The best Bluetooth speakers

Buyers guide: Our 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. Plenty of speakers come packing microphones to allow for conference calling with a connected phone. As a result some of these have also been updated to also 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 an 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

$103.50, | Amazon

The UE Boom 2 is a fun, friendly no-nonsense speaker with a couple of tricks up its sleeve - specifically IPX7 water resistance 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 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
  • Quite expensive

The best Bluetooth speakers

JBL Charge 3

$149.95, | Amazon

The clue to what’s special about the JBL Charge 3 is in the name. This burly looking boom tube not only offers plenty of sound grunt but packs in literal power too, doubling it as a charger. 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, | 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.

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

$298, | Amazon

The Libratone Zipp is pricier than the other speakers in this list because it offers a lot more. Not only is this a Bluetooth speaker you can take out and about but it’s also a fully featured at-home Wi-Fi connected smart speaker too.

This is large, so don’t expect to throw this into a small bag for out and about use. But wherever you place it this minimalist beauty looks great with its material finish, brushed metal top and glass touch control panel. Yup, it’s not only great 360-degree sound that sings out here but Scandinavian design brilliance too. But it’s not just looks, that minimalism works for functions too with circular movements of the glass control panel for volume and taps to jump between five preset radio stations of your choice so you can get playing without a phone.

Sound is big, house party big. It’s also really well balanced with excellent bass, clear vocals and and punchy mid-range even when turned up to full, which is ear-thumping loud. The accompanying app lets you pick equaliser levels for music types as well as locations like on a shelf versus outdoors while the Zipp does the tuning for you. It’s even got a setting for TV - which is great for laptop sound enhancement when using Netflix.

The Wi-Fi connectivity is excellent here as you can connect up to six speakers for proper multi-room support that lets you walk about the house with your song seamlessly following you. This connectivity also means support for Apple AirPlay, Spotify Connect and the Zipp is compatible with Alexa if you already have an Echo. Thanks to a built-in, near-field microphone, an update due in 2018 will offer wider controls via the speaker itself including sending and reading messages, making calls and providing information. It'll require a tap of the top of the Zipp, though, no wake word.

When it comes to taking this beast out and about you do have a handy leathery strap to carry or hang it, but it’s far from light or small so you’ll struggle to get this in many bags. The battery life is also limited with up to 10 hours but in reality that equates nearer to sub eight hours with the volume up even when only working over Bluetooth. The Zipp also isn’t waterproof and has that material finish so it’s one to be taken carefully if used outside - perhaps more for the back garden than a park.

the ambient verdict
Libratone Zipp
There's nothing quite like the Libratone Zipp, a Bluetooth and Wi-Fi speaker that works with everything and is due an update to its Alexa features soon.
  • Wi-Fi for AirPlay, Spotify Connect
  • Alexa features coming
  • Big sound, big style points
  • Too large to carry around
  • Best kept indoors
  • Battery life could be better

The best Bluetooth speakers

UE Wonderboom

$69.99, | Amazon

This is the smallest and most portable speaker of the bunch covered here at 425g, it’s also the most affordable. As a result it’s not going to stand up to the rest by direct comparison on most counts. However it still manages to offer a lot for the price tag.

Design, for a start, is great with a small rounded, material covered finish plus large easily accessed buttons. That circular design isn’t just for the look though as this offers 360-degree sound. Plonk this down anywhere and the audio fills the room in a well balanced way that makes it easy to hear wherever you are. And on the matter of that sound, it’s plenty powerful for hanging out with mates. You’re not going to use this for a really loud party as the top end volume starts to get less clear especially with the bass. Although you can pair two together if you want. The speaker could have a bit more bass, despite being a step up from the UE Roll 2 predecessor, and offer clearer midrange sound. But at the price it does the job and will turn a quiet park picnic into a party well enough.

On that volume subject, you usually have this thing turned up pretty loud to get impact so as a result that 10 hour battery life is a little hopeful, you’ll likely get closer to eight or nine in real world use.

A nice battery check option is available by pressing the plus and minus volume button together where you get a tone of one beep for low, two for medium and three for high charge. So you don’t need to worry about this too much. Nor do you need to worry about dropping it or getting wet as it’s IPX7 rated for ruggedness. The material loop on the speaker makes it easy to hang this out of the way to avoid damage and offer wider sound - although we found despite it being stretchy it’s not quite thick enough for decent tree branches when listening in a park.

There is no app support for Wonderboom, so while you can control music from your phone within the music app’s play and pause controls, there is no dedicated app additions. That also means no voice assistants in sight and a lack of updates for the speaker so you get what you pay for and that’s that.

the ambient verdict
UE Wonderboom
You get more than what you pay for with the affordable, portable Wonderboom. Don't expect any bonus features or a speaker that can handle a party and you'll be happy.
  • Small and portable design
  • Good value
  • Rugged
  • 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 aluminium, retro-looking, nice and cold to the touch, but 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

Bose SoundLink Mini II

$179.95, | Amazon

Although the Bose SoundLink Mini II is now a venerable old gent in the field of Bluetooth speakers, having hit the shelves over three years ago, it remains one of the best options on the market. What it lacks in mod cons, like pairing to multiple devices and native smart assistant integration, it makes up for with its reliability and beautifully balanced sound quality.

At first glance and feel, the Mini II is a hefty brick, with a grill on the front and an attractive brushed aluminium case. But this weight adds to the build quality, and, considering its size (51 x 180 x 58 mm), hints at quality beneath the shell. Meanwhile, the control panel on the top of the speaker is much the same as the SoundLink Revolve detailed above - you get volume, power and a multi-function button, which can be used to change tracks and activate extras like Siri and Google Assistant when paired to a phone.

It comes with a sleek charging dock, which connects to the speaker through the pins on the bottom – but it also has a microUSB charging port on the side which can be used with the cable. And while the charging dock is attractive (well, as much as any charging dock can be), the speaker sometimes needs to be given a wiggle before it connects, making the cable a more reliable option here.

With Bose, you expect top sound quality, and the SoundLink Mini II delivers. Even in a room filled with hard surfaces, it doesn’t sound tinny. Instead, the sound is balanced, which is impressive when you consider its size. Although many small speakers struggle with bass, the SoundLink Mini II bests some of the bigger options on this list with plenty of kick. What’s more, the sound quality is just as good at the top end of the volume, meaning it can be plonked down in the middle of a (fairly subdued) party and still bang out tunes a room full of bodies.

One minor point of annoyance we found during testing is the device's tendency to automatically connect to everything in range. Once you've made friends with the Mini II, you're pulled in constantly, which is both brilliant when you want it and mildly irritating when you're actually just letting someone else control the music, or if a lot of devices are linked with it.

As we've alluded to, perhaps the best thing about the SoundLink Mini II is its staying power. Three years after it was released, it still gives newer speakers a run for their money in many key areas. A drawback is its immediate staying power, contrastingly, with it only offering 10-hour battery life, and its lack of water resistance (unlike its sibling, the Bose SoundLink Colour II) also means you have to be wary of rogue drinks flying around it.

the ambient verdict
Bose SoundLink Mini II
What the SoundLink Mini II lacks in up-to-date features, it more than compensates for with its sound quality and sturdy build. After three years, this speaker still holds its own against newer models.
  • Excellent sound
  • Typical Bose build quality
  • Small form factor
  • Average battery life
  • No water resistance
  • Relatively expensive

TAGGED   speakers

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