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 3Full 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.
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 tossing it in your backpack isn’t really an option here. But if you’re looking to have a party or just want to fill your house 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-roomFull 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 well-balanced sound with a slight emphasis on mids (which comes in handy when listening to podcasts or singing along to some music), 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?
B&O Beoplay A1Full Review
If you’re looking for a speaker that’s as much an art piece as it is a speaker, check out the Beoplay A1 bluetooth speaker. Designed by Ceclia Manz this speaker is made from solid aluminum with a textured rubber bottom for better grip when you lay it down on a table. Because it was designed to be oriented upwards, you can lay it flat and let the speaker pump out 360-degree sound. And boy does it sounds good. You won’t get too much bass, but that’s not a bad thing. It’s just right, like the middle bowl of porridge. Mids are definitely a little lackluster but it makes up for it in the highs with plenty of airy cymbals to go around.
The buttons could be a little more clicky and there aren’t too many playback options, so if you’re looking for something that you can control without needing to reach for your phone this isn’t it. On top of that, battery life leaves much to be desired. They claim a 24 hour battery life on “normal listening levels”, but we got closer to 18 in our full review. Not bad to be fair, but if you pump it up to maximum volume the battery life gets drastically cut to around 4 hours. That said, you shouldn’t have a problem as long as you keep the volume to about 60-70%.
UE WonderboomFull 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.
CB3 Armor XL
Normally this spot would be filled by something from JBL, but we found something that we like just a little bit better again from CB3. For an inexpensive durable speaker, take a look at the CB3 Armor XL. This is a waterproof speaker that’s as rugged as it look. You shouldn’t submerge it completely in water, but cleaning it under a running faucet is fine. And getting caught in the rain isn’t an issue at all. As the name implies the Armor XL has a hard plastic casing that kind of looks like armor. It also has a grippy rubber that helps it to avoid water damage. It might not have as sleek as a design of some of the other products on this list, but that’s not what it was made for.
The Armor XL has Bluetooth 4.0 and a battery life of about 10 hours. Up top are a few built-in playback controls that let you skip between tracks, adjust volume and even mute it, and pause or play music. The buttons are made of a soft plastic and embedded into the rubber of the speaker on top. Bass and kick drums come through loud and clear thanks to the dual 50mm drivers so if you enjoy a strong low end, you’ll like this one. Overall sound quality is fine on the Armor XL, but the sheer toughness of this speaker is the reason it gets a spot on this list.
What you should know
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.
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:
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 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.
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