At just over three years old, we ask the question… is the JBL Charge 3 still a contender or well past it’s prime?
JBL have become one of the most trusted names in the Bluetooth speaker market. Consumers know to expect a well-designed and relatively affordable product, usually accompanied by a good sound. Well, the JBL Charge 3 ticks all those boxes and more. Not only has it been upgraded to fully waterproof, it has a huge battery that can also be used to recharge your phone if it dies.
Now that JBL have released the Charge 4, you can now pick up the earlier version at a reduced price. This makes the Charge 3 an even more attractive package than it used to be and very much worthy of a look.
So let’s do just that in our in-depth JBL Charge 3 Review…
Design & Build
A couple of changes have been made to the design of the JBL Charge 3. The cylindrical shape is no longer a hard-shell design. A tough woven fabric mesh is now the main material, lending the speaker a more contemporary look. The traditional exposed bass radiators at each end add a muscular element to the mix and are a lot of fun to watch when they come alive
The Charge 3 isn’t the smallest Bluetooth speaker in the world and is certainly larger than some of its rivals. Measuring 21 x 8.7 x 8.8 cm and weighing 1.8 lbs, it certainly qualifies as portable. Although it will add some weight to your backpack if you have to walk any distance. A range of colors, including red, blue, teal, grey, and black, can be chosen from.
JBL have upgraded the Charge 3 to full IPX7 waterproofing. This means you can fully submerge the speaker to a depth of 1 meter for 30 minutes. My 5-year-olds paddling pool provided a good testing ground, and we can report that the Charge 3 survived a ten-minute dunking with flying colors. The garden hose was also used unsparingly in a full-on assault with no problems to report.
This is a tough, well-built speaker that you will be able to take almost anywhere. It’s the perfect accompaniment to a pool party or beach BBQ. I’m not quite sure how great they would look in my living room, though, unlike the stylish Ultimate Ears Boom 3.
The speaker can be either stood vertically or horizontally on the built-in stand, which is definitely the better option for sound as you won’t be covering one of the base radiators. The stand also features 5 LED lights to let you know how much charge is left.
Controls are housed on top of the speaker (if horizontal). You’ll find the usual buttons for power, pairing, volume control, play/pause/skip, and the JBL Connect button, which allows you to connect to other nearby JBL speakers. All the buttons are raised and easily identifiable through touch apart from the power and JBL Connect buttons, which are flush to the housing.
A rubber panel on the rear effectively protects the charging ports from water damage, just don’t forget to always reseal after charging. We loved the ability to be able to recharge your phone from the speaker via USB. This is something that will probably come in handy as a fully powered Charge 3 will probably outlast your phone if you are using it to stream music.
You will also find a 3.5mm input here for wired listening if you prefer.
A built-in microphone allows the Charge 3 to be used as a speakerphone. This works well indoors with call recipients reporting good quality. Outdoors in noisier environments, the mic picked up a fair amount of ambient noise. This isn’t really a problem as the last thing most people are buying these for is to handle calls.
It’s nice that they are capable, but certainly not a deal-breaker that they don’t perform to the highest level in this department.
Pairing with either Android or iOS devices was very straightforward, and you can pair up to three smartphones or tablets simultaneously. Outdoors with no physical barriers in the way, we had no connection issues within 75 feet range. Indoors with a wall in the way, this dropped down to around the 30-foot mark. However, this is normal for a Bluetooth speaker.
The accompanying JBL Connect app doesn’t really elevate the experience all that much. There are no basic equalizer settings you can adjust, which is unusual. Fortunately, the JBL Charge 3 has a good enough basic sound for this not to be too big an issue.
You can also pair up to another Charge 3 to create a stereo sound. And up to 100 other enabled JBL speakers to create your own ecosystem. This is a pretty cool feature if you have a few friends with JBL speakers. It’s hard to see your average buyer make full use of this feature, but link a few of these together and you can create quite a stir.
The JBL Charge 3 has improved the battery life from 12 to 20 hours from the previous generation, and if anything, this is a slight understatement. We never fully drained the battery, but the LED indicator was still showing us two lights after 18 hours of use. You can probably shave off a few hours if you are using the speaker to charge other devices, but this is still an impressive length.
This is all achieved through the use of a whopping 6000mAh battery. Although this does increase the weight of the Charge 3, this is definitely a design sacrifice worth making for the extra hours of play you’ll get.
How Does The JBL Charge 3 Sound?
So the main question here should be… has there been an improvement in sound quality over the Charge 2+, which had a very agreeable sound profile?
Well, this all depends on your personal tastes, but in the strictest audiophile terms, we’d have to say no. The Charge 3 is certainly a louder speaker with extra oomph in the bass department, but the Charge 2 has a more balanced signature with better definition between the frequencies and a slightly less grating treble.
All of that aside, we’re not actually sure the more balanced sound is as effective for outdoor use. The bassier profile of the Charge 3 actually works better in open outdoor areas, which is primarily where Bluetooth speakers are mainly used. The sound doesn’t get as lost and extends further.
Granted, the Charge 2 sound better indoors, but the Charge 3 is probably more fit for the intended purpose or outdoor listening.
It’s a powerful and energetic sound that the JBL Charge 3 delivers, characterized by the passive bass radiators pulsating away at either end. They make for quite a hypnotic sight. Visuals aside, the lows extend right down with the Charge 3 showing fine control even at high volume.
The Ultimate Ears Boom 3 probably shows a more refined mid-range but can’t match the JBL for expansive outdoor authority, which is what a good Bluetooth speaker really should be aiming to achieve.
JBL Charge 3 Pros & Cons
- Loud expansive sound.
- Prominent bass response.
- Device charging.
- Exceptional battery life.
- Fully waterproof.
- Tough build.
- Charges via micro-USB
- A more balanced sound can be found elsewhere.
The JBL Charge 3 is definitely an overall improvement on its predecessor in almost every department. Which is all you can ask for from a manufacturer. Some may argue that the Charge 2 has a more balanced audio profile. However, this is only really advantageous for indoor listening, and this speaker is an outdoor adventurer built for the beach or pool.
The addition of complete waterproofing and the tough material meshing, increases the versatility of environments you can use the speaker in. Which is exactly what a good Bluetooth speaker should be aiming to do.
The solid battery life and ability to charge empty devices also gives the Charge 3 a big advantage over some of its immediate competitors. Yes, a new model is out already. But the only real difference is the charging method, which is USB C-Type on the Charge 4.
This is the way all devices will be going but not a reason to ignore the Charge 3 just yet, especially at its currently reduced price.
All in all, the JBL Charge 3 achieves the correct balance between sound quality, functionality, and cost, something which has not been lost on the buying public. This is the reason JBL Bluetooth speakers continue to be amongst the best sellers on the market and why the Charge 3 is still a relevant purchase to this day.