The 12 Best Portable Bluetooth Speakers

Jul 15, 2020

Category: Tech

Heading out to the beach or into the woods for a weekend of camping has traditionally meant having to leave behind many of the amenities of our homes, though due to advancements in Bluetooth and battery technology, your music is no longer a luxury you have to forgo when going off-grid thanks to the portable Bluetooth speaker. And in the last decade or so, as this product space has steadily risen in demand, the market has been treated to an increasing number of these wireless portable speakers. And while this affords buyers an enormous number of options, it can also make it difficult to narrow down which speaker is best for you.

With this in mind, we’ve reviewed the last few years of releases and launches to generate this guide to the best portable Bluetooth speakers currently on the market. Below we’ll be exploring what factors and features to consider when in the market for one of these wireless speakers, as well as our choices for the dozen best items that are out there. So, whether you’re looking for a small personal speaker to take to the trails, or a plus-sized stereo to provide the soundtrack at your next party, this list has you covered.

Photo: Bose SoundLink Revolve+

A Guide To Making A Sound Purchase

11 Factors To Consider When Shopping For A Portable Bluetooth Speaker

Because every portable Bluetooth speaker performs the same primary function of playing music, it can be a bit confusing on the surface to understand the finer points of what distinguishes the different available models on the market. Knowing this, we’ve put together this section to educate you on what to focus on when buying a portable Bluetooth speaker.

Intended Use: One of, if not the biggest guiding factor when shopping for a portable Bluetooth speaker, intended use will dictate what size product you want and what features and amenities you’ll need. Today’s market boasts everything from pocket-sized speakers with built-in carabiners all the way up to classic boombox-sized party speakers. Think about the setting and conditions in which you plan on using the speaker and use that as a starting point to help determine how much battery life you’ll need and what kind of volume outputs you’ll want your speaker to be capable of.

Size & Weight: Portable Bluetooth speakers come in a huge range of sizes, from items you can fit in the palm of one hand, to speakers that require two to hold. If you plan on using a speaker for camping or off-the-grid use, compactness and minimal weight are going to be king, though if you plan on using the speaker for rooftop kickbacks or backyard BBQs, compactness and weight are much less an issue.

Music Playback Time: Far more important than general battery life, music playback time gives you a realistic understanding of low long a speaker can blare out your tunes before needing to be reconnected to a power source. It is important to note that this metric can be affected by factors such as volume, boosted bass, or other supplementary features or functions.

Recharge Time: Just as important as how long a battery can last is how long it takes that battery to charge. Most modern portable Bluetooth speakers can be fully recharged within a few hours, though there are some that can yield several hours of music playback after only a few minutes of charging.

Materials & Construction: This area is also one of the more important ones, as it determines the materials used to house a stereo’s audio components as well as how they were pieced together. Manufacturers that use high-quality materials such as steel, aluminum, leather, etc, will seldom fail to highlight such.

Photo: Bose SoundLink Micro

Ruggedness & Waterproofing: Because portable Bluetooth speakers are designed for use outside of the home, they face a much larger number of potential hazards compared to indoor floorstanding or bookshelf speakers. As such, portable Bluetooth speakers are often designed and engineered to withstand some abuse, though to what degree can hugely vary. Another important element to keep an eye out for is a speaker’s waterproof/water-resistance rating, which is usually denoted via an IP/IPX-rating.

Sound Quality: Just like with any other type of speaker or headphones, the different transducers and components used to comprise a speaker will massively effect said speaker’s audio quality (and clarity). The lion’s share of speakers will list specific specs that should help give you a general sense of a speaker’s sound quality.

Manufacturer: Even if you aren’t able to glean any meaningful info from looking at a given speaker’s frequency ranges and response rates, you can often get a general sense of how a speaker will perform in terms of sound quality and clarity based on who happens to be the manufacturer. While there are occasionally exceptions and outliers, you can typically trust that a speaker made by a reputable American, Scandinavian, or German brand will likely boast a level of audio quality roughly on-par with the rest of that particular brand’s standards.

Extra Amenities: Every portable Bluetooth speaker on the market will provide you with an on-the-go means of listening to your music via a wireless connection, though some speakers also afford their users supplementary features such as built-in LED lights, internal power banks and USB ports for charging smartphones and other devices, and integrated microphones for taking calls or hands-free music playback controls.

Industrial Design: Aside from usually being fairly compact, portable Bluetooth speakers come in a myriad of shapes, designs, and colors. From simple cylindrical items to modern Scandinavian-designed speakers, to carabiner-style items, there’s a surprising amount of aesthetic diversity in this space, making it well worth research what all is out there before pulling the trigger on your purchase.

Price: While construction and materials, battery life, and sound quality are all of utmost importance, they should all be viewed relative to a speaker’s MSRP. Just like any other modern gadget, portable Bluetooth speakers can vary hugely in price, and though there are some ridiculously-competitively-priced items out there, we’d argue it’s well worth investing a little extra to ensure you’re getting your hands on a quality product that will serve you for years.

AKG S30

Touted as an all-in-one travel speaker, AKG’s S30 is a highly-compact gadget that’s brimming with features and functionality. The speaker plays through a pair of 36mm drivers that have been painstakingly-tuned to the German brand’s usual top-notch standards, resulting in a potent little stereo with sound that punches well above its weight class. Deceptively rugged, this unassuming speaker boasts an aluminum unibody housing with diamond-cut edges, as well as a pair of integrated microphones with noise and echo-canceling and a Lithium-polymer 2,500mAh power bank that can refuel other mobile devices via a USB port. Weighing just 300g (0.66lbs), this trusty little speaker offers up to ten hours of music playback time. Equipped with Bluetooth 4.2 connectivity, the S30 also comes with an auxiliary 1/8th input for wired connections. And though this item initially retailed for $150, you can now snag one at the link below for just under half that amount.

Purchase: $70

Bose SoundLink Micro

The Bose Soundlink Micro is a potent little speaker that, despite its incredibly-compact 3.87″ x 3.87″ x 1.37″ form, manages to cram a slew of modern amenities into the 0.64lb (290 gram) device. The gadget earns a rugged IPX7-rating thanks to an entirely silicone-covered housing that makes it completely impervious to water damage, so much so that it can be submerged a full meter underwater without any issues. Inside, custom-designed transducers have been paired with a set of silicone passive radiators that together afford shockingly crisp and clear sound considering the speaker’s size. Offering a generous 30’ range, the device also has a built-in microphone that allows you to calls and use on Siri or a smart home assistant, plus the Soundlink Micro can be linked to the Bose Connect app where the speaker can be tweaked and adjusted, or set in “party” mode to link up with other nearby speakers. Other noteworthy elements include six hours of music playback time per charge and a tear-resistant silicone strap that can conveniently loop around a carabiner, MOLLE webbing, or on a bike’s handlebars.

Purchase: $79+

Sony SRS-XB23 EXTRA BASS

Sony’s SRS-XB23 EXTRA BASS was designed to provide an easy and reliable means of taking your music with you anywhere. As its moniker implies, this product was developed with a special focus on producing a deep and heavy low-end though the rest of its frequency range is nothing to scoff at. A cylindrical design helps to minimize space and make the speaker particularly easy to slip into a glove compartment or backpack, as well as the cupholder of a car or camp chair. This travel-friendly speaker is also sold with an included hardshell travel case that’s made especially for the Sony device by Knox Gear. IP67-rated, this speaker has absolutely no problem standing up to dust, dirt, rain, or the elements, plus the SRS-XB23 was also extensively drop-tested, resulting in a largely shockproof body. The SRS-XB23 also gets a battery that allows for up to 12 hours of music playback time.

Purchase: $100

Marshall Emberton

Released at the beginning of the month, the Emberton is a cutting-edge portable Bluetooth speaker dressed up in the British brand’s signature style. The crisp booming sound comes from a pair of 2” 10W full-range drivers with passive radiators set behind Marshall’s classic white script badge and cross-wire grille. The Emberton’s timeless design has been paired with a minimalistic and intuitive control layout boasting only the bare essentials, with the top of the device sporting a brass multi-directional control knob, an LED battery level indicator, and a Bluetooth pairing button. The speaker also benefits from the London-based firm’s True Stereophonic 360-degree sound which emits sound waves in every direction. The battery on the Emberton is no less impressive, offering more than 20 hours of music playback time and only taking three hours to fully recharge, though 20 minutes of charging allows for another five hours of playback. Utilizing Bluetooth 5.0-connectivity, the Emberton also has a 30’ range. Weighing 1.5lbs, the speaker is also IPX7-rated.

Purchase: $150

Bang & Olufsen Beosound A1 2nd Gen

An even more refined version of the Danish company’s Beosound A1, the second generation of the speaker gains a host of updates and upgrades, including IP67-certification Bluetooth 5.1 connectivity, and bolstered (3,000mAh) battery life with a collective 18 hours of music playback. Debuting in May 2020, this new version of the Beosound A1 also gets a trio of internal microphones that allow for hands-free functionality and the use of smart voice assistants.Bestowed with True360 omnidirectional sound, this Scandinavian speaker’s transducers consist of a 3.5” woofer and a 3/5” tweeter — with a frequency range between 55-20.000Hz – that is backed by a pair of 30W Class D amps, enabling the circular speaker to blare out at up to 92dB. The speaker’s sound is also adjustable, with five preset EQs, plus the option for full customization via the Bang & Olufsen app. Offer in Black Anthracite (seen here) and Grey Mist, this Cecilie Manz-designed speaker is constructed from pearl-blasted aluminum and polymer and is complemented via a custom aluminum-bead-adorned waterproof leather band.

Purchase: $250

Harman Kardon Onyx Studio 6

Since the company was founded in the 1950s, Harmon Kardon has been all about producing world-class audio equipment, serving as a major pioneer in the high-fidelity space (and introducing the world’s first-ever true hi-fi receiver approximately a year after its inception). And the audio outfit marches on today with this same proclivity for audiophile-grade sound, albeit in a contemporary form with Harmon Kardon’s Onyx Studio 6. Built around an aluminum frame adorned in a fabric cover, this speaker features a 4.7” woofer and 0.98” tweeter paired with a 50W RMS Bi-amp and a 3,283mAh Lithium-ion battery that allows for up to eight hours of music playback time. And, despite being on the larger size — weighing in at just shy of 6.5lbs (or 2,940 grams) and measuring 5” thick and roughly 11.3” in diameter — a chassis-integrated aluminum carrying handle makes transporting this speaker a breeze. With an IPX7-rating you also won’t have to worry about its electronics being compromised should it face any outdoor elements.

Purchase: $300

Bose SoundLink Revolve+

Boasting unibody aluminum housing, the Bose Soundlink Revolve+ speaker offers a range of up to 30’ and a 16-hour battery life. Alongside the top-mounted power, Bluetooth pairing, and volume up and down buttons, there’s also a multi-function button that can be pressed to call the device’s voice-control functionality, be it for using Siri or sending a text. On top of being IPX4-rated, the Soundlink Revolve+ is equipped with impact-resistant top and bottom covers. A low-end-enhancing, vibration-mitigating dual-passive driver setup and a downward-facing full-range transducer supplemented by a custom-designed acoustic deflector together yield true 360-degree sound of absolutely stellar quality. There’s also a flexible fabric handle mated to the top of the speaker for easy carrying or attachment to a bag, webbing, or rack. For an extra $29, Bose also sells charging cradle for quick and easy battery refills, and, like the company’s Soundlink Micro, the Soundlink Revolve+ can be paired with the Bose Connect app for connecting with other devices or adjusting the sound parameters.

Purchase: $300

JBL Xtreme 2

Building on the success of the original model, JBL’s Xtreme 2 offers better sound with markedly better bass and a newer version of Bluetooth connectivity while retaining the rugged construction and long-lasting battery life that made the first-gen Xtreme a best-seller for the American audio outfit. Built around a metal base and adorned in a hard wearing fabric, this IPX7-rated Bluetooth speaker packs built-in microphones for speakerphone and voice assistant use and a 10,000mAh battery that offers up to 15 hours of music playback and can receive a full recharge in 3.5 hours. Offered in a variety of colors, this 5.27lbs stereo also features integrated hooks and a removable nylon carrying strap with an integrated bottle opener for easy carrying. Using the JBL Connect app, the Xtreme 2 can also have its sound parameters tweaked, or be linked up with as many as 100 other JBL Connect-linked speakers in the immediate vicinity. And, unlike some of the pint-sized items earlier on this list, this speaker can ring out at high-enough volumes to keep a party going without suffering from any distortion.

Purchase: $350

SONOS Move

Another option for those seeking something of an audiophile-grade experience, the Sonos Move speaker offers incredible sound thanks to a cabinet-integrated mid-woofer and a downward-facing tweeter helped along by twin Class-D digital amplifiers. The speaker’s amazing sound quality also hugely benefits from the use of Trueplay tuning, which constantly adapts to the speaker’s surroundings to deliver optimized sound regardless of a location’s acoustics. The Move is also fairly rugged, with a shock-resistant case and an IP56-rating. The speaker is also compatible with Apple AirPlay 2, the Sonos app (and the Sonos S2 and Sonos Radio apps) Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant, and can be connected via WiFi or Bluetooth. Another premium touch is the Move’s included wireless charging base, though additional charging bases are available for an extra $80 a pop. There’s also an 11-hour battery, capacitive touch controls, and a cabinet-integrated, sunken, ergonomic carrying handle. Once connected to your home’s WiFi, this smart speaker can automatically run software updates.

Purchase: $399

Ultimate Ears HYPERBOOM

What the Ultimate Ears HYPERBOOM speaker lacks in portability, it more than makes up for with an extended 24-hour battery life — that only requires 2.6 hours to replenish — and enough volume and range to rock any party. Inside, a pair of 4.5” woofers and dual 1” tweeters flow through 7.5” passive radiators sing out at up to an earsplitting 100dB and boast six-times the bass of the brand’s popular MEGABOOM 3 speaker. And in addition to allowing for voice-control, the speaker’s built-in microphones constantly monitor a location’s acoustics and ambient noise to automatically optimize its EQ, though there’s also the option of manually customizing a 5 band EQ via a smartphone app. Backed by a two-year manufacturer’s warranty, the speaker also sports a `50’ range, a weatherproof door shielding its stacked assortment of USB, micro-USB, optical input, and 1/8” auxiliary ports, and a pull-out strap that makes the 13lb, IPX4-rated speaker a bit easier to haul around.

Purchase: $400

DALI KATCH

For its KATCH speaker, DALI has created a markedly more compact, travel-friendly version of one of its ultra-premium hi-fi speakers. The Danish brand starts with a pair of 0.82” light-weight soft dome tweeters and 3.5” aluminum woofers that deliver signal through a digital amp and have been fortified behind an extruded aluminum cabinet mated to ABS and polycarbonate composite baffles front and aft via screws and an airtight EVA gasket. The speaker employs a dual-facing driver arrangement designed to fill entire spaces with sound. A 2,600mAh battery allows for up to 24 hours of total music playback time, plus a full recharge can happen in two hours flat. There’s also battery level indicator lights for approximate readings, and a button to select different preloaded audio profiles. Sold with an included travel case and offered in five unique color options, this swanky speaker is decorated via a fashion-forward yet rugged integrated three-layer leather carrying strap with a woven nylon core.

Purchase: $499

JBL Boombox 2

A thoroughly modern interpretation of the classic boombox, this heavy-duty speaker boasts several major upgrades over its predecessor, including even heavier bass, bolstered battery life, and a slight visual redesign. JBL’s loudest boombox to date, the Boombox 2 is equipped with a 10,000mAh battery that affords 24 hours of music playback — even when operating at obnoxious volumes — and can also be used to recharge smartphones and other mobile devices via the speaker’s integrated USB ports. Like the first generation JBL Boombox, the 2-spec features a hardwearing design that’s impact-resistant and IPX7-rated. And, should something happen, JBL has your back throughout the first year of ownership with a factory warranty. Outfitted with Bluetooth 5.1 connectivity, the Boombox 2 tips the scales at 13lbs even and measures 19.1” x 7.9” x 10.1”. Also sold in a black-on-black color option, this speaker can be further protected via any number of the durable aftermarket cases that are made specifically for this (generation of this) model.

Purchase: $500

The 10 Best Portable Mini Projectors

Interested in adding a visual element to your portable Bluetooth speaker to create the ultimate off-grid entertainment setup? Then be sure to check out our guide to the best portable mini projectors and you’ll be well on your way to enjoying your favorite media no matter where your adventures take you.

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