Why Buy a Bluetooth Speaker?
The top performers in our review are the JBL Pulse 2, the Gold Award winner; the UE Boom 2, the Silver Award winner; and the Bose SoundLink Mini II, the Bronze Award winner. Here's more on choosing a system to meet your needs, along with detail on how we arrived at our ranking of the top 10 speakers.
Bluetooth speakers are rapidly growing in popularity. No longer do you need a big, expensive sound system to listen to high-quality audio. Speakers are getting smaller, more portable and less expensive, but the audio quality is better than ever.
You connect your music player to these speakers using Bluetooth technology. Bluetooth allows you to send digital audio signals wirelessly to receivers at a standard range of 33 feet. You simply pair the mobile device with the Bluetooth speaker and the audio from your mobile device plays through the speaker.
Mini Bluetooth Speakers: The Smaller, the Better
The best thing about wireless Bluetooth speakers is that you can take them just about anywhere. These speakers are small and lightweight. We mean really small – less than 8 inches in length – and many of them weigh around 1 pound. They can easily be grabbed and carried with one hand or tossed into a bag without taking up too much room.
One of the smallest Bluetooth speakers in our lineup is the Beats Pill. The slogan for the Beats Pill is "small but loud" – they aren't lying. It is only 1.8 inches tall and 7.5 inches long and weighs half a pound, making it almost unnoticeable when you carry it in a bag. It certainly gets plenty loud with a max volume of 97.7 dB.
The Bose SoundLink Mini is 2 inches tall and 7.1 inches long – just as small as the Beats Pill but slightly heavier at 1.5 pounds. Small size doesn't mean small sound, as this speaker is also one of the best-sounding and loudest speakers in our lineup.
Waterproof Bluetooth Speakers: Survive the Elements
Many of the portable Bluetooth speakers are water resistant, dustproof and ultra durable. Their ruggedness makes them a great companion for the outdoors. Since many of these speakers can handle rain and dirt, if the weather turns on your backyard barbeque or while you are out camping, you won't have to worry about your speaker shorting out.
Both the Logitech UE Boom and the UE Roll are IPX7 rated. This means they both can survive being submerged under 1 meter of water for up to 30 minutes. The UE Roll comes with a bungee attached to it, so you can tie it to your swimsuit, backpack or bike. It can even work as a Bluetooth shower speaker if you fasten it to the showerhead. Both the Boom and the Roll aren't afraid of a little water.
The Altec Boomjacket is another rugged Bluetooth speaker that can survive the elements. As with the UE Boom and Roll, the Boomjacket can withstand being submerged in a meter of water for up to 30 minutes. For added protection from the elements, the Boomjacket has a thick rubber exterior that protects it from sand and drops. This is one of the best outdoor Bluetooth speakers out there.
Other Speaker Options
If you're looking for something bigger and more powerful than these small portable options, our Wi-Fi speaker review compares bigger, more powerful speaker systems for your home. These speakers connect to your Wi-Fi network, which gives them far better signal and range, meaning you won't be confined to the standard 33-foot Bluetooth signal. These speakers can produce more volume and provide better sound quality than many of the Bluetooth speakers, but bear in mind that many of these are not portable or battery powered and are far more expensive.
If you are looking for more information, you can visit our other articles on Bluetooth speakers.
Bluetooth Speakers: What We Tested, What We Found
When evaluating any speaker, sound quality is king. Finding a speaker that is portable or waterproof might be one thing, but unless the speaker sounds good, what's the point? Finding a good-sounding speaker should always be the main priority.
We connected all of the speakers to a switcher, so we were able to play music from a single source to any speaker that was selected on the switcher. This allowed us to switch from one speaker to another without any delay, making it easy to compare our lineup side by side.
Next, all of the speakers were volume matched so we wouldn't mistake louder volume for better quality. After volume matching, we blindfolded a handful of reviewers and had them listen to the speakers as we played a variety of different genres for them. They judged the speakers on overall sound quality, bass response and vocal clarity without knowing which speaker they were listening to.
Some like their music loud. For those who want to crank the volume to 11, we used our sound decibel meter to determine the loudest speaker in our lineup. We pushed each speaker to the loudest volume without distortion and measured the max volume output.
If you like to blast your music, the loudest portable Bluetooth speakers are the UE Roll, Beats Pill and UE Boom. All three of these speakers can really get cranking when you turn the volume up.
Battery life is the second most important attribute for a Bluetooth speaker. We listed the manufacturer battery life, but we also did our own battery life testing. After we charged all of the speakers to full power, we played music continuously at a medium volume through all the speakers until the battery was completely drained.
Here is the cool part: We rigged a GoPro to snap a photo of the speakers once every minute for two days. The speakers' battery indicators faced the camera so we could see when the speakers eventually turned off. We checked in every so often to make sure music was still playing through them. The great thing about this test is it allowed us to know almost exactly when the speaker turned off from a dead battery (within a minute).
In order to play all the speakers simultaneously from a single audio source, we needed to connect the speakers to an iPad using several splitters and wired connections. Our battery test was not done using Bluetooth connectivity. Bluetooth rarely allows you to connect to two different audio sources at once, let alone 10 different speakers. Bluetooth can also be finicky and shut off or disconnect randomly. That would have compromised our battery testing. A wired connection was the most reliable way to ensure that music streamed to the speakers continuously. Keep in mind that Bluetooth generally uses more battery life than a wired connection, which could be the reason why some of the batteries lasted longer than the manufacturer's ratings. Also keep in mind that there isn't an industry standard for battery testing, so companies can use their own testing strategies to bolster their battery life ratings. We tested all of the speakers in the same exact circumstances, giving you a good idea of what the speakers are truly capable of.
After we completely drained the batteries in our battery life testing, we timed how long each one took to completely charge. The charge times in our side-by-side comparison are our results, not the ones the manufacturers listed.
Bluetooth Speakers: Our Verdict and Recommendations
The JBL Pulse 2 is our Top Ten Reviews Gold Award Winner. This speaker has fantastic bass response, loud enough volume to fill up a room and an overall warm and full sound quality. Our listening panel loved this speaker, especially when we played bass-driven music through it. This device also has great battery life (if you don't use the light show). It lasted up to 18 hours in our testing, giving you plenty of music between charges. It is bigger, heavier and less water resistant than other speakers in our lineup, but if sound quality is king, you can't go wrong with the JBL Pulse 2.
The UE Boom 2 is our Top Ten Reviews Silver Award Winner. The UE Boom does a little bit of everything. It is IPX7 waterproof, meaning you can fully submerge it under 1 meter of water for up to 30 minutes without any damage. It has a lengthy battery life lasting up to 22 hours, according to our testing, and it sounds pretty dang good to boot. There other speakers our lineup that we feel sound better, but if you want all the extras beyond sound quality, the UE Boom is definitely a top choice.
The Bose SoundLink Mini II is our Top Ten Reviews Bronze Award winner. Our listening panel loved the way this speaker sounded. It has a wide range and full sound quality to it. The sound definitely projects well and makes it seem like you're listening to a much larger speaker. The sound quality is balanced but definitely holds its own in the bass department. It has a shorter battery life than many other speakers in our lineup, but it does come with a docking station so you can keep your speaker continuously powered while at home. Finally, it lacks any sort of water and dust resistance, so this speaker is definitely best suited for indoor use.