Wireless speakers worthy of note used to run in the hundreds of dollars, but with the expanding market and shrinking size of Bluetooth interfaces, it’s becoming easier and cheaper than ever to get untethered music for a mere pittance. Less than a C-note will have you bopping along in no time with simple sync features set into colorful, attractive speakers that can go along wherever you may roam. With designs that run from the oddly esoteric to the decidedly classic, even cheap speakers are making themselves heard in the audio industry.
Naturally, price was our primary consideration in compiling this list, but beyond that we were seeking the biggest boom for your listening buck. We wanted speakers with a solid range, an easy interface, as many features as possible, a reasonably good sound for any room, and looks that were anything but cheap. We sought out not only pure noise pumped out, but also clarity of sound so that vocals didn’t screech or fade away, and bass didn’t just slam sloppily, but added precision. When the echoes faded, only the 7 best Bluetooth speakers under $100 were left.
Creative Muvo Mini Speaker
Pro: AUX input
Con: Basic, boxy appearance
Sleeper Cell: We really didn’t expect a whole lot out of the Muvo from Creative. It’s not a brand known for their speaker gear, it looks like a 70’s radiator, and it doesn’t come with the nifty accessories of its peers. Well, all of that is because it doesn’t need gimmicks. Rather, it just uses a twin set of drivers along with a bass backup to produce surprising sound all stuffed into a body that bears an IP66 rating. While not fully waterproof, it can resist plenty of weather, moisture, dust, debris, and keep rocking without needing to be repaired or cleaned. That somewhat uninspired exterior proves to be incredibly tough and able to work as a fine sounding chamber for clean bass and melodic highs.
Pro: Weighs less than a pound
Con: No Pause/Play button on the unit
The Wee One: Purely designed for personal, portable sound, the X300 is the choice for taking your music to your desk, or as a replacement for your headphones, but it isn’t large enough to blow anyone away or really amp up the bass. That isn’t to say that it lacks in quality. Each note comes through bright and crisp as a winter’s morning, with a balance that doesn’t ever range too deeply into either end of the sound spectrum. Distortion is handled by an on-board system that prevents sound from overloading the small speaker. Sometimes you can hear it working, and while that is less than ideal, it trumps damaging, distorted noise any day. Light and airy, this can happily ride with you wherever you wander.
Pro: Very natural vocal reproduction
Con: Slightly stifled sound stage
Power Pass: The most current offering from JBL, the Charge 2+, is a work of art, but sadly runs just north of our $100 cutoff point. If you want to see the piece that started the magic, this is the original Charge. On board is a 6000 mAh battery that can go for nearly 12 hours without stopping, or can be used to charge some of your other devices via the on-board USB port. Able to be used horizontally or vertically, this is an upgrade from the JBL Flip and Flip 2 that takes rich sound in a handheld package to the next logical level. With a speaker that is only 2 by 6 inches paired with an amp, you won’t get a room-filling production, but a personal jam session.
Pro: Includes a basic speakerphone
Con: AptX support is useless
Indoor Sonata: Clearly not built to travel to the ends of the Earth, the SRSX5 is less about portability than it is about providing a wide soundstage for indoor users with a minimum of space to spare. At restrained volume levels, the sound produced by the SRSX5 is full-bodied and pleasant, while the bass from the dual subwoofers comes on strong when you crank it. While you won’t get big sound in a larger space, using it against a wall where it can use the reverberations to better effect will create a fuller, more encompassing feel. Add in NFC that works with a tap, classy buttons that work with a touch, a USB port for charging, and the option of running it off outlet power, this can compete with Bose products twice the price.
Pro: Can directly charge larger devices
Con: Must be plugged in
Classically Trained: We had to give this the blind test treatment, because it’s easy to believe that the smooth body with its classy lines and suave look will sound good, whether it does or not. Happily, this low-cost Canadian import prizes beats over beauty and delivers when it counts, whether acting as the center of attention or hidden away. Unlike other speakers of its kind, this is not meant to be portable but rather to interface with your more stationary Bluetooth devices for single room sound. It doesn’t even bear a battery on board. That space is used for the dual drivers which resound through the fiberboard for deeper, more complex acoustics.
TDK A28 Trek Flex
Pro: Long lasting
Con: Automatically resumes paused music when paired
Well Rounded: If this were just an indoor speaker, it would still be sitting on this list, since the sound fanatics at TDK have managed to give this enough real meat to fill a marginally sized room. But it’s more than that. This is also a rough-and-ready outdoor speaker capable of tackling the elements. About the size and shape of a coffee thermos, its easy to underestimate this as just another little noise cylinder, but behind the simple exterior lurks a headphone jack, bright, LED-lit controls, a micro-USB charger, and IP65 water and dust resistance. Add in a broad soundstage that doesn’t require a particular angle and a body that can fit into the tightest of locales, and this is a blasting bargain.
Pro: Multiple Rolls can work together
Con: Limited bass response
Strange Sounds: UE has really jumped into the Bluetooth market with both feet, churning out items like their Boom and Megaboom and mini Boom, they’re appealing to a younger, funner audience than most of the more refined (and often better sounding) speakers. Though just because they aim for fun over fine audio doesn’t mean they’re asleep at the wheel. The Roll produces respectable melodies, even if it works better clamped to a backpack than sitting on a desk. It can fit into its own life preserver for music in the pool, and is actually waterproof (IPX7 rating), which is more than any of the other weather-resistant speakers on this list can claim. An integrated bungee lets it hang from anywhere and makes it the perfect travel companion.