Sound Guys

Best Bluetooth Speakers of 2018

Finding an audiophile who doesn’t like Bluetooth headphones is easy to find, just ask our own Chris Thomas. Wireless headphones have more or less the same use case as wired ones, and not everyone is willing to dish out the money for the convenience of Bluetooth. Especially when for the most part using wired headphones has the benefit of better sound quality. But that logic falls apart when you start talking about some of the best Bluetooth speakers. Having a wireless Bluetooth speaker is awesome.

There are plenty of places where if you want to listen to music, a wired speaker just isn’t practical. Anecdotally, my mom has used these two giant speakers she got 15 years ago at a garage sale (for a great price I might add) at every backyard party she throws. But recently, she finds it easier to just pair to the giant Fluance Fi70 (not on this list anymore, but still a good pick) instead of fussing with speaker cables. Whether you want to power a party or just listen to music while out and about, a good Bluetooth speaker is fairly solid investment to make.

If you want the best, go with the JBL Charge 3

But on a more practical level, whether you’re having a pool party or going camping, the best all-around speaker you want by your side should be the JBL Charge 3. When you consider the features you’re getting for the price, it’s easy to see how this speaker pulled a 9 in our full review. You get a completely waterproof IPX7 fabric covering the speaker and dual passive radiators on either end which help pump out a little more low end for your bass-lovers out there. Up top are a few playback controls that make it really easy to navigate your playlists without having to pick up your phone.

JBL Charge 3

Full Review

Of course these aren’t features exclusive to the Charge 3. Both the JBL Xtreme and JBL Flip 4 also share these features, but the Charge 3 hits the sweet spot right in the middle which is why it made this list and the others didn’t. You get some of that large sound that the Xtreme offers with some of the portability of the Flip 4. It makes all the right compromises, including battery life. You’ll get about 20 hours with the Charge 3 as well as the option to charge some of your other devices thanks to a USB out. As far as sound quality goes, the only area that isn’t too great are the mids, which tend to take a backseat to the bass in small to medium-sized rooms.

The Charge 3 may not satisfy everyone’s needs, but it really shines in large rooms and open spaces. Bass tends to lose a lot of power when it hits nearby objects, moreso than other ranges of sound. Considering most people put their speakers in a corner or on a table, it’s important that the larger the area you want to bathe in sound, the louder the speaker needs to be. That’s why the Charge 3 is a little more versatile than other Bluetooth speakers: it’s got the power behind it to fill a big room or pool area.

Chris Thomas enjoys some tunes in a hot tub, making us all very jealous

That said, this speaker won’t be the best choice for everyone, and if you know that your primary listening environment is going to be a small room indoors, you may want to look elsewhere. No sense in trading some sound quality for waterproofing if you’re never going to need it, right?

The Marshall Stanmore has the best audio quality

Wireless speakers are great for portability, but if you really want to power a party you might need to at least deal with having to plug in your speaker into a wall outlet. This is the case with the Marshall Stanmore, which takes the crown for the best sounding speaker on this list. It’s large, so it’s very rarely going to leave the house. But if you’re looking to have a party or just want to fill your room with the sound of music, this is one of the best Bluetooth speakers out there. Partly because (and this might be cheating a bit) along with Bluetooth v. 4.2 you can also connect to it via your Wi-Fi network thanks to Spotify Connect, Chromecast built-in, and Apple AirPlay compatibility.

Marshall Stanmore Multi-room

Full Review

The speaker sticks to the tried and true classic amp design Marshall is known for, complete with knobs up top to let you control basic EQ. There’s also a dedicated knob for seven easy presets, be it your favorite Spotify playlist, radio station, or podcast. What you’re sacrificing in terms of portability you’re making up for when it comes to sound. This speaker sounds great. It has a pleasing sound with a slight emphasis on mids (which means vocals are a bit easier to hear), but you can always tweak the sound to your preference by using the knobs up top. If you decide to get more than one you can also pair them up for multi-room audio, though if you’re not using one of the Wi-Fi options you’ll just have to stick to Bluetooth.

What are some alternatives?

Monster Solara

Full Review

When it comes to the design of a Bluetooth speaker, you probably picture something small and round. A perfect example of this was the B&O Beoplay A1 that was previously on this list. A gorgeous little hunk of metal you can toss in your bag when you want to. The Monster Solara is nothing like that. It’s not aesthetically gorgeous and it doesn’t use premium and natural materials, but its practical, unorthodox design makes up for all that.

This speaker pushes 14-inches in height and is anything but portable, even when you take into account the handles built into it. But the top of the speaker has a solar panel that can charge the battery of the speaker (which lasts between 7 – 10 hours). If having a solar panel strapped to the top of it doesn’t do it for you, then maybe the LED light will. You can change the colors via an app if you want, but there’s also a physical button on the speaker so you can cycle through the options.

And although we enjoyed the sound quality of the Beoplay A1, the Solara is no slouch there either. Because of its large size it’s able to handle lower frequencies without a problem, leaving plenty of space for the mids and highs to shine through (though to be honest the highs aren’t great here, just acceptable). It also gets insanely loud, so if you’re looking to power your next party this is the way to go. If you can overlook it’s unapologetically plastic build and large size, you’ll get a unique speaker that’s sure to be a headturner.

UE Wonderboom

Full Review

Arguably the most useful case for a Bluetooth speaker is in areas where electronics might not be the most welcome, say, a pool or the beach. You wouldn’t walk into the surf with your cellphone, but with the UE Wonderboom you can bring your music with you. Not only is it IPX7 waterproof meaning that it can be submerged in a meter of water for 30 minutes, but it also floats. So you dropping it in a pool or the ocean doesn’t mean that it’s gone forever because it’ll just float on top of the water waiting for you to scoop it up.

Of course this kind of waterproofing does affect sound quality so don’t expect a controlled low end or clearly defined highs, but it does get pretty loud so if you’re at the beach or in the pool you can keep your and your friends entertained. On the downside it also suffers from a lackluster battery life, so as long as you remember to keep it charged up and don’t use it exclusively on max volume you won’t have much of a problem.

Sony SRS-XB40

Sony has their hand in just about everything and are at the top of the game in categories like cameras and headphones. And though the SRS-XB40 isn’t hands down the best speaker at everything, it’s one of the best we could find in multiple categories. It does a little bit of everything and it does each of those extremely well. You’ll get an impressive 24 hour battery life and a water resistant design that can handle water and rain without a problem. We wouldn’t recommend throwing it into the pool, but everything short of complete submersion is fine.

On top of that you’ll get the latest tech Sony has to offer, including the ability to daisy chain 10 of these which is great for any party setting. Plus the LED lights built in and around the speaker pulse to whatever you’re listening to which isn’t really necessary, but still pretty cool to have. Because this is Sony we’re talking about you also get the LDAC Bluetooth codec compatibility, so if you have a Sony phone or any Android phone running 8.0 Oreo. The speaker gets loud and is fairly clear but comes with a bass boost button if the low end isn’t doing it for you by default (hence the “XB” in the name which stands for extra bass).

The only visible downside of the speaker is the design, which looks like a mix between a rounded future and the retro past of Sony boomboxes. Some people might like the look but it’s definitely not for everyone. Another downside would be the price. At $149 it isn’t cheap, but you do get a lot of speaker for the price which is why it’s made it onto this list as our bang for your buck pick. It isn’t the cheapest, but it’s a great value.

What you should know

The Marshall Stanmore lets you tune some of the EQ to your liking.

When it comes to audio quality, Bluetooth definitely has a deservedly poor reputation. It still has a ways to go before it can really go toe-to-toe with wired options, but for most folk: they sound just fine. This has more to do with how you connect the speakers to your source than the speakers themselves, as that’s the main bottleneck. You could easily buy an auxiliary cable for your speakers if you pick up a model with that capability, but the vast majority of users will elect to connect their phones with Bluetooth.

When it comes to quality, Bluetooth definitely has a deservedly poor reputation

As is the case with Bluetooth headphones, audio gets sent to your speaker from your phone by means of compression. This is why so many audiophiles will tell you to start with a lossless source file instead of something like MP3, because if you start with a large file then less data gets lost in compression. If you start with an already compressed file, then the final result that you hear after sending it over Bluetooth has already lost large amounts of data due to compression. If you’re using something like Spotify (and paying for the premium version) you can set your music to stream at “Extreme quality” which is about 320kbps.

That number isn’t chosen at random. Most Bluetooth devices, including your phone and Bluetooth speakers, use a standard codec called SBC. A codec is basically a program that takes data and compresses it into a smaller file, and the maximum rate of data transfer for SBC is roughly 328kbps. Coincidence? Nope. Spotify made their maximum streaming rate just under the SBC limit so that regardless the device, you’ll get compatible streaming with no issues. Because again, SBC is the standard between the vast majority of Bluetooth devices.

All of the Bluetooth codecs currently supported by Android Oreo 8.0

You may have heard some products touting the fact that they offer other codecs like aptX, aptXHD, or LDAC. These three codecs in particular are actually baked into the newest version of Android, but are they even that much better? If you really want to dig in further you can check out this great post by Rob Triggs over at Android Authority, but the jist of it is this: In order for any of these to be worthwhile to YOU the consumer, you’d need your source device (your phone, MP3 player, etc.) and your speaker/headphones to support the same codec.

SBC is the standard between 99% of Bluetooth devices

We can take Sony as a prime example. LDAC is their codec, and offers the highest possible streaming quality out of all of these. So if you get something like the MDR-1000X headphones which have LDAC compatibility but then connect them to a cheap phone, the streaming quality is going to default back to down to SBC. Why? Because even though you spent a lot of money to get your new Sony headphones, your source device doesn’t have LDAC compatibility. Hence why the fact that Android Oreo got support for the three most popular high-bitrate codecs around (aptX, aptXHD, & LDAC) was such a big deal.

What is the IP Rating?

Some of these speakers also feature IP (Ingress Protection) ratings when it comes to water or dust resistance, but what does that mean exactly? How do you know what’s waterproof and what is just resistant against some splashes? This should go without saying but some speakers are more durable than others and the IP rating is one way to categorize them. This tests everything from how well the product holds up to water jets at certain angles, complete submersion in differing amounts of water, and even how it can withstand sand and dust being shot at it. A product must go through all of these tests and survive in order to get the certification. The full charts are available here if you’re interested, but the common ones you need to know are these:

Water-Resistant Waterproof

As we already mentioned the IP just stands for Ingress Protection, while the third and fourth digits have different meanings entirely. The third digit is the rating that the product has against dust protection which can range from 0 – 6. The higher the number, the more protection you’re getting. An X means that it hasn’t been certified against dust or sand, but it doesn’t mean that it isn’t protected against it. The last digit is probably the most important in this case, and is the standard for testing waterproofing and water-resistance. It ranges from 0 – 9 with the higher number meaning better protection against water, but in the case of most consumer products this number usually doesn’t go above 8. These ratings can help give you some idea about where you can take them.

If you’re taking it to the beach you might not be so worried about water damage (unless you plan on losing it in the ocean) but dust and sand resistance is probably something you should consider. Likewise if you’re going to be using it poolside there likely isn’t going to be a lot of sand around. But if it accidentally gets knocked into the pool it’s good to know just how waterproof it is. These rating are a quick and easy standard to go by to know just how durable a product is.

How we chose

There are thousands and thousands of Bluetooth speakers in the world and it’d be impossible for us to review them all, but that doesn’t stop us from trying to get our grubby hands on all of them. If a speaker made it onto this list, then you can be sure we’ve had first-hand experience with them and in many cases put them through our entire review process. Whittling down an entire product category to only a handful of recommended items takes a lot more work than you might expect. For one, not everyone is after the same kind of product. Just like how sound is different to every person, some products might check all of the boxes for some people and not for others. Which brings us to the second aspect of one of our best lists: categories.

Depending on what the list is covering, the categories within it might change as well. Some remain constant through all lists such as “Best All-Around” or “Bang for your Buck”, but others might change. For example, a list discussing the best headphones might have a pick for “Best Active Noise Cancelling”, but that isn’t an important factor when it comes to something like a waterproof Bluetooth speaker. So each list has a few different categories that are relevant to the kind of products that are being discussed. We hope this will cast as wide a net as possible so that whatever your use case is, you’ll find the product that’s right for you.

The UE Wonderboom is small enough to fit in your hand, yet fairly durable

The last thing we consider when choosing is what other people are saying about it. We review a ton of stuff here at Sound Guys but let’s be real: we can’t review all of them. So how do we remedy this? Research, research, research. In addition to the vast personal network of reviewers we’ve built in our time around the block, we’ve dug through forums, read reviews, scrolled through comment sections, and done everything we possibly can to gather as much information about a product we haven’t reviewed before putting it on a list. Even if we’ve reviewed a product, we’ll give our picks a gut-check by seeing what the community, or former colleagues we trust have to say.

When we made our picks, we wanted to make sure that anyone buying them would be happy with their purchase, and that means a hard look at what makes a good* Bluetooth speaker. For most of us, that meant a speaker that sounded good, wasn’t too expensive, and could withstand normal use where a normal person might want to listen to music. Given the fact that this includes activities like camping, travel, and proximity to water: the best Bluetooth speaker in our minds is one that has a decent battery, can get loud, and isn’t easily damaged. If it’s affordable, that’s just the cherry on top—but we’re not going to recommend something if it’s prohibitively expensive. There’s a very definite point of diminishing returns, and we’re of the opinion that as Bluetooth is the tech of “good enough,” there’s no reason to overspend.

Why should you trust us?

In addition to the fact that this site is all of our day jobs, both Adam and Chris have several years of reviewing consumer audio products under their belts individually. Having kept a finger on the pulse of Bluetooth speakers for several years allows us to be able to figure out what’s good, and what’s best avoided. Considering Chris’ burning hatred for all things Bluetooth, if he approves of something—it’s damned special. In a similar vein, Adam has reviewed tons of these speakers over the course of almost three years, so he’s heard the best (and worst) of what the category has to offer. Then you’ve got Lily who has put in countless hours working at a radio station in a professional studio environment and even reviewed audio products on her own time before coming to SuondGuys. Needless to say, she’s passionate about audio gear.

We should also state that we regularly update these lists as items become available. However, we only add them if there’s a really solid reason for doing so. Usually, we have to use it first—unless there’s some mind-meltingly awesome feature or price-change that would deem a test or re-test unnecessary. As you can imagine, that doesn’t happen… almost ever. This also means that your favorite Bluetooth speaker may not make this list. Additionally, speakers that are out of production or not widely available are prohibited from consideration as well.

These best lists are our earnest attempt to get the right product onto your wish list

These best lists may not always reflect your experiences, but they are our earnest attempt to get the right product onto your wish list. We do this because we genuinely want you to be happy with your purchases—none of our writers see a dime from partnership deals or referral purchases—and nobody here is allowed to benefit from steering you towards one product or another. While this site does make money from referrals, the individual writers are paid based on their work regardless of whether or not people clicked that “buy” icon. They will never even know if anyone did, though I suppose the site going under might be a good hint.

What should you look out for?

Sony SRS-XB41

If none of these peaked your interest never fear, there’s always more speakers incoming. One that might be worth keeping an eye out for is the SRS-XB41 by Sony, a bigger and badder updated version of the SRS-XB40 we have as our bang for your buck pick. The new version is more expensive but comes with an updated design with better LED placement, a completely waterproof design, and a new 3D sound feature that uses DSP technology to get the best soundstage possible.

Disclosure: We may receive affiliate compensation in connection with your purchase of products via links on this page. Even though we may receive compensation, we always give our honest opinions, findings, beliefs, or experiences on each product. See our ethics policy for more details.