The best Bluetooth speakers on the market combine high-fidelity audio reproduction with the type of rugged portability that allows you to take them almost anywhere – the beach, the pool, the mountain and more. However, these Bluetooth speakers can cost hundreds of dollars. Sometimes all you need is an affordable Bluetooth speaker for your dorm room or home office – a Bluetooth speaker that provides good wireless audio and allows you to stream music from your smartphone or tablet. And sometimes all you want is a speaker that will be a good upgrade to your laptop speakers while you watch movies on Netflix.
We reviewed six Bluetooth speakers that are ideal for dorm rooms and home offices. Our first priority was to judge the audio quality. We tested each speaker by streaming a variety of musical genres and judging the bass, midrange and high frequencies. A good speaker balances each frequency. In many cases, the audio quality rivals that of the much more expensive Bluetooth speakers.
Next, we considered the battery life. While most of these Bluetooth speakers can't stay far from a power outlet for long, a good battery life is important if you ever want to take your music to the quad for studying outside or to the yard while you pull weeds.
The JBL Pulse is a lot like the JBL Charge. The body size and shape is the same. It features two drivers and a bass radiator. The audio quality doesn't match that of the Charge, but it's still very good. The main difference between the two JBL Bluetooth speakers is a light show. The JBL Pulse's body is covered in LED lights that dance and move with the music.
While the Pulse is pricier than the typical affordable Bluetooth speaker, the light show is a nice addition to any dorm room with a lava lamp. Turn off the lights and you'll have a visual experience to match the auditory experience. Your senses will be pleased.
The battery lasts 10 hours, but only if you use the speaker at 50 percent volume with the LED lights off. With the lights on and the volume at 75 percent, the battery only lasted for a little over two hours for us.
808 Audio HexXL
The 808 Audio HexXL features two large drivers and a big bass radiator. The audio quality is a very good upgrade to laptop speakers. The bass and midrange is exceptional, but the high-range treble occasionally distorts, especially when there's a lot of sibilance in the vocal mix. It's one of the biggest affordable Bluetooth speakers. It fits perfectly on a bookcase or desk. Its strap makes it easy to carry.
The HexXL has a battery life of 10 hours on a 2.5-hour charge, which is one of the longest battery lives among the affordable Bluetooth speakers we reviewed. With a 10-hour battery life and a solid metal speaker grille, it has the power and durability for some outdoor use. However, it's not water or sand resistant.
Acoustic Research ARS60RD
The Acoustic Research ARS60RD is the prototypical bookcase and desktop speaker. It pushes 16 watts of power through dual drivers and a bass radiator. It definitely gets loud enough to warrant complaints from anyone sharing a wall with you. However, the further you push the volume, the more the audio degrades. The audio quality is most balanced at about 65 percent volume, which is plenty loud enough to satisfy a dorm room or home office. Any louder than that leads to distorted highs and muddying of the midrange detail.
The battery life for the ARS60RD is 10 hours on a two-hour charge. However, since it lacks the rugged features of a wireless Bluetooth speaker that you'd take on adventures, you can't take it far from an outlet.
The Kinivo BTX350 is one of the most affordable Bluetooth speakers, but don't let that fool you. It packs a significant punch in its small frame. Two active drivers and a small bass radiator produce balanced audio, even if the bass in on the thin side and the treble sounds tinny at times. The audio quality is excellent for the price and size, and it will provide a significant upgrade to a laptop speaker.
The battery for the BTX350 only lasts five hours on a three-hour charge, which is one of the shortest battery lives available. This is unfortunate, because the small size makes it extremely portable. You can easily slip it into a laptop bag or backpack.
Spracht BluNote Pro
Many Bluetooth speakers double as speakerphones. However, the speakerphone usually comes second to playing music. The Spracht BluNote Pro flips that paradigm, making the speakerphone feature the priority. The result is a Bluetooth wireless speaker that doesn't have great audio but is great if you have a home office and need an excellent speakerphone to conduct business. However, if your priority is music, you can find much better audio in Bluetooth speakers of the same cost.
The BluNote Pro looks more like an alarm clock than a Bluetooth speaker. It has a display that features a caller ID for incoming calls instead of a clock. In addition, it has an excellent battery life of 12 hours, which is the longest of any of the affordable Bluetooth speakers we reviewed. You'll have plenty of juice for those long conference calls with clients.
id America TouchTone
Don't let the small size fool you – the id America TouchTone's audio quality rivals that of portable Bluetooth speakers four times its size. The bass is big and punchy. The midrange is crisp and clear. The high treble is sharp, even at full volume. There's a lot of depth to the audio, and you won't find any dead spots no matter where you stand. It easily fills a large room, and it's small enough to take almost anywhere, though it lacks the outdoor ruggedness of the best Bluetooth speakers.
The biggest flaw with the TouchTone is the four-hour battery life on a three-hour charge. This is the shortest battery life of any Bluetooth speaker available. However, if you use it primarily as a Bluetooth speaker for your dorm or office, it will never be far from an outlet. The battery life only becomes an issue when you take it on picnics or other adventures where an outlet is not readily available.