The Best Portable Bluetooth Speakers of 2017
Tired of wearing headphones? We reviewed more than 100 portable Bluetooth speakers before buying and testing the 11 best side-by-side in a series of 20 exacting tests. Picking the right Bluetooth speaker is all about finding the right balance of sound quality and portability for your needs and budget. Our real world tests parse out the pros and cons of each speaker, so you can find the perfect one for your next barbecue, beach day, or backcountry dance party. Read on to find out which models are dulcet divas and which are discordant duds.
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Test Results and Ratings
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Analysis and Award Winners
Updated July 2017
Bluetooth speakers are so hot right now that many companies are pumping out new models. We don't think any of these newcomers will displace the Bose SoundLink Revolve as the best overall, but some may fill some new niches. You can expect a full review of these models soon, but for now here are the cliff notes:
UE recently released the Wonderboom which looks to be a midpoint between its other two models, providing more portability than the Boom and more bass than the Roll. Anker has added IPX5 water resistance to its flagship model in the SoundCore 2. A new player in the portable speaker game, Sony announced the release of the XB20, which looks to be a midrange water resistant model. Finally, JBL released the Flip 4, bringing the ruggedness and waterproofness of the Charge 3 into a smaller, more portable package.
Best Overall Bluetooth Speaker
Bose SoundLink Revolve
When we heard the older iteration of the Bose SoundlLink, we didn't think a small, portable speaker could sound much better, then we heard the SoundLink Revolve. It created such a big, full sound that we felt like we'd been slapped in the face, kind of like when the drums suddenly kick in halfway through Stairway to Heaven. We doubt anyone who hears this speaker will believe that it's small enough to comfortably carry around in a backpack. To boot it boasts IPX4 water resistance, so you don't have to worry about sudden rain or splashes while you lounge on the dock. At 1.5 pounds it is on the heavy side for a portable speaker, but it is still easily transportable. That extra weight is well worth the gains in sound quality, especially if you have a discerning ear.
Excellent sound quality
Great battery life
Read full review: Bose SoundLink Revolve
Don't care about water resistance?
While the SoundLink Revolve is a better overall speaker, its predecessor, the the SoundLink Mini II, still sounds great, but it's not water resistant. If you're not fussed about waterproofing you may be able to get a deal on it. Since it is no longer the flagship of Bose's line prices have been steadily dropping at online retailers.
Best Bang for Your Buck
Bose SoundLink Color II
Combining high quality sound and water resistance at a reasonably low price, the Bose SoundLink Color II provides the best value of any of the speakers we tested. Its bass was deep enough and treble melodious enough that it was only bested in our sound quality testing by models that cost nearly twice as much. Admittedly it doesn't sound as good as its big sibling, but it makes up for this by shedding some poundage, making it a bit more portable. It is also IPX4 water resistant, making it poolside and seaside friendly. If you're looking for something that sounds good, can keep up with your adventures, and isn't too expensive, this is your perfect musical sidekick.
Great sound quality
Good battery life
Rubber coating sometimes hangs onto dust
Read full review: Bose SoundLink Color II
Best Buy on a Tight Budget
If you're the type of person that would prefer to buy a $10 pair of sunglasses at a gas station rather than spend $100+ on a nice pair of Oakleys because you know at some point you will lose and/or break them, then the Anker SoundCore is for you. Sure, it can't match the panache of the much more expensive models we tested, but it gets the job done, providing sound that is much less tinny than any built-in smartphone speakers and loud enough to be enjoyed by your entire group of friends whilst you lounge by the lake. Plus, it's inexpensive enough that you won't feel the need to swaddle it like a newborn baby everytime you leave the house. Additionally, it far exceeded its reported battery life, lasting an incredible 41 hours in our testing. Just make sure you buy it when it's on sale (which, in our experience, is always). It loses that attractive thrifty quality if you buy it at full price.
Inexpensive (when on sale)
Decent sound considering its cost
Exceptional battery life
Bass is quite weak
Read full review: Anker SoundCore
Top Pick for Portability
UE Roll 2
The UE Roll 2 weighs in at less than ¾ of a pound and its slim profile makes it almost disappear in any backpack, duffle bag, or suitcase you stuff it into. Plus it can survive complete submersion in water, and the attached bungee strap lets you easily hang or lash it in an optimum listening location. This makes it the perfect musical companion in almost any situation. On top of that, it provides decent sound quality and lasted a full 14 hours in our continuous battery life test. If you want a speaker that can keep up with your mobile and active lifestyle, then the Roll is for you.
Good sound quality
Lightweight and portable
Bass is slightly weak
Can sound tinny, especially at high volumes
Read full review: UE Roll 2
Great for Backyard Parties
Harman Kardon Onyx Studio 3
Read full review: Harman Kardon Onyx Studio 3
Analysis and Test Results
The ideal Bluetooth speaker is one that can blast your music loud and proud, is portable enough that you don't mind toting it around, won't break when stuffed in a backpack or dropped on the ground, and has a battery that can power you through a long night of music fueled frivolity, should the mood strike.
Our overall scores are based on the results of 11 different real world tests, which we divided into 4 testing metrics. All of our testing metrics were designed around these ideal attributes and meticulously evaluated the sound quality, volume, portability, and battery life of each model, all in a side-by-side manner.
While no portable Bluetooth speaker is going to be able to match the quality of a home speaker system, it needs to at least represent a big step up from the built-in speakers on your smartphone to be of any use. To assess sound quality we had a percussionist who is all about that bass and a guitarist that knows the intricacies of treble listen to each speaker play the same songs one after another. After listening to everything from the deep resonance of the Interstellar soundtrack to the high, staccato picking of classical guitar, we scored each speaker on bass, treble, clarity, and dynamic range.
The Bose SoundLink Revolve was the winner of our sound quality testing, earning a perfect score of 10 out of 10. This speaker is the classic small dog with a big bark. In our testing it produced booming bass and was the only model that could hit high notes without even a trace of clipping. It also had impressive clarity and was able to clearly define each note within even fast saxophone trills. A close runner up was the Bose SoundLink Mini II. It also produced exceptional sound with no clipping. However, its bass wasn't quite as powerful as the Revolve, which gave its sound a bit less depth and well-roundedness.
A close runner up was the Beats Pill+. It matched the Bose Soundlink Mini II with incredible clarity, but it fell just a bit short in terms of bass and treble. The bass still felt good and thumpy but lacked a little body when compared to the Bose, and the treble did show some slight signs of clipping when playing the highest notes.
A small audio sampling from all of our speakers. Music courtesy of www.bensound.com
The Harman Kardon Onyx Studio 3, the Bose SoundLink Color II and the Beats Pill+ all picked up an 8 out of 10 in this metric. These models are just a small step down in treble quality and clarity from the top performers, with some more complex melodies sounding just slightly less crisp. The Onyx Studio 3 had the deepest bass of any model we tested, but staccato notes weren't as sharp as they were relative to the top scorers. The SoundLink Color's bass was less muddled, but not quite as deep. The bass of the Beats Pill+ still felt good and thumpy, but lacked a little body when compared to the Bose, and the treble did show some slight signs of clipping when playing the highest notes.
Next up with scores of 7 out of 10 were the UE Boom 2 and the Amazon Tap. These speakers sounded so similar to one another in our testing that we became suspicious that Amazon is outsourcing some of its audio component manufacturing to UE. Both of these models sound quite good and clear, but the bass is noticeably lacking, they don't sound hollow and empty like speakers with absolutely no bass, but we were left wishing for a bit more low-end.
The UE Roll 2 was the only model to score a 6 out of 10 in our sound quality testing. Given its small size and lightweight this speakers quality is impressive, yet clearly has some drawbacks. The clarity is decent, but just on the borderline of sounding muddled. The bass lacks a good amount of depth, which was the biggest strike against the Roll 2's sound quality, and high notes often sounded a bit static-y at higher volumes. In the grand scheme of things, however, we believe the Roll 2's audio shortcomings are more than made up for by its portability for those that want a take-it-anywhere kind of speaker.
Leading off the bottom tier of our sound quality score sheet is the JBL Charge 3, which earned a score of 5 out of 10. In their marketing, JBL calls this speaker the "bass radiator" and it clearly prioritizes bass over all else. The bass does sound great, but largely to the detriment of overall clarity, with the overarching sound having a muddled quality. Dynamic range also feels a bit depressed, with some accents and ghost notes not producing their desired effect. However, if you just want something that can throw down a powerful, artificial triplet backbeat the Charge 3 is a good choice.
At the bottom of our sound quality score sheet were the Anker SoundCore and Cambridge SoundWorks Oontz Angle, which scored 4 and 3 out of 10, respectively. Both of these models produced fairly weak bass and relatively poor clarity. The Anker SoundCore had a bit less clipping and a bit more dynamic range than the Oontz, but still lagged behind the rest of the field in both of those metrics. Both of these speakers still represent a significant upgrade in volume and a decent upgrade in quality when compared to a smartphone's built-in speakers, and are decent budget options.
If a Bluetooth speaker is small and light enough to shove in your bag you're more likely to have it with you when your entourage demands some sweet beats. Our portability testing was based on three simple questions; is it heavy, do I have to worry about it getting wet, and can I easily throw it in a backpack? the first two questions were easy to answer with a scale, checking which models have waterproof ratings, and taking those models for a swim just to verify. To assess packability our testers took the speakers everywhere, stuffing them into backpacks, tote bags, and carry-on luggage, to see how easily they fit in with the essentials we were carrying around anyway.
The UE Roll 2 was far and away our favorite model to carry around, earning a perfect 10 out of 10 in our portability testing. It tipped our scale at just 11.2 ounces, making it the second lightest speaker we tested. Its small size and fairly flat disc shape also makes the Roll 2 eminently packable, somehow disappearing in fully stuffed suitcases and backpacks. The attached bungee cord allows for easy hanging, mounting, and strapping, so even if your bag is completely full you can easily strap the Roll 2 to the outside. It is also one of only three models we tested with an IPX7 rating, meaning it can be fully submerged in three feet of water. We dunked the Roll 2 repeatedly in our testing to verify this capability. After a dunking, the Roll 2 would make T Swift sound like she was gargling water, but we just shook it off, and the speaker was fine.
The Cambridge SoundWorks Oontz Angle was a close runner-up, earning a score of 9 in this metric. It is the lightest model we tested at 9.4 ounces. Even though it is quite tiny, its triangular shape just doesn't slip into a pack as easily as the Roll does. It also has an IPX5 rating, meaning it can withstand being hit by even pressurized streams of water, which is useful if you tend to get into super soaker fights. Both of these top scoring models are light enough that they may find their way into your pack for extended hikes or even backpacking trips, assuming you're not too much of a minimalist.
Taking a significant step down from the top scorers we have the UE Boom 2, the Bose SoundLink Color II, and the Bose SoundLink Revolve, all of which scored a 7 out of 10 in this metric. The Boom 2 and the SoundLink Color II are relatively heavy, both clocking in at about 19.5 ounces. However, the cylindrical shape of the Boom and the fairly flat, rectangular shape of the SoundLink Color make them easily packable. These models also benefitted from their water resistant ratings. The Boom can survive full submersion (IPX7 rating) and the SoundLink Color can survive significant splashes (IPX4 rating). The SoundLink Revolve** is quite heavy at 24 ounces, but it's IPX4 water resistant rating and packable, cylindrical shape earned it a decent score.
Most of the rest of the models we tested were hampered in this metric due to a lack of any sort of water resistant rating, which inevitably made us a bit more reluctant to take them outside under anything other than bluebird skies. The most portable of these hydrophobic models are the Anker SoundCore and the Amazon Tap, both of which earned a score df 6 out of 10. The SoundCore is significantly lighter than the Tap: 12.8 vs. 16.6 ounces. The Soundcore's rubberized exterior also lends more confidence that it can sustain minor drops and scratches. The Tap's mostly soft exterior feels quite fragile in comparison. However, the sleek, cylindrical shape of the Tap more easily slid into our backpacks that the boxy, sharp edges of the SoundCore. Plus, the available Tap Sling can make it feel much more rugged.
The Bose SoundLink Mini and the Beats Pill+ both scored a 5 out of 10 in this metric, mostly due to their weight. Our scale put them at 24 and 27 ounces, respectively. They both also have hard metal exteriors, not exactly the material you'd expect to easily absorb shocks and scratches. Both models also have sleek profiles that can slide into a stuffed backpack, but the rounded edges of the Pill+ are a bit more adept at this. These speakers are heavy enough that you'll definitely notice them in your bag, and most people will want a rubber sleeve or carrying case to protect them while traveling.
The JBL Charge 3 was an outlier in that it has an IPX7 rating and can survive full submersion in water, yet only scored a 5 out of 10 in our portability testing. This was due to its size and weight. At 28 ounces it's one of the heaviest models we tested, and its 8.4" by 3.5" cylindric body is large enough to be obnoxious in a backpack.
The Harman Kardon Onyx Studio 3, which earned the low score of 2 out of 10 in this metric, is portable only by the most technical definition of the word. At a full 72 ounces (that's 4.5 pounds) it is as heavy as a large laptop. Its 11-inch flying saucer shape also won't fit easily into any backpack or bag. This puppy might make it out into the backyard for a barbecue, or possibly on a car camping trip, but that's about it.
Producing enough sound for a couple people lounging on the beach and creating enough sound for a barbecue with 20+ people are very different tasks, and some speakers just won't be able to cut it in the latter situation. We evaluated volume objectively with a sound meter. However, we found that most of the speakers were able to produce similar maximum decibel levels, but some sounded incredibly shrill at high volumes while others were able to retain their musicality.
So we ended up rating them subjectively by listening to each speaker in different sized spaces to see which could fill a room with dulcet tones, and which just filled it with cringe-inducing dissonance.
Somewhat unsurprisingly the two largest speakers we tested, the Harman Kardon Onyx Studio 3 and the JBL Charge 3, took home top honors in our volume testing, both earning a score of 9 out of 10. These models kept the music sound good even when cranked up high, and could fill even large, open houses with good sound. The Onyx Studio 3 has better sound quality and, if anything, was just a tad louder than the Charge 3, so it would be our choice playing music at a noisy backyard barbecue. Just remember that it is the least portable speaker of the bunch.
Despite its relatively tiny stature the UE Boom 2 lived up to its name and did well in our volume testing, picking up a score of 8 out of 10. It was easily able to fill an apartment with crisp sounding music, even when that apartment was filled with a bunch of people bouncing around to said music. The Bose SoundLink Revolve performed similarly, also scoring an 8. It has enough juice to power a small party and more than enough for a group of friends hanging out on the beach.
A triad of models, including the Bose SoundLink Mini II, the SoundLink Color II, and the Beats Pill+, scored 7 out of 10 in this metric. Coincidentally these are also the speakers that did best in our sound quality testing. They are plenty loud to fill an apartment with great sounding audio, even if that is also filled with a group of people talking loudly. If that loud talking turned into a raucous dance party, however, these speakers may struggle a bit to play over the din.
Both the UE Roll 2 and the Amazon Tapscored 6 out of 10 in our volume testing. These models still have some oomph to them but completely filling an apartment with sound would be a bit of a stretch, a large hotel or bedroom would be more in their wheelhouse. The tap can get a good bit louder than the Roll, but its sound quality degrades to a noticeable but not terrible degree at higher volumes. The Roll's design excels at close listening situations, like strapping it to a backpack or bike handlebars, and is plenty loud enough for those instances.
At the bottom of our volume testing scoresheet were the Anker SoundCore and the Cambridge SoundWorks Oontz Angle 3. Both of these models still provide a solid bump up in volume when compared to smartphone built-in speakers but functionally are a good bit quieter than the other speakers we tested (you can crank the volume up really high, but you'll mostly hear static when you do). They're great for a couple of friends listening to some relaxing music while sitting on the porch, but they'd struggle to fill an apartment with sound and have trouble cutting through ambient noise.
Nothing can kill the mood of a gathering more than the music cutting out prematurely, so you'll want to make sure your speaker has enough juice to power you through. To test battery life we set each speaker to the same level of sound output, which worked out to about 75% volume for most models, and made them all play the same loop of music over and over until they died. We'd tell you which songs we played but at this point we've heard them so much we can't even stand to utter their names…
The Anker SoundCore really wrecked the curve in our battery life testing. It lasted an astonishing 41 hours, close to double the battery life claimed by the manufacturer. Honestly, we were tempted to bust it open and see if there was a little gnome running on a hamster wheel inside. This performance earned it a perfect score of 10 out of 10, and sort of precluded any other speaker from actually impressing us in this test.
The first but distant runner-up in our battery life testing was the JBL Charge 3. It lasted what should have been an impressive 30 hours, if we hadn't already been blown away by the SoundCore. This admirable performance earned the Charge 3 a score of 9 out of 10. Coming in a distant 3rd were the Bose SoundLink Revolve and the Bose SoundLink Mini II, Which lasted 18 hours and 17 hours, respectively. Both these times are enough to fill all of your waking hours with music. As this was appreciably less than our top scorers the SoundLink Revolve and SoundLink Mini only earned scores of 7 out of 10.
Both the Cambridge SoundWorks Oontz Angle 3 and the UE Roll 2 earned scores of 6 out of 10 in our battery life test. The Oontz was a slightly better performer, keeping the music going for 15.5 hours. The Roll wasn't far behind, staying alive for 14 hours.
Three different models earned a score of 5 out of 10 in this test. The Bose SoundLink Color II lasted a respectable 13 hours. The Beats Pill+ also survived for 13 hours in our test. The UE Boom 2 was slightly behind these models, lasting 12 hours. This was slightly disappointing, as the Boom 2 was the only model that lagged significantly behind its manufacturer's claimed battery life (15 hours). The Amazon tap earned a score of 4 out of 10 and lasted 8.5 hours in our testing.
At the bottom of our results sheet was the Harman Kardon Onyx Studio 3. Due to its large, rather unportable size the design team didn't see fit add even more weight with a large battery. Therefore it only lasted 4.5 hours in our test, earning it the low score of 2 out of 10.
A Note on Ease of Use
For most products we include an ease of use metric, and we planned to do so for Bluetooth speakers. However, in our testing we found almost no differences betweens models in terms of ease of use. When we had any Bluetooth connectivity problems they seemed to be based on the phone we were trying to pair rather than the speaker, every single speaker was able to maintain a connection when we moved the paired device 40 feet away, and all of their interfaces are almost identical. Therefore we ultimately removed our ease of use metric. Some models do have microphones that allow them to become speaker phones or even use Siri (we've noted these models in the specs table). But these extra features were of a similar quality across all of the models that have them and, based on our own experiences and a careful analysis of online user reviews, aren't used enough to deserve a bump in our scoring.
Aesthetically, Bluetooth speakers are probably some of the most diverse tech products around, coming in a myriad of sizes, shapes, and colors. Despite this clear diversity it can be incredibly difficult to differentiate these products in terms of their actual, real world performance. We hop that our testing result have helped you cut through the confusion and find the perfect speaker for your needs.
— Max Mutter and Steven Tata
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