We’ve reviewed a lot of Bluetooth speakers here at Cult of Mac, and yet to this day, the easiest one to recommend is still the speaker that launched the category: the venerable Jawbone Jambox.
Well, Jambox, move over: there’s a new king in town. We’ll be hard pressed to recommend you anymore after getting our hands on the JBL Flip, a Bluetooth speaker that has better (and louder) sound than the Jambox, at a cheaper price, and a killer trick up its sleeve: it’s also an external battery pack, capable of charging your iPhone on the go!
The JBL Charge is a colorful pill of a speaker that looks almost like, as an accessory, it leaped out of a new iPod touch commercial. In shape and in the way it feels in the hand, the JBL Charge almost seems like a forty-ounce can of Bluetooth brew. It’s a fun, whismsical design that would look out of place in a living room filled with design relics from the likes of Eames and Braun, but looks ready-made for a teenager’s dresser, the corner of a beach towel, or a picnic table.
But how does it sound? In a word, great. In two words, absolutely phenomenal.
Let’s compare the JBL Charge to our previous favorite Bluetooth speakers, the Jambox and its beefier sibling, the Big Jambox. The JBL Charge has the louder, richer sound of the Big Jambox, all in a formfactor only slightly larger than the original Jambox. Wow.
In my testing, I was consistently impressed with the JBL Charge. Unlike most Bluetooth speakers, there wasn’t any distortion at higher volumes, and the bass was rich and satisfying (although if you throw some truly bass-intensive electronic music at the JBL Charge, you’ll notice the rough edges). It’s a very clear, crisp, mellifluous sound that is loud enough to shake most rooms: in my apartment, I found a JBL Charge at the maximum volume to be loud enough to comfortably hear across the apartment.
The killer feature for me on the JBL Charge, though, is eponymous: the 6,000mAh battery inside the Charge can not only be used to power the speaker or up to 12 hours, or you can plug a cable into the Charge’s USB port and siphon electricity into your smartphone. I think that’s pretty rad, and goes a long way to making a Bluetooth speaker a lot more useful of a device to bring with you when you travel.
Then there’s the price: $149 is a great deal for a speaker that sounds this good. To put it in comparison, the Jawbone Jambox costs $50 more… and the Big Jambox, which the JBL Charge almost competes with in sound quality, is twice as much.
I don’t have any real criticisms of the JBL Charge, but here are some things that might make a difference to you:
• There’s no speakerphone on the JBL Charge. I could care less, and the speakerphone on the Jawbone Jambox was complete rubbish, but if you want a Bluetooth speaker you can make phone calls through, this isn’t the one for you.
• No aptX support. AptX is a digital audio data reuction technology that, basically, makes music streamed over Bluetooth sound better. You generally can’t tell the difference at the JBL Charge’s volumes, though, making this a bit moot.
• It’s hard to care that much about a charger, but the one packed-in with the JBL Charge looks like it came from a cheap Chinese electronics shop.
• The JBL Charge’s design is very playful and colorful, and while I think it looks fine, if you want a more stoic or somber looking speaker, the JBL Charge might strike you as unserious.
There are a lot of Bluetooth speakers out there, but the JBL Charge is like getting the best of these with an external battery pack thrown in for free. The Jambox might be the best known Bluetooth speaker out there, but in our minds, the JBL Charge hasn’t just uncrowned it… the Charge has kicked the Jambox’s teeth in.
|Product Name: : JBL ChargeThe Good: Fantastic sound, competitive price, and you can even use it to recharge an iPhone.
The Bad: No speakerphone, if you care.
The Verdict Better and cheaper than a Jambox, this is Cult of Mac’s Bluetooth speaker to beat.
Buy from: JBL