Why a Bluetooth speaker?
As it’s gotten better over the years, Bluetooth has been implemented in more and more of the tech that surrounds us. One of the most practical use cases for Bluetooth has been for portable audio. You can now have music whereever you go without being forced to sacrifice quality like the olden days. This ability has allows manufacturers to get creative with their designs since they no longer have to be physically tethered to a source device.
There are tons of different designs and use cases for speakers, and there are also tons of weird technical language that gets tossed around when discussing them. This Bluetooth speaker buying guide is meant to help you understand what is important and what isn’t when it comes to speakers. If you’re new to speakers or just want to refresh your memory, here are some things you should know before buying a Bluetooth speaker.
Things to know
As is the case with headphones, frequency response is the range at which a speaker can reproduce sound. You can usually find this number on the box or the company’s website, where it’s measured in the unit Hertz (Hz) and looks something like 20Hz – 20,000Hz. The exact number fluctuates, especially in speakers where something like 100Hz – 20,000Hz might be a little more common.
The first number is the lowest frequency that the speaker can accurately produce while the second number is, you guessed it, the highest frequency that can be produced. The smaller the speaker, the more narrow that range is going to be simply because of physics. It’s harder to get a large sound out of a small speaker which is why it’s all the more impressive when it’s done the right way.
If a track is recorded or mixed in a certain way, you’ll be able to hear different instruments coming from different directions. An example could be songs that have a guitar come out from the left speaker while something like a shaker is coming out of the right one. Think of it as surround sound with music. It’s a neat trick that really adds another element of depth to the track, but that doesn’t always translate perfectly to small portable speakers.
One reason why this is hard to accomplish is because first and foremost, a speaker needs more than one driver for this to work. Many Bluetooth speakers aim for portability so they only use a single driver and the effect is hard, if not impossible to replicate with one driver since the sound is only coming from one direction. On top of that, the drivers need to be decently apart so that you can hear the differences in space.
Even if they have two speaker drivers many portable speakers are simply too small to produce a true stereo sound. Even if the sound is technically coming from two different drivers, if they’re right next to each it will sound like only one big speaker to your ears. That’s not to say that no Bluetooth speakers have stereo sound, because many of the somewhat larger ones do. Just be wary of any tiny speaker claiming that it has true stereo sound.
One thing that most brands make it a point to share is the Bluetooth version. Bluetooth v.1 is pretty much nonexistent at this point, but version 2.1 is alive and well. That said, there are plenty of products with Bluetooth 4.0. So what does that mean in terms of audio? Well 2.1 introduced a profile called EDR, which all versions released afterwards also have. This stands for “Enhanced Data Rate” and is mainly responsible for the jump in quality streaming that we’ve seen over the past few years.
As the name implies, it allows for a higher amount of data to be sent per second between devices than previous versions and is basically all that’s required for good sound. Bluetooth 4.0, or Bluetooth Smart, simply allows for data collection from things like fitness trackers. So unless your speaker is also tracking your heart rate, it’s not necessary.
Features to look for
This one is fairly self-explanatory, but if you think you’re going to need to be taking a lot of phone calls you might want to look into a speaker that has a built-in mic and speakerphone functionality. This can be helpful whether the speaker is sitting on your desk or if you need to answer a call poolside.
Connecting multiple speakers
Some speakers, like the JBL Flip 3, have the ability to connect to an second speaker for stereo sound. If you’re planning on getting more than one speaker, this might be a feature you’d want to look into as there are now quite a few speakers that do it.
This isn’t unique to Bluetooth speakers and is something that should always be considered when buying any tech related thing, but battery life is always important. If you’re looking for a speaker to take with you on a weekend camping trip, you might want one that has more than a 4 or 5 hour battery life. Especially since you’re not going to be near an outlet where you can easily charge it.
This goes along with battery life, but plenty of the larger speakers have a correspondingly larger battery. Because of that many of them have a built-in USB output so that if your phone is running low on juice you can siphon some off from the speaker battery. Not all large speakers have this so if it’s a feature you think you’d be interested in, now you know what to look for.
Connecting to Bluetooth speakers is fairly simple, but if you want to bypass your settings and just start playing music make sure to look for a speaker with NFC. NFC, or Near Field Communication, allows compatible devices to connect to a speaker via Bluetooth simply by tapping the two together. Even though iPhone’s now use NFC for Apple Pay, it’s basically locked down. Unfortunately, the only way you’ll get to enjoy the benefits of NFC is with an Android phone.
The definition of a portable device is one that you can bring anywhere, even near water. Technology and water usually don’t mix, but there’s a surprising amount of Bluetooth speakers that are completely submersible and even more that are water resistant. If you’re looking for a speaker to use poolside or at the beach, waterproofing should definitely be one of your top priorities.
Sure this is a Bluetooth speaker guide, but we can’t forget about the devices that paved the way. Many devices (like the iPod classic) do not have Bluetooth, so you still need to plug them in with an audio cable. Basically all speakers have a 3.5mm input so you won’t have to worry about it for the most part, but if one of your devices is non-Bluetooth, you might want to double check. Better safe than sorry.
There are plenty of reasons why you’d want a Bluetooth speaker. Some are rugged enough to take with you on hikes, others are elegant enough to keep in your living room, and still others are only good for the shower. Whatever your reasons for wanting one, hopefully you now understand the important aspects of Bluetooth speakers. The next step is to decide how you’d most likely use yours and get one that matches that need. With so many options to choose from, you’re welcome to start browsing some of our best lists to see which one is right for you.