As much as I love being a tech junkie, there’s much to be said about taking a “wait and watch” approach when it comes to new gadgets. This is especially true for something that looks too good to be true because well, it usually is (I’m looking at you Oculus Rift). So when bluetooth speakers first started showing up, I had to clamp down on both my enthusiasm and wallet in equal measure.

No wires? Uncompromising sound quality over bluetooth? Excellent battery life? Ear wax dislodging bass? Sounded too good to be true. And they were. I don’t care what anyone says, the first gen portable bluetooth speakers were terrible.
They had their place I suppose, but the more “portable” they got, the crappier the sound quality became. Sure you could get some mileage out of them for podcasts and audio-books but that was about it. As a self confessed audio snob, I just couldn’t stand them for music.

Things have certainly changed. The last three years in particular have seen a plethora of such devices show up on the market and some of them seemed to be pretty good. My interest was piqued when I first heard a friend’s JBL charge 3 in action. But the turning point was having my wife‘s 2.1 desktop speakers die without warning. Time to whip out the ol wallet then. But not before doing my due diligence first. After talking to some like minded audiophiles and a LOT of reading, I settled on the JBLs Charge 2 plus. On with the review:

Packaging: Nothing much to say here. Its functional, kept the device safe till it got to me, everything was snug so there was no rattling when I shook it. That’s always a good sign. There’s a charging cable (mini usb) with 3 adapters. Flat pins and your run of the mill round pin Indian ones that slide into the former. Thoughtful. What isn’t? The lack of any sort of carrying case/pouch. Aaaw.

Look: This is subjective of course but I like it. Understated and sleek with zero “bling”. Its got a matte like finish that feels pleasant to touch. The buttons have good feedback and the lights are perfect, ie, not too bright or dim. The only concern I have is that it probably wont survive many drops. Caveat emptor fellow klutzes.

Connectivity: I got a good 20 meters with clear line of sight. That drops to half with a wall in the middle. Good enough. I don’t foresee being more than 10 meters away while using this. Multiple walls could be problematic but then, whats the point of listening to anything if your not in the same room ? The Charge 2+ supports up to three devices at once and pairing is a simple matter of hitting a button. So if you want to share your tunes with company, its a cinch. Nice!

Audio Quality: The real reason for buying the thing. I tested the Charge 2+ across different genres to put it through its paces (primarily paired with an iPhone 6s plus). Unlike the Charge 3, the Charge 2+ does not have a companion app. This would be my primary complaint with the device.

EDM: Given how popular the genre is, I expected the device to perform well here and wasn’t disappointed. Though as good as the bass is, there are certain tracks where the low end can muddle out the mids. This is especially true for tracks that are very bass heavy. I suspect there’s some on board modulation going on. It can be offset by fiddling with your EQ settings but imo that seems more of a hassle than its worth. More reason why not extending app support makes zero sense.

Rock: The Charge 2+ seems the most comfortable here. The soundscape was amazing with mids and highs getting equal attention. Bass was spot on. While playing “My Sharona” this little thing actually shook my windows while the teeny woofers on the side visibly vibrated for all their worth. For a device that sits in the palm of my hand, that’s goddamn spectacular. I admit, it looks cool too.

Metal: No complaints here. Much like rock, the Charge 2+ plus felt right at home with the genre. The exceptions here were certain Korn tracks. The problem again, shows up on bass heavy songs only. Its not that the speakers cant handle the bass but rather it does so at the detriment of other mid – high frequencies.

Classical: Alright so long as no big brass instruments kicked in. Took some tweaking with EQ settings but eventually things were fine.

Hip hop: Seeing as how most hip hop numbers I have don’t have a huge frequency range to begin with, bass here was not a problem. Further evidence of some on board modulation perhaps?

The ultimate test: This one’s a secret of mine. When it comes to testing audio quality, “My violent heart” by NiN is the one song I use to put anything through its paces. Its a distortion heavy track with a lot of range and varying levels of bass. Not counting high end custom made systems, every single consumer level device I’ve used this with has failed. The Charge 2+ was no exception. But to put this in perspective, so did Bose’s Soundlink mini 2 which costs twice as much. I’m only mentioning it for the sake of purists who want to know exactly where the weak points are.

Other features: The Charge 2+ can also double up as a power bank, allowing you to juice up a dying phone or two. I’m guessing that’s the reason for using the “charge” moniker. I didn’t time how long it would take to charge my phone from near zero but it does work. As far as functionality goes, this is a nice extra.

Battery life: The literature claims 12 hours on a single charge under “normal” conditions. What ever the heck that means. I got about 9 hours on almost full volume. That’s pretty much power for the course (sorry) with these things. It does take a long time to juice it up though. Using the 1.8 A charger enclosed with the device, it took 4 hours to bring it back to full. I’m guessing that using a 2A charger will speed that up a bit. All in all, the battery life is pretty decent. Time will tell how the battery ages. Given the quality of JBL products, I’m going to say, rather well.

Final thoughts: The Charge 2+ is an excellent little device that impressed me way more that I thought it would. The sheer output this little thing is capable of is a testament to how the market segment has matured. At this price point, I’m doubtful one could get something better. And for those wondering why I didn’t opt for the Charge 3 (especially since the Charge 2+ seems to have been discontinued), here’s why: First, it costs about 60% more in the Indian market and that that point, the price to performance ratio doesn’t make sense to me. Yes it has more bass and app support but the smaller device has a better soundscape out of the box. Second, its bigger (though looks a bit more rugged) and heavier so not as portable. The Charge 2+ ticks more boxes. Its that simple.

Just don’t drop it.

 

(Photos by Naina)