JBL Charge 3 review: Is this the ultimate festival speaker?

Rugged, waterproof, and bombastically loud, but the Charge 3 isn’t the last word in sound quality

4
Price when reviewed 
150
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It’s approaching festival time in the UK, which is usually the signal for the heavens to open and for live music lovers to get muddy. It’s also the time of year that technology journalists across the land are bombarded with press releases for products tough enough to withstand the British weather at its worst.

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JBL’s latest Bluetooth speaker - the Charge 3 - is one such device; it’s a rugged Bluetooth speaker with an IPx7 rating, which means that even if you drop it in the communal latrine pit it’ll still come up, if not exactly smelling of roses, at least still able to kick out the tunes. It’s also able to double up as a booster battery for your smartphone, with its large, internal 6,000mAh battery. The USB A port is under a thick rubber flap at the rear of the speaker, next to a micro USB charging port and 3.5mm input jack.

JBL Charge review: Audio quality

I’m not entirely convinced that taking a shiny new £150 Bluetooth speaker to a grimy field in Glastonbury is the wisest thing to do, but if you do decide to strap it to your rucksack along with your tent and bedroll, you won’t be disappointed in the volume this speaker can kick out.

Turn up the volume, sit back, and you’ll find that the twin 50mm drivers in this small, sealed enclosure are capable of kicking out some serious sound pressure. And, it seems, that no matter how loud you go there’s no danger of clipping or nasty distortion, with the twin passive bass radiators moving in and out impressively as you ramp up the volume.

Absolute sound quality, however, isn’t the best. There’s a hardness and thinness to the mid-range that isn’t there with, say, the KEF Muo or the B&O BeoPlay A1, and that makes it less involving and enjoyable to listen to. And although the dramatic movement of the passive radiators at each end of the speaker housing makes it looks like there ought to be plenty of bass, in reality the size of the cabinet prevents it dredging up anything really deep, with the frequency response beginning to steeply roll off from around 150Hz.

Still, the thump they do deliver is solid and heftier than most speakers this size are capable of, and the JBL Charge 3 is nothing if not flexible. Its internal 6,000mAh battery will last up to 20 hours if you listen at moderate volumes, it can be fully submerged in water without damage, and JBL’s Connect system is in place here, too, allowing you to pair the Charge 3 with another JBL unit for even more volume. There’s only one key feature missing: support for the aptX Bluetooth audio codec.

JBL Charge 3 review: Verdict

Ultimately, the JBL Charge 3 is a decent-sounding speaker, that also happens to rugged, good-looking, has great stamina and is completely waterproof.

It isn’t the last word in refinement, at least not when it comes to compact Bluetooth speakers. For that, you need to opt for the B&O Play A1, the KEF Muo or the Libratone Zipp Mini. However, the JBL Charge 3 is a very, very good all-rounder.

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