JBL Charge 2: Is Two Better than One?

When I reviewed the original Charge last year, I wrote, “Long playback time, decent sound quality, compact size, and last but not least – the ability to keep your phone charged - the Charge does it all. Amid a sea of small speakers, this one merits a look and a listen.” Apparently millions of people, well, thousands, or perhaps hundreds, or at least more than a handful, agreed. That prompted JBL to capitalize on the success of the original to bring out a successor, the Charge 2. JBL is of the opinion that it is new and improved. I agree that it is new, but is it improved?

The Charge 2, like the original Charge, is a portable Bluetooth speaker - one among a zillion on the market. The Charge 2 distinguishes itself by being somewhat larger than many, but it’s certainly nowhere near boombox-size. Does anyone use the term “boombox” anymore? The Charge 2 is housed in a nice rubberized plastic case with punched metal grilles on front and back. To my eye, it is more attractive than most portable speakers. It sits on a slightly raised portion of the bottom; serviceable, but the speaker has a tendency to roll off its bottom. If you anticipate any long ocean cruises, this is not the speaker for you. More seriously, if the Charge 2 is sitting on your desk, and you accidentally tap it, there’s a good chance it will roll off your desk and onto the floor. Be vigilant.

At 7-1/4 inches, the Charge 2 is slightly longer than the original Charge. Its cylindrical diameter is about the same, measuring about 3 inches. From a transducer standpoint, the Charge 2 fires two 1-3/4 inch drivers out the front, backed by two 7.5-watt amplifiers. There are passive radiators at each end of the cylindrical housing. The original Charge had smaller speakers, lower-powered amps, and only one radiator.

Battery charge time is about 4 hours, and music playing time is rated at a maximum of 12 hours (obviously, depending on playback volume). Bluetooth 3.0 is supported. Accessories are minimal: a USB-type 5-volt charger with a detachable cable. The original Charge bundled a soft-fabric carrying case, but the new Charge 2 comes au naturel. My black review unit looked quite Batmanesque; it also comes in white, red, blue, and purple.

The top of the unit has waterproof buttons for power, pairing, volume, and play/pause/phone, as well as a microphone. Like everything else these days, the Charge 2 has a “social mode.” In this case, the top-mounted button lets you choose between three different Bluetooth-connected devices. I’m not sure I would invite two friends over for that reason, but it does make it easy for me to choose between three of my own sound sources. The bottom rear of the speaker has jacks for power, USB, and 3.5-mm analog audio in. The USB jack can be used to charge other devices such as your phone (hence the “Charge” name).

In my review of the original Charge, I stated, “As you would expect from such a small device, playback fidelity was limited. However, I have certainly heard far worse, and in fact, the Charge sounded pretty good.” After auditioning the Charge 2, that sentiment still holds true. A high-fidelity speaker it ain’t. But, the Charge 2 actually sounds quite nice. In fact, given its constraints, it’s a darn good speaker. Compared to the 1’s slightly strident tone, the 2 has a much warmer and more mellow sound. The drivers yield more low end with the dual passive radiators kicking in extra doses of grunt.

Most portable speakers have “that sound.” It’s as sonically small as the speaker, and as tinny as a pie plate. The Charge 2 largely overcomes that syndrome. It has a clean midrange, and an impressive lower octave. Moreover, a pulled back high end helps reinforce the impression of bassiness. If you prefer treble-happy sound, the original Charge might be a better choice for you; imagine the treble knob at +2. But if you particularly appreciate musical elements such as drums and bass guitars, tympani and basses, then you’ll prefer the Charge 2; imagine the bass knob at +2.

Hmm, if you want to experiment, try playing Charge 1 and Charge 2 simultaneously, and blend in just a little of Charge 1 to brighten up the Charge 2 - when I tried it, I really enjoyed the result. But, however you mix it, the Charge 2 has clearly improved overall audio fidelity. Good job, JBL engineers.

As with the Charge 1, playback sound quality via Bluetooth sounded equal to wired sound quality; this is almost certainly because the sonic limitations of the speaker eclipsed the limitations of the Bluetooth connection. Interestingly, sound quality does not particularly degrade at high volume levels; distortion increases, but clipping is minimal. As with the original Charge, there is probably some kind of limiter in the signal path to dial back peaks before they hit the speakers.

The original Charge retailed for $150, and the Charge 2 holds that price point. Given the price of the new model, and its obvious improvements, it is a pretty sweet deal. I liked the original Charge, and I like the new Charge 2 even more. Aside from that ocean voyage thing, this is a great little portable speaker.

Fredrick's picture

Did your review unit have any audible distortion due to faulty sound processing? Some users have been reporting audible distortion and a reviewer on Youtube has said the distortion might be due to a faulty audio processor in the units that he reviewed. It seems the distorting or artifacts in sound is not easy noticeable but can be heard during low to mid volume playback.

Ken C. Pohlmann's picture
My review unit is boxed up and ready to return to JBL, but I'll pull it out and give it another listen. I'll report back.
oluv's picture

Would be great to finally get a final statement from a professional reviewer on this topic. JBL was not very helpful as their response was very vague, suggesting me to send my unit back, but no solution for a fix.
Please have a look (or listen) at my video and see if yours behaves in the same way:

Many other owners meanwhile confirmed these issues, if you like, I can provide you some test-tracks that show considerable distortion-problems with the Charge 2, regardless of playback-volume, they even distort when played with a low input-volume through aux-in!

Another problem is low-volume playback, which produces extrem side-noises and intereference-like artefacts. Mostly noticeable with acoustic guitar-music etc.

You can also contact me through my Blog for some further discussion etc:

Fredrick's picture

Ken, Thank you for the reply and I am looking forward to your observations. The link posted by "oluv" above was the video review I was referring to earlier.

viendongshop's picture

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