The speakers in iPhones and iPads get better with each new model, but they’ll never power a party, or even shift enough air to accompany an action movie. Bluetooth speakers are the way to go for most people. You skip the annoyance of wires, and you don’t have to deal with the hassle of AirPlay, which never seems to work right. Also, Bluetooth is universal, so you can also use the speaker with an Android device or PC.
What to look for in Bluetooth speakers
Bluetooth speakers are so diverse that it’s hard to say what features to look for. After all, many of them are compromises — a waterproof speaker won’t sound as clear as an otherwise-identical non-waterproof version, for example.
But there are some features that are common to all speakers. Battery life is one, and is probably the most important consideration after sound quality. It may even be more important, if you’re a teenager who likes to inflict your music on any and all passersby. Or you may not care about a battery at all — perhaps you want to install the speaker permanently in one spot.
Bluetooth range is also worth bearing in mind, but for most users won’t really make any difference — unless you have a huge home with extra-thick walls.
Other than that, consider the features you want. I hate speakerphones, for example, because Siri never works through them, but you might love the feature. Waterproofing is good for the beach or the shower, but less important in the kitchen or living room. You get the drift. We have mentioned any unusual extra features below.
Best Bluetooth speakers
Best Bluetooth speaker for most folks
The Ultimate Ears Roll 2 is the best Bluetooth speaker for most folks. It’s almost perfect — it’s slim, yet the battery lasts nine hours. It’s waterproof (you can drop it into 3 feet of water for a half-hour), and there’s a bungee cord on the back so you can hook it up to almost anything, from your bike handlebars to a beer keg.
The UE Roll 2 is also Wirecutter’s favorite portable Bluetooth speaker. The publication says the speaker “sounds full, with smooth reproduction of everything from bass notes to cymbals, and it plays loud enough to fill a hotel room or a spot at the beach with sound.”
Those are good examples, because the Roll 2 really is a take-anywhere speaker. The waterproofing also keeps out dust and dirt, and its unique flying-saucer shape means that it is easy to carry. You can slip it into a gap at the side of a packed suitcase, or stow it in the door-bin of a car. It even comes with an inflatable donut so you can float the Roll 2 in the pool.
The Roll 2 also lacks speakerphone capability, which some may see as a downside, but is a feature I love. How many times have you tried to use Siri while listening to music? You press and hold the home button, and instead of Siri beeping on your iPhone, it beeps on the speaker, and you know it’ll never understand you. Usually I just give up and type, but because the Roll 2 doesn’t have a mic, you’ll never suffer this problem.
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Bestseller at Amazon
The Anker SoundCore 2 looks like the spiritual successor to the Bluetooth speaker that kicked off this whole category — the JamBox. It is super-affordable, claims to run for 24 hours on a single charge (more than enough to get you kicked out of your apartment), and comes with a built-in mic for making phone calls.
The SoundCore seems to be a good default choice for many. The price is absurdly low, which may be a factor in the 4.5-star average on Amazon from almost 10,000 reviewers. If you’re planning to do a little music listening, or keep this in the kitchen for podcasts, then it’s just about perfect. Just don’t expect it to power a party.
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Best for pretending you’re a rock star
Marshall is famous for its guitar amplifiers, and it is using its reputation for badass rocking to push its relatively new consumer electronics division. And unlike its guitar amp range, which is widely considered to be pretty poor these days, Marshall’s speakers and headphones are great.
The Marshall Acton Bluetooth speaker is made for home use, so it doesn’t waste space with a battery — you just plug it in. Like almost all our other picks, it uses Bluetooth V4.0 + EDR APT, and the Acton can also be connected via an included (curly, retro) 3.5mm jack audio cable. Sound-wise, the Acton’s reputation is middling. It’s better than budget options, or smaller portable speakers, but isn’t as good as high-end speakers (although these typically cost double the price of the Marshall).
But really the Marshall’s biggest selling point is its looks. The Acton comes covered in black or cream tolex, the same textured vinyl covering found on guitar amps. Volume, bass and treble controls are big gold knobs; the power switch is a cool, old-school toggle switch; and the grille cloth features the famous Marshall logo. The speaker looks so good, some might not even care how it sounds.
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There are a ton of great, compact Bluetooth speakers around, but few of them will sound as good as the iLoud. Originally meant as a way to hook up your guitar to an iPhone, the iLoud is now much better known as an awesome monitor-style speaker. I’ve had one for years and still use it daily. It’s good for music, movies and also for hooking up to GarageBand to make some music — with a guitar or anything else.
The iLoud is in fact very loud, and it gets most of the way up the dial without any distortion. It is also crisp and clear, and the bass port around the back lets it deliver plenty of low-end grunt. In short, if you can’t annoy your neighbors with the iLoud, then you’re doing it wrong.
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Best bass on a budget
The Vava Voom 20 wins the prize for the best name on our list of picks. It’s also a great speaker for those who like bass, but don’t want to spend a lot of money. The Vava Voom is deliberately designed to emphasize the low end of the sound spectrum, instead of offering balanced audio. In this way it is tailored to a specific market, or at least a specific taste — much like Beats headphones. It is also splashproof, and can share its eight-hour battery with other devices just by plugging them into its full-size USB port. This is a fantastic feature. After all, what’s the point of a speaker if you don’t have any music to play?
Finally, if you have two of these, you can combine them to use as a pair of stereo speakers. That’s a pretty neat, if niche, extra.
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While researching this category, we discarded several popular and/or well-known speakers. Some of these are actually pretty good speakers — they just didn’t make the cut because there was a better alternative. To be honest, it’s hard to go wrong with a Bluetooth speaker from a known brand these days. As long as you avoid the no-name brands sold at the gas station, or in mall pop-up stores, you should end up with something more than serviceable. With that said, here are the speakers that we almost included:
Amazon Echo 2
Amazon’s Echo is much more that a speaker, but it’s cheap, and very popular. Enabling Bluetooth on the Echo is easy — you just tell Amazon’s voice assistant, Alexa, to turn it on. We skipped on the Echo for a few reasons. One is privacy concerns — do you want an always-on microphone listening in on everything that goes on in your home? The other is sound quality. What Hi-Fi gave the Echo 4/5 stars in its review, but listed sound quality in the “against” column.
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JBL Charge 3
JBL’s Charge 3 gets great reviews on Amazon — 4.5 stars from over 2,800 comments. The reviews themselves are also glowing, calling it a great improvement over the Charge 2 in terms of fullness of sound, and also battery life. Some commenters said that the speaker was too quiet, but we haven’t tested it for ourselves. If you like the cylinder-shape of the JBL, this is a pretty good bet, and it is also waterproof. It may even make it onto our main list next time around.
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Beats Pill 2
The Beats Pill 2 is an average speaker, with average sound quality which gets even worse at higher volumes. What HiFi rates it as better than the original Pill, and notes that it plays well with Apple devices, but overall the most important aspect of a speaker is sound, and here it is lacking.
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OontZ Angle 3 from Cambridge Soundworks
The OontZ Angle 3 is Amazon’s best-selling Bluetooth speaker. That may be down to its price, which is low enough that you could put one in the bedroom, kitchen, bathroom and living room for less than the price of better speakers. The OontZ Angle 3 may be a good choice for the shower, though — it has an IPX5 splash proof rating, and volume matters more than sound quality in the shower. Other than that, you should probably avoid Amazon’s best-seller.
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Ultimate Ears Boom 2
The Boom 2 is a pretty good speaker, but it just isn’t as good as our top pick from the same manufacturer. That’s partly down to the sharp, which isn’t as practical as the saucer-like UE Roll 2. Still, if you prefer this shape, the Boom 2 is a great choice. It has one big advantage over the other speakers here: it can slip straight into the bottle cage on any bike that has one. Combined with its 360˚ sound output, that make sit the perfect speaker for annoying pedestrians.
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