The king of affordably priced portable Bluetooth speakers has returned. And it's bigger, better and more powerful than before. JBL has for a long time been the best at making portable speakers that were unbeatable. It's now about to retake that title with its latest generation of its most successful model yet. The new Charge 3 is a fully waterproof portable wireless speaker with larger drivers that produce sound that is even better than what was considered to be the portable speaker to beat. Other improvements include a much longer battery life and an upgraded design that is tougher and more durable than its predecessors – the Charge 2+ and Charge 2. We've had some time to thoroughly test out JBL's newest portable offering, which of course also means putting it up against formidable rivals. To find out if the Charge 3 really has what it takes to be crowned king of portable speakers under $300, read the full in-depth review down below!
You can pick up a Charge 3 for the same great price as every other Charge model that has come before it – $150. And in five different colors too: blue, black, gray, red and teal. The packaging has not changed and it remains to be a JBL standard across all products.
Inside, you'll find a compact USB power adapter with retractable outlet prongs and a flat, micro-USB to standard USB cable for charging the Charge 3 as quick as possible.
The Charge 3 is a monumental upgrade over the Charge 2 and Charge 2+ not only in terms of audio and battery performance, but also in design. And there's no other way of saying it, the Charge 3 is very much a smaller copy of JBL's Xtreme. Which as it turns out, is a very good thing. The Charge 3 features the same amazingly durable and robust build quality of JBL's Flip 3 and Xtreme models featuring this incredible combination of rubber and fabric mesh construction that is highly rugged yet still looks oh-so sleek. And because it's IPX7-rated, the Charge 3 can be submerged underwater and still play music. You know, in case you'd like to take it with you on a floatable waterbed care-free. This really is one of the more impressively designed portable Bluetooth speakers at this price.
While the Charge 3 is slightly larger than its predecessor, it’s still has a very portable form factor with the added benefit of increased audio and battery performance. Weighing 1.7lb (Charge 2+ weighs 1.3lb), it's about the size of the very similarly designed $300 UE Megaboom, only slightly lighter and shorter. The only thing missing from the Charge 3 that the UE Megaboom offers is of course 360-degree sound output. But despite that, the Charge 3 surprisingly blows away the UE Megaboom when it comes to sound quality...and at half the cost.
Under a water-tight rubber cover is where you'll find the Charge 3's 3.5mm audio input, micro-USB charging input, and of course its signature feature - a standard USB charging output. This allows the Charge 3 to also double as a portable backup charger for any portable device that can be charged using USB power. Just plug in your USB charging cable to charge up a smartphone, tablet, camera and more. It works faultlessly and is quick to charge too thanks to the 2A power output.
The Charge 3 has various multi-function on-board controls located at the top of the unit, which are synonymous with JBL’s Flip 3 and Xtreme speaker models. From left to right: Bluetooth pairing button, volume down, power button with a an illuminated status function (turns blue when paired/white when powered on), JBL Connect button for wirelessly connecting multiple speakers together (dual Charge 3 models, or a mixture between the Flip 3, Pulse 2 and Xtreme models), volume up, and a play/pause button that can also be used to skip songs forward (double tap) as well as answer an incoming call using the Charge 3's speakerphone feature. Of course you can also accept a call or make one using your smartphone while the Charge 3 acts as your speakerphone with its built-in noise and echo-canceling microphone.
The Charge 3 can of course be wirelessly paired to a second Charge 3, or any one of JBL's portable speakers that supports JBL Connect. While you won't be able to set up a stereo left and right system using two different Charge 3 speakers, you can use JBL's wireless multi-pairing feature to dramatically amplify your audio experience when playing music from a single audio source such as your smartphone or tablet.
Right underneath the JBL logo you'll find a row of white LEDs embedded into the rubberized foot that tell you the approximated remaining battery life of the Charge 3 just like the Xtreme and Flip models. Each time you turn on the Charge 3 or press a button these will light up and turn off after a little while. You can also tell how much battery is left by using the JBL Connect app.
While most people will prefer to use the Charge 3 in its normal horizontal position so to experience truer stereo sound separation from left to right, the Charge 3 can also be stood up on its side for a different audio perspective, which is also beneficial if you haven't got enough room to place it on.
At this point you're probably dying to know how well the Charge 3 performs in terms of audio quality. As we've all been expecting, the Charge 3 dispenses unbelievably good sounding audio. There's nothing at this size and price that can beat the Charge 3. It is practically is the king of portable speakers under $200. As you'd expect, it sounds punchy and relatively clear for a speaker that is fully waterproof. Which means that unlike its predecessors, the Charge 3 does have extra layers protecting the drivers and electronics from water which inadvertently act as sound filters that have some affect on how sound travels through – treble in particular. While the highs have a great deal of clarity, the midrange is unexpectedly held back it seems. I find myself wanting it to sound more clearly and forward. The new tuned sound signature of the Charge 3 definitely differs from the Charge 2, it sounds heavier and warmer, but better overall.
For a speaker as old as the Charge 2 to still hold its own remarkably well against the Charge 3 is remarkable, but also makes me think JBL hasn't done enough to really stand out. While the Charge 3 is a lot louder and slightly more powerful, it doesn't sound much different compared to its predecessor. Aside from being louder, the two other biggest improvements over the Charge 2 are actually battery life and build quality. Not so much in terms of sound quality. That I would have to say has been slightly improved by a mere 10–15%. There's less boosted bass and treble on the Charge 3 making it sound more controlled and full, which I will say is a more pleasing upgrade over the older Charge 2 and Charge 2+ models. And once again like its predecessor, the Charge 3 does start to modulate its bass response above half volume.
One of the more notable portable speakers that has recently been making everyone impressed is the BeoPlay A1 from Bang & Olufsen. This speaker is of course a more expensive option, but does offer 360-degree audio compared to the Charge 3's frontal audio output. While the Charge 3 doesn't sound bad next to it, the A1 clearly sounds more defined. It also sounds fuller at its highest volume, which is just as loud as the Charge 3 despite having a more compact design.
The Charge 3 continues to be one of our most favorite, reasonably priced portable wireless speakers. While it is not a significantly better sounding speaker than its predecessor, the Charge 3 is a much improved iteration that is affordably priced and is quite possibly the best portable wireless speaker you can get right now for under $200. It's waterproof, rugged yet sleek, has great battery life, charges other portable devices using its own built-in battery, and still features a very portable design considering how loud and punchy its audio performance is. While we found the highly portable and premium Beoplay A1 speaker to sound more pleasing, the Charge 3 impressively outperforms some of the more expensive and well known alternatives out there such as the Bose Soundlink Mini 2, UE Boom 2, UE Megaboom, Beats Pill+, as well as JBL's own Pulse 2.