If all a Bluetooth speaker could do was wirelessly fill a room with sound, it would still be a useful gadget. That is the chief purpose of the device, of course, but that only scratches the surface of the devices’ capabilities. Many Bluetooth speakers have built-in rechargeable batteries allowing you to take the party anywhere; you aren’t just restricted to basement rec rooms. Many models are not only portable, but weather-resistant, so a little rain will dampen neither your spirits nor tunes.
The best Bluetooth speakers are great at sharing power, so you can hook your smartphone, tablet, or MP3 player into the speaker for charging. You can often find hands-free speakerphone functions as well, handy if your smartphone doubles as your primary entertainment device.
Bluetooth speaker technology isn’t only for the on-the-go listener; a wide range of products, focusing on both design and functionality, serve many uses. Wireless speaker systems are convenient to install and simple to set up; no need to restrict listening to one area. A Bluetooth speaker in the kitchen may make cooking much more enjoyable. For the discerning listener, some of the best Bluetooth speakers accept high-fidelity audio streaming through Bluetooth, while remaining compatible with regular signals.
Bluetooth features are becoming standard equipment in most personal electronic devices. Anyone who has ever crawled under a desk to trace the wires for a speaker system can appreciate the convenience of wireless speakers on a desktop. There are many Bluetooth speakers available, with new models being constantly released.
Here, we take a look at some of the best Bluetooth speakers in 2017, ranging across features and price-tags typical of the devices. Speaker choice is subjective, and with a variety of designs available, a speaker’s aesthetics are more important than ever. Use this guide in your search for the best Bluetooth speakers in 2017.
10 Best Bluetooth Speakers 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|
1. Creative iRoar
The Creative brand has been featured in digital audio products since 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 certainly lives up to this legacy, being a feature-packed Bluetooth speaker able to connect to almost anything and providing great sound in large quantities. Its versatility allows the iRoar to stand out from the pack as one of the best Bluetooth speakers in 2017.
In addition to Bluetooth and NFC (see the addendum below), the iRoar has micro USB, 3.5mm (a standard auxiliary plug), and optical audio ports. There’s even a microSD card slot, supported by a built-in media player. A microphone (purchased separately) connects with the iRoar via Bluetooth, essentially turning the device into a miniature public address system.
Bluetooth and NFC handle wireless connectivity, the USB connection can charge external devices, and the optical connector permits pairing with entertainment systems such as a soundbar or surround sound system. This is certainly not a connection seen on most Bluetooth speakers; the iRoar is powerful enough to actually improve upon many soundbars.
There’s a secret lurking under the iRoar, in the form of an accessory connector. The iRoar promises future software and hardware expansion. One of the first products on the block is the iRoar Rock subwoofer dock, which will use the connector to improve upon the already phenomenal sound of the iRoar. All this puts the iRoar as first on this list of the best Bluetooth speakers.
2. Ultimate Ears UE Boom 2
You can’t call a device “Boom” without delivering bass. Only seven inches long and 2.5 in diameter, Ultimate Ears still delivers just that. This cloth and rubber mini-tower of sound is a marvel of low-frequency madness, quite an accomplishment for such a small package.
The Boom 2 is rugged, and though it won’t do much good given the way sound travels underwater, the Boom 2 is rated for up to 30 minutes submerged at a depth of one meter. In other words, the Boom 2 is waterproof! A day at the beach is not only possible, but almost invited. Rest assured, there’s enough volume in this device to annoy fellow beachgoers.
Onboard controls are less satisfying. There aren’t many to speak of, and the tap method isn’t very reliable. Big plus and minus signs on the side of the speaker control volume. This isn’t a problem if you control music from your smartphone or tablet, however. There’s a Boom 2 app allowing for configuration control, even permitting pairing with a second Boom 2.
There’s only a 3.5mm jack for physical connections. 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 expect a microphone hole, but the Boom 2 handles speakerphone duties. It also pairs with NFC devices.
Overall, the Boom 2 is definitely one of the best Bluetooth speakers in 2017.
The Fugoo uses a two-part system. The core is the business end, though alone it’s 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, at an additional cost.
Of course, the looks are of no concern when it’s time for tunes. The Fugoo puts out a deceptive amount of sound given the modest size of the package. It packs six speakers into the core, using all to great effect. With a more balanced sound than the Boom 2, the Fugoo puts out great bass. At half volume, the rechargeable battery will last an amazing 40 hours. At max volume, that is halved, though still far above average. Like the Ultimate Ears, the Fugoo is waterproof.
The connectivity is great, as well. A 3.5mm jack accepts external sound sources that can’t link via Bluetooth, and a micro USB port provides charging power. The Fugoo doesn’t have NFC capability, however, which puts it slightly below the Boom 2. Those who prefer style may rate it higher, but performance is almost identical.
The controls on the Fugoo are a little more reliable. Plus and minus signs again control volume, but, in connection with a center button, they also do song navigation duty. The center button can answer calls or activate Siri and Google Now, depending on your smartphone. The Fugoo is no device to pass over if you’re looking for one of the best Bluetooth speakers.
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4. Sony SRS-XB3
A bit bigger than the previous speakers, the SRS-XB3 has serious substance, while still being portable. This device also puts out satisfying bass in a small package. If you’re not cranking 100% volume, 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 is no big deal. When it comes to aesthetics, the SRS-XB3 is plain jane, no-nonsense, but is 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 purchase them separately. Tethered audio uses the standard 3.5mm auxiliary jack. All jacks are hidden behind a door on the back panel.
Song navigation isn’t supported on the SRS-XB3 itself, forcing users to navigate via their music devices, which is no dealbreaker, given it’s most users preferred method 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 provides just that, boosting the already-impressive bottom end to exaggerated booty-shaking levels, and an Add button permits connecting with another SRS-XB3.
The power adapter also serves the SRS-XB3 well for in-home use, and battery life becomes a non-issue, but there is an automatic shutdown feature to save power when the unit is inactive. Though portable, the SRS-XB3’s design aesthetic fits bookshelf placement, giving it great home and away suitability.
5. EcoXGear EcoCarbon
For a customer looking for the best Bluetooth speakers in terms of both durability and price, look no further than the EcoCarbon. Its overall look is rough, and one of the rounded, rubberized ends forms a handle for ease of carrying. This device is right at home on a trail; a carabiner even comes in the package. The EcoCarbon also floats. No word on how it sounds in the water, but this device was designed to be waterproof and dustproof. The device is black, and comes with a choice of black, blue, orange, or camouflage grille plates.
Controls are full-featured, though difficult to operate due to the waterproof construction. Be ready to press hard. 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 well as a built-in LED flashlight. This is definitely of of the best Bluetooth speakers in 2017 for a cabin in the woods.
The back panel has a cover to protect the connections. There you’ll find a master power switch to prevent accidental activation, as well as both regular and microUSB ports for charging the EcoCarbon and external devices. A microUSB cable and wall charger come with the original package. There’s a 3.5mm aux input, though no cable is included for that. Battery life is 12 hours, varying for volume, sound source, and flashlight usage.
Though the rear speaker is considered a subwoofer, the bass from this device is nothing noteworthy. Overall performance is good, with no sense of thin playback, but in terms of deep reproduction, this device doesn’t hold up. For some users, this won’t be an issue at all, but this may not be one of the best Bluetooth speakers for a bass addict.
6. Vifa Oslo
Consumer expectations rise with price, so the Vifa Oslo comes with big expectations. The unit’s stylish design suits its Danish heritage. The Oslo is one of the largest portable devices, 15 by 10 by 6 inches and weighing over 5 lbs. Though capable of it, it would be an uncomfortable addition to any camping trip. The aesthetic is much more stay-at-home.
On the surface, the Oslo is solid. It is well-balanced, with rich, but not excessive, bass. There’s lots of volume available. The Oslo does distort a bit in low frequencies at high volumes, but only with bass-heavy tracks played at extreme levels. This speaker is optimized for bass across many genres, not so much focused on the low frequency effects used in EDM songs.
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. There are no navigation controls. Featuring only a volume control and an LED power indicator, the Oslo doesn’t support speakerphone duties. Though portable, this is not a speaker designed to brave the elements.
With only an AC adapter and a 3.5mm auxiliary jack, the Oslo isn’t the most connectable device. It also doesn’t offer a charging port for other devices. It is, however, NFC compatible. Battery life is a modest 8 hours.
Like other Bluetooth speakers, tracks frequently cut off when you navigate out of sequence. While it’s a common occurrence on cheaper units, it’s out of place for this price, ranking it lower on the list of best Bluetooth speakers in 2017.
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7. Marshall Kilburn
The amp that launched rock music may seem out of place on a list of best Bluetooth speakers, but here it is, the Marshall Kilburn, in an upscale, yet very Rock ‘n Roll, package. The Kilburn has the distinctive look of a Marshall guitar amp, right down to the cloth grille and amp-style controls. Available in black or cream finishes, this device looks good.
It sounds good too. Capable of serious volume, 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 deep-end goodness. Those who like bass won’t be disappointed.
This is a device with one purpose, though. There’s no speakerphone support, though there is an auxiliary jack, and no device charging or NFC ability. Though it has an amp-style handle, the Kilburn is meant for indoor use. It’s 6.5 lbs., so you don’t want to lug it far. 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 battery, which is rated for 20 hours. Overall, this is one of the best Bluetooth speakers for any rock music lover.
One thing of note – unlike most Bluetooth speakers, changes on the speaker’s volume and EQ controls do not change your smartphone. It’s not surprising, since the Kilburn uses conventional rotary knobs to give the authentic Marshall amp look and feel, but it differs from than most Bluetooth speakers. There’s nothing wrong with your connection.
8. JBL Charge 3
JBL has a long history in the speaker world. Known for great sound and robust design, JBLs used to be staples of professional recording studios. The company moved into computer speakers, for the most part upping the ante in a field full of cheap knock-offs.
The Charge 3 is a tube of fun. It’s not the most convenient shape for toting around, however, and, at 2 lbs, it’s a bit heavy for a purse. Still, it’s made to go places where its water resistance may be put to the test. Also available in 5 colors, it puts out sound enough to make lugging it around worthwhile. Performance-to-size ratio is high. Capable of respectable volume, the Charge 3 offers deep bass, though not to subwoofer level. Overall, the sound is well balanced. No genre suffers on this JBL, but, again, maybe not one of the best Bluetooth speakers for bass fans. 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. Regular and microUSB ports power the device and charge others, with a USB cable and power adapter shipped, but no 3.5mm audio cable included. 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. It supports multi-room systems, able to stream Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, and compatible with Apple AirPlay systems. That flexibility is unique among the devices listed here.
Each Zipp Mini is, however, a mono device. The sound is solid in the conventional bass frequencies, but lacks hype in the low frequency regions. The reproduction isn’t the truest, either, though adequate for most music. The high frequencies may get a bit brittle, but this may go unnoticed in a large room.
The standing cylinder idea, used by several manufacturers, is also used here. The Zipp Mini ships in one of four colors, and a rainbow of additional accessories can be purchased. It also shines in its controls. In conjunction with the Libratone app, you can choose 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.
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 audio input. Power supply is included, but audio connectors are not.
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10. JBL Clip 2
JBL’s second entry here features the most affordable device on the list. The Clip 2 is extremely portable. 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 also water-resistant, so it’s begging to go along on backpacking and canoe trips.
While the small size precludes ultra-deep bass, the Clip 2 isn’t a trembly tin box. Urban and EDM are not its strong point, but music with less bass emphasis presents with great balance. The performance matches both the Clip 2’s size and price. A second Clip 2 can be connected wirelessly, so you can always just get two.
The Clip 2 uses a micro USB port to charge. There’s no 3.5mm jack, but there is a hardwired auxiliary cable that tucks 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, and is absolutely one of the best Bluetooth speakers for its price.
Best Bluetooth Speakers – Buyer’s Guide
Freedom from wires is a marvellous development, not only for music listeners, but for speaker designers as well. Making the transition from older music equipment may feel somewhat unusual, since Bluetooth speakers often present features in different ways.
To help develop a Bluetooth vocabulary, let’s look at how Bluetooth devices approach concepts in audio playback. Review these before you hit the stores, online or downtown.
Stereo vs. Mono
The idea of portability dictates that a wireless, go-anywhere speaker should be a single unit. Since the 1950s, stereo sound has dominated popular music. Stereos take advantage of the way our ears hear to create three-dimensional sounds. To accomplish this, two speaker sets play coordinated musical programs. Think about headphones for a minute and you’ll get the idea.
Home stereos were traditionally permanent fixtures and large pieces of furniture. The listener would set up a stereo with speakers in a fixed position relative to where the music would be enjoyed, generally a triangle with equal distances between speakers and listener. Such an arrangement preserves the stereo image when playing music back.
There are three approaches that Bluetooth speakers follow. The most basic is the speaker that sums left and right audio, and plays back as mono sound from a single unit. Since a single unit design is common to many of the best Bluetooth speakers, this provides all the audio from a stereo track in a single source.
Other Bluetooth speakers preserve left and right output, mini stereos in a single unit. These could be front-facing or shot out of the sides. You’d have to be relatively close to the speakers to perceive any stereo picture, but it’s a step up from a point source.
The last approach is a Bluetooth speaker that operates as a single source until you connect a second unit. Some models permit left and right signal separation. If stereo imaging is important to you, then this is the way to go.
One of the characteristics the manufacturers like to throw around is frequency response. This is largely a red herring, however. Here’s why: the human ear is, on average, able to discern sounds from 20 to 20,000 Hz (20 kHz). The spec you’ll see most often is – you guessed it – 20Hz to 20kHz. Occasionally, you’ll see speakers with other numbers, perhaps 50Hz to 18kHz.
The tendency for consumers who know nothing about audio is to think that 50 Hz to 18 kHz is not as good as 20Hz to 20kHz. If all speakers were measured the same way, that would be true. However, listing a frequency range says only one thing: the speaker will reproduce those frequencies. It says nothing about how efficiently the speaker works. If a manufacturer gives numbers other than 20 to 20k, they are referring to the effectively flat portion of the speaker’s response. In other words, you’re getting more useful information and a better speaker.
While deep notes can go to 20Hz and below, 50 to 65Hz is around the lowest that we perceive. Below that, any output starts to interfere with “good” bass. You may be surprised to find that some of the deepest tracks have virtually no content under 50Hz.
It’s similar on the top end as well, but for different reasons. Hearing declines over time and it’s high frequencies that go first. When you’re young, 20kHz is almost a sensation, rather than a sound, but as hearing diminish, 20kHz is not even heard. Even if a speaker is putting out 20kHz with efficiency, most listeners won’t hear it.
Frequency response is largely a false statistic. Trust your ears when you listen, not the paper.
Anyone who tried Bluetooth products a few years ago may recall bad sound and frequent interference. This stemmed largely from low bandwidth, meaning that to successfully stream audio, aggressive compression had to occur. This affected sound quality and made for poor playback conditions.
When Bluetooth 2.1 hit, it added a feature called Enhanced Data Rate. Essentially, it was a way of tucking more information into a Bluetooth signal alongside existing data. The result was faster data transfer and less need for compression.
Since then there have been additional improvements, and quality issues are gone if you’re using 2.1 EDR or later. Most contemporary Bluetooth speakers meet this mark, but make sure you find it; it’s a much more useful spec than frequency response for ensuring high quality.
Bluetooth Speaker Glossary
Here’s a quick look at features and terms used to describe the best Bluetooth speakers.
Water Resistance: Some Bluetooth speakers boast IP codes. These are standards for dust, dirt, and water resistance, indicating how tough a particular unit is. These codes change over time, with a two-digit code used currently. Taking the form of “IP66,” the first digit represents protection against solid objects and the second shows water resistance. The higher each number is, the better.
Since many Bluetooth speakers act as playback devices for smartphones, they also have features that answer calls and act as a hands-free speakerphone.
NFC: Discussed in greater depth below, NFC stands for Near Field Communication, which is the technology behind tap-and-pay credit and debit cards. For Bluetooth speakers, it’s predominately used to establish the link; simply hold your music device near an NFC-enabled Bluetooth speaker and the two become tethered.
Additional Ports – USB and 3.5mm: Some Bluetooth speaker devices permit charging of other products. Not only can your speaker play music, it can extend your smartphone’s battery life. That comes at a cost to the speaker’s charge, but the extra charging capability comes in handy.
Devices with 3.5mm jacks usually, but not always, allow input of an auxiliary device. For example, you can use an older iPod or MP3 player to feed your Bluetooth speaker. In other cases, the 3.5mm jack may be used to connect an additional speaker.
Battery Life: You’ll probably have more trouble keeping your smartphone charged than you will a Bluetooth speaker. Not only are speakers larger than phones, they’re also heftier. Batteries provide a natural weight, and the bigger the battery, the longer the charge.
Differences Between Bluetooth, NFC and Wi-Fi
Each of these technologies deal with wireless data transfer. Each has its own strengths and capabilities.
NFC: 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.
Bluetooth: 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 an inherently 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.
Wi-Fi: 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.
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