I am actually quite surprised about the lack of rumors or reviews regarding the new JBL Charge 2.
The old JBL Charge was one of the most popular speakers with thousands of reviews on Amazon.com from many enthusiastic owners claiming it to be the best portable speaker around. I personally found it pretty mediocre, sounding like a typical canny small speaker, with a strange boomy upper bass. Even the much smaller FoxL sounded more mature overall, although it was not able to reach the high volume of the JBL.
Instead of the JBL Charge, I would have probably even chosen the UE Boom, despite finding that one pretty average too.
But meanwhile the new JBL Charge 2 was announced or not really announced, as any "official" announcement is still missing, maybe they wanted to wait for the IFA. But the first units are already available on Amazon.com and Amazon.de, and I managed to grab one because I was really curious to see and hear if there are any improvements over the old model.
Designwise the new one is a big improvement. The Charge 2 looks pretty slick now, while the old one looked a bit toyish to me due to all the overdone roundings. Also proportions are much better on the new one, the speaker grille is larger now and better fills the space, especially the ports at the sides were looking a bit out of scale on the old Charge, while the Charge 2 has nice big openings to the sides now. Maybe others will see that differently, but put side by side, I prefer the Charge 2 much more now.
The Charge 2 is not a small speaker, the old Charge was not small either, but the Charge 2 even increased in size slightly, both in length and diameter. It is still pretty compact, but nevertheless quite a bit larger than a Soundlink Mini for example, or a UE Boom, which is both slimmer and shorter thus better to be packed away.
The Charge 2 has nearly 3/4 liters of capacity and would soon reach sizes of larger speakers like the Soundblaster Roar etc. The Sony SRS-X3 is nearly equal in overall capacity, but it is slightly heavier. The Bose Soundlink Mini is the smallest of the bunch, although still heavier than the Charge 2, probably because of the massive aluminium body which unfortunately just pretends any ruggedness as you can clearly see from the dent in the speaker grille of my unit, which I still don't have the finest idea where and how this happened.
In contrast to the old Charge the new Charge gained speakerphone and an own "social mode" which opens Bluetooth for up to 3 devices to be connected simultanously. Not sure why so much fuss is made about this. The Mini Jambox does the same automatically without any additional mode needed, although the Mini Jambox can only connect to 2 devices. All 3 connected devices can playback music through the speaker, but any new playback will take over the speaker and stop all previous streaming. This is not a bad feature if you want to listen to music with some friends so everyone can contribute its own part, well not everyone, but up to 3 maximum, a kind of poor man's Airplay. But usually the Charge 2 starts in normal Bluetooth mode after power on, so you will still have to activate the social mode every time you want to use it. I also noticed that not all previously paired devices will automatically connect to the speaker. You have to force the connection from the other devices every time again.
It is the same in normal Bluetooth mode: other than the last paired device won't automatically connect to the speaker. The Charge 2 would always wait for the latest one and won't connect to any other devices that were previously paired. You also have to foce a connection directly from the streaming devices in order to establish a connection. Stupidly there are many speakers which typically behave like this. The Sony SRS-X3 is no exception, unlike the Fugoo which has no problems with finding all other already known devices, if any of the recent ones is missing. The Soundlink Mini usually also connects to any found device, although sometimes with a longer delay, until it finally realizes that the latest device cannot be found so it has to search for another one.
There are no additional track control buttons on the JBL Charge 2. But some owner pointed me to try the "call-button", and indeed you can start/stop music with a short press, double press will skip to the next track, but it seems as if skipping back was not possible.
In the past I didn't care much, but meanwhile I really find the ability to control playback directly from the speaker quite useful, so great to have the option on the JBL Charge 2 too. I sometimes have my iPhone deep inside the pocket, but the speaker right beside me. With the Fugoo I simply turn it on, wait until the pairing confirmation tone is played (which isn't that obtrusive) and I can immediately start playback with the multifunction button or jump to the next track etc. everything without even having touched my iPhone. With the JBL Charge 2 it might still happen that it won't even automatically connect, because it is still expecting another device. This should be fixed for a more intelligent pairing algorithm, similar to the one on the Fugoo for example.
While the old JBL Charge had only 3 status-lights indicating the battery charge, the new one has 5 which makes it easier to really judge how much battery is still left. They usually stay off until you touch any button, then they will light up for several seconds. Many other speakers even manage to add an own battery symbol to your mobile phone, the JBL Charge 2 doesn't unfortunately. I am not sure how exact the displayed charging-level is in reality. It happened to me repeatedly that the speaker showed only 3 lights, but the next day after power on it showed all 5 again, to finally drop to 3 after half an hour. So for a quick check how much energy might be still left, these status lights are probably not really helpful but more a rough indication only.
I cannot say much about the battery life yet, but as the battery has a 2.5 times stronger charge than that of the Soundlink Mini, it should get you through the whole day of listening even at higher levels. I have had the JBL Charge 2 playing at maximum volume for more than 4 hours and there are still 3 lights left. The Soundlink Mini would already blink red or turn off on its own.
The Charge 2 will also charge any external device through its rear USB-port after it is powered on delivering 5V at 1A. It will even continue to charge a device when the speaker is turned off again and will finally stop when the USB-wire is deattached.
Due to the large battery (6000mAh) charging takes about 4 hours with the supplied charger. Although the JBL Charge 2 can be charged with a standard Micro-USB wire, it might take up to 12 hours, if you want to charge it through a less powerful but common USB-port with 0.5A output only.
The new JBL Charge 2 also gained speakerphone ability compared to the old model, but I won't cover that in detail as I hardly ever use this feature on any of my portable speakers. It works as any speakerphone I had tried, but I still always prefer talking directly through the phone, as the respondent usually hears me better like this.
I never liked the old Charge much, the sound was quite a mixed bag with some strange mid-bass hump but without any lower bass making the speaker sound quite boxy and hollow. Listening close to the port on the right side, you could clearly hear that the port was tuned pretty high at maybe above 100Hz making the bass drone quite a bit. At the same time treble was emphasized similar to the JBL Flip, although not quite as strong, but it still resulted in an overall imbalanced sound.
With the new Charge 2 JBL went for passive radiators instead of a bassreflex port. And I think they really did well to switch, as the new one has a much more serious sound now. But before giving any further details on sound I would like dicuss the strange decision about letting the passive radiators totally exposed. For a portable speaker that you usually toss inside some bag, ruckack or whatever together with many other objects, the passive radiators will probably be the first to show scratches and other signs of wear. They are nice and shiny with their metal surface, but don't expect them to remain like that for long. Some longer sharp objects could even damage the rubber part of the passive radiator making the speaker useless, as it would lose air tightness and start farting or whatever.
I really have no explanation why JBL didn't just add a simple grille at both ends to cover the radiators, you wouldn't see them that well anymore, but I prefer a more rugged design over a useless one. JBL even cut down on providing the carrying bag from the old model. There is none included with the JBL Charge 2.
I could even imagine some additional protecting caps, that you could just put on for transport, maybe even with a built in grille, so that you could use the speaker without taking the protective caps off. If JBL was clever they could offer them in future as an expensive accessory, or they simply offer another carrying bag to be bought separately. The nicest touch would be, if the speaker could be left inside the bag for listening, with some acoustically transparent materials where the drivers are located. At least there are some third-party options available to protect the speaker for transport:
Duragadget offers a padded bag for the JBL Pulse, which should also fit the JBL Charge 2 easily and it is not too expensive with 10$.
In my opinion the JBL Charge 2 is not the best speaker for real outdoor or portable use, also the fact that it will only stand stable on a flat even surface makes it rather awkward to use. I didn't manage to place it on my couch or outside on a lawn as it always tended to roll away. While the whole speaker is rounded, there is only quite a narrow base at the bottom of the JBL Charge 2 thus making the whole speaker feel a bit shaky.
While I could easily place the Fugoo on the car dashboard, the only way to use the JBL Charge 2 in a car would be to place it inside a cup-holder, otherwise just put on the passenger seat it would be rolling around. Placed like this it works quite well despite one passive radiator being covered.
After power-on you will hear the typcial "bubble"-sound that is used on nearly all recend JBL speakers so far. When Bluetooth pairing is active you will hear some sonar-like tone and finally when a successful connection is established you will hear another blip. Fortunately the speaker does not talk, but all those tones are still much too loud for my taste. The JBL Charge 2 plays them with a fixed volume, which could have been set much lower, but fortunately it doesn't blast them with full loudness like it was the case with the JBL Flip and the old JBL Charge if you left the speakers on maximum volume before power-off. Next time you turned them on, all these tones were played at maximum volume! Now this has at least been fixed, but they are still much too loud.
Now let's cover the most important aspect, namely the sound!
I must confess that the JBL Charge 2 sounds pretty darn good and balanced for a compact speaker. While meanwhile there might be several similar speakers which do manage to sound impressive for this or that aspect, the JBL Charge 2 just sounds right. You won't have the impression as if something didn't fit in, it just sounds! The Bose Soundlink Mini managed to impress because of its powerful bass that was unheard of any speaker this size when it was announced, but the overall sound was not really convincing, with pretty muffled and directional treble. Although the Sony SRS-X3 also has its strengths with a more pleasant general tuning than the Bose, the Sony suffers from distortion issues at levels already starting at medium volume, and sometimes it just doesn't sound true. The JBL Charge 2 on the other hand has a very smooth and even response, starting with a deep and powerful bass up to the pretty nice sparkling treble, without neglecting the whole mid-section in between.
I think this is indeed the best sounding portable speaker I have ever heard so far within its class of course. There are definitely larger speakers or stationary ones which will sound considerably better, but I have yet to hear a better sounding one with a similar size and form factor of the JBL Charge 2!
Compared to the old JBL Charge it is just no contest. These are two completely different speakers. The Charge 2 sounds like a big speaker, while the old one sounded like a beer can. Compared to the Soundlink Mini, you will get a similarly powerful bass, but the bass from the JBL sounds much more realistic, not that boomy. The bass on the Bose might even reach slightly deeper, but it is boosted too much as a whole already covering the mids and tending to drone with particular recordings. I am not even mentioning the treble, but the JBL has real treble that will still sound clear when listened from less optimum positions.
What surprised me a bit was the maximum volume, or more the lack of it. While the old JBL Charge was very loud for such a compact speaker, although harsh and unpleasant sounding, the new one pretty much lost in this regard. It can play maybe at 3/4 volume of the old JBL Charge but it does so by already compressing dynamics quite a lot. There is of course also a bass-loss at higher volumes but interestingly it is not that obvious as with the Soundlink Mini or even more with the Sony SRS-X3, which both start to sound quite a bit tinny at higher volumes. The JBL Charge manages to keep its frequency balance and it also retains some more punch than the others despite the added dynamics processing. When listening to the same songs through the Charge 2 and the Soundlink Mini side by side, you will still hear the attacks of a kick-drum or snare on the JBL well, while on the Bose it will be compressed away resulting in a constant mush. JBL seems to apply different compression algorithms which sound and act in a more musical way than those from Bose, I won't even mention those from Sony, as these tend to flatten all peaks away similar to a sledgehammer.
I only observed some problems with dynamic and heavy mastered jazz recordings like those from Gregory Porter. You could easily hear how the whole loudness suddenly decreased during some really busy parts including lots of horns and bass at the same time. The dynamics processing is less obtrusive on more constant and smooth recordings.
Interestingly all 3 speakers reach more or less a comparable maximum volume. The Sony SRS-X3 might have a slight edge in overall loudness, but it has considerably less bass at top volume than the others and much more distortion at the same time. Speaking of distortion, the JBL Charge 2 usually doesn't distort much, even at its top volume. It is missing the typical intermodulation distortion that plagues the Sony SRS-X3 that much and also the Soundlink Mini to some degree. Especially the Sony has some obvious treble distortion which sounds like "ringing artefacts" and already starts from medium volume upwards, mostly heard when some heavy bassnotes are played together with cymbals or hi-hats. The Soundlink Mini has the same problem, but it is not that obvious and rather noticeable at higher levels only. The JBL Charge 2 seems to have the drivers better under control, maybe they don't even move that much as on the others, otherwise I cannot explain why the JBL sounds that clean, without any obvious treble distortion. But I noticed other forms of distortion which I am not sure if they were already present at the very beginning. Higher volumes started to cause the drivers chirp quite a bit. At the beginning I wasn't even sure if this was some kind of "effect" present in the original recording, but then I noticed that mainly the right driver seems to produce this chirping. It might have indeed crept in later during my tests as the driver got maybe loose. It sounds a bit as if a wire or other object has contact with the transducer and resonates at particular frequencies. If really just high volume playback managed to cause this problem, I would even assume that any protecting circuits to prevent driver overload are missing inside the JBL Charge 2. When I did my measurements with higher amplitutes, I could repeatedly hear some worrying crackling and audio pops especially at really low frequencies. The JBL Charge 2 is probably even missing a high-pass filter, thus might be prone to driver damage with continuous high volume playback. I never experienced such problems with the Soundlink Mini for example. Although I had playing it for hours at maximum levels, it still sounds the same as it did 1 year ago when I bought it.
An interesting side effect of the soundprocessor's dynamic nature can be heard, when the speaker is quickly cranked from quiet to loud. The first beats played at maximum volume will sound pretty distorted, until the soundprocessor finally adjusts to the overall sound and reduces bass accordingly. So far I only heard a similar effect from the Denon Envaya, but the Denon was much quicker in adjustment, while the JBL Charge 2 will mostly take several beats when a housetrack is heard.
I prepared some videos where I compared the JBL Charge 2 to its biggest competitors. Of course for best results please use headphones or really good speakers, but the relative differences should also be easily heard with any speaker which can play down to 60Hz.
First let's listen to the old JBL Charge. Unfortunately the old JBL Charge sample I got for my test seems to have a driver spoilt, as there is some slight farting noticeable, but you should hopefully still get an idea about the sound difference between both and about the difference in loudness, which can be heard at the end of the video.
The Creative Soundblaster Roar costs exactly the same as the JBL Charge 2. The Roar is about twice as large and heavier and it packs quite a bit more features like playback from MicroSD, NFC, AptX etc. The Roar is definitely not a bad sounding speaker but directly compared to the JBL Charge 2 it suddenly gets a bit of a kitchen-radio character to it. Especially listen to both at maximum volume at the end of the video and you should hear the Roar struggle with severe volume pumping-effects:
I am not sure if you really want to hear the direct comparison of the JBL Charge 2 against the more expensive UE Boom, but as many seem to like the UE Boom that much and always defend it with all their energy every time I poke fun at it, here you are:
Of course the UE Boom will play louder, but the overall sound quality it puts out is not even worth losing any further words. It is just if you really need this loudness, that it might have its purpose, but then I might also take a cheaper Pasce Minirig which plays equally loud, but with a better and more punchy sound than the UE Boom!
Now let's have a look at some frequency response measurements. First an in-room response at medium volume and 50cm distance compared to the old JBL Charge in green with 1/6th octave smoothing (to read more on my measuring setup, have a look here):
That's quite impressive for the JBL Charge 2 and pretty smooth overall with only some stronger hump at 14kHz which usually shouldn't be heard that much or might even be responsible for the sparkle in the treble. The old Charge has some overly bloated upper bass, with hardly any bass below 100Hz and an equally bloated treble as it was the case with the JBL Flip, although not as extreme (you can see a measurement of the JBL Flip together with the Mini Jambox here for reference).
Here in pink you can see the measurement from 30cm above, which is more or less 37° off axis. Although there is some treble loss when listened off-axis, treble is still present and makes the response even slightly flatter without that obvious hump at 14kHz.
To minimize as much room influence as possible I also tried a nearfield measurement from 10cm close to one of the drivers. As I can only estimate where the drivers are located, because you cannot see them through the grille, the measurement might not be 100% correct, but we should nevertheless get a first idea. For comparison I also did the same with the Soundlink Mini, which you can see in blue (no smoothing):
Now this is what I would call an examplary frequency response. The JBL Charge 2 is nearly completely flat within +/- 3dB from 75Hz to 9kHz (interestingly JBL even provides 75Hz as the low frequency limit in their specs which would be pretty much spot on unlike many others who claim their speakers to play down to 20Hz while in reality they won't even play 100Hz well). Although the Bose Soundlink Mini might have a deeper reaching bass at the same time it has a very uneven response with both stronger dips and humps within the whole spectrum.
I think the JBL Charge 2 is the proof that the best sounding speakers are still those with the most natural response in contrast to all the speakers with an excessively sculpted sound...
Where the JBL Charge 2 fails completely though is at lower volumes. If you like to listen to music at lower levels, you will probably notice the higher than average noise-floor of the JBL Charge. It is pretty obvious when compared to most other speakers I have tried, the only one being the Soundblaster Roar with an even stronger noise, especially with both "Roar" mode and "Terabass" enabled.
The JBL Charge 2 has only 16 dedicated volume steps and the change in loudness during the first 5 steps is set much too high. The volume control is in sync on both the speaker and the iPhone, so there is no way to get any further steps in between, at least not on an iOS device, I am not sure if all android devices act in the same way. The Mini Jambox for example also has 16 steps only, but the volume curve starts with a much flatter slope, to finally rise at higher levels. On the JBL Charge 2 it is exactly the other way round. Each step up to 5 nearly doubles the loudness, while from the 5th step upwards the change in loudness decreases more and more. Pretty stupid approach if you ask me, and I would definitely prefer it the other way round with more and finer subdivisions at lower levels. As bad as the UE Boom sounds, at least the guys at Logitech manage to bring out some improvements with every new firmware they issue. The latest firmware for the UE Boom added 32 volume steps instead of the initial 16 which allows for a much finer volume control than before, although it was already better before than it is now on the JBL Charge 2. I also doubt that there will be ever any firmware update available for the JBL Charge 2. I have not seen any portable speaker from Harman yet which would allow for updates.
Let's have a look at the measurements of all the possible volume levels available from the JBL Charge 2:
The problems at low volumes are not only related to the strong jumps in loudness, but also seem to base on the sound processing problems I already mentioned before.
Update: All issues were finally fixed with the latest Firmware, please check out my posting here.
Update: All issues were finally fixed with the latest Firmware, please check out my posting here.
It is pretty obvious from the measurement, that the first curves are missing bass compared to the louder settings. The 3rd curve finally starts to gain a boost in bass, although I rather think this to be the measuring of some processing artefact, as I in reality I have not heard any bass increase until the 4th or 5th level which finally seem to sound correct. It is just from the 7th level upwards, that the speaker starts to dial back bass slightly, with even stronger bass reduction at further levels. But thankfully the JBL Charge 2 manages to retain more bass at maximum volume than all the other speakers. It will still sound quite full-bodied and punchy, although the stronger compression will be noticeable as well.
Low volumes are quite strange though, while most other speakers tend to boost bass at lower volumes, the JBL Charge even takes away bass at its lowest volume settings. I wouldn't complain if bass amount remained the same, but they really dial bass back at the first and second step, WTF?
I am not sure what went wrong, if the DSP programmer was drunk or smoked too much pot when he did the tuning. Because together with all the artefacts and additional distortion the speaker is producing now, I cannot really take it serious. A speaker that cannot play at low levels, or cannot play particular tracks because they cause distortion, and it shouldn't play loud for longer periods either, because the drivers might start to chirp...
The JBL Charge 2 could easily be the absolute top model in the whole range of portable Bluetooth speakers. In my opinion it easily bests the Bose Soundlink Mini in overall sound quality with a much smoother and more natural sound, but still enough punch to the bass to really make music satisfying. It sounds better than most bigger models, although it won't play as loud. JBL could have tried to tease out a bit more power of the speaker to really stand out from the crowd of competing speakers, but a Soundlink Mini can play just as loud, similarly priced but slightly bigger models like the Soundblaster Roar will play louder with a more punchy sound at the same time.
It is the sound processing issues that really put me off. I tried 2 different units with different colors from different suppliers and both behaved exactly the same. Many might even not notice that as they will be happy about the JBL Charge to produce that much punch, but anyone serious about music will hear that something is not alright with the speaker. Every second track I played through the Charge 2 distorted, when listening to acoustic Jazz at lower volumes I could hear side noises and growling sounds simply not present in the original recording. I am yet to hear from JBL about these issues, as I have sent an inquiry to their support,
but so far no reaction at all. Meanwhile I was in contact with Harman support, which was not very informative though. They indirectly confirmed the issues and suggested to return the speaker but didn't offer any prospect of a fix. When I asked if there will be any updates, they just answered that if there were updates they would be available directly from their site.
As it is now I cannot recommend the JBL Charge 2 without restrictions. It is definitely a great sounding speaker, one of the best if not even the best I have tried so far, but it has sound issues which cannot be denied. Apart from that I would have preferred it a tad louder. The JBL Charge 2 is about comparable in loudness to other speakers like the Bose Soundlink Mini, Sony SRS-X3, Klipsch GiG etc. while speakers like the old JBL Charge or the UE Boom manage to play considerably louder albeit with a much more clunky sound. I also see the exposed passive radiators very critical. This is the worst you can do for a portable device and I wonder how Harman is going to deal with this in the upcoming and twice as expensive Infinity One, which has the passive radiators also completely free. They could have added a protective cover as it was the case with the old JBL Charge, but currently you can only try stuffing it inside a sock in order to not getting it damaged during transport.
The JBL Charge 2 could even substitute a small home stereo system, if 2 speakers were able to pair for wireless stereo. When I directly compared the JBL Charge 2 with a Sonos Play:1, I preferred the JBL to tell the truth, but one single speaker will never give you any stereo separation although the sound is serious enough to satisfy even more demanding needs.
If JBL address most of the issues, like the rough volume control and the processing artefacts and if they also mange to improve Bluetooth connectivity, so that the speaker will always automatically reconnect to any known device, I could definitely live with a speaker inside a sock!
+ more elegant design than the old model
+ same price as before but with a much more serious sound
+ impressive overall tuning with a very smooth frequency response
+ sparkling treble with wide dispersion
+ great punchy bass without any artificial boost
+ manages to keep more bass at top volume than the competition
+ synced volume control with the streaming device
+ far Bluetooth reach
+ long battery life
+ track control possible through the "call-button"
+ track control possible through the "call-button"
+ charging of external devices
- severe processing artefacts at low levels
- bass disappears at low levels
- very strong volume jumps at low levels, only 16 volume steps overall
- noticeable distortion on particular recordings regardless of volume or input
- not very loud but in line with most competing models
- noticeable dynamics compression at higher levels
- doesn't automatically reconnect to previously paired devices other than the last paired device
- social mode has to be activated every time after power-on
- status tones too loud
- passive radiators prone to damage
- doesn't stand very stable
- no protecting cover or bag included anymore
- no advanced features like NFC, AptX, wireless stereo pairing etc...