If all a Bluetooth speaker did was wirelessly fill your room with sound, it would be an interesting and useful gadget. That’s the chief purpose of the device, of course, but it only scratches the surface of capability. Many Bluetooth speakers have built-in, rechargeable batteries, so you can take the party literally anywhere. You’re not restricted to basement rec rooms either. Many models are not only portable, but weather-resistant too, so a little rain will dampen neither your spirits or your tunes.
Many Bluetooth speakers are great at sharing, particularly power, so you can hook your smartphone, tablet or personal MP3 player into the speaker when charging time comes around. Similarly, you can often get hands-free speakerphone function, handy when your smartphone does double duty as your entertainment device.
Bluetooth speaker technology isn’t only for the on-the-go listener. A wide range of products serve home use as well, focusing on design as much as function. Wireless speaker systems are convenient to install and simple to set up. No more need to restrict listening to the living room. A small Bluetooth speaker in the kitchen makes food prep much easier to take. For the discerning listener, some high-end Bluetooth speakers accept high fidelity audio streaming through Bluetooth, while remaining compatible with regular signals.
Bluetooth is almost standard equipment nowadays, in devices including tablets, smartphones, computers, laptops and even specialty computers such as Chromebooks and digital book readers. Anyone who has crawled under a desk to trace the wires for a computer speaker system appreciates the convenience of wireless speakers on a desktop.
There are many, many Bluetooth speakers available, with more released each year. Here, we take a look at 10 notable devices, ranging across the feature and budget ranges typical of the Bluetooth speaker category. Any speaker choice is subjective, and with the wide variety of of designs available, the way a speaker looks is more important than ever. Use this Guide as a starting point in your search for the best Bluetooth speaker 2017.
|Bluetooth Speaker||Portable||USB Charge||NFC||Outdoor Use|
|Ultimate Ears UE Boom 2||Yes||No||Yes||Yes|
|JBL Charge 3||Yes||Yes||No||Yes|
|Libratone Zipp Mini||Yes||Yes||No||No|
|JBL Clip 2||Yes||No||No||Yes|
Bluetooth Speaker Reviews
1. Creative iRoar
The Creative brand has featured on digital audio products from the earliest days of computer sound cards. Creative’s SoundBlaster was nearly ubiquitous as the device that brought music and sound effects to PCs. The iRoar follows in those innovative footsteps, with a feature-packed Bluetooth speaker that connects to almost anything and provides great sound in large quantities. It is versatile enough to stand out from the Bluetooth speaker pack.
Users who simply dock a Bluetooth speaker to their smartphone may find the connection features somewhat overdone. As well as Bluetooth and NFC (near-field communication — see the addendum at the end of this article for an explanation of the differences between Bluetooth, NFC and Wi-Fi), the iRoar has micro USB, 3.5mm (a standard earbud or headphone plug), and optical audio ports. There’s even a microSD card slot supported by a built-in media player. An optional microphone also connects with the iRoar via Bluetooth, turning the device into a mini public address system.
Bluetooth and NFC handle wireless connectivity. USB charges external devices while the optical connector permits pairing the iRoar with home entertainment systems, as you might with a soundbar or surround sound system. This is not a connection seen every day on Bluetooth speakers, and the iRoar is powerful enough to improve upon many soundbars.
There’s a hidden secret lurking under the iRoar in the form of an accessory connector. The iRoar features the promise of both software and hardware expansion down the road. One of the first products on the block is the iRoar Rock subwoofer dock, which will use the connector to improve upon the already great sound of the iRoar
2. Ultimate Ears UE Boom 2
You can’t call a device “Boom” without delivering satisfying bass. Seven inches long and roughly 2.5 inches in diameter, this device from Ultimate Ears delivers, even if it’s not immediately apparent how. This cloth and rubber mini tower of sound is a marvel of low-frequency madness. That’s an accomplishment, since deep bass means moving lots of air, and moving lots of air often means large speaker surface area. There’s just nowhere in the Boom 2 that large speaker surface area can hide, so it’s quite a surprise to hear the solid, satisfying bottom end emanating from this little unit.
The package is also rugged. Though it won’t do you much good, given the way sound travels in water, you can actually drop the Boom 2 into the drink for up to 30 minutes at one meter of depth. That’s right, the Boom 2 is waterproof. A day at the beach is not only possible, but the bright and wacky color combinations invite it. Rest assured there’s enough volume in this device to annoy fellow beachgoers.
Onboard controls are less satisfying. There aren’t many, to begin with, and the tap method isn’t the most reliable. This isn’t a problem if you control music from your smartphone or tablet. There’s a Boom 2 app that gives configuration control over the speaker, even permitting pairing with a second Boom 2 for stereo listening. Big plus and minus signs on the side of the speaker control volume.
There’s only a 3.5mm jack for physical connection with a sound source. The micro USB jack won’t charge your phone, but it permits up to 15 hours of music playback before requiring its own recharge. Don’t go looking for a microphone hole, but the Boom 2 does handle speakerphone duties. It pairs with NFC devices.
The design of the Fugoo uses a two-part system. The core is the business end, though it’s a bit like a turtle without a shell. There are three options for the shell; Style, Sport and Tough. The unit ships with a Style cover in your choice of colors. The Sport and Tough jackets provide more protection for the speaker’s innards, at additional cost.
Of course, how it looks is secondary when it comes time to play tunes. This is another device that puts out a deceptive amount of sound, given the modest size of the package. Somehow it packs six speakers into the core, and uses all to great effect. With a more balanced sound than the Boom 2, the Fugoo still puts out enough bass to satisfy. At half volume, the rechargeable battery is billed to last an amazing 40 hours. If you’re into loud music, expect that time cut in half, but it’s still better than average battery performance. Like the Ultimate Ears device, the Fugoo is waterproof rated.
Connectivity matches the Boom 2 also. A 3.5mm jack accepts external sound sources that can’t link via Bluetooth and a micro USB port provides recharging power. The Fugoo doesn’t have NFC capability, which nudges it slightly below the Boom 2 in the Buyer’s Guide. Those who prefer the style of the Fugoo may well rate this Bluetooth speaker above the Boom 2, that’s how close these are in performance.
Certainly, the controls on the Fugoo are a little more reliable. Plus and minus signs again control volume, but in connection with a center button, these do song navigation duty as well. The center button answers calls and activates Siri or Google Now, depending on your smartphone’s platform.
See More: Best Wireless Bluetooth Speakers
4. Sony SRS-XB3
A bit bigger than the two previous speakers, the SRS-XB3 has substance while remaining portable. This is another Bluetooth speaker that puts out satisfying bass in a relatively small package. If you’re into kinder, gentler music, you can enjoy 24 hours of battery life on a single charge. While not ready for a drop in the pool, the SRS-XB3 is splash-proof, so a sudden shower at the beach ain’t no big thing. When it comes to eye candy appeal, the SRS-XB3 is plain jane, no-nonsense, but still available in black, blue or red.
The SRS-XB3 uses its own power adapter for recharging, and includes a USB port for boosting smartphone batteries. However, the device doesn’t ship with cables, so you’ll have to either use ones you have or go shopping for more. Tethered audio uses the standard 3.5mm auxiliary jack. All are hidden behind a door on the back panel.
Song navigation isn’t supported on the SRS-XB3 itself, forcing users to their music player’s controls, not an overwhelming shortcoming, given it’s the choice of many users anyway. Controls are on the top panel in the rear right corner. Power, volume, Bluetooth and NFC pairing and speakerphone buttons handle the basics. The Extra Bass button does just that, boosting the already impressive bottom end to exaggerated booty-shake levels, and an Add button permits the addition of another SRS-XB3, either duplicating the first unit’s output or operating both in stereo.
The included power adapter serves the SRS-XB3 well for in-home use, and battery life becomes less important, but there is an automatic shutdown feature to save energy when the unit remains inactive. Though it’s capable of travel to remote locations, the SRS-XB3’s design aesthetic fits bookshelf placement, giving it great home and away suitability.
5. EcoXGear EcoCarbon
For the Bluetooth speaker shopper placing emphasis on heavy duty at an affordable price, the EcoCarbon is a strong candidate. Its overall look is rough and tumble, and one of the rounded, rubberized ends forms a natural handle, for carrying or strapping to a backpack. This device seems right at home, bouncing along on a trail and a carabiner comes in the package. Another fully waterproof Bluetooth speaker, the EcoCarbon even floats. No word on how it sounds in the water, and there was no pool handy to test it, but water and dustproof fit right in with the design concept. The device is black with a choice of black, blue, orange or camouflage grille plates.
Controls are full-featured, but difficult to operate, due to the waterproof construction. Be ready to press. Power, volume and Bluetooth controls work in conjunction with your paired device. The EcoCarbon doesn’t offer NFC connectivity. Track navigation and call management controls are included as is a power switch for a built-in LED flashlight. This seems to be the official Bluetooth speaker for a cabin in the woods.
The back panel has a cover that screws shut to protect connections from water penetration. Open it up and you’ll find a master power switch to prevent accidental activation. There are both micro and regular USB ports, for charging the EcoCarbon and external devices, respectively. A micro USB cable and a wall charger come with the original package. There’s a 3.5mm aux input, though no cable is included for that. Best case battery life is 12 hours, depending on volume, streaming or connected sound source and how much you use the flashlight.
Despite the fact the EcoCarbon bills the rear speaker as a subwoofer, the bass from this device is respectable, but not earth shattering. Overall sound performance is good, with no sense of thin playback. It just doesn’t match some of the higher ranked units in terms of deep reproduction. For some users, this won’t be an issue at all. For bass addicts, consider a different speaker.
6. Vifa Oslo
Expectations rise with price for most consumers. The Vifa Oslo comes with big expectations. The unit’s stylish design suits its Danish heritage. The Oslo is on the large size of portable design, nearly 15 by 10 by 6 inches and weighing over 5 lbs. It would be a significant weight addition to any camping trip, but though it’s capable, the look is much more stay at home.
On the surface, the Oslo is a solid contender. It’s sound is well balanced with rich, but not overly hyped, bass. There’s lots of volume available, enough to make you think the weight of the speaker is needed to hold it in one spot. The Oslo does distort a bit in the low frequencies at the loudest volumes, but only with tracks that are bass heavy to begin with and at volume levels few would endure for long. This speaker seems optimized for bass across a wide selection of genres, and not so much focused on low frequency effects as experienced in dance and electronic music.
Given the Oslo’s price tag, there is a lack of attention to detail. Design considerations likely limit controls on the speaker itself, to maintain a clean visual appearance. Subsequently, there are no navigation controls. Featuring only a volume control and an LED power indicator, the Oslo doesn’t support speakerphone duties. Though it’s portable, this is not a speaker designed to brave the elements.
With its own AC adapter and a 3.5mm auxiliary jack, the Oslo isn’t the most connectable device on the list. It doesn’t offer a charging port for other devices. It is, however, NFC compatible. Battery life is a modest 8 hours, depending on use.
Like some other Bluetooth speakers, tracks are frequently cut off when you navigate out of sequence. While it’s a common occurrence on cheaper units, it’s something that’s out of place at this unit’s price point, placing it further down the Buyer’s Guide list.
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7. Marshall Kilburn
The amp that launched rock music may seem somewhat out of place on a list of Bluetooth speakers, but here it is, the Marshall Kilburn, in an upscale but very rock ‘n roll package. The Kilburn has the distinctive look of a Marshall guitar amp, down to the cloth grille and amp-style controls. Available in black or cream finishes, if you’re into the amp look, this amp looks good.
It sounds pretty good too. Capable of serious volume, as a Marshall should be, the Kilburn delivers smooth performance across the frequency spectrum. The controls include separate bass and treble knobs for fine-tuning sound, and cranking the bass control delivers serious levels of deep end goodness. Those who like their bass won’t be disappointed by the Kilburn.
This is an amp with one purpose, though. There’s no support for speakerphone, though there is an auxiliary jack. No device charging or NFC ability, and though it has an amp-style handle, the Kilburn is clearly meant for indoor use. It’s over 6.5 lbs., so you don’t want to be lugging it long distance. A nice touch: a coiled guitar-style audio cable is included to connect your wired source to the aux jack. A power cable connects on the back panel to charge the internal battery. Depending on use, the battery supplies a respectable 20 hours of life between charges.
One thing to note is that, unlike most Bluetooth speakers, changes on the speaker’s volume and EQ controls do not change your smartphone or other Bluetooth source. It’s not surprising, since the Kilburn uses conventional rotary knobs to give the authentic Marshall amp look and feel, but it’s a bit different than most Bluetooth speakers. There’s nothing wrong with your connection.
8. JBL Charge 3
JBL has a long history in the speaker world. At one time JBLs were one of the staples in many professional recording studios. Known for great sound and robust design, the company moved into computer speakers with mixed results, but in general upping the performance ante in a field that was full of cheap knock-offs.
In the Bluetooth speaker game, the Charge 3 is a little tube of fun. It’s not the most convenient shape for toting around, and at almost 2 lbs. it’s a bit heavy to toss in a purse. Still, it’s made to go places where its water resistance may be put to the test. Available in 5 colors, it does put out sound to make the effort of lugging it worthwhile. Performance to size ratio is high. Capable of respectable volume, the Charge 3 offers up deep bass, though it’s not subwoofer level. Overall, the sound is well balanced. No genre really suffers on this JBL, but bass fans may want a little more. There is Connect button to pair another Charge 3.
The Play button navigates ahead with a double tap, but there is no reverse navigation. Speakerphone duty also uses the Play button to activate. Micro and regular USB ports power the device and supply charging to others, with a USB cable and power adapter shipped. There’s no audio cable for use with the 3.5mm aux jack. NFC is not supported.
9. Libratone Zipp Mini
The Libratone Zipp Mini bridges the gap between Bluetooth speakers and wireless home entertainment systems such as Sonos or AirPlay. The Zipp Mini supports multi-room systems, able to stream Wi-Fi as well as Bluetooth and compatible with Apple AirPlay systems. That flexibility is unique among the devices chosen for this Buyer’s Guide.
Each Zipp Mini is, however, a mono device. The sound is solid in the conventional bass frequencies without hype in the low frequency effect subsonic regions. The reproduction isn’t the truest in the list of winners here, but it’s supportive and flattering for most music. Sometimes the high frequencies get a little bit brittle sounding. This may not be noted in a room with lots of absorbent surfaces. It may have more to do with the pairing of mix and signal processing on the Zipp Mini.
Design style is the standing cylinder idea used effectively by several manufacturers. The Zipp Mini ships in one of four colors and a veritable rainbow of accessory covers can be had for additional purchase. Controls are where the Zipp Mini shines. In conjunction with the Libratone app, you can choose favorite stream sources from the device, which also handles navigation and independent volume control. Speakerphone use is controlled by the play/pause control. A “hush” feature mutes the sound when you place your hand lightly on the top of the speaker. Remove it and sound returns to its previous level.
The rear panel hosts the power button and power supply connection. There are also aux connections and a USB port. Not only can you charge devices on the USB connection, it serves as another physical audio input. Power supply is included, but audio connectors are not.
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10. JBL Clip 2
JBL’s second entry in the Buyer’s Guide features the most affordable Bluetooth speaker on the list. The Clip 2 is a very transportable device. Less than 4 inches in diameter, a triangular carabiner is built into the top of the speaker, suitable for clipping onto a belt loop, backpack or tent loop. The Clip 2 is water resistant to boot, so it’s just begging to go along on backpacking and canoe trips.
While the small size precludes ultra deep bass, the Clip 2 isn’t a trebly tin box either. Dance and urban music is not its strong point, but music with less emphasis on bass presents with surprising balance. Considering the intended use for this device, the performance belies both the Clip 2’s size and price point. A second Clip 2 can be connected wirelessly, so get two at this affordable price point.
The Clip 2 uses a micro USB port to charge. There’s no 3.5mm jack, but there is a hardwired 3.5mm cable that tucks away inside when not in use. Wired connection of an external device remains possible, and there’s no fear of misplacing the connector. The Clip 2 is the only ultra portable Bluetooth speaker worthy of inclusion in the Buyer’s Guide.
Differences Between Bluetooth, NFC and Wi-Fi
Each of these technologies deal with wireless data transfer. Each has its own strengths and capabilities.
Near Field Communication depends on close proximity of devices. Its range is under two inches. Also used in contactless payment systems, NFC is practical in wireless speakers if a user regularly places their smartphone near the speaker, for example. This closeness gives NFC an inherent security, since data is only possible between compatible devices at very short distances. File sharing of photos and videos between friends or playing games in close proximity is possible with minimal effort. Not all manufacturers incorporate NFC due to its expense. This aids security, but limits compatibility.
Range and data rate place Bluetooth in the middle of the wireless connection pack. With a maximum range of 30 meters, or about 98 feet, Bluetooth is very suitable for use with wireless speakers. Bluetooth 4.0 offers data transfer up to 25mbps, though earlier versions are fine for streaming compressed audio. Bluetooth connections electronically match keys in a simple process. It’s not inherently a secure data transfer platform, but its short range of transmission offsets this weakness. Its power consumption is much leaner than Wi-Fi, extending battery life for wireless audio streaming. As well as wireless speakers, Bluetooth has many other applications for short range devices. Computers and laptops now add Bluetooth capability and the medical field adopts its use to add portability and wireless connectivity. This extends the usability of smaller diagnostic equipment, which can now move room-to-room efficiently.
Data transfer capability for Wi-Fi is potentially 10 times that of Bluetooth, a bit of an overkill situation for compressed music streaming. Data range is about three times that of Bluetooth, in the neighborhood of 328 feet. Again, that’s a bit more than what’s commonly needed for wireless speaker use. Wi-Fi security can be far more robust, supporting a variety of encryption methods. Connecting devices over Wi-Fi can also be much more complex than Bluetooth. Wi-Fi power consumption isn’t practical for portable wireless speakers, where extended listening time is a common selling point. Wi-Fi Direct is more akin to Bluetooth in terms of a short distance wireless transfer protocol. Holding many of the advantages of Wi-Fi, it has lower power consumption. To date, it’s not been used much in consumer audio, since Bluetooth is already so pervasive.