JBL Cost 5 evaluation: Highly effective and transportable occasion speaker


JBL Charge 5

RRP $180.00

“Everyone will hear the JBL Charge 5 as soon as you crank it up.”


  • Solid build quality

  • Can get very noisy

  • Excellent water and dust protection

  • EQ offers some sound enhancements

  • Works with JBL Portable App and PartyBoost


  • Cannot stereo pair with JBL speakers without Charge 5

  • Does not work as a speakerphone

  • Not a huge upgrade over the Charge 4

Look for a Bluetooth speaker and you’ll find a variety of sizes to choose from. It’s up to you to decide which one suits your lifestyle best, but when you have a lot of options it’s not always easy to find the best value for your money. JBL’s speakers come in a variety of sizes, and one of their key features is playing bigger than they appear.

This is where the JBL Charge 5 comes into play. It’s medium sized and packs a punch, but has JBL changed too much about the sound while tweaking some things in both design and functionality? Let’s take a look.

JBL Charge 5 speaker and box.Ted Kritsonis/Digital Trends

What’s in the box

You won’t find much to wade through in the box. Aside from the speaker itself, JBL only includes a USB-C charging cable and a quick start guide. If you’ve used previous Charge speakers you might be wondering where the 3.5mm aux-in cable is located and it’s not here because JBL removed that connector. This speaker is completely wireless.

The JBL Charge 5 speaker features rubber grips on the bottom.Ted Kritsonis/Digital Trends


JBL doesn’t reinvent the wheel with the Charge 5 and sticks to a very familiar look that doesn’t differ too much from the previous version. I’m mostly referring to the aesthetics, where outside of the more pronounced logo and battery indicator up front, and the rubberized grips on the bottom, many of the same elements apply.

The weight and dimensions differ only slightly compared to the Charge 4, except that the 5 is more robust.

The tightly woven fabric still looks and feels good, while the bumpers on each side protect the passive radiators. The button layout on top remains the same, while the back features the USB-C charging port, along with a USB-A port that you can use to charge other devices, basically turning the speaker into a power bank.

The weight and dimensions differ only slightly compared to the Charge 4, except that the 5 is more robust. Instead of keeping the previous IPX7 rating for water resistance, JBL added good dust resistance for an excellent IP67 rating instead. These include salt water and sand, making this speaker equally at home on the beach as it is near a pool or bathtub.

Its overall size makes it a little too big to be highly portable. You could toss it in a bag and take it for a ride, but it’s definitely not something you want to carry around for long periods of time. It doesn’t have a handle or any indentations to make it easier to carry, but it’s the sort of speaker you can take on a trip or from one room to another with relative ease.

The buttons are on the JBL Charge 5 speaker.Ted Kritsonis/Digital Trends

setup and configuration

It was easy to pair the Charge 5 right from the start and I’ve noticed an improvement in connectivity. The Charge 4 ran Bluetooth 4.2 while the Charge 5 uses 5.1. This shift helps stabilize the connection and plays a key role in why the audio doesn’t stutter as you move farther from the speaker.

It can also be paired with two devices at the same time, but it’s no help with calls since it’s not speakerphone. There’s no microphone, meaning you can only hear what your voice assistant is saying and still have to speak into your phone to issue commands. Pairing with two devices means you can easily switch from one to the other when you want to hear what they’re playing.

The JBL Portable App (formerly Connect App) for iOS or Android offers limited functionality, but one key feature that wasn’t present when the Charge 5 first launched is the three-band EQ. It’s modest in range, with available bass, mids and treble, each with five levels that you can slide and adjust. You might think it’s overkill for a JBL speaker, but you might also find this speaker more understated than it looks. I found better results tipping the mids up, but if you want more rumbling bass you can always max that out.

PartyBoost returns and stays with the same formula, meaning you can pair the Charge 5 with other PartyBoost-compatible JBL speakers to play music at the same time. If you want to pair the left and right channels in stereo, you need to pair it with another Charge 5. Keep in mind that once you turn on PartyBoost and connect to a different speaker, you will lose the EQ and the connected speakers will revert to the default sound profile.

The JBL Charge 5 speaker can be placed upright.Ted Kritsonis/Digital Trends

sound quality

While testing the Charge 5, I installed a firmware update that presumably affected the audio quality, especially the bass. I’ve never had to test the Charge 4 so I can’t be sure there’s an upgrade in that regard, but the Portable app’s EQ can take the sound to greater depths if you start tinkering with a balance, that works for you.

It’s a resonant speaker as its sound carries further than you might expect.

The good news is that this makes an audible difference. You don’t get a JBL speaker for high definition audiophile sound. The Charge 5 only supports the Bluetooth codecs AAC and SBC anyway. If you’re just looking for a sound that lets tunes play loud and clear, the Charge 5 can certainly get you there due to its volume. Distortion kicks in at very high volumes but lingers long enough before you get there to entertain a group or audience.

It’s a resonant speaker as its sound carries further than you might expect. In smaller rooms, you don’t necessarily have to turn the volume up too high to feel it. You might consider this purely relevant to bass-heavy music genres, but I’d argue that’s not really true. There’s enough here to enjoy pretty much whatever you enjoy listening to, and the EQ, while limited, gives you some flexibility to tweak it to your liking.

That bodes well for parties and barbecues and people with eclectic tastes. Nobody there would expect perfection from such a speaker, but they would probably be surprised at how much they can hear when they are further away.

The JBL Charge 5 speaker has bumpers on each side that protect the passive radiators.Ted Kritsonis/Digital Trends

battery life

JBL rates battery life at up to 20 hours per charge, but don’t expect to hit that. Had JBL kept the 3.5mm aux-in port it probably would have, except Bluetooth and volume are the deciding factors. I didn’t have to get too loud all that often, so my mileage usually hovered around 15-17 hours. Not bad at all, except that when it runs out of juice it takes up to four hours to fully recharge. You can also plug it in during playback when the battery is low, if you can place it near an outlet or keep a power bank handy.

The speaker’s own power bank function plays its own role in battery life. Of course, if you use the included USB-C cable and flip it the other way to connect the USB-A side to the rear port to charge something else via USB-C, you’ll be using up some of its lifespan for playback .

Our opinion

You can find the Charge 5 for $180, which is a pretty standard price for a mid-range speaker like this. Whether its size and price are right for you depends on your needs and budget, but your money is definitely buying a volume that works well. Its added durability also stands out, making it versatile where and when you want to play it. There are also six colors to choose from, including the standard camouflage finish.

Is there a better alternative?

Given the limited differences between him and the fee 4, it’s not a bad idea to consider the latter as an option, especially if you want a 3.5mm jack. the Ultimate Ears Mega Boom 3 is more expensive at $200, but offers serious durability and more spacious 360-degree sound, as well as color options.

If you’d rather use a speaker at home than one to take with you on trips and outings, you might want to check out this one SonosMove. It’s portable enough to move from room to room, but isn’t the sort of speaker you’d want too close to a body of water. And unless you appreciate the smart speaker or the whole-home audio capabilities, the $400 price tag is hard to justify.

How long it will take?

JBL makes sure its speakers play loud without breaking, so it’s a good bet you can keep them for a long time. The biggest concern is that water or salt will somehow damage the internal components, which you can avoid by rinsing off sand or salt after a day at the beach. JBL has a one-year warranty against damage, but read the fine print on water damage as the company may not cover every case.

should you buy it

Yes, especially if you don’t already have such a speaker. This isn’t the kind of product you update yearly. You get it and keep it for as long as you need it. I’d think twice before doing that if you already have the Charge 4, where the upgrade probably doesn’t feel that significant.

Editor’s Recommendations

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