The $150-and-up price range is where portable Bluetooth speakers start delivering robust audio with more powerful bass response. With most genres of music, the $149.99 JBL Charge 2+ delivers a rich, crisp sound with an impressive sense of bass, but tracks with seriously deep lows can make the speaker distort dramatically at top volumes. Whether this is a major issue really depends on what type of music you listen to most often. For those whose libraries don’t have lots of deep bass tracks, the splash-proof design of the Charge 2+, along with its ability to connect to three Bluetooth devices at once and charge mobile devices, will outweigh this negative. If you want distortion-free bass, you might want to consider paying $50 more for the Editors’ Choice Bose SoundLink Mini II instead.
Available in a variety of bright colors, the cylindrical, 3.1-by-7.3-by-3.1-inch, 1.3-pound Charge 2+ is on the large end of the spectrum of portable Bluetooth speakers. The speaker is splash-proof, so it can hang pool-side, but it isn’t fully waterproof, so you shouldn’t take it into the pool itself. A passive bass radiator on both ends of the cylinder pushes out low frequencies, while dual 45mm drivers deliver 15W through the main speaker grilles that take up most of the Charge 2+’s real estate. A rubberized stand on the bottom of the speaker keeps it from rolling around or dancing across tabletops when the music vibrations are intense.
The control panel across the top has buttons for Power, Bluetooth Pairing, Volume Up/Down (the level works together with, not independently of, your mobile device’s volume), Social Mode (more on that in a moment), and a multi-purpose Phone/Play/Pause button. You can also navigate a track forward by pressing this button twice quickly, though we had trouble navigating backwards, which is typically three taps–it’s probably best to navigate on your actual device when you have the option. The pinhole mic for the speakerphone function is also located on this panel.
The “Social Mode” is a nice feature that allows you to connect up to three devices simultaneously. Once all are connected, music can stream from any of the paired devices. Whichever device you press play on immediately gets preference, making the stream halt and switch, so there’s also potential for some shenanigans between friends or siblings with devices paired to the same Charge 2+.
JBL estimates the battery life for the Charge 2+ to be roughly 12 hours, and the USB port lets you charge mobile devices with the speaker’s battery. A USB charging cable and wall adapter are included with the speaker. However, that’s it for accessories–there’s no carrying pouch, and although there’s a 3.5mm Aux input for wired audio listening, there’s no cable included.
The Charge 2+ delivers robust bass for a portable speaker. But on tracks with powerful sub-bass content, like The Knife’s “Silent Shout,” it also distorts dramatically at top volumes. It would be one thing if maximum volume were obscenely loud, but the Charge 2+ can only get moderately loud, especially for outdoor use–it’s easy to see this being the default volume level you use poolside or in the backyard. So, if your music library has a lot of deep-bass tracks in it, it’s probably best to consider a different option that either doesn’t distort, like the Bose SoundLink Mini II, or that can deliver massive bass (also without distorting), like the outdoor-friendly, not-so-portable (and much more expensive) Soundcast Melody. At moderate volumes, the distortion disappears and the Charge 2+ delivers a rich bass response.
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This richness comes across far better on tracks with less intense deep bass, like Bill Callahan’s “Drover.” His baritone vocals are delivered with smooth presence in the low-mids, matched with some high-mid treble edge. The drums on this track get a nice amount of bass boosting to them. It’s nothing insane, just enough to add a bit of roundness to their sustain, and it gives the mix a nice anchor in the lows to match its crisp highs. There’s no distortion to speak of at maximum volume on this track, and the passive bass radiators sound off in all of their glory. It’s a very full sound.
On Jay-Z and Kanye West’s “No Church in the Wild,” the kick drum loop’s attack gets plenty of high-mid presence through the Charge 2+, giving it a sharpness that slices through the layers of the mix with ease. The loop’s sustain also packs a low-mid punch, while the sub-bass synth hits are delivered with a modest sense of deep bass (though there’s nothing like a subwoofer-type delivery here). The vocals get plenty of high-mid and high frequency presence, allowing to them hover cleanly over the entire mix. At top volumes, the bass on this track also doesn’t distort, so the distortion really is on a case-by-case basis.
Classical tracks, like the opening scene in John Adams’ The Gospel According to the Other Mary, get some added bass response, allowing the lower register instrumentation to have a heightened presence in the mix. The higher register vocals, strings, and brass still have most of the spotlight here, however. This is a sound signature that adds a bit of depth and brightness to the proceedings, but purists looking for a flatter response will find things a bit too sculpted.
One annoyance: When navigating to new tracks, the Charge 2+ consistently lopped off the first half-second or so of a track. This is a typical problem with cheaper Bluetooth speakers, but it’s a little more rare to encounter in this price range.
Distortion and the track navigation issue aside, the Charge 2+ is a capable speaker for most music genres that can certainly deliver a robust sense of bass when it isn’t challenged with the very deepest sub-bass the music world has to offer. However, if you want to avoid distortion completely, the aforementioned Bose and Soundcast models are good bets. If you’re looking for a speaker that is actually fully waterproof–not just splash-proof, check out the Braven BRV-Pro. And if all of these options are bit more expensive than your budget allows, consider JBL’s own Clip+, an affordable, water-resistant portable Bluetooth speaker with some solid audio performance for the price. Deep bass fiends, the JBL Charge 2+ probably isn’t for you. But if your music library exists more in the rock and pop realm–or jazz and classical, for that matter–the Charge 2+ won’t likely give you distortion trouble, and it’s a solid option to consider in this price range.