Is your music dying to escape the confines of tiny earbuds? In the interest of fueling summer barbeques and days at the beach we bought 18 of the best portable Bluetooth speakers around, then spent weeks listening to them side-by-side, lugging them around in backpacks, carry-ons, and tote bags, and pushing their batteries to the limit. We've come out the other side with a wide range of top picks that cover everything from super portable models that can survive a hurricane, to high quality speakers that can take a refined listening experience out onto the porch, and almost every iteration in between.
The Best Portable Bluetooth Speakers of 2018
In honor of summer barbecues and beach bashes we tested the new Sony SRS-XB21, a speaker that claims to be one of the best and least expensive ways to fuel a party, wherever you are. We found that it mostly lived up to its party speaker moniker, providing a surprising amount and volume and sound quality. However, a relatively short battery life certainly limits its part stamina.
Best Overall Bluetooth Speaker
Bose SoundLink Revolve
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 $200 and $300, 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
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 of $130.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
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 lists for $50, but often sells for less, 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
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
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 at its list price of $300, whereas the Onyx is often available for as little as $120.
Read review: Harman Kardon Onyx Studio 4
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.
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 of $200. 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 at $60. If Cheap and waterproof most suits your needs, the Tribit XSound Go is great. Finally, if you want something that is a reasonable balance between price, sound quality, durability, and portability, we think the $130 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.
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.
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 and the Bose SoundLink Micro all earned a 7 out of 10 in our sound quality testing. The Boom 2 sounds quite good and clear, but the bass is noticeably lacking, it doesn't sound hollow and empty like speakers with absolutely no bass, but we were left wishing for a bit more low-end. The SoundLink Micro has slightly better bass but lacks some of their clarity.
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.
The UE Roll 2, the UE Wonderboom, and the Sony XB10 all scored a 6 out of 10 in our sound quality testing. Given its small size and lightweight the Roll 2's sound 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. the Wonderboom sounds incredibly similar to the Roll 2 but is less portable, so we think you're much better off getting the Roll 2. The Sony XB10 provide the most powerful bass of any of the truly small speakers we tested, but its treble can sound a bit thin.
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.
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.
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 designes 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
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 earned an 8 out of 10 in this metric. It weighs only 15 ounces, and the short, stout cylindrical shape is fairly easy to stuff into a pack. IT also boasts complete IPX7 waterproofness. It is essentially a slightly less portable version of the Roll 2 but unfortunately, it does not sound any better.
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 water proof (or at least water resistant), and weighte 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 Bose SoundLink Revolve also earned a 7 out of 10. At 24 ounces it is on the heavier side, but the IPX4 water resistant rating, rubber foot and durable metal finish give it the ability to keep up with most adventures. That metal finish also lets it slide into overly stuffed bags more easily than rubber coated models.
The Anker SoundCore 2 is quite light at 13 ounces, and is IPX4 water resistant to boot. However, it missed out on a higher score because its sharp enges make it a bit harder to stuff into a bag or backpack than the cylindrical models.
Also earning a 7 out of 10 were the JBL Flip 4 and the Sony XB20. Both of these models have an oblong shape that slides into stuffed bags fairly easily. The Flip 4 is slightly lighter (19 ounces vs. 21) and IPX& waterproof whereas the XB20 is IPX5 water resistance, but these differences weren't big enough to warrant two different scores. That being said, if you want good bass in something that is really rugged, we'd recommend the Flip 4 over the XB20.
The 'party machine' Sony SRS-XB21 also earned a 7 out of 10 in our portability testing. it is rated IP67, meaning it is both dust proof and can survive complete submersion in water. At 19 ounces it isn't particualrly light, but not so heavy that it's really going to weigh down your bag. The pill shape also makes it fairly packable, able to slide into even overstuffed bags.
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.
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 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.
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 lists for just $100 and 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.
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 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 metic, earning an 8 out of 10 despite a list price of just $70. This is probably one of teh best way to get a loud speaker on the cheap.
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 aparmtent with sound. However, fill that apartment with a lot of bodies and the sound gets a bit dimmer, still noticable 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.
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.
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 has made a name for themselves in teh protable battery pack market, and it shows in their flagship SoundCore 2 speaker. If destroyed the curve, lasting an incredible 42 hours in our battery life test. Nearly a full 2 days of listening from a single charge is not what we expected. Chances are your phone's battery will die before the Anker's does. We couldn't help but award this model a perfect 10 out of 10 in this metric.
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 2. This admirable performance earned the Charge 3 a score of 9 out of 10. The Bose Soundlink Revolve+ also earned a 9 out of 10 after lasting 24 hours. Coming in a distant 4th was the UE Wonderboom, which lasted 19.5 hours and scored an 8 out of 10. The Tribit XSound Go also earned an 8 out of 10 with a measured battery life of 18.5 hours. The Bose SoundLink Revolve and the Bose SoundLink Mini II, which lasted 18 hours and 17 hours, respectively, also scored 7.
The Cambridge SoundWorks Oontz Angle 3, the JBL Flip 4, the UE Roll 2, and the Sony XB10 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 Flip 4 was just behind at 15 hours, and the Roll stayed alive for 14 hours. The Sony XB10 lasted 13.5 hours, a bit short of its claimed 16 hour battery life. Scoring a 5 out of 10, the Harman Kardon Onyx Studio 4 lasted 10.5 hours in our battery life testing. Seeing as this speaker's battery is more meant to facilitate moving it around the house than anything else, this felt like more than enough juice for how it is likely to be used.
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 and the Sony XB20 were slightly behind these models, both 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).
Battery life is the biggest disappointment when it comes to the mostly impressive Sony SRS-XB21. This speaker lasted just 6 hours in our testing. Seeing as it is advertised as a party speaker, it's a bit surprising that it doesn't have the juice to keep going into the wee hours of the morn.
At the bottom of our results sheet was the Bose SoundLink Micro. It lasted a surprisingly brief 5 hours in our testing. For such a rugged and durable speaker that seems to be designed for adventuring, this short battery life felt pretty limiting.
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 hope that our testing results have helped you cut through the confusion and find the perfect speaker for your needs.
— Max Mutter and Steven Tata
Still not sure? Take a look at our buying advice article for tips.