New JBL portable speakers take on Sonos with Wi-Fi and Dolby Atmos support

JBL Charge 5 Wi-Fi on white surface, with a colorful background behind it
(Image credit: JBL)

Two of the best Bluetooth speakers from JBL have got a hefty upgrade, adding a host of Wi-Fi enabled capabilities and improved connection features, alongside JBL’s first-ever implementation of Dolby Atmos in a portable speaker.

The Boombox 3 and Charge 5 speakers were already solid options for a Bluetooth portable speaker, but have now ascended to a new level of convenience in their new forms: the JBL Boombox 3 Wi-Fi and JBL Charge 5 Wi-Fi.

When we reviewed the compact JBL Charge 5 back in 2021, we were impressed by its balanced sound quality, 20-hour battery life, and impactful volume – though the new Charge 5 Wi-Fi also updates its Bluetooth to the latest 5.3 standard, along with Wi-Fi support that lets you stream in higher-quality through music streaming services such as Apple Music.

Both models get a medley of Wi-Fi enabled features, including Apple AirPlay 2 for iOS users, Alexa’s Multi-Room Music extension that lets you command speakers across your home, and even Chromecast support. But they also benefit from the higher bandwidth of a Wi-Fi connection compared to Bluetooth. It puts the Charge 5 Wi-Fi even more more directly in line with the super-popular Sonos Roam speaker, and the Boombox 3 Wi-Fi even closer to the Sonos Move.

The larger and higher-specified JBL Boombox 3 is alone in getting Dolby Atmos support – the first time JBL has done this in a portable speaker (but the company knows the tech well from its soundbars, such as the hugely impressive JBL Bar 1300X. The Atmos audio is currently limited to the Tidal streaming service, though, which has to be linked through the JBL One app. Apple Music and Amazon Music Unlimited HD both support it too, so we hope there'll be support for them in the future.

You’re paying a little more for the Wi-Fi versions of these speakers, with the Boombox 3 Wi-Fi costing £549 (around $680 / AU$1,000) instead of its former £446 price tag, while the Charge 5 Wi-Fi will set you back £229 (around $280 / AU$430 instead of £140. We're still waiting on confirmed US/Aus pricing. The products will be available in mid-May 2023.

For the latter model, it’s almost doubled in price, though the new smart features may be enough of a convenience to sway you next time you’re in need of a good Bluetooth speaker.

JBL Boombox 3 Wi-Fi on white background

(Image credit: JBL)

Go big and go home

Both of these models offer a sturdy construction and solid water resistance, making it great for trips out of the home, into nature or even the beach and swimming pools, alongside long battery life (20-24 hours) that mean they don’t need to be permanently wedded to a plug socket in your living room. 

The Wi-Fi support is all about making these better at-home speakers too, with the improved capabilities and higher-resolution sound afford by that. So while you’re paying a little more, you’re also getting portable speakers that can double as both on-the-go sound machines and in multi-room music systems. The Charge 5 would be perfect for the bathroom, even if it costs a lot more than Ikea's shower-friendly $15 waterproof speaker.

While Sonos is usually a byword for quality sound, we've often found the JBL equivalent portable speakers to be meatier in a way that works well outdoors. And the Atmos-compatible Boombox 3 has a slight advantage on paper at its price point compared to the Sonos Move – and we bet it'll take a tumble better.

Henry St Leger

Henry is a freelance technology journalist, and former News & Features Editor for TechRadar, where he specialized in home entertainment gadgets such as TVs, projectors, soundbars, and smart speakers. Other bylines include Edge, T3, iMore, GamesRadar, NBC News, Healthline, and The Times.