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JBL Charge 3 Bluetooth speaker review: Play all day, play all night

Jon L. Jacobi | June 28, 2016
A whopping 20-hour run time, IPX7 waterproofing, and thumpy bass highlight this outdoor Bluetooth speaker from JBL.

If I have any real complaint about the Charge 3, it’s the truly weak documentation supplied by JBL, or whomever is manufacturing it for them. Anyone who’s used a Bluetoooth speaker before should be able to figure out the controls, but the only explanation in the user’s guide is a row of the same symbols used by the buttons themselves in a slightly larger size below their picture (plus a phone icon). I’d find it hilarious if I wasn’t imagining so many people’s consternation. 

Pressing and holding the Bluetooth symbol sets the Charge 3 looking for a Bluetooth media playback device to pair with; the plus sign increases volume and you can press and hold for continuous increase; the minus sign decreases volume with the same deal on continuous; the play/pause button plays and continues playback, but also answers and hangs up the phone. You’re welcome.

jbl charge3 red back x1 jpg

The back of a red Charge 3 with the cover for the micro-USB, USB, and analog audio ports in place.

There’s also a button with an odd symbol that I first thought indicated “almost infinite,” as pressing it lights up the charge meter. An inside JBL-joke about the run time? No, it’s for linking to other JBL speakers. Should they be hanging around and sporting this same linkable feature. More on that in the third installment of my leapfrogging discussion of that feature below.


Okay, this sounds crazy, but the Charge 3 sounds best sitting sideways on your head with the speakers facing forward. I’m not kidding; another person shares that opinion, though it took the better part of five minutes to convince them to try it. Doing this aligns the speakers in relation to your ears so that you can actually hear some stereo separation—something the  Charge 3, along with nearly every similar product, lacks. The speakers are simply too close together. My solution isn’t comfortable or practical, though I suppose I could come up with some sort of hat….

When at close quarters and placed anywhere more intuitive than the peak of your pate, the Charge 3’s sound is punchy, with just the right amount of bass for my tastes.There’s not so much as to overwhelm the music, or loosen the bolts on your patio furniture, but enough to get your feet moving. The high end was less satisfying; slightly subdued is the best way to describe it.

jbl charge3 black radiatorcloseup x1

The end view of the Charge 3 and one of its weather-proofed diaphragms that pumps a lot of the bass out.


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