Review: JBL Clip2 and Charge3

We have had a glorious summer here in the UK this year. Two things go hand in hand with great weather – good food and good music.

Music is, of course, a very personal thing and while everyone’s tastes differ, one thing that everyone seems to agree on is the clearer and better the music sounds, the more enjoyable it is.

JBL have been producing speakers for quite some time now and they obviously know their stuff.  Their splash-proof speakers come in various sizes to cater to a wide demographic of users. Bluetooth connectivity, rechargeable batteries, and call handling are all catered for with a bold design and great colour choices too.  This summer I have been testing out the JBL Charge3 and Clip 2, two very different speakers with one thing in common – great sound quality.

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Both speakers are aimed at those wishing to enjoy music while being outdoors – without having to worry too much about the elements. Both are rated IPX7, which means they are effectively showerproof, so the odd rain or snow shower isn’t going to be an issue. With this rating, they could technically survive being submerged in a metre of water for up to 30 minutes. I doubt this was the intention, but it does mean should the unexpected happen, you won’t be left with a useless gadget.

The Clip2

Taking a look at the Clip2 first, here we have an ultra-portable Bluetooth 4.2 wireless speaker, offering eight hours of playback time, with full speaker phone capabilities. It’s powered by a 370mAh battery and the single speaker is rated with a sound output of 3W. Portability is enhanced with an integrated carabiner, allowing you to clip it to your clothes, bag or anything else for that matter.  Weighing in at just 188 grams, it’s not going to be that noticeable when you’re carrying the speaker. The Clip2 is pretty compact too, measuring 141mm x 94mm (including the carabiner) and just 42mm deep. My review model was blue but there are a handful of other colour options, including black, grey, red and teal.

jbl_clip2_colorgroup_4_redgreenshift_x1-1606x1606px_dvhamasterIn terms of controls, there’s not too much to worry about as the Clip2 is very simple. The device has a total of 5 buttons – volume + and -, power on/off, Bluetooth connection, and a final button for call handling/changing tracks. Double clicking the call button allows you skip forward one track and while you can’t skip to a previous track, you can, of course, control all functions from your Bluetooth player of choice. The only port can be found under a rubberised flap, which is used to charge the unit with the included (in this instance) bright orange micro USB cable. It’s just over 30 cm in length. Charging time takes around 2.5 hours through a phone/tablet style wall wart.

If, like me, you have older MP3 players without wireless connectivity, you are still catered for. Cleverly, this speaker has a built-in 40cm 3.5mm audio cable. When not in use, it is kept wound around the speaker itself and you’d be forgiven for not knowing it’s there. It is a welcome option, as using Bluetooth for long periods of time will slowly drain your phone’s battery, so using this “old-fashioned” wired connection will definitely be useful. That is, as long as you haven’t yet upgraded to a device that has forgone the old-school 3.5mm audio port.  When charging, the small LED on the rear of the speaker will glow red.

I used the Clip2 primarily in the garden this summer and found that a charge easily lasted for the quoted eight hours. Whenever any calls came in, they were handled easily and the call quality was great. This is definitely more of a convenience feature but it’s good to have the option there for the times you may want to make that call when out and about.

For such a small speaker, the Clip2 really does pack quite an audible punch. With the speaker being front facing, you will always get the best performance if your music of choice is being projected towards you. However, most of the time we were using the Clip2 we had it facing upwards and found it gave a great 360-degree sound effect. Some listeners may find the level of bass a little lacking, but everyone who heard the Clip2 playing was impressed. I didn’t feel it was a sticking point, but this will be very much down to personal preference.  It is possible to daisy-chain two of these speakers together, giving both added volume and a wider sound stage.

I also found the Clip2 offered a great solution as a speaker for the bathroom. While this may not have been intended, it definitely performed well in an enclosed space. Although the Clip2 was never directly in the shower spray, its waterproof rating allows it to be used with wet hands, so skipping tracks and changing the volume won’t be an issue. It would also mean not missing calls when taking that 30-minute-long hot shower or bath, if you are that way inclined. The Clip2 retails at an RRP of £49.99/$49.95 which is well priced for a speaker with such portability and good sound quality.

The Charge3

Taking a large step up, we come to the Charge3 speaker – an altogether different beast that is greater not only in dimension but in audio capabilities too.

While portable – an easy option to take to a beach or gathering – it tips the scales at 814 grams, so it’s instantly not as portable as the Clip2. This speaker connects via Bluetooth 4.1, compared to Bluetooth 4.2 on the Clip2. But it’s equipped with a much larger battery (6000 mAh) so the lower power consumption you get with the newer standard isn’t so much of an issue. The quoted playback time is 20 hours, more than enough for even the longest of beach rendezvous or family BBQ’s. Charging time is quoted as 4.5 hours. Again, the speaker is rated IPX7 Waterproof so the Charge3 makes for a great outdoor speaker.  The same choice of colours are available, grey, blue, black, red and teal (reviewed).

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This time, audio duties are handled by two 10W speakers and while this speaker instantly sounds louder than its little brother, it’s not just the volume which jumps out at you. At either end of the speaker, you’ll find passive radiators performing subwoofer duties. They create a much bigger bass presence and this does make a noticeable difference when listening. I was a little concerned that the radiators were as exposed as they are – I can imagine little fingers finding these an interesting place to start poking fingers into! I could foresee these getting damaged if not handled with care, so some sort of carry case when transporting would be handy.

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Dimensions have increased too, at 213 x 87 x 88mm, but this is obviously to house the extra speakers and much larger battery. Handily, the battery is not just for powering the Charge3 as it also doubles up a power bank to give your phones or tablets an extra burst of power when you are away from a mains socket.

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Controls are short and sweet once again. Volume + and -, play pause/answer/end call, power, and Bluetooth.  There is an additional button that allows you to combine multiple speakers, to give a wider sound stage if you feel the need. As before, there is no way to skip to the previous track.

A larger rubber flap houses all of the required wired connections; a micro USB charging port (using the 1m included cable and wall wart in bright JBL orange), a 3.5 audio port, once again for connecting using the old school audio cable (although one is not included this time round) and the standard USB port, allowing you to charge those devices that need it. At the base of the speaker are 5 white LEDs which will show you what power state your device is in.  Whilst charging, the lights flash and 5 non-blinking light indicate that a full charge is complete

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As well as being able to use the Charge3 with phones and tablets, plus other wired audio devices while outdoors, I definitely think that it has a secondary use as an indoor speaker for desktop computers and laptops. Wired or wireless connections are possible, but for keeping clutter to a minimum, a Bluetooth link to a PC was ideal.

As with the Clip2, I once again set this speaker up in the bathroom and again it sounded great and performed really well.  The larger dimensions and output mean that the Charge3 is overkill for a smaller, more enclosed space, but if you are the sort to enjoy lengthy baths or showers, you’ll find another use for this fantastic speaker. Again the portability of these speakers means they can easily be moved around your home so they don’t have to only be used when the weather is warmer.

The RRP of the Charge3 comes in slightly higher at £149.99/$149.95.

One more thing

The Charge3 includes one additional feature that’s worth mentioning. The JBL Connect mobile app (available for both iOS and Android) gives some additional control to certain speakers in the range with a smartphone or tablet.  When connected, it’s possible to upgrade the speakers’ software to enable the use of your device’s voice assistant, be it Siri or Google Now.  The upgrade requires the speaker to be connected to power; a download is performed and transferred to the speaker from your device. Once complete, pressing and holding the Play/Pause button will allow you to then use Siri/Google Now as you would with your phone.  This will, in turn, allow you to request tracks removing the need for physical interaction with the speaker.

I tested the speakers with my iPhone 6s – using Siri to request the next or previous track was convenient if the phone was tucked away. The feature also allows you to make any of your usual Siri requests without having direct access to your handset.  This functionality is currently available on the JBL Charge3, Flip3, Pulse 2 and Extreme.  It can also be accessed when using Apple Macs and allowed me to access Siri in a different room with the connected speaker.

Summary

Whether the Charge3 is worth 3 times as much as the Clip2 is very much down to personal preference and of course whether or not you value the additional functionality included in the bigger speaker.  The ultra-portability of the smaller model definitely forgoes some of the audio capabilities of its larger brethren – but they both have very different uses.

The voice assistance feature of the Charge3 is innovative, but it’s the audio quality that really impresses. Both of these speakers are a fantastic addition to the popular portable Bluetooth speaker marketplace.  JBL have definitely made an improvement over their older models and either model is worth considering if you want a speaker with portability plus resistance to the outside elements. Whether you choose to use the JBL Clip2 or Charge3 as outdoor speakers, an enhanced audio output for your PC, a speaker for your phone or for listening to tunes in the shower, you’ll find they’ll look great and are equipped to really pump your music out.

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