Thursday, May 13, 2021

Best Bluetooth Speaker 2020: Groove on With These Wireless Speakers

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The days of needing a giant boombox loaded with D batteries are over. Nowadays, there’s no shortage of powerful, portable speakers to crank out your favorite tunes through. Best of all, these Bluetooth speakers let you avoid any wires, so you don’t have to worry about them getting tangled up as you transport them.Some of the best Bluetooth speakers are big, thumping speakers that can give you an excellent dynamic range and plenty of some. Some of them are more aimed at portability, giving you a convenient way to bring a bit of extra audio power with you wherever you go. Some strike a balance, fitting a big battery and sizable speakers into a form factor that’s ready to pack away in a modest laptop backpack.

We’ve scouted out a wide variety of excellent Bluetooth speakers to fit any use case. Whether you need a single speaker to get you through your bicycle commute or want a set of speakers that can link together to surround you in sound, we’ve got some great options for you.

TL;DR – These are the Best Bluetooth Speakers:

1. Ultimate Ears Boom 3

Best Bluetooth Speaker

Our Pick

Ultimate Ears Boom 3

On Walmart

There are a lot of different speakers on this list, but if you’re just looking for a moderately priced, portable speaker that sounds great, let us save you the trouble: grab the Ultimate Ears Boom 3 for $120. When compared with similar speakers in its size and price range, I found the Boom 3 had some of the best sound in a convenient 360° form factor. It’s not too tiny, not too huge, not too cheap, not too pricey…and this thing jams.

On top of that, it has large volume buttons for easy control, comes in four colors (black, blue, red, and purple), and IP67 water resistance, so you can bring it to the pool. You can even pair it wirelessly with another Boom 3 for stereo sound, or up to 150 Boom and Megaboom speakers for full-on party mode. Grab the standalone speaker for $120 or pick up the Boom 3 bundled with a charging dock for $160, if you want to avoid the hassle of plugging in a cable when you come home.

2. Tribit StormBox Micro

Best Budget Bluetooth Speaker

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Tribit StormBox Micro

On Amazon

If you want an affordable little speaker that can pack a punch, then check out the Tribit StormBox Micro. This compact speaker musters nine watts of power, and it can crank out the tunes for up to eight hours. With that kind of power, it’s impressive that it manages to stay just a touch over half a pound.

Even though this is a budget option, Tribit didn’t skimp out on thoughtful considerations. For one, it charges over USB-C, letting you easily plug it in with the same cable you’ve likely got for many other devices. It also uses Bluetooth 5.0 for a more consistent and reliable connection. It’s built to handle the elements as well with an IP67 rating. And, if you ever want to upgrade to stereo sound, the Tribit StormBox Micro supports TWS mode, letting you split left and right audio channels and connect to two speakers simultaneously.

3. Oontz Angle 3

Best Ultra Cheap Bluetooth Speaker

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Okay, so you aren’t growing a money tree in your backyard. I get it. If you want something in the ultra-budget range, the Oontz Angle 3 provides great sound (at a surprisingly loud volume) for only $25. And it’s small enough that you can easily toss it in your bag and bring it anywhere.

It isn’t the only speaker in its price range—heck, Oontz even sells a water-resistant Angle for $30 and an “Ultra” version for $40. Additionally, competitors like the Tribit XSound Go and Anker Soundcore 2 are also great budget speakers. But the Oontz Angle 3 is the cheapest speaker I’d recommend buying, and when money is tight, those extra dollars matter.

4. Ultimate Ears Blast

Best Bluetooth Speaker with Alexa

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Ultimate Ears Blast

On Amazon

Bluetooth speakers are quite a leap forward from the boomboxes of yore, but you know what’s even more futuristic? Being able to control your music with nothing but your voice. While the Amazon Echo can act as a Bluetooth speaker, it requires wall power, so you can’t easily bring it around town with you. Thankfully, Ultimate Ears made the $90 Blast as an alternative (RIP Amazon Tap).

The Blast has a similar design to the Boom 3, with the same cylindrical shape, big volume buttons, and water resistance. But instead of futzing with your phone, you can just shout “Alexa” and have Amazon’s voice assistant do your bidding for you—as long as you have a Wi-Fi network or hotspot nearby. It doesn’t sound quite as good as the Boom 3, so you’re trading a bit of quality for convenience—though you can step up to the $150 Megablast if you want better Alexa-controlled sound.

5. JBL Link Portable

Best Bluetooth Speaker with Google Assistant

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JBL Link Portable

On Best Buy

Look, sometimes you want to just listen to your speaker, but sometimes you also want your speaker to listen to you. Getting a Bluetooth speaker with Google Assistant built in covers both bases, and the JBL Link Portable does a great job of it.

This smart home speaker has a classy look thanks to its material finish, but it’s ready to get up and go with you thanks to its IPX7 water resistance and eight-hour battery life. When you need to charge it back up, you can just throw it onto its charging dock. This speaker gives you strong sound, too, with 20W of power, so you can hear the music and podcasts you’re listening to or hear whatever Google Assistant is saying back to you.

6. Sonos Move

Best Bluetooth Speaker for AirPlay 2

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Bluetooth is fine, but it’s not as good-sounding or reliable as Wi-Fi. For something a bit less portable and a bit more geared toward home audio—with Bluetooth still in tow as a backup—you can’t go wrong with the Sonos Move. It’s a great bookshelf speaker that delivers room-filling sound with crisp audio and a surprising amount of bass.

The Sonos Move is also designed to pair wirelessly with other Sonos speakers. If you’re trying to get the best sound in a large room, you should get a Sonos One SL speakers to create stereo sound. Alternatively, this home speaker could be grouped with the other great Sonos products, too, like the Beam TV soundbar or the Sonos Sub for a 3.1 or 5.1 channel system, respectively.

You also get almost all of the virtual assistants built-in, so you can easily summon both Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa without needing another device. For Apple households, this speaker also Airplay 2 as well.

7. Ultimate Ears Hyperboom

Most Powerful Bluetooth Speaker

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Ultimate Ears Hyperboom

On Amazon

The Ultimate Ears Hyperboom speaker might not be as big on waterproofing as other portable Bluetooth speakers, but it’s very big on sound. This hefty speaker trades off a bit of portabiltiy to offer up a thumping 100dBC of volume at its peak, and a wide frequency response range. It gets some of that volume by packing in more speakers than the competition. Inside the Ultimate Ears Hyperboom, you’ll find two large, passive radiators as well as a pair of woofers and another pair of soft-dome tweeters.

All that means you won’t just be getting more sound but also accurate sound, as the Hyperboom can use its different speakers to recreate different frequencies more accurately. While you’ll miss out on portability a bit, the 24-hour battery life of the Hyperboom will ensure you don’t miss out on longevity when it comes time to party.

8. Sony SRS-XB43

Best Outdoor Bluetooth Speaker

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If you’re planning to use your speakers when you’re outdoors and on the go often, you need to be sure of two things: it can withstand the elements and it can last. The Sony SRS XB-43 can do both. It offers up 24 hours of battery life, or 18 hours if you really like cranking the bass. And, it’s built to be dust and water-resistant, even capable of withstanding a dip into a meter of water for half an hour. And, while some water-resistant devices specify freshwater, Sony has built this to hold up even against saltwater.

You’ll get plenty of sound out of the SRS-XB43 thanks to a pair of tweeters and woofers. Separating those elements lets you get cleaner high-end audio even while the low end is thumping. And, you can use Sony’s Party Connect feature to run up to 100 of the speakers in this series at once, combing their sound and lighting effects into a serious show.

9. JBL Go 3

Best Super Portable Bluetooth Speaker

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While some of these Bluetooth speakers could just about replace the speakers in your home, portability tends to be another major aspect of this type of gear. So, for something especially portable, the JBL Go 3 shines. This Bluetooth speaker is made compact, so you can easily slip it into a bag or purse and take it with you wherever you go. At under half a pound, it won’t be weighing you down too much.

The JBL Go 3 has a convenient loop you can use to attach it to your bag. It features an IP67 rating for protection against water and dust, so you can take it out on a hike and not worry about the conditions getting too wild for it. Just bear in mind, the compact size only leaves room for a modest battery, so if you think you’ll want to listen for more than five hours at a time, you may want one of the slightly larger options on this list.

10. Marshall Kilburn II

Coolest Looking Bluetooth Speaker

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Marshall Kilburn II

On Amazon

While most of the speakers on this list look decently stylish, none are quite as cool as the $299 Marshall Kilburn II, which is designed to look like a vintage Marshall guitar amp—including gold metal accents and that famous script logo on the grill. It also sports individual treble and bass knobs along with a coiled 3.5mm audio cable reminiscent of a guitar cable. Sadly, though, the knobs don’t go to 11.

The Kilburn II is technically portable, but not throw-in-your bag portable. That said, if you don’t need any level of portability, the larger, battery-free Marshall Stanmore II is a similar-looking speaker designed for the home, and with the improved sound to go with it. Or, if you prefer a slightly less guitar amp-y look, I’m partial to Klipsch’s The One, too.

What to look for in a Bluetooth Speaker

The market is absolutely flooded with Bluetooth speakers, so it can feel overwhelming when you go to buy one. But ultimately, there are only a few things you need to think about when you shop.

Sound Quality: If you’re using the speaker to listen to music, then you’ll want to make sure that it sounds good. Generally, bigger speakers will sound better, but you’ll also want to audition a few speakers yourself to make sure the sound isn’t too shrill or the bass isn’t too muddy or boomy. Most Bluetooth speakers aren’t going to match the quality of, say, a real pair of bookshelves, but that’s okay since they’re also about portability and convenience. Speaking of which…

Bluetooth Codecs: Bluetooth isn’t all created equal. The codecs Bluetooth devices support can set the great apart from the basic. Support for a high-end codec can let your Bluetooth speaker and phone send more audio data, giving you improved sound. Almost any speaker you come across from the cheapest to the most expensive will support a Bluetooth codec called SBC. That’s your baseline for audio quality.

If you want improved audio when connecting from an iPhone, look for support for the AAC codec. Android smartphones can support a range of codecs. Many Qualcomm-powered Android phones will support the aptX or aptX HD codecs for improved audio, while aptX LL offers low-latency ideal for pairing with video.

Another high-end codec is LDAC, but that one is more rare to come across. In order to benefit from these codecs, you’ll need to ensure both the speaker you’re connecting to and the device you’re connecting from support the same codec.

Form Factor and Portability: If you’re buying a Bluetooth speaker to take with you to the beach (or on a hike, or to the pool, or a party), you’ll want something small enough to toss in your backpack—though the smaller you go, the more you tend to sacrifice volume and sound quality. If you’re just looking to play music at home, you can go with something bigger and bulkier, powered from the wall instead of batteries. (Though if you’re just playing music at home, Sonos and AirPlay tend to be better protocols than Bluetooth—they have longer range and better fidelity.)

Battery Life: If you are going for a portable speaker, make sure it’ll actually last long enough to make it through your beach party. Manufacturers usually advertise battery life on their website and Amazon page, but don’t just take their word for it—check the reviews to see if it’s actually as long-lasting as they claim before you shell out your cash.

Water Resistance: This seems worth calling out on its own, since it’s a very common feature among Bluetooth speakers. If you plan on taking the speaker anywhere near water, I generally recommend buying something that’s at least IPX5, though IPX7 and IPX8 are better bets.

Many of these speakers even advertise their ability to float in the pool, though I would exercise some caution: no device is truly waterproof, and that IPX7 water resistance won’t necessarily last forever, since chemicals like chlorine can break down the seals over time, and the manufacturer may or may not cover water damage (despite their advertising it as “waterproof”)

Apps and Extra Features: Some Bluetooth speakers are simple: what you see on the speaker is what you get. Others, however, may have companion apps with extra features, like flashing LED lights, customizable equalizers to adjust the sound, timers that automatically turn your music off, or the ability to pair multiple speakers from the same brand together.

Note that some speakers will go into “stereo” mode when paired together, using one as the right channel and one as the left channel, while others will merely play mono sound out of both speakers—so check the fine print before you buy.

More Expert Tech Roundups

Whitson Gordon is a writer, gamer, and tech nerd who has been building PCs for 10 years. He eats potato chips with chopsticks so he doesn’t get grease on his mechanical keyboard.

Mark Knapp is a regular contributor to IGN and an irregular Tweeter on Twitter @Techn0Mark



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