5 Best Portable Bluetooth Speakers: Great Sound on the Go
If you’ve ever listened to music or podcasts on your phone’s speaker, you’ll quickly find yourself researching Bluetooth speakers – more than a foot or two away from your smartphone and you won’t be hearing much at all. We’ve put together our favorite 5 best Bluetooth speakers to save you from scouring through the literal hundreds of options.
Unless you ordered an HTC One, with its dual front-facing speakers (and given the sorry state of HTC’s financials, most of you haven’t), chances are good you aren’t satisfied with your phone’s ability to play music without headphones. Fortunately for you, there’s been an absolute explosion of Bluetooth speakers hitting the market in the last five years, and some of them have gotten to be quite good.
Read: 14 Best Power Battery Chargers (great for charging a Bluetooth speaker!)
Before we get started, it’s worth pointing out what this list is, and what it isn’t. We’ve concentrated on the best portable Bluetooth speakers that you can buy – there are a number of home units that support Bluetooth these days, but they are really in their own market niche (you can find some stationary Bluetooth speakers that cost more than five hundred dollars), and besides, most who want to listen to music at home can find standing speakers that sound loads better than most Bluetooth speakers.
Bluetooth Speakers: What to Know
There are a few things to think about when you look for the best Bluetooth speaker for your needs. First of all, consider the size and weight. Portable Bluetooth speakers seem to come in three rough size groups: quite small, with correspondingly mediocre sound, a medium size that provides decent balance between weight and audio quality, and large models designed to reproduce the boombox size and sound of the 80s.
Many of the best-selling Bluetooth speakers these days come with some degree of weather- or waterproofing. While it may seem less important than having a phone that can resist the rain, a waterproof Bluetooth speaker can come in really handy. They’re great for bringing to the pool or the beach, and waterproof speakers take the stress out of worrying about getting too close to the water.
Other special features can vary wildly from model to model. Some Bluetooth speakers can be set up in pairs, so you can actually get stereo sound on the go, while others feature NFC pads that you can tap with your Android phone or tablet; just tap the phone to the speaker and the Bluetooth pairing is taken care of. Finally, different Bluetooth speakers will support both different versions of Bluetooth as well as different audio protocols (AAC for Apple devices, apt-X for everyone else; these protocols can let you pair devices without experiencing the lag found in normal Bluetooth usage).
In no particular order, here are our five favorite Bluetooth speakers.
Best Portable Bluetooth Speakers
Ultimate Ears UE Roll 360 – $80
This is one of the strangest – in a good way – Bluetooth speakers on the market, thanks to its pancake shape. Measuring a little over five inches in diameter, and about an inch and a half thick, the UE Roll 360 could easily slip into a bag or larger coat pocket. UE promises “360-degree sound with deep bass” but our favorite feature is probably the Roll’s IPX7 waterproof rating – that means it’s waterproof at up to a meter’s depth for thirty minutes, making this a great option for the pool.
The manufacturer also promises up to nine hours of battery life, depending how loud you like to play your music. Speaking of loud, if one speaker isn’t enough, you can download the UE Roll app for iOS or Android and pair two Rolls together (the app can also deliver firmware updates to the speaker, which is pretty unusual and totally neat). You can snag one of these UE Rolls in any of several crazy colors for just $80 from Amazon.
The JBL Flip was one of the first of the new Bluetooth speakers to really make it big, or at least it seems that way. Whereas many of these wireless speakers end up sounding tinny, the Flips go in the other direction to chase the bassheads. With two passive radiators, the bass is surprisingly powerful for a speaker of this size. JBL promises up to 10 hours of battery life, and lets you connect up to three different smartphones at the same time, so you can take turns playing music without having to disconnect and re-pair every single time.
Like the UE Roll, the JBL Flip 3 can be paired with a second Flip (actually, any other JBL Connect-enabled speaker) for stereo sound. This speaker, however, isn’t quite as waterproof; instead JBL calls it splashproof, noting that you can clean it off under running tap water – just don’t drop it in the pool. A set of noise- and echo-cancelling mics (and corresponding set of buttons) allow you to use the Flip 3 as a giant speakerphone, as long as you don’t mind everybody knowing your business. You can pick up the JBL Flip 3 from Amazon, also for $80.
Fugoo Style Bluetooth Speaker – $150
The Fugoo Style makes our list for a number of reasons, not least of which is its battery life. Fugoo swears you’ll get a class-leading 40 hours of battery life at 50% volume, and the Fugoo Style manages it with a classy design that doesn’t really look like any other speaker on the market. Add in the same one meter, 30-minute waterproofing from the UE Roll, and you’ve got yourself the makings of a pretty awesome little speaker (if you want something a bit bigger, check our our review of the Fugoo XL).
But the Fugoo Style isn’t just a pretty face; it also manages some quality audio thanks to six different speakers arranged in a 360-degree orientation on the device. That’s not bad for a speaker that manages to weigh just a bit less than a pound. As with the Flip, a built-in mic lets you use the Fugoo as a speakerphone; they also promise smooth Siri and Google Now functionality. The Fugoo Style is found at Amazon for $150.
The cheapest speaker on our list by a large margin, the JBL Clip+ is one of the best Bluetooth speakers you’re going to find for well under fifty dollars. It gets its name from the carabiner design that lets you attach the Clip+ to whatever’s handy: a bag, a belt, a buckler – you get the idea. It carries the same splashproof-not-quite-waterproof rating as the JBL Flip 3, but given that you can clean these off with a house, we’re not exactly worried about getting them wet. It also comes with a built-in 3.5mm connector if you don’t want to use Bluetooth.
Despite the small size and low price, JBL still managed to shove a microphone inside, meaning you’ll be able to use the Clip+ as a speakerphone if you get a call while chilling on the beach. The only downside to going with such an affordable speaker? You’re going to get much lower battery life. The Clip+ maxes out at just five hours, which makes this more of a couple-of-hours-in-the-afternoon kind of speaker, not toss-it-in-the-bag-for-the-weekend kind of speaker. You can grab one (heck, buy two or three, at this price!) on Amazon for just $40.
Last, but most certainly not least, is the Sony SRSX5 Portable NFC Bluetooth Wireless Speaker System. Once you get past the ridiculous mouthful of a product name, you find that Sony has managed to create an extremely compelling Bluetooth speaker, especially now that the price has been lowered to less than half of its original list price. The SRSX5 comes with a 20-Watt (you can move up to the $150 SRSX55 if you’d like 30W), 2.1 speaker system. Like the Flip 3, the subwoofer is comprised of dual passive radiators that manage to put out quite a lot of bass.
You’ll find all the acronyms you could really want here, with support for Apple’s AAC, the apt-X codec favored by Android devices, and NFC for one-tap pairing with supported phones and tablets. Sony promises up to 8 hours of battery life, but they’ll be a pretty loud eight hours; if you find you aren’t listening to much music or taking calls on the speakerphone, you can take advantage of the big battery to top up your smartphone (though take note: that USB port is for charging a phone only; you can’t charge the Sony via USB, even if you had the right cable to do it). A sleek black slab in traditional Sony styling, you can buy the SRSX5 on Amazon for $90.
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