Updated November 2018
We spent the past week listening to and traveling with the updated UE Boom 3. This speaker brings increased battery life and a convenient play/pause button, making it one of the most well-rounded speakers on the market. It is certainly a jack of all trades, providing good sound, great volume, and long-lasting battery in a waterproof and reasonably lightweight package. There are certainly speakers that sound better and other that are more portable, but the Boom 3 strikes one of the best balances we've found.
Best Overall Bluetooth Speaker
Bose SoundLink Revolve
: 24 oz | Battery Life
: 18 hrs
Excellent sound quality
Great battery life
For those that demand great sound quality no matter the situation, Bose's flagship portable speakers are the clear choice. both the Soundlink Revolve and its big sibling, the Revolve+, produce exceptionally deep bass and impressive clarity, creating a rich overall sound that you'll likely be surprised is coming from a battery powered speaker. Both models also boast an IPX4 water resistant rating, allowing them to easily survive summer showers or poolside splashes. Each model also packs in enough battery life to serenade all your waking hours before needing a recharge. The only difference between the two models is that the Revolve+ packs on a little extra poundage in return for a louder maximum volume.
The only strikes against these speakers are their price and weight. Listing for significantly more than most other other models, these speakers certainly aren't cheap. At 24 ounces the Revolve is certainly noticeable when you put it in a backpack, and the 34 ounce Revolve+ can be a bit cumbersome when lugging it to the beach. These downsides feel well worth the great sound quality that they bring, however. We would recommend the Revolve to anyone looking for a portable, high-end listening experience, and the Revolve+ to anyone that wants a speaker with enough volume to power a pool party or barbeque.
Read review: Bose Soundlink Revolve
Read review: Bose Soundlink Revolve+
Best Bang for Your Buck
Bose SoundLink Color II
: 19.8 oz | Battery Life
: 13 hrs
Great sound quality
Good battery life
Rubber coating sometimes hangs onto dust
If you want high-end sound without a multi-hundred dollar price tag, the sporty looking Bose Soundlink Color II may be the perfect compromise. The Soundlink Color loses a bit of the bass power of the Revolve models, but retains most of the clarity, creating a soundscape that feels quite refined. The IPX4 water resistant rating means you can tote this speaker along with you even if storm clouds are threatening. At 19.8 ounces it certainly doesn't 'disappear' into a bag, but it also doesn't feel too cumbersome to lug around. And it does all this for a somewhat more reasonable price.
Aside from a slight reduction in sound quality when compared to more expensive models, we have very little to complain about when it comes to the Soundlink Color
. We did notice that fuzz and lint tended to stick to the rubber coating, but thanks to the water-resistant rating we felt comfortable giving it a quick rinse to wash that off, so this is far from a dealbreaker. Overall the Soundlink Color
strikes a great balance between sound quality, portability, and price.
Read review: Bose SoundLink Color II
Best Buy on a Shoestring Budget
Tribit XSound Go
: 13.4 oz | Battery Life
: 18.5 hrs
We know a lot of people that just want a cheap, totally waterproof speaker that they can bring to the beach or on the boat without having to worry about breaking or losing an expensive piece of electronics. If you fit into this category, we can't recommend the Tribit XSound Go enough. This IPX7 rated waterproof speaker often sells for even less than its already low list price, and is small and light enough that you'll barely notice you have it with you.
Like all small speakers, the XSound lacks some bass power, and doesn't sound particularly full when played at high volumes. However, it can still belt out a nice tune when you're hanging out with friends, especially considering its low price.
Read review: Tribit XSound Go
Top Pick for Portability
UE Roll 2
: 11.2 oz | Battery Life
: 14 hrs
Good sound quality
Lightweight and portable
Bass is slightly weak
Can sound tinny, especially at high volumes
We really can't overstate how beastly the UE Roll 2 is. We were impressed with its IPX7 waterproof rating and general ruggedness when we first tested it, then one of our testers found an abandoned Roll sitting at the bottom of a river. After chilling in a bag of rice for a night to dry out the charging port, the speaker worked like new. Backing this up with a slim and packable shape, a feathery 11.2-ounce weight, and decent sound quality, this is a speaker that can tag along on any adventure.
Really the only downside of the Roll 2 is that it's sound quality, while reasonably good, does leave some things to be desired. The bass is somewhat weak, and the overall sound can be a bit thin, especially at high volumes. If you're looking for something reliable, portable, and melodious enough to serenade your campsite or hotel room, this is the speaker for you.
Read review: UE Roll 2
Great for the Home and Backyard Parties
Harman Kardon Onyx Studio 4
: 72 oz | Battery Life
: 10.5 hrs
Great sound quality
While the 4.5 pound, basketball-sized Harman Kardon Onyx Studio 4 isn't particularly portable, it does fill quite a useful niche. The large size lets it retain good sound quality even when cranked to full volume, making it great for a big backyard barbeque or pool party (something most of the smaller speakers just don't have enough juice to handle). It's also quite easy to carry the Onyx around the house, making it a very cheap alternative to investing in a multi-room, multi-speaker home music system.
Aside from its lack of portability, The only real knock against the Onyx is the fact that the Bose Soundlink Revolve+ fills the same niche with a bit more aplomb. The Bose both sounds a little better and is actually slightly louder than the Onyx, despite being about half the size. However, the Bose generally sells for double what the Onyx goes for.
Read review: Harman Kardon Onyx Studio 4
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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.
Listening to our speakers, like the UE Boom 2 pictured here, in real world settings was the cornerstone of our sound quality testing.
Bluetooth speakers vary somewhat widely in price, and their overall value largely depends upon what you're looking for. For instance, if you place a premium on sound quality, we think the Bose Soundlink Revolve is well worth its high price tag. If you're not too particular about sound quality but definitely want something that is very portable and durable, the UE Roll 2 is a great value. If you just want something cheap and portable, the Sony XB10 is a steal. If Cheap and waterproof most suits your needs, the Tribit XSound Go is a great choice. Finally, if you want something that is a reasonable balance between price, sound quality, durability, and portability, we think the Bose Soundlink Color II hits that sweet spot.
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.
Both the Bose SoundLink Revolve and the Soundlink Revole+ shared the top step of the podium in our sound quality testing, earning a perfect score of 10 out of 10. In our testing these speakers produced booming bass and were the only models that could hit high notes without even a trace of clipping. They also had impressive clarity and were 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 models, which gave its sound a bit less depth and well-roundedness.
The Bose SoundLink Revolve sounded so good in our testing that it made flowers grow.
Another 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 4, 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 4 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.
Do I Need to Worry About EMFs?
Sources of Electromagnetic Fields (EMFs) are everywhere nowadays. While long-term exposure to very high-intensity EMFs has proven to have health consequences (think living directly under high voltage power lines), there isn't yet any hard evidence that the relatively low-intensity fields emitted by wireless consumer electronics pose similar risks. We feel that even the most cautious people needn't worry about using Bluetooth speakers. Our measurements indicate that EMF levels drop down to background levels no more than 6 inches away from these speakers. So unless you're putting a speaker right next to your head while you listen to music, you won't be increasing your EMF exposure while using these devices.
The UE Boom 2, the Boom 3, and the Bose SoundLink Micro all earned a 7 out of 10 in our sound quality testing. All of these models have enough low-end to make even bass-heavy music sound full. Somewhat surprisingly, the tiny SoundLink Micro actually has slightly more powerful bass than the larger Boom models. However, the Booms have much better clarity than the Micro, in opinion making them sound just a bit better overall.
The larger Bose Soundlink Revolve+ sounds great and can get very loud.
The JBL Flip 4 and both the Sony SRS-XB21 and Sony XB20 earned scores of 7 out of 10 in this metric. These models tend towards the bassy end of the spectrum, all producing deep, powerful backbeats. They also flaunt their bass power, the covers on each end of the Flip 4 visibly vibrate when the bass drops and the Sony models have lights that flash along with the backbeat. They also have fairly clear treble, creating a well-balanced sound.
Waterproof models like the UE Roll 2 were able to crank out sound even when fully submerged.
Three impressively portable models earned the correspondingly impressive score of 6 out of 10 in the sound quality metric. The UE Roll 2 provides a well-rounded sound with a fullness that belies its size. However, both its clarity and bass power is a clear step down from those of the larger models. The UE Wonderboom has a very similar sound profile to that of the Roll, with maybe just a hair more bass power. The Sony XB10 offers by far the best bass of the small speakers we tested, but its high end tends to sound a bit tinny.
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.
With a score of 4 out of 10, the Tribit XSound Go certainly isn't the most melodious model we tested. The bass is quite weak and the clarity is mediocre, creating an overall sound that we would consider acceptable, but not good. Still, it is a vast improvement in listening to music via the built-in speakers on your phone.
The Bose SoundLink Mini II's sound quality is incredible for such a small speaker.
At the bottom of our sound quality score sheet were the Anker SoundCore 2 and Cambridge SoundWorks Oontz Angle, which scored 3 out of 10. All of these models produced fairly weak bass and relatively poor clarity. The Anker SoundCore 2 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. All 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.
We carried our speakers everywhere to assess their portability, including even models like the Harman Kardon Onyx Studio 4 that felt a bit too big to be carried.
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.
When it comes to portability, it's hard to beat the UE Roll 2 and the Bose SoundLink Micro. Both of these models are completely IPX7 waterproof. In fact, we even found a Roll 2 sunken at teh bottom of a river, and were able to get it playing music again with a quick drying out in a rice bag and battery recharge. The Roll 2 is a feathery 11.2 ounces, but teh SoundLink Micro is even lighter at 10.2 ounces. UE and Bose both opted for very flat, packable designs for their small speakers. Both of these models also have built-in straps for easy lashing to bikes, tent poles, or anything else you can think of. The bungee strap on the Roll 2 feels more durable and more useful than the thick rubber strap of the SoundLink Micro, but both serve their purpose. While not a specific portability concern, we still give the Roll 2 an edge for those that want to take their speaker far off the beaten path, simply because its battery life is nearly 3 times that of the SoundLink Micro.
With its light weight, packable shape, and complete waterproofness, the UE Roll 2 was the most portable model we tested.
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. The Sony XB10 also earned a score of 9 in this metric. Its tiny size and light weight of only 8.8 ounces make it disappear in a backpack, but it is only water resistant rather than fully waterproof.
The UE Wonderboom and both the Boom 2 and the Boom 3 earned 8 out of 10 when our portability testing was said an done. The Wonerboom is slightly more portable than the other two, weighing in at 15 ounces and boasting IPX7 waterproofness. The short and stout shape also tends to disappear inside of a backpack. The Boom models are considerably taller, but the cylindrical shape still keeps them fairly low-profile when it comes to packing. They are also a bit heavier at 22 ounces. The Boom does up the rating to IP67, meaning it is both waterproof and dustproof.
The Tribit XSound Go is fairly light at 13.4 ounces and completely waterproof.
The Tribit XSound Go also scored 8 out of 10 in this metric. it tips the scales at just 13.4 ounces and is rated as IPX7 waterproof. It also has rounded edges, making it a bit easier to shove into an overstuffed bag.
A slew of different models earned the score of 7 out of 10 in our portability testing. For the most part these models were waterproof (or at least water resistant), and weigh more than 1 pound but less than 2 pounds. One such model is the UE Boom 2, which weighs in at 19.5 ounces and is completely, IPX7 rated waterproof. The cylindrical shape also makes it fairly easy to stuff into a bag.
The Bose SoundLink Color II also weighs 19.5 ounces, putting it in the not too heavy but certainly not light category. The IPX4 water resistant rating lets it repel most of the wetness associated with a day at the beach or on the lake, though it won't survive complete submersion. The rubber coating resists scratches and dings, and the flat shape is relatively packable.
The SoudLink Color is water resistant and rubber coated.
The Editors' Choice winning Bose SoundLink Revolve is actually nearly as portable as its rubber-coated sibling. At 24 ounces it is a bit heavier, but still doesn't feel too hefty when carried in a backpack. It is also IPX4 water resistant, and the brushed metal exterior and cylindrical shape generally let it slide into overstuffed bags with ease.
At just 13 ounces you barely notice you're carrying the Anker SoundCore 2, and its IPX4 water resistance lets you take it out even when the clouds are threatening. However, it lost some points in our book because of the sharp edges, which make it a bit untenable when trying to shove it into an overstuffed bag.
The Sony SRS-XB21 is impressively both dust and waterproof with its IP67 rating. It also won't weigh you down too much at 19 ounces. This makes it a bit more portable than its sibling, the Sony XB20, which is 21 ounces and only IPX5 water resistant.
Rounding out the above average models in this metric, the JBL Flip 4 is 19 ounces and IPX7 waterproof. It would have scored higher in this metric if it weren't for the sharp edges on the top and bottom of the speaker, which we found to snag on things whenever we tried to shove it into a bag.
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 was the Anker SoundCore 2, which earned a score of 6 out of 10. The Soundcore 2's rubberized exterior also lends more confidence that it can sustain minor drops and scratches.
We made sure all of our water resistant/proof models were in fact water resistant/proof. Pictured here are the JBL Charge 3 (front) and the (back, left to right) Cambridge SoundWorks Oontz, UE Roll 2, UE Boom 2, and Bose SoundLink Color II.
The Bose Soundlink Revolve+, which also scored a 6 out of 10, actually does have a water resistant IPX4 rating. However, this model is clearly designed for high volume over portability, as it weighs 2 pounds 2 ounces. While you could tote this relatively heavy speaker to the beach, it feels more like a use around the house and in the backyard kind of speaker.
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 UE Boom 2 was the best sounding of the fully waterproof models we tested.
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 4, 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.
The Harman Kardon Onyx Studio 4 is hardly portable and dominated our volume testing.
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.
The Bose Soundlink Revolve+ has the most punch of any of the models we tested, earning a perfect 10 out of 10 in our volume testing. This speaker can really blow your hair back. It had no problem filling our testing apartment with sound, and could likely service a large backyard barbeque without having to max out the volume.
Somewhat unsurprisingly the two largest speakers we tested, the Harman Kardon Onyx Studio 4 and the JBL Charge 3, were towards the top of the volume leaderboard, 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 4 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.
Just slightly quieter but still loud enough to score 9 out 10 was the Sony XB20. This model was plenty loud enough to cut through the noise of a crowded apartment party, but couldn't match the pure power of the Onyx Studio 4 for a large outdoor gathering. However, considering that it is much smaller than the Onyx, it seems like a good tradeoff if you're looking for a lot of volume at a relatively low price.
Logging the best score of the waterproof models we tested, the loud and proud UE Boom 3 earned an 8 out of 10 in our volume testing. It easily filled our small testing apartment with sound, and certainly has enough punch to power a fireside dance party.
The Bose SoundLink Revolve and the Bose SoundLink Color II performed similarly, also scoring an 8. They have enough juice to power a small party and more than enough for a group of friends hanging out on the beach. The UE Wonderboom produced a similar volume, also scoring an 8 out of 10. The Sony SRS-XB21 was a surprise performer in this metric, earning an 8 out of 10 despite costing less than most of the competition. This is probably one of the best ways to get a loud speaker on the cheap.
The JBL Charge 3's booming bass make it very loud, but somewhat to the detriment of overall clarity.
A few different models earned a 7 out of 10 in our volume metric. The Sony XB10, the Bose SoundLink Mini II, and the Beats Pill+ were all able to fill our large testing apartment with sound. However, fill that apartment with a lot of bodies and the sound gets a bit dimmer, still noticeable for sure, but not quite loud.
Both super portable models we tested, the UE Roll 2 and the Bose Sounlink Micro, earned 6 out of 10 in our volume tesitng. Both have enough punch for some friends hanging out or even a small, spontaneous dance party, but both also struggle to fill a whole apartment with sound.
The Beats Pill+ combines decent volume with great sound quality.
Most of the cheaper, low-end speakers are meant more to be a big step up from a phone's built-in speakers, rather than a sound system in and of themselves. That is the category the Anker SoundCore 2, the Cambridge SoundWorks Oontz Angle 3, and the Tribit XSound Go fall into. All of these models produce a similar max volume level: one that can easily entertain a few friends hanging out, but certainly isn't going to fuel a large dance party. For most portable speaker situations like hanging out on the beach, lounging in the park, or sitting around the campfire, this volume level is enough. But for those that want room filling, backyard party level kind of volume, these budget models aren't going to cut it.
The Anker SoundCore 2 lasted over 40 hours in our battery life testing.
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…
Anker is probably most recognized for its portable battery packs, so it makes sense that the SoundCore 2 would win our battery life test. It lasted an almost ridiculous 42 hours on a single charge in our test. It got to the point that we thought maybe there was some sort of magical perpetual-motion machine inside.
The Anker set an almost unobtainable bar, as the closest competitor is the *JBL Charge 3 and its 30-hour battery life. This is still more than enough battery life for most people, as you can listen to it for 4 hours every day of the week before needing a recharge.
The UE Boom 3 and the Bose SoundLink Revolve+ lasted a full day in our test, both tapping out at the 24-hour mark.
Dropping back down into the teens, the UE Wonderboom posted an impressive 19.5-hour battery life. The inexpensive Tribit XSound Go was just behind the Wonderboom, lasting 18.5 hours before finally giving in to exhaustion.
The Charge 3 lasted 30 hours in out battery life test, and was the only model that could even come close to the performance of the Anker SoundCore.
The inexpensive Cambridge Soundworks Oontz Angle 3 put up an impressive 15.5 hours of playback in our test. The JBL Flip 4's battery lagged just behind, dying after 15 hours. The melodious Bose SoundLink Color II posted an impressive 13-hour battery life. Rounding out the double-digits in our test was the UE Boom 2 and the Sony XB20, both of which lasted 12 hours.
The Sony SRS-XB21 was the first speaker that truly disappointed in our battery life test. With a functional life of 6 hours, this "party speaker" certainly can't keep you dancing till the wee hours of the morn.
The worst performer in our battery testing was the Bose SoundLink Micro, which petered out after a lackluster 4.5 hours. This feels especially limiting as the Micro is an incredibly portable and waterproof speaker that otherwise has the pedigree to travel with you far off the beaten path.
Bluetooth speakers are wonderful little devices that let you and your friends enjoy music almost anywhere you go. They are also incredibly diverse, with thousands of different models flooding the market. We hope our research and test results have helped you narrow the field to the few, or the one, speaker that will best satisfy your portable music needs.