Bluetooth speakers are the best way to rock out at the beach, by the pool, and around the house. They’re light, portable, offer surprising audio quality, and, best of all, are more affordable than ever before.
Our list includes a mix of the very best Bluetooth speakers money can buy plus some high-quality value-priced models perfect for those looking to rock out on a budget.
1. UE Boom 3
The Ultimate Ears Boom 3 is the third-generation model of the company’s wildly popular Boom line. It’s a compact speaker that, cosmetically at least, is very similar to its predecessor. Once you look under the hood, though, you find that UE has supercharged this portable speaker with more advanced connectivity options, a highly customizable sound, and the ability to link 150 different backward-compatible UE speakers, triple what the previous generation could handle.
Why we like it: This bad boy has it all, decent sound, a stylish design, and the portability and durability to go anywhere. It can get almost deafening, an excellent feature for a speaker mostly used outdoors, and weighs just over a pound. It has an IP67 rating, allowing it to survive exposure to sand, sun, and full immersion in water for up to 30 minutes. We’ll level with you: A few other speakers beat it out in individual features. Where it shines is in providing the best combination of features at a reasonable price.
Flaws: Battery life and full volume sound quality. The Boom 3 is loud, but you can hear the shortcomings of its drivers above about 70-80% volume. The bass wasn’t tinny, but it wasn’t rich either, and the mids got significantly muddier than we’d like. UE claims a 15-hour battery life, but we didn’t once crack 10 hours before getting a low battery warning while playing at full volume. That’s enough for a full day of use, but if you’re planning to blast your music over a weekend, you’ll need to pack a charger.
2. Sony SRS-XB23
Sony is a serious heavy-hitter in the audio world, and their Bluetooth speakers reflect this. The SRS-XB23 is the most compact and portable in its current lineup but still offers exceptional sound for its size and price, all while looking incredibly sharp.
Why we like it: It’s no secret that we’re fans of Sony’s top-of-the-line headphones here at Hastings. The company knows sound and style, and you can see their expertise in the surprisingly deep and rich sound of the SRS-XB23 and its sleek, cylindrical design. We know, every Bluetooth speaker these days seems to be a cylinder, but Sony has still managed to make its stand out with its sleek lines. It’s IP67 rated for a worry-free experience when taking it to the beach or even out for some bouldering, and offers very crisp sound overall, even at higher volumes.
Flaws: Sony had to make a few compromises to get this much performance in such a small package. Battery life is nothing to write home about, topping out at 12 hours at lower volumes and rarely climbing above eight at max volume. The bass also suffers something from the size of the drivers. It’s still good, but it doesn’t provide the full depth and richness you’de get from a larger, more expensive speaker.
3. Sonos Move
The Sonos Move is the first portable, battery-powered speaker available from the renowned audio company. It’s larger and heavier than many competitors but offers sound quality that’s almost impossible to beat. It has an IP56 rating, making it capable of resisting splashing or minor dust, and a sharp look.
Why we like it: The Move is quite possibly the best sounding Bluetooth speaker out there. It’s not surprising from a company famous for its audio expertise, but we were unprepared for just how rich and crisp the sound was. It offers both Bluetooth and WiFi connectivity and is honestly good enough to be a dedicated home audio system. There was a noticeable improvement in sound quality over WiFi compared to Bluetooth, but both let the Move show its powerful dual drivers and rich depth of sound.
Flaws: Price is the obvious one, the Move is double to triple the price of other top speakers on our list, and a lot less portable to boot. Coming in at 6.6 lbs, it isn’t the speaker to put in a beach bag or hike into the backcountry. It’s technically portable, but it’s not one we’d want to have to cart around.
4. UE Wonderboom 2
The UE Wonderboom was justly lauded as one of the best waterproof speakers money could buy. Its successor, the Wonderboom 2, lives up to its legacy. It’s nearly identical, a good thing given the original’s sharp looks, yet offers improved sound quality, higher maximum volume, and a 30% longer battery life when you want to crank your jams all day long.
Why we like it: The Wonderboom 2 takes everything the original got right (tiny size, surprising sound quality and volume, and acceptable battery life) and takes it to the next level. Weighing under a pound and offering an IP67 rating, this is the speaker that you can take anywhere. Even better, its improved 13-hour battery life lets you blast your music all night long.
Flaws: Let’s face it. There’s only so much a speaker this portable can do. The sound is exceptional for its diminutive size, but it can’t compare to the heavier bass and louder volume of something like the UE Boom 3 or Sony SRS-XB23.
5. Bose SoundLink Micro
Another contender for best ultra-portable Bluetooth speaker, the Bose SoundLink Micro shows that Bose knows premium audio equipment. Weighing just .64 lbs and fitting into the palm of your hand, the SoundLink Micro was designed from the ground up to go wherever you go without sacrificing sound quality.
Why we like it: Besides the sound quality, rich and detailed for a speaker this tiny, where the SoundLink Micro stands out most is in its physical design and portability. Its shape and style evoke a classically stylish transistor radio. The heavy-duty silicone strap on the back allows you to attach it securely to your bike, bag, or even your body to jam out while skating, boarding, or surfing. Its IP67 rating means you can take it confidently into any conditions, and the impact-absorbing soft rubber coating lets it survive drops that would kill any other speaker.
Flaws: Battery life is meh at best, coming in at just six hours max on a single charge, as is the sound. It’s fabulous for a speaker this small but can’t compare to the larger, full-featured Bluetooth speakers you can find for a very similar price.
6. Tribit Stormbox Micro
Tribit came out of nowhere just a few years back and established itself as one of the best and most consistent makers of value-priced Bluetooth speakers. The Stormbox Micro is their attempt at making the kind of pint-sized powerhouse capable of competing with the likes of the UE Wonderboom 2 or Bose SoundLink Micro. Given its equally pint-sized price tag, we think they did an excellent job of it.
Why we like it: For the price, there’s nothing out there that can compete. It’s less than half the cost of its biggest competitors yet provides you with an IP67 rated speaker that blasts out better quality sound, at higher volumes than we believed was possible. At first glance, you’d be forgiven for thinking you were looking at a SoundLink Micro. Tribit took more than a little inspiration from that popular speaker, with the same basic body shape, silicone strap system, and nearly identical controls. We don’t think it’s quite as impact-resistant as the real-deal, but it does hang in much the same way, and provide sound that’s more comparable than we expected.
Flaws: Let’s face it; this is a value-priced product. An excellent value-priced product, but one where you can see, and more importantly hear, the compromises made. It looks good, but the sound quality lags noticeably behind its more expensive compatriots, though battery life and charging speed beat them out in some respects.
7. JBL Flip 5
The JBL Flip 5 is a rugged, attractively styled, and surprisingly powerful Bluetooth speaker in the mid-price range. It offers many in-demand features but made a few choices we thought were peculiar for a Bluetooth speaker in 2020.
Why we like it: The Flip 5 is an IPX7 speaker with satisfying volume, advanced digital sound processing, and some cool physical features. It has rich and clear bass even at higher volumes without sacrificing the clarity of the mids and highs. You won’t be thundering the walls with it, but you will get the full experience the artist intended. Another feature we liked is the USB-C fast charging. You’d be surprised how many otherwise excellent modern Bluetooth speakers are still rocking a Micro-USB port. It allows you to top up the 12-hour battery life in just 2.5 hours.
Flaws: Surprisingly, the Flip 5 doesn’t offer Bluetooth 5.0 support. It runs on the older Bluetooth 4.2 codec and the sound suffers for it. It also lacks a 3.5mm Aux jack for plugging in different music sources or the ability to use it for calls due to the lack of a mic. It’s not noticeably better than competitors at the same price point in any area.
8. Marshall Stockwell II
The Marshall Stockwell II is a Bluetooth speaker designed to be an homage to the company’s rich tradition of amps and rock equipment. Its design is a total departure from the styling of most comparable Bluetooth speakers, yet the sound stands toe to toe with some of the best on the market.
Why we like it: It’s absolutely gorgeous. In a field filled with slight variations on pill and cylinder designs, the Stockwell II looks like it jumped right out of the pages of Rolling Stone. What’s even cooler is how practical features of the design are. The balance knobs on top allow you to dial in the perfect sound for your music without breaking out your smartphone. Its larger size reduces portability but enables it to provide a jaw-dropping 20+ hours of battery life plus sound quality you have to hear to believe. It’s unquestionably dialed into the signature sound of rock, no surprise from a company as richly connected to the history of rock’n’roll as Marshall, but it sounds good with any audio.
Flaws: It’s bulky, heavy, and its IPX4 rating makes it much less capable of handling outdoor conditions. It isn’t the speaker to take out on the water or somewhere lots of dust is likely to blow around it.
9. Anker Soundcore 2
The Anker Soundcore 2 is a value-priced speaker that sounds much better than a product this cheap has any right to. It’s got a simplistic look but wows with battery life and surprising depth of sound from something this inexpensive.
Why we like it: Price and basic build-quality top our list. It costs a fraction of other speakers its size and power, yet still offers acceptable sound quality plus unexpected 24-hour battery life. When you add its IPX7 rating, you end up with a Bluetooth speaker that provides a lot of value to the right person.
Flaws: Take your pick; it’s nothing but compromises. The sound quality, connection quality, look, and volume all lag behind competitors. Don’t mistake us here, it’s still a great product at an exceptional price, but it’s certainly not the best in any individual feature.
10. Tribit XSound Go
The Tribit XSound Go is a good option for those looking to take their music with them to the beach, the pool, or hiking. It’s compact, provides pretty good sound, and has the staying power to jam out all weekend long.
Why we like it: For the price, the XSoung Go provides a ton of value. The sound quality is reasonably well balanced, gets louder than we expected, and offers a truly impressive 24+ hour battery life. It’s also IPX7 rated and light/portable enough to port with you just about anywhere.
Flaws: Once you hit above 80% volume or so, the sound quality starts to suffer. Battery life is great, but it charges slowly and sometimes suffers errors if you try to use it while it’s charging. Lastly, it only supports Bluetooth 4.2, substantially lowering the maximum quality possible.
Who should buy a Bluetooth speaker?
Bluetooth speakers are a must-have item for those who like to take their music with them everywhere. The groups below should run, not walk, to pick one up.
Beach- and pool-goers – If you’re the kind of person who loves spending time out by the water, a Bluetooth speaker is the perfect audio device. They allow you to take a shockingly powerful speaker out to places chock full of sand, sweat, and splashing water without worrying about them getting fried.
Campers – Packing up your car and spending a few nights sleeping out under the stars is one of the best ways to spend a weekend. Bluetooth speakers have the portability, water-resistance, and battery life to provide you with pleasant background music for your whole trip.
Students – Students love good music but usually aren’t going to be in one place long enough to justify buying and installing an expensive stereo system. A Bluetooth speaker gives students a whole lot of sound in a small and portable system that can go with them to study sessions in the park and move between dorms, apartments, and shared houses.
Apartment dwellers – Bluetooth speakers are compact and lightweight, yet provide tremendous sound quality. If you live in a smaller apartment they’re one of the most space-efficient ways to rock out to your favorite songs and artists.
How we ranked
We used six key metrics to rank the Bluetooth speakers on our list. These were sound & connection quality, portability & style, battery life, durability & water-resistance, smart features, and price.
Sound and connection quality – Bluetooth speakers are only as good as the sound they produce. Other factors definitely affect overall value, but if the speaker doesn’t sound good for your favorite types of music it just won’t work.
Here we looked at both the quality of the speaker itself and the connection types available. Bluetooth is obviously required, preferably using Bluetooth 5.0, but some great Bluetooth speakers also allow WiFi connections for home use.
Portability and style – Let’s face it, most Bluetooth speakers aren’t going to be used in one place constantly. They need to be light and compact enough for easy travel while still looking sleek and stylish.
Battery life – Battery life is critical for a Bluetooth speaker. They’re at their best bringing your music to pools, BBQs, beaches, and other places far from a charger.
The best battery lives you’ll find are 24+ hours of playback on a single charge. Many high-performance Bluetooth speakers have shorter battery lives, though we still expect a minimum of 10+ hours.
Durability and water-resistance – Bluetooth speakers aren’t delicate stereo systems to be kept behind glass on a shelf. They’re go anywhere, do anything jam boxes that have to able to stand up to whatever an active life can throw at it.
The vast majority of Bluetooth speakers are rated on dust- and water-resistance using the IP Rating system. It gives you an easy to understand scale going from 1, least resistant, up to 7, most resistant. IPX7 speakers can handle temporary immersion in water, enough for use on the beach and by the pool (1).
Smart features – While Bluetooth speakers aren’t true ‘smart’ speakers ala the Google Home or Amazon Echo, many do offer limited smart features such as voice command recognition through your smartphone or by pairing with a smart device. These can come in handy if you want to change the song or adjust the volume without getting out of the water.
Another smart feature we love to see in Bluetooth speakers is the ability to link with other speakers. It allows you to pair multiple speakers together to create a banging sound system fueled with music from a single source.
Price – In a perfect world, we’d only look at the sound and physical quality of a speaker, but the price always comes into play. There are a lot of incredible high-end Bluetooth speakers out there, but many actually provide less value than some more bargain-priced models with respectable specs.
Q: Are Bluetooth speakers as good as wired?
A: No, but they don’t need to be. Wired speakers still hold the high-ground as far as audio quality goes, but that’s not a great comparison. Bluetooth speakers are designed to go anywhere and provide pretty good sound. You don’t use Bluetooth speakers in the same settings you use wired speakers (2).
Q: Will Bluetooth speakers work with Alexa/Google Home?
A: Yes. Some Bluetooth speakers will work with the various digital assistant programs, though most do so through your phone. Others are capable of connecting with smart speakers like the Amazon Echo or Google Home (3).
Q: Can Bluetooth speakers connect to a TV or gaming system?
A: Yes and no. Most Smart TVs are totally capable of connecting to one or more Bluetooth speakers, but most gaming systems aren’t. A good workaround for this is to connect your speakers to your TV and run your gaming system audio through it that way.
Q: How far will Bluetooth speakers work?
A: Bluetooth speakers can provide a maximum of up to 100 ft of range. That’s the hard limits of current Bluetooth technology, but can be reduced if there are obstructions between the transmitter and the speaker. It’s easiest to set your phone next to the speaker to avoid stuttering or disconnections (4).
Q: Can Bluetooth speakers play the radio?
A: Rarely, though there’s an easy workaround. Very few modern Bluetooth speakers include a built-in radio, but it’s child’s play to add that functionality through your phone with something like a streaming music app or iHeartRadio App.
Bluetooth speakers are reasonably priced, offer exceptional sound quality, and handle the bumps and drops of an active life. If you’re someone who likes music and the great outdoors, there are few reasons not to pick one up.
For Hastings #1 Bluetooth speaker recommendation, click here.