distinctly cold, with an overall hardness to the sound that sucks some of the joy out of your favourite tracks. Dance music and other bass-heavy genres particularly suffer: those radiators put out a decent thump for a speaker this size, but they’re simply too small to really produce out any sort of rich, resonant low end. Below around 150Hz the response conspicuously drops off.

JBL Charge 3 review: Verdict

The JBL Charge 3 isn’t the best-sounding Bluetooth speaker in the world. In the past few years, the B&O Play A1, the KEF Muo and the Libratone Zipp Mini have all impressed us more in the hi-fi stakes.

Yet if you don’t demand the very pinnacle of sound quality, the JBL Charge 3 has a lot going for it. It’s loud, its internal battery will give you up to 20 hours of playback (at moderate volumes), and that rugged, waterproof design makes it a great outdoor companion.

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