Types Of Bluetooth Speakers
larger speakers offer better sound quality, so for home use, your best choice
is a full-sized Bluetooth model. Speakers like this
can measure nearly 2 feet wide, so while it's technically possible to slip them
in a backpack and take them to an event, they'll probably spend most of their
time on a shelf.
For a true on-the-go music
experience, a better choice is a compact speaker. Small enough to carry in your
hand, these Bluetooth speakers trade some sound quality for much improved
portability and longer battery life.
If you plan to use the
speaker mostly outdoors (for camping, tailgating or wherever), consider a Bluetooth
speaker designed specifically for outdoor use. These models offer rugged
construction that can withstand being jostled, dropped and splashed with rain
Bluetooth speakers go anywhere and pair with a
variety of devices
parties or quiet listening on a leisurely afternoon, a Bluetooth speaker lets
you enjoy the music stored on a phone or other digital device without being
tethered to a set of headphones. These speakers do have their drawbacks,
including limited range and less-than-audiophile-quality sound reproduction --
but the fact remains that most of the wireless speakers on the market today are
Bluetooth models. There are other options, such as Apple's AirPlay technology, of course, but those have their own drawbacks such as higher cost
(though with sometimes better fidelity), less portability, and less compatibility.
speakers, on the other hand, are available in a wide range of options -- some
with sound quality that, unlike years past, can please all but the hardest-to-please
audiophiles. They're compatible with the widest range of devices, including
phones, tablets, laptops, music players and more. They also pair directly with
devices, so you don't need to connect via a Wi-Fi or another network, as is the
case with some other wireless speaker technologies.
Finding The Best Bluetooth Speakers
We selected our best-reviewed
portable speakers based on their sound quality, ease of use, design and, if
applicable, battery life. We relied chiefly on professional reviews by technology
publications. These sources conduct exhaustive hands-on tests of speakers,
using a variety of music styles to get a better picture of their overall
performance. Then we checked these professional results against user reviews
from retail sites to learn about how these wireless speakers hold up over the
The best Bluetooth speakers for home listening
standout among Bluetooth speakers is the (Est. $350). "The
best sounding Bluetooth speaker we've ever heard, period," says Chris
Martens at Hi-Fi+. "Highly recommended," concludes Tyll Hertsens at
InnerFidelity.com. And after painstakingly testing 11 high-end Bluetooth
speakers, TheWirecutter.com names the Deepblue2 its top pick. "For the
price, nothing else can touch it," TheWirecutter.com's experts conclude.
The Deepblue2 is
bigger than most other Bluetooth speakers -- about the size of a toaster oven
-- and experts say it simply boasts better innards than its dinky rivals. In
fact, you can't even beat it with a multi-piece stereo system at this price.
"Quite frankly, I know of no other $499 playback system that could do a
better job," Martens says. (The Deepblue2's U.S. price has since dropped
big body provides a nice, wide soundstage. Inside, its sophisticated driver
array and powerful 440-watt amplifier absolutely wallop the competition. "Any
music you throw at the Deepblue2 will sound great," TheWirecutter.com
says. It "flat out rocks the bass," Hertsens says, pumping out tremendous volume with no distortion. It actually rattles the
windows in testing at TheWirecutter.com.
A simple black
box, the Deepblue2 is plug-and-play. Hertsens had it
"up and streaming from my Galaxy Note 4 about as fast as I could unpack
it." Owners tend to love it: It earns nearly perfect ratings at
Crutchfield.com, and most Amazon.com customers give it high marks. However,
about one in five Amazon.com reviewers give the Deepblue2 a bad grade, usually
saying it broke quickly. The Deepblue2 carries a one-year warranty.
Compact Bluetooth speakers trade off sound
quality for better portability
speakers usually sound better, sometimes you just need a portable speaker you
can easily tote from room to room, and that won't gobble a lot of space in your
kitchen, bedroom or dorm room. No
other portable speaker gets as many recommendations as the (Est. $180). Both professional tests and user reviews
consistently say this little brick-shaped speaker produces amazing sound --
especially its "uncanny ability to produce convincing bass from its tiny
frame," says PCMag's Tim Gideon. "At times,
you'll ponder its size in minor disbelief."
The SoundLink Mini II replaces the original, much-loved SoundLink Mini. It boosts battery life to 10 hours (up from seven) and adds a
speakerphone function. Otherwise, reviewers are happy to say, not much has
changed. The SoundLink Mini II boasts the same
tank-like aluminum unibody ("it looks a lot like
a speaker Apple would design," CNET's David Carnoy says) and handy charging cradle (you can also charge by plugging in the
included microUSB cable). Conveniently, you can connect
the SoundLink Mini II to two Bluetooth devices at the
same time -- "your tablet for music and your phone for calls, for
example," Gideon says.
It's really no contest in
reviews: If you want the best-sounding portable Bluetooth speaker money can
buy, this is it by a landslide. "It's shocking to hear how much better the SoundLink Mini II comes across than most competitors,
with clearer voices and a fuller sound closer to what you might expect to hear
from a decent small stereo system," says Brent Butterworth at
TheWirecutter.com. "It also plays loud enough to drown out a small dinner
Bose's closest runner-up is
the pricier (Est. $230). It provides
similarly clear, room-filling sound, but with adjustable bass and treble knobs
and a retro design modeled after classic guitar amps.
Unlike the Bose, the Marshall
Kilburn lacks a speakerphone feature. Like the Bose, experts love it -- the
Kilburn collects awards at PCMag, TomsGuide.com and
TechRadar.com -- and owners at Amazon.com and BestBuy.com go crazy for it, just
as they do for the Bose.
The only drawback for these
two speakers is their price. If under-$100 is more your speed, the (Est. $70) is your best bet -- though you'll need
to shop carefully for price as some retailers sell it at the MSRP, which is
closer to $200. The Onyx Mini is a 6-inch-diameter, 3-inch-thick black circle
that sits upright like an alarm clock. Sound-wise, it can't match the Bose -- but
you'll get "powerful performance" and a "very pleasant" mix
of bass and treble, Gideon says. Considering how dismally sub-$100 Bluetooth
speakers usually fare in tests, that's high praise indeed -- and Gideon reviews
the Harmon Kardon as a $200 model.
Owners are hugely impressed
at Amazon.com and BestBuy.com (the Onyx Mini earns between 4.5 and 7.7 stars at
those retailers). It can function as a speakerphone, and it doesn't take up
much space. "The Onyx Mini gets just about everything right," Gideon
says, naming it an Editors' Choice along with the Bose.
The best wireless speakers for outdoor use are
ruggedly built and compact
Thanks to a much-needed
battery upgrade, the (Est. $150) by Ultimate Ears is now officially the
best outdoor Bluetooth speaker you can buy. In our last report, the original UE
Boom failed to make the cut solely due to a fatal battery flaw: Owners
repeatedly complained that the (non-replaceable) rechargeable battery pooped
out within two years, rendering the Boom a $200 useless brick. The new Boom 2
has fixed that problem (we found very few owner complaints at Amazon.com and
BestBuy.com, battery-related or otherwise) and experts and owners now happily
hail it as the life of the pool party.
The rugged Boom 2 is designed
to "get wet, muddy and beat up," What Hi-Fi? editors say. About the size of a water bottle, the Boom 2 is drop-proof to 5 feet, and
it'll survive being submerged in 3 feet of water for 30 minutes. "In my
testing, the speaker worked fine after being in a sink full of water for five
minutes, though once submerged, it lost the signal from my phone," says
Michael Gowan at TomsGuide.com. "As soon as I
removed it from the water, the sound resumed. It also survived a drop onto
hardwood floor from about 5 feet without any effect or blemish."
The sleek, rubber-and-cloth
cylinder comes in your choice of color (black, white, gray, blue, green, orange
or red). It'll last up to 15 hours on a charge, connect to two Bluetooth
devices simultaneously, function as a speakerphone and alarm clock, and fill an
average room or suburban backyard with big, open sound -- "impressive for
a speaker that could fit inside a pint glass," What Hi-Fi? says. You can connect up to 150 Boom 2 speakers, for even
louder (or multi-room) sound.
Of course, the Boom 2's sound
can't quite match bigger, pricier Bluetooth speakers -- it's designed for
toughness and tininess, after all. Still, "for casual listening, most
people will be quite happy with how the Boom 2 sounds," CNET's Carnoy says.
Runner-up is the Boom 2's
little brother, the (Est. $75). For half the
price, the Roll 2 is just as waterproof -- in fact, it comes with its own
inflatable pool floatie, plus a built-in bungee cord
so you can hang it from your shower faucet, backpack, etc. Shaped like a 5-inch
flying saucer, the Roll 2 likewise comes covered in your choice of colorful, rugged
fabric and rubber: "If it gets muddy or dirty, you can simply clean it
with good old soap and water," What Hi-Fi? says. The
trade-offs? Battery life is shorter (9 hours), there's no speakerphone, you can
join only two Roll 2s together, and it doesn't sound nearly as loud and clear
as the Boom 2 in tests.
Still, "the UE Roll 2
sounds full, with smooth reproduction of everything from bass notes to cymbals,
and it plays loud enough to fill a hotel room or a spot at the beach with sound,
" says Butterworth at TheWirecutter.com. "Seven months of worldwide
traveling with the original Roll have only confirmed our love of this design."
Butterworth says it's the ideal balance of sound quality, ruggedness, features,
portability and price, and it beats 138 other portable Bluetooth speakers to
win first place in his test. Owners like it too: The Roll 2 earns 4.5 stars or
better at both Amazon.com and BestBuy.com, with hundreds of reviews posted.
Even smaller -- and cheaper
-- is the (Est. $55). No bigger than a hockey
puck, the Clip 2 comes with a built-in metal carabiner clip and stowaway headphone
cord (handy if you want a wired connection, instead of wireless). Like the UE
speakers, the JBL's rugged fabric-and-rubber body comes in black, gray, or
bright colors, and it's waterproof under 3 feet of water for 30 minutes. The inexpensive
Clip 2 even has a speakerphone function. Battery life is about 8 hours. Sound-wise,
"the Clip 2 delivers nearly as much fidelity as the ... UE Roll 2,"
TomsGuide.com says, and owners likewise award it high marks. Butterworth
prefers to spend more for the Roll 2, "but if you really need something
small, such as for hanging from a backpack strap, the Clip 2 is a nice
choice," he says.
Expert & User Review Sources
outstanding head-to-head tests of wireless speakers, subjecting 11 home Bluetooth speakers and more than 100 portable Bluetooth speakers to a
listening panel, battery life tests and (for the outdoor Bluetooth speakers)
abuse tests. Reviews by other expert sources -- CNET, PCMag, TomsGuide.com, Gizmodo.com, What Hi-Fi?, TechRadar.com, TrustedReviews.com, Hi-Fi+ and InnerFidelity.com -- are just as thorough, although not head-to-head. ConsumerReports.org tests wireless speakers, rating their sound quality, ease of use and versatility,
and ranking them from best to worst, but it doesn't provide many details, and
Bluetooth speakers are mixed in with other wireless technologies. Owner reviews
at Amazon.com, BestBuy.com and Crutchfield.com reveal how
well various Bluetooth speakers work in real-world use.