Mobile music has undergone one of the biggest upsurges in interest and development over the years. An industry that could barely make irritating Bluetooth headphones that self-important Wall Street brokers were constantly screaming into now makes some of the most incredible speakers out there, all completely without wires. As the market has gotten larger in this region, so too has it become increasingly difficult to separate a valuable speaker that is worth the money, and an inexpensive speaker that’s trash. It’s tough, even for those in the industry. That’s why we wanted to tackle the Bluetooth speakers for those on a strict budget.
Naturally we looked toward sound quality, but also range. A quality speaker can’t just pump out a lot of power or throw a lot of bass at your music. It needs to be rich and refined. Even if you aren’t paying top dollar, you should still be getting more than tinny little whines from drivers that also can’t keep a connection. That was where our other main focus was: On connectivity. A great Bluetooth speaker is just another waste of space if you can’t get it to stay bonded to its device. After testing, we’ve got the 5 best Bluetooth speakers under $50.
Pro: Pairs with anything
Con: Speakerphone mic requires that you be extremely close
Home Base: Certainly not meant for extreme outdoor adventures, the PSS-100 has a dreadfully boring name (we like to think of it as the Brick House) but it comes with room-filling noise at a size that is best for moving from room to room during a marathon cleaning session or while cooking a Thanksgiving feast. Crank it up and the sound will carry, while it can keep a strong Bluetooth connection even through most doors and drywall. The dense body and increased is a little too heavy to be a go-anywhere speaker, but that weight goes into backing up the dual 40mm drivers with plenty of power so they don’t distort even at high levels, yet can run for 8 solid hours on a single charge. It also bears bass enhancement that will help those budget bass lovers get a little more bounce in their jams, though it’s never going to be a window-rattler.
Pro: Great acoustics for the bathroom or shower
Con: 3.5mm jack is deeply recessed
Bouncing Betty: Omaker really wanted to emphasize toughness on a budget with the M4 and they nailed it. It can take plenty of splashes (IP54 certified) and loads of drops on mountain trails and concrete. The body won’t show damage, and the sound quality won’t degrade with abuse. As far as personal audio goes, these can easily compete with portable speakers twice the price for sheer output. It bears a 3 watt audio driver along with a passive “subwoofer” that does add some richness to the bass, but is way too small to give you much bump. For power, it will go strong at 80% volume for about 12 hours and will recharge in about three using the on-board micro USB. Throw in an AUX line and NFC (Near Field Communication) capabilities, and you’ve got an outdoorsy winner.
Anker Classic Portable
Pro: Doesn’t move even when played at maximum volume
Con: Limited connective range
Immortal: Coming in at about 9 ounces, the first thing that we expected to be sacrificed on the altar of size was the battery life, but it seems that is the initial thing that Anker reinforced. It can run for about 15 hours on a full charge at high volume. Turn it down a bit and you can get as much as 20 hours out of the Classic Portable. The 4 watt, 2 inch driver is best used sitting on a desk or counter, making it an ideal companion for those home office folks who just want something to tote around their house as they work, do their daily diligence around the home, or head out to the workshop to putter. Easy, one-step connection and simple tethering as well as a 3.5mm jack and rudimentary on-board controls make the Classic perfect for the least technologically inclined among you. The small size won’t give you noise from room to room, but it also won’t disturb your office mates or take up desk space if you put it in your cube.
Pro: Easily connects to most devices
Con: Made almost exclusively for individual use
Made to Move: We’re going to break down and say it: We actually prefer the sound of the original Clip to that of the Clip+, so if you’re looking to save a little money and get improved sound, go with the OG. For those who need more splashproofing and a tougher exterior, there’s the Clip+. Either way you’re getting an entry level speaker that is clearly made for personal audio. This isn’t going to be ideal for your backyard barbecue unless you get a bunch of them, hang them all over, then sync them up via JBL’s app, but for on-the-go sound for mountain bike excursions or hiking, the built-in carabiner handle clip makes this a solid tag-along for the most active mover and shaker. Loads of color options, a built-in mic for answering calls, and a 5 hour battery give this a lot of accessories to go with good sound, if limited in range.
House of Marley Chant Mini
Pro: Smart, sensitive mic for speakerphone calls
Con: Volume severely alters battery life
Second Life: Despite taking their laid back brand name from the Rasta king, Bob Marley, there’s nothing relaxed about the dedication to sound that the Chant Mini shows. Made completely out of recycled materials there’s a touch of bamboo trim at the top, a stylish and durable fabric covering on the outside that helps keep the speaker frame protected from the elements. Inside is an aluminum housing around a lithium-ion battery that will give you about six hours worth of playback. The 52mm driver is great for portable use, with the ability to produce a load of sound that fills smaller to medium rooms or gives out plenty of power for personal audio when clipped to your bag or belt via the included carabiner. Probably one of the most naturally stylish speakers out there, the on-board controls and LED indicator light add to both the look and usability of the Mini.