Bluetooth speakers nowadays can deliver a perfect mix of portability, durability, and excellent sound quality — at a price that's probably more affordable than you think.
For less than $100, there are speakers capable of providing rich, loud sound, with the convenience of wireless Bluetooth connectivity. Granted, if you’re picky when it comes to audio quality — and especially if you’re into heavy bass notes — you’ll have to spend a fair amount more to get higher-end Bluetooth speakers.
Just remember: Sound perception can be highly subjective. While you’re shopping, take into account how and where you’re planning on using your speakers most of the time. Bluetooth speakers differ on battery capacity, durability, and smart home compatibility.
Do you want a speaker you can go kayaking with? You’ll need one that is waterproof and floats. Do you want one that you can integrate into your smart home ecosystem but won't take outside much? You can ditch extra weatherproof features and focus on its connectivity.
Bluetooth speaker buying guide
Bluetooth speakers are all about convenience. They sidestep the need for wired connections and pair up with any Bluetooth-enabled phone or other device, so that users can set up speakers in a home or take them along almost anywhere, without any wires involved. The speaker’s built-in controls offer even more convenience, allowing you to play, pause, skip, or switch between playlists without having to tap on your smartphone, laptop or other content source.
Here are some things to consider as you search for the best speakers for you (and your budget):
• Sound quality. There isn’t one specific metric to determine the overall sound quality of a Bluetooth (or any) speaker.
Instead, how well a Bluetooth speaker sounds depends on several factors — first among them, whether it has a single driver or multiple ones.
A speaker driver is the cone-like structure that converts audio signals into the sound we hear coming out of the speaker. Speakers with two or more drivers handle the frequencies of a song (highs, mids, and lows) separately. This can typically result in more balanced, clearer sound.
Most Bluetooth speakers usually have a single driver that handles all the song frequencies. Although they may be loud enough for a day at the beach, the sound may not be as well-balanced. Some models allow you to equalize the sound frequencies (adjust the levels of the vocals and bass, for example) to further personalize your music experience. Then there are models that include other components, such as passive radiators, to create the extra resonance and bass many seek.
Whether a speaker is capable of mono or stereo sound can also make a notable difference. A stereo speaker has a left and right channel. The sound signals from different instruments or vocals in a song come out of the two channels independently, to create a multidirectional perspective. (This can better replicate a live concert, where sound comes from several directions.)
Sound from a mono speaker, on the other hand, travels through a single channel and thus may seem less rich.
Simple power matters too, in terms of overall sound quality. A speaker with a 20W power output will usually sound louder and punchier than a 16W one. The 20W-capable speaker will probably run out of battery faster at max volume, though.
Suffice it to say: If you’re an audiophile, it's wise to listen carefully to a variety of music on your friends' speakers or try out multiple options in person before buying.
• Durability and water resistance. People love that they can take Bluetooth speakers anywhere, so it's important know how yours can handle different conditions. Some models are much better protected against water, dust, and damage from dropping than others, and you'll want to look at the IP (Ingress Protection) rating for the specifics.
Speakers with an IPX7 rating can be submerged under three feet of water for up to 30 minutes. An IP67 speaker can do the same, but it's also dust-proof and drop-proof.
On the other hand, IP56 speakers are merely water-resistant, but not waterproof. These can withstand rain and water splashes, but will be damaged if submerged.
• Battery life. Some speakers might handle eight hours of playback on a single charge, while others can last up to 15 hours. Ultimately, how long the battery lasts will be influenced by your preferred volume levels and even the type of music you listen to (in addition to the battery itself).
Blasting bass-heavy songs will push speakers to use more power and drain battery faster than listening to classical music at a low volume.
• Multi-speaker pairing. Some Bluetooth speakers allow you to link up two or more speakers of the same model. Others can connect to other models as long as they’re the same brand. This feature can deliver a surround-sound experience or create a multi-room wireless audio system. If these features are important to you, then making purchase decisions accordingly.
• Smart home compatibility. Most affordable Bluetooth speakers lack smart home compatibility or voice assistant integration. If you want a speaker that seamlessly integrates to your smart home ecosystem, expect to pay $200 or more.
Smart Bluetooth speakers are often compatible with Alexa, Google Assistant, or both. With smart speakers, you can use voice commands to control content playback and interact with other connected smart home devices.
• Extras. Some speakers offer all sorts of special features, including speakerphone capability, built-in lighting, built-in bottle openers, and pairing, which is the ability to play the same material through two Bluetooth speakers at once. As you'd guess, the speakers with more special features tend to cost more — so make your selections based only on what's important to you.
Best Bluetooth speakers
1. Best overall: Sonos Move
It’s no surprise that the best Bluetooth speaker overall is from Sonos, a company renowned for superb wireless multi-room sound systems.
The Sonos Move features exceptional audio quality and powerful bass that can easily fill any room or backyard. Beyond its big and bold sound, it integrates Trueplay technology, which allows the Move to measure the acoustics of where it's placed and adjust accordingly. Each time the speaker is placed in a new location, it’ll recalibrate levels for the best possible sound.
The speaker is both Bluetooth- and Wi-Fi-capable. Over Wi-Fi, it can integrate seamlessly to other Sonos speakers — handy if you already own a Sonos home sound system. Its Wi-Fi capability also turns it into a smart speaker, compatible with Alexa or Google Assistant.
You can use voice commands to control playback and other smart home gadgets. It’s even AirPlay 2-compatible, which lets you stream content directly to the speaker from any iOS device or MacOS computer.
Another handy feature available over Wi-Fi is the Sonos app. The app brings together your favorite streaming services and lets you search for music in all of them at once. The speaker’s sound settings (the equalizer, or EQ) can also be controlled with the app.
Although its Bluetooth capability makes it portable, the Move is mainly designed for in-home use. It’s dust-proof, but its tolerance for water is very limited — it can handle the splash of kids playing in a pool or some rain, but it won’t survive a dunk. Also, its size, weight (almost 7 pounds), and price (usually around $400) don’t make it the best travel option.
However, if sound quality is what you want and you’re willing to spend to get it, the Sonos Move fits the bill, whether it’s for a quiet dinner or a boisterous pool party.
2. Editor’s pick: Ultimate Ears Boom 3
The Boom 3 by Ultimate Ears (or UE) is our Editor's Pick because it is feature-packed and reasonably priced.
The cylindrical design delivers 360° sound for a balanced sound in every direction. And you can adjust performance using the Ultimate Ears app, which has a five-band equalizer and presets that you can use to tweak the mids, highs, and lows of your music.
The Boom 3's Magic Button lets you control playback. With the help of the Ultimate Ears app, the button can also launch your favorite playlists, including those synced from popular music streaming services like Spotify or Apple Music. Other app features include remote on/off control and the ability to connect the Boom 3 to as many Ultimate Ears speakers as you like for simultaneous playback.
The Boom 3 is completely adventure-ready. It is IP67-rated so it can handle being submerged in three feet of water for up to 30 minutes. It also floats in water, is dust-proof and drop-proof, can last up to 15 hours between charges, and has a Bluetooth range of around 150 feet.
Depending on your budget and your interest in getting the absolute best sound, you may want to check out UE's newer Megaboom 3 ($200). Its features are identical, but the Megaboom 3 offers deeper bass and an extra five hours of battery life compared to the Boom 3 ($150).
If you’re looking for a cheaper option and are willing to sacrifice some sound presence, there's the Wonderboom 2 ( under $100). It's smaller, lighter, and has the same IP67 rating. Also, the sound quality isn't bad; it even has an “Outdoor Boost” feature that optimizes playback to sound louder and clearer outdoors. However, the Wonderboom 2 does lack the extra features available on the Boom 3 through the app, and its battery life is around two hours shorter.
3. Best for low prices: JBL Flip 4
The JBL Flip 4 has everything you need from a portable Bluetooth speaker. It’s waterproof, compact, lightweight, and, most importantly, has great audio quality.
The Flip 4 is IPX7-rated. This means it can be submerged in up to three feet of water for 30 minutes without issues. It also provides outstanding battery life, making it ideal for a day at the pool, beach, or hiking. JBL claims the Flip 4 can support up to 12 hours of playback on a single three-hour charge. However, your results may vary depending on your volume levels. (The same goes for every Bluetooth speaker.)
It won't provide the booming sound you get with high-end speakers, but it’s still impressive considering the price — $80 or less. Distortion is kept to a minimum when the volume is maxed out, and the bass is relatively punchy.
JBL also offers the newer Flip 5 ($120), however, it doesn’t feature striking improvements over its predecessor. The Flip 5 does have improved sound that's a bit louder and has deeper bass. Yet it lacks some features found on the Flip 4 like an AUX input and a built-in microphone. (No microphone means no speakerphone and no voice assistant compatibility.)
Other than that, they're both waterproof and have the same battery life — although the Flip 5 does take about an hour less to charge.
So, if you’re an audiophile looking for a little better sound quality, go for the Flip 5. If not, the Flip 4 offers more value.
4. Best compact Bluetooth speaker: JBL Clip 4
Most Bluetooth speakers are completely portable. The JBL Clip 4, however, is billed as “ultra portable.”
The Clip 4 is much smaller than typical cylindrical speakers out there. It weighs around half a pound and can be easily held like a baseball. Yet its extremely portable size doesn't make it any less capable.
This speaker can handle dust, drops, and water (it can float too). A rugged design and 10-hour play time make it the perfect speaker for serious adventurers. Plus, it has a built-in carabiner (hence, "Clip") so you can easily hook it onto a backpack or anything with a loop.
As for sound quality, it delivers loud, clear vocals. Don’t expect the heaviest bass, though.
Considering its sound, size, and price (usually $70 or less), it's the best Bluetooth speaker you’ll find for hikers, bikers, climbers, and others who want to take their music everywhere.
5. Best for connectivity: Bose Portable Smart Speaker
Just like Sonos, Bose is known for its outstanding home audio systems. And the Bose Portable Smart Speaker can certainly lives up to the hype with rich, well-balanced sound.
This speaker is both Bluetooth- and Wi-Fi-capable. Using Wi-Fi, it can sync up with other Bose speakers via the Bose Music app to create a multi-room audio system. (Just be aware that the company's older SoundTouch speaker line is not compatible.) The app also lets users browse through their favorite music services at once and create multiple music profiles.
Other features available over Wi-Fi include Apple’s Airplay 2 to stream content directly from iPhones and Macs, plus voice-assistant compatibility with Alexa and Google Assistant.
Its portability features are limited by a 12-hour battery life and the fact that it's not waterproof, though it does offer some resistance to water splashes. For those faithful to the brand or who have already invested in Bose speakers for their home, the Bose Portable Smart Speaker is the best choice. But for its price ($350), there are other more feature-packed speakers out there.