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Great big sound from rugged little speakers: JBL Charge 2+ vs. Fugoo Sport

Michael Brown | June 9, 2015
Earbuds make great travel companions when you're traveling solo, but you need speakers to party with friends and family. Bluetooth has become the de facto standard for streaming music from smartphones and media players such as the iPod touch, and it can actually deliver relatively high-quality sound these days--provided the speaker you're streaming to is up to the task.

Social mode allows up to three users to pair their Bluetooth devices to the Charge 2+. Pressing play on their device takes over the speaker until someone else presses play on theirs. This allows partygoers to share their music without physically sharing files. In speakerphone mode, you can take a call on your paired smartphone and use the Charge 2+ to hear your caller (the speaker has an integrated mic, so you can talk to the other person in hands-free mode). If you're not operating the speaker in phone mode, pushing the speakerphone button pauses playback on the paired device. The volume control buttons are between the Bluetooth and Social buttons. These are easier to feel than see. They have elevated surfaces, but being the same color as the enclosure makes them blend in.

Turn the Charge 2+ around and you'll find three connections near its base: A micro USB port for charging its internal battery (an AC adapter and USB cable are provided in the box), an auxiliary input for making wired audio connections, and a USB Type A port that allows you to tap the speaker's 6000-mAH battery to charge your phone or media player. Doing so will shorten the speaker's play time, of course, which JBL claims is 12 hours. The current battery level is reported by five dot-sized LEDs that light up whenever you press a button.

Ruggedness, weather resistance, and audio performance

The Charge 2+ is protected by rubber-coated end caps. JBL doesn't report an IP code for the speaker, but states in both its advertising and in the speaker's user manual that it can withstand splashes of water and can even be cleaned with running water from a faucet. The manual warns, however, not to submerge the device or to leave it plugged in while you're cleaning it. The ports in back are not covered, but they are recessed to provide a modicum of resistance to moisture. JBL doesn't make any claims about drop resistance, but the speaker certainly feels substantial. I think the greatest risk of damage would stem from sharp objects making contact with the rubber diaphragm of those passive radiators.

Listening to Steely Dan's "Jack of Speed," from their Two Against Nature release, I found it easy to forget that the Charge 2+ is equipped with just two 45mm transducers — and it wasn't just because of the speaker's strong bass response. The very first note is a strike of the drummer's hi-hat, producing a high-frequency sizzle a fraction of a beat before the bass and then keyboard and guitar come in, and the Charge 2+ reproduced the sound surprisingly well.

In addition to my near-field listening session in my home office, I also took the Charge 2+ into my home's enclosed patio and then into my backyard. The audio broke up for about 30 seconds after I set it down on my patio table, at which point it was separated from my phone by about 35 feet and two insulated interior walls, but then it seemed to dial the signal in and it went back to streaming. That was the absolute outer limit of its range, though; it couldn't maintain a solid connection to my phone when I moved it just a little further away. This is likely because the speaker is based on the older Bluetooth 3.0 standard.

 

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