Buying Guide: Bluetooth Speakers

 

What the best Bluetooth speakers have

  • Great sound quality. A great Bluetooth speaker will deliver room-filling sound across the whole musical range, from treble to bass, without distortion.
  • Smooth wireless performance. Your speaker should be able to pair easily with your devices and stream your music smoothly, without interruptions.
  • Ease of use. Setup should be straightforward, controls should be clearly marked and intuitive, and the system should allow you to control the music easily from your phone.
  • Long battery life (for portable speakers). The best ones can play for 8 hours or more on a single charge.
  • Sturdy construction. Signs of quality include a solid metal case (or ruggedized fabric and rubber, for outdoor speakers), a stable base and a generally solid feel.
  • Presentable looks. If a portable speaker doesn't offer a sleek, stylish design, it should at least be unobtrusive.

Know before you go

What's your budget? The very best Bluetooth speakers cost $150 to $350. For this price, you'll get the best possible sound, the most extras and/or the toughest build quality. We found a few very good Bluetooth speakers for $100 or less, but you'll sacrifice some features and sound quality.

What devices do you use? Bluetooth speakers can play music from your smartphone, tablet, media player, laptop and other devices. The best models -- even in the budget category -- can pair with two Bluetooth devices simultaneously (a tablet for music and a phone for calls, for example).  

Where will you be using your speakers? If you're planning to use your speaker at home, think about where you'll be setting it up. A bigger room will obviously need a more powerful speaker to fill it with sound, and the acoustics of the room can affect the sound as well. In general, a larger (and more expensive) speaker will offer better power and clarity, but it will also be much harder to take with you on the go. If you want to travel with your speaker -- or even simply move it easily from room to room -- you'll need a smaller model that runs on a battery, so be prepared to sacrifice some power and sound quality. If you'll be using the speaker outdoors a lot, then you'll need something with rugged construction and that's powerful enough able to compete with ambient noise. If your speaker will get wet (outside in the rain, in or near a pool, in the shower, etc.), you'll need a waterproof speaker -- and make sure it's as waterproof as you need it to be. Some rugged speakers can actually float around in the pool with you, while others are merely splashproof.

Do you want to link two or more speakers? With some models, you can connect two Bluetooth speakers (wirelessly, of course) to produce stereo sound, or to make a multi-room setup. In fact, some models will let you connect dozens of speakers, or more.

What kind of music do you usually listen to? The best reviewers test speakers by playing a variety of musical styles. Bass-heavy music tends to sound best with bigger speakers, for example. Some speakers rate better for classical or jazz than others.  If your musical tastes tend strongly in one direction, it's worth combing through reviews to see which speakers will work best with your favorite tunes.

Would you like to use your speaker as a speakerphone? This can be really convenient, if you're playing music through your phone and a call comes in. Some Bluetooth speakers include this feature, but not all. If you plan to use your speaker to answer calls, then check reviews to see how clearly it can transmit a spoken voice and how well it can be heard from different angles.