The clear standout among Bluetooth speakers is the Sony SRS-BTX500 (Est. $300) . The Wirecutter recommends it as the best home Bluetooth speaker, saying it delivers "the best balance of exceptional high- and low-end sound, portability, aesthetics and battery life" in its price range. The speaker gets very good ratings in other professional tests as well. Reviewers say it delivers very good sound quality for its size, though it can get somewhat muddy in the midrange. It also pairs easily with Bluetooth devices, and reviewers find its speakerphone capabilities a really nice plus. The speaker's weakest point is its battery life: At about six hours, it's okay but not great.
The Bose SoundLink II, which gets excellent reviews from both professionals and users, would have been a clear choice for runner up in this category. However, it was discontinued in February 2014 and replaced with a new model, the SoundLink III (Est. $300) . Reviews for the new SoundLink are still trickling in, but the ones we've seen so far are generally positive. Both CNET and PCMag.com give it 4 stars out of 5, saying it's generally comparable in sound quality to its predecessor and offers much improved battery life. The few dozen user reviews we found at Amazon.com were also mostly positive. However, when going through them, we discovered an unfortunate quirk of the new SoundLink: Its battery compartment is sealed. That means that when the rechargeable battery comes to the end of its life in about two years, the only way to replace it will be to send it to Bose for professional service, which will likely cost around $75. We consider this a big enough drawback to deny the SoundLink III our recommendation.
Another strong contender in the Bluetooth category is the Jawbone Big Jambox (Est. $250) . CNET, PCMag.com and Wired all say it delivers very clear, room-filling sound and has excellent battery life -- up to 15 hours. Reviewers generally say that its sound quality isn't quite up there with the Bose SoundLink line, especially on the bass, but it's still quite good for its size. Users are generally impressed with the Big Jambox's sound performance, especially the high end. They also love its speakerphone feature -- something the higher-priced Bose lacks.
No other portable speaker in any category gets as many recommendations as the Bose SoundLink Mini (Est. $200) . Both professional tests and user reviews consistently say it produces amazing sound for its tiny size, though many note that the bass is a bit "boomy" and lacking in definition. Reviewers praise the speaker's sturdy build quality, as well. However, editors at The Wirecutter think the Mini doesn't offer enough features to justify its $200 price tag. It's not water resistant, it doesn't include a speakerphone function, and it charges by means of a desktop charging cradle, rather than a more versatile USB cable. Also, its battery life is only seven hours per charge -- pretty good, but only half that of the larger Bose SoundLink III (Est. $300) . Also, while conceding that the Mini's sound quality is the best you'll find in this size class, the reviewer doesn't consider it the match of a full-sized model like the Sony SRS-BTX500 (Est. $300) .
Another drawback of the SoundLink Mini is that it's relatively pricey for such a small speaker. For half the price, you could get the JBL Flip (Est. $100) , which gets excellent reviews for its sound quality and portability. The speaker is a compact cylinder that can play in either a horizontal or vertical position (hence the name "Flip"), and it comes with a neoprene carrying case. Professional reviewers generally like the design and say that the sound quality and volume are quite good for such a small speaker. The Flip also includes the speakerphone feature that's lacking on the SoundLink Mini. On the downside, the Flip's battery life is even weaker than the Mini's: between three and five hours depending on volume. The user reviews we consulted include several complaints about unreliable Bluetooth pairing, but newer reviews say that this problem only occurs with older units; JBL has since corrected it and pulled defective units from stores.