The best Bluetooth speakers

Buying guide: Top portable speaker picks - tested

The best Bluetooth speakers

They're hardly the peak of connected tech prowess, but let's face it: Bluetooth speakers are versatile, simple and fun – bringing the party wherever it's required.

While smart speakers are certainly dominating the conversation right now, most are tethered to the mains – which is zero use at your beach BBQ. Not only have Bluetooth speakers shrunk, but they’ve also become even more powerful, too. Bigger sound and better battery life means the age of the Bluetooth speaker is here and we are reaching peak quality right now.

Bluetooth speakers: What to consider

Having a Bluetooth speaker means you’re able to connect your phone, tablet, laptop, or anything else that has music, for wireless playback. Bluetooth Low Energy doesn’t use a lot of phone battery and the speakers themselves are now more efficient than ever, often offering all day listening on a single charge. The idea being you can lob one in a bag and have booming audio anywhere you go, or place it in different areas at home without worry of wires.

Recent generations of Bluetooth speakers are now waterproof and rugged to withstand the strains of wherever they’re taken. From pool parties to barbeques in the park these speakers can handle rain, shine, spilled beer and in many cases even a dip in the pool.

Read this: Best multi-room speaker set ups

Lots of Bluetooth speakers now do more than just play music; they talk too. They come packing microphones to allow for conference calling with a connected phone. As a result some of these have also been updated to support smart assistants, meaning you can press a button to talk to the speaker and have your smart assistant of choice reply. From Google Assistant and Apple’s Siri to Amazon Alexa, you can access information without touching your smartphone. In some cases that even means far-field Echo-style smart home control for things like heating and lighting.

Of course, sound quality is always going to be the most important part of these speakers. But do you need to give that up to be more mobile? And does a better battery life mean less power and quality? Does spending more always mean a better end result? We’ve delved deep into the Bluetooth speaker world to test some of the best offerings around right now to answers all these questions and more. So if you’re considering buying a Bluetooth speaker read on to find out exactly the right one for you.

The best Bluetooth speakers

UE Boom 2

$179.99, Amazon |

The UE Boom 2 is a fun, friendly no-nonsense speaker with a couple of tricks up its sleeve - specifically its IPX7 rating which means you can get it wet for up to half an hour in up to a metre of water. And a really good battery life of around eleven hours at a decent volume - sure, that's less than the 15 hours Ultimate Ears are claiming but it's still more than enough for a day out or around the house.

Otherwise it's slim and fairly light, in a range of cool colour finishes. As for the sound, aside from a crisp mid range and deep bass, the big selling point of the 360-degree speaker here is that the UE Boom 2 sounds good loud. We mean really, really loud. Once you've downloaded the app, you can also hook up a couple of Boom speakers together and let your friends or family pick the tunes. Plus there's an equaliser if you want to tweak the audio precisely to your liking.

In terms of extras, we quite like the alarm feature. Head back into the app and you can set an alarm so you can wake up to music.

Until September 2018 you could press the small Bluetooth button on the top of the speaker, itself not designed to be pressed on a regular basis, to nonetheless access Alexa. There were more niggles in use too - press the button for Alexa mid-song and it pauses the music and doesn't automatically restart when the request is complete. Still, it was there - until it wasn't. Ultimate Ears removed support in its app saying it was focusing on core features and point to the Blast and Megablast speakers which still work with Alexa.

We found that Google Assistant and Siri - all set up in the UE Boom app - actually work better. You can tell Google and Siri to play music from Spotify (and less importantly TuneIn) though Alexa voice controls doesn't support either of these streaming services yet.

The UE Boom 2 is now discontinued, and Ultimate Ears has since released the UE Boom 3, which promises improvements all around - including a new button that automatically starts select playlists in addition to playing/pausing music. We're in the process of testing this and will update this once we've put it through the ringer.

the ambient verdict
UE Boom 2
The UE Boom 2 sounds great and is currently available for bargain prices in some shops. You can get hold of Google and Siri though for the full price you can get better sound.
  • Sounds great loud
  • Battery life won't let you down
  • Water resistant
  • Alexa's gone
  • Press for voice controls
  • Discontinued

The best Bluetooth speakers

JBL Charge 3

$99.95, Amazon |

The JBL Charge 3 isn't the latest JBL Charge, a burly line of booming Bluetooth speakers that can act as giant powerbanks, but it's still a better choice over the new Charge 4. A lot of that is down to the Charge 4 getting less features than the Charge 3.

For instance, you can only connect two phones to the Charge 4 while you can connect three to the Charge 3. You can also use the Charge 3 as a speakerphone, plus there's assistant integration - which we'll get to in a bit. The Charge 4 doesn't have any of those features. The Charge 4 does have Bluetooth 4.2, which means less latency, and is slightly clearer, but for most people those differences might not matter.

But what's the Charge 3 all about? The hefty 6,000mAh battery in this speaker means you can actually use it all day (20 hours max) with your phone being charged at the same time so you don’t have to worry about power. And it’s that, combined with IPX7 water resistance, which make this a true outdoors speaker that you can take anywhere. Seriously, we tried drowning this thing in a hot tub and it just kept going, you could even hear it underwater.

While underwater audio isn’t so impressive sounding, this speaker does offer decent audio. By descent we mean loud, really loud. The passive radiators at either end pulsate as music throbs through this chunk. The result is really punchy audio with powerful bass and crisp definition of vocals. If you’re looking for something more subtle than going the way of Bose might be a better move. But if you want loud, rugged and resistant outdoor music that just keeps on giving, the Charge 3 is for you.

All that grunt means the JBL Charge 3 tips the scales a little further than the competition at a heavier 800g. But that’s a reassuring weight that explains a lot of the control in that powerful audio.

This isn’t just a music speaker though, as JBL has included a microphone which allows for noise cancelling speakerphone functionality. On test this sounds great to use but for the person at the other end on the phone it’s clear they’re on a speakerphone.

The microphone also means an update gets you smart assistant voice access to both Google Assistant and Apple’s Siri onboard. But, being a Bluetooth speaker, you’ll need to tap a button to get the assistant up and running which can defy the point a little. The fact this uses the Play/Pause button means you need to set that to either control music or to access the voice assistant - you can’t have both.

The JBL Charge app lets you connect up multiple speakers for a party mode or have a left and right channel for stereo mode. Nice additions that are appearing across these manufacturer’s apps now but in reality likely not used often.

the ambient verdict
JBL Charge 3
If you're outdoorsy, the Charge 3 might tick a lot of boxes - rugged, water resistant and it will charge your phone with its huge battery too. Well worth considering.
  • True outdoors speaker
  • Big battery charges phone too
  • Punchy audio
  • Bit of a beast
  • Speakerphone only OK quality
  • Button for voice

The best Bluetooth speakers

Bose SoundLink Revolve

$199.99, Amazon |

As you’d expect from Bose the design of the SoundLink Revolve is very attractive with a metallic drilled frame and soft top finish. It’s reassuringly weighty thanks to the full-range down-firing driver and diffuser plate combo plus dual passive radiators placed opposite each other to cancel out vibrations. The result is a great sound no matter where the speaker is placed, something that is also thanks to the 360-degree delivery.

The SoundLink Revolve offers impressive bass, but not too much as its predecessors were guilty of doing. The audio is top-end quality and really only potentially beaten by the much larger and louder UE Megaboom. That speaker is also cheaper and offers full IPX7 waterproofing.

The SoundLink Revolve tops out at an IPX4 rating meaning it can handle a splash and the rain but really isn’t rugged enough for rough and tumble outdoors by a pool. That said it is portable enough to sit in a bag comfortably and loud enough to offer outdoor music at a great quality. Although, again losing out to the Megaboom, battery tops out at about 12 hours at best - plenty for most uses though.

Read this: The best multi-room speaker systems tested

The Bose Connect app is excellent with a well planned layout and useful functions like Party Mode for connecting other speakers to get louder or Stereo Mode for using multiple speakers for a more immersive sound.

That said the speaker itself does have the Bose multi-function button for easy play, pause and skip functions, minus the app. This lets you access the Google Assistant or Siri on your phone even when that is in another room - there's also now an official Bose Alexa skill but this is having some teething problems. And, yes, the smart assistant won’t work without a button tap to activate it. All that said, the finish on the top gets mucky from hands pretty quickly so be warned this isn’t an ideal way to use a smart assistant if you’re cooking.

The microphone that makes smart controls possible also lets you use the Revolve as a speakerphone. This is crystal clear for voice audio that fires out in 360-degrees to everyone in the room, if that's what you need.

The SoundLink Revolve features a connector plate on the bottom which might baffle anyone who has bought it as there is no base in sight. That’s because you need to shell out more money to buy this as an optional extra.

There's also the Revolve+, which comes with a nifty handle and up to 16 hours of battery life. It's also bigger and comes with better, louder sound quality. All of that comes with a higher price though, and will cost you $299.99.

the ambient verdict
Bose SoundLink Revolve
This Bose Bluetooth speaker looks stylish and is impressive for audio, nearly best in class and certainly top for its size. The larger Revolve+ gets you the very best audio and longer battery life but it's a less portable weight.
  • Top-end audio
  • Stylish metallic finish
  • Crystal clear speakerphone
  • Only splashproof
  • Top gets dirty quickly
  • Pay extra for base

The best Bluetooth speakers

Libratone Zipp 2

$299, Amazon |

The Libratone Zipp 2 is one of the pricier options on this list, but a lot of that is because it offers more than the rest. Not only is this a Bluetooth speaker, it's an AirPlay 2 speaker, and an Alexa speaker, and a Spotify Connect speaker. It's really got it all.

At 1.5kg it's quite hefty for a "portable" speaker, but it also sounds fantastic. Its zip gives it a unique look, and you unzip and replace the cover with another one should you want to change the colour.

On top of the device you'll find touch controls for volume, pre-set playlists and a room-correcting EQ feature, which scans the room and optimizes the Zipp 2's acoustics to match the space. The 1-inch tweeter and 4-inch woofer provide some good, clear sound. There are crisp highs, but the bass doesn't match something like the Sonos One. This is a portable speaker though, not one you need to keep plugged into the wall.

There are a number of sound modes you can switch on to better match the music you're listening to. For instance, there's a jazz mode and even a movie mode should you want to pair this up with an Apple TV via AirPlay 2.

Alexa's inclusion also makes it one of the few portable Bluetooth speakers with Amazon's assistant. It can do everything you expect of Alexa save for voice calling. There's also AirPlay 2, Spotify Connect and Libratone's own connect feature, which will let you connect 10 Libratone speakers together.

As for battery life, you can squeeze out up to 12 hours, depending on how loud you're blasting it.

the ambient verdict
Libratone Zipp 2
The Libratone Zipp 2 continues to be one of the more versatile portable speakers out there. From Alexa built-in to AirPlay 2 and Spotify Connect support, plus great design and sound, there are few better options.
  • Superb sound
  • Alexa and AirPlay 2
  • Good EQ features
  • The price
  • Not as portable as it thinks
  • Wavers a bit at high volumes

The best Bluetooth speakers

UE Wonderboom 2

$99.99, Amazon |

The smallest and most portable speaker of our top picks is also among the most affordable, and it's much-improved for the second generation.

The same rounded design is present, which means there's still 360-degree sound, though there's a couple of hidden tricks that have been added. Unlike the first go-around, there's now two sound styles to play with. The standard mode will bring an improved and surprising amount of bass from the Wonderboom 2 - great for, say, when you're playing in the house from a shelf - though hitting the tree icon on the underside of the device will give it an 'Outdoor Boost', something that trims off some of the bass and lets the sound travel better through the mid-range. If you're with your friends hanging out in the park, this is a neat feature to tap into and play around with.

Why do we have two speakers in the image above? Well, by pushing the top button, like before, the Wonderboom 2 can shake hands and link to another device from the Wonderboom family. However, unlike before, two connected speakers can now blast out stereo sound. In our testing, it performed excellently, allowing you to place the two on other sides of the room and provide more even, room-filling sound.

Naturally, the higher you crank the sound, the less clear it gets, but it's still a better performer than the original - and it even gives some of the more expensive options on this list a run for their money.

Add these features to the improved 13-hour battery life (which we found is actually a little below that, and a little closer to 10 or 11 hours) and the new IP67 dust and water rating, and this is truly one of the best outdoor Bluetooth speakers you can buy. This new rating means that not only is it waterproof, like the original, but it also won't suffer from the sand, for example, when you take it to the beach.

the ambient verdict
UE Wonderboom 2
If you're looking for an affordable, portable and versatile speaker with plenty of color options, the Wonderboom 2 is perfect. Don't expect elite smart features, but this is a speaker that's gone under big improvements for the second generation.
  • Small and portable design
  • Stereo pairing
  • Outdoor Boost works great
  • No app extras
  • Not perfect at loud volumes
  • No voice controls

The best Bluetooth speakers

Bang & Olufsen Beoplay P6

$399, Amazon |

The most expensive Bluetooth speaker we've considered - by some way - the Beoplay P6 is the design choice. If you've got the cash and you want to make sure your compact, portable speaker is just as stylish and polished as the higher-end speakers in your smart home, this is well worth considering.

For starters, it's kinda beautiful. The P6 is designed by Cecilie Manz and comes in four colours including silver (Natural), Black, rose gold (Limestone) and Dark Plum. It's made from pearl blasted aluminum, which gives a retro look that's also nice and cold to the touch. It's also IP54 splash and dust resistant which is handy.

There's also a double-layered leather strap - purportedly so you can carry this around though at 1kg in weight, we'd call this semi-portable at best. It'll probably have its own shelf or side table to live on most of the time. Incidentally, battery life is excellent - up to 16 hours.

It's not the loudest Bluetooth speaker, we've definitely heard much louder from JBL etc - but for the size and style, the P6 is warmer and more powerful than you'd expect. B&O's True360 is on board for "even dispersion" and though we wouldn't recommend for parties, it might work as a desk-side speaker. Plus if you're feeling flush, you can pair two of these speakers together for wireless, stereo sound.

On top, there are shallow, built-in buttons for power, Bluetooth, volume up and down and One Touch which is pretty clever - it can be set to whatever you need including play/pause or touch based access to Google Assistant or Siri - that's via Bluetooth and your phone, not built in voice controls just to be sure. There's also a small blue LED up top to show it's powered on, all in all much more elegant than elsewhere.

the ambient verdict
Bang & Olufsen Beoplay P6
A stunner of a Bluetooth speaker - and we don't say that too often - the P6 is a luxe option that won't be for everyone but will delight anyone who hates gadgety-looking tech cluttering up their homes.
  • Beaut to look at
  • Fab battery life
  • Pair two for stereo
  • Pretty heavy
  • Expensive
  • No built-in voice

The best Bluetooth speakers

Anker Soundcore Flare+

$99.99, Amazon |

Anker's Soundcore Flare+ is one of the more affordable options here, and it actually might be the best overall value. Like the Charge 3, the Flare+ is fully waterproof - so you can dunk it in the pool and rest assured it'll be fine.

However, its mesh design does mean that it soaks up water, and you'll need to wait about 15 minutes or so until it dries out. If you use it while it's wet, it will sound hollowed out. However sound is generally excellent at other times, especially at higher volumes where there's great bass and wonderful clarity.

There are two passive radiators and two tweeters, plus two two-inch drivers, which give this thing full 360 sound. You can place this in the middle of a pool party and it'll make some seriously good noise.

On the top of the device you have a number of buttons, from your standard volume and play buttons to the more unique bass and colour button. The bass button will turn the bass on or off, and the companion Soundcore app will give you some neat EQ features like profiles and customisation.

The colour button activates the light ring at the bottom. There are a number of scenes on hand here, from reactive light shows that adapt to your music to music meant to calm you after a long day. It's a fun little feature that adds some life to the Flare+.

You can also link two Flare+'s together to get some stereo action going on, but in our testing we found that to be a better option indoors. Outdoors, a singular speaker works well enough. You're also going to get about 20 hours of playback, though you can get more if you turn off those lights. There's also a USB outlet on this that'll let you charge up your phone. Unfortunately, Anker hasn't added in any of its fast charging talents here.

the ambient verdict
Anker Soundcore Flare+
The Soundcore Flare+ is a good value speaker. You're getting a waterproof speaker that's great for pool parties, plus a neat light that'll have people having fun and getting in the mood. While sound quality at low levels isn't the best, it does well at the highs with strong bass and clarity.
  • Lights
  • Sound quality
  • Price
  • Sound dampens after wet
  • No smart assistants
  • Midrange sound quality

TAGGED   speakers
What do you think?
Reply to
Your comment