Bluetooth speakers come in so many different shapes and sizes that it becomes hard to classify them at times. Portable Bluetooth speakers, for instance, is a rather subjective classification, as portability is directly tied to one’s own capabilities in carrying a speaker. For this article, we defined portable Bluetooth speakers as Bluetooth speakers that most people can carry in one hand. Because there’s still a rather broad range of portability, we’ve categorized these speakers into a few size categories, making it easier to find the products you’re looking for.
Quick Pick – Our Awards!
Top Overall Pick
The Ultimate Ears Megablast is an excellent Bluetooth speaker with a lot of features packed into a small yet very capable body. To offer further value to the already quality audio experience, it also has indoor home features like Wi-Fi and voice assistant support and an outdoor-centric IP67 water-resistance rating.
The Treblab HD77 is a remarkable speaker that punches way above its price range. The HD77 scores impressive points when pitted against the popular JBL Flip 6, despite being around half the price. The HD77 doesn’t bring anything particularly new to the market. What it does is offer you flagship quality at an affordable price.
Best For the Outdoors
If you’re not in need of lots of volume, the Ultimate Ears Megablast would be our recommendation. However, the Turtlebox 2 is best suited for a more rugged outdoors person who doesn’t want to worry about scratches- such as on camping trips. The Boombox 3, on the other hand, is a bit more suited to indoor and outdoor use and holds a more versatile design with a bit more brightness in the sound.
The Compact & Lightweight Option
The Marshall Emberton II is the definition of dynamite in a small package. Despite the Emberton weighing under 2 lbs, it’s still capable of producing up to 87.5dB of well-balanced sound. You’ll easily be able to stick the Emberton II in a backpack on a hike.
Best For Small Parties
If you’re looking for a portable Bluetooth speaker you can host small parties with close friends, the JBL Pulse 5 is our recommendation. The Pulse 5 is almost all lights! It’s a bright and vibrant Bluetooth speaker that can breathe life into any get-together. Whether you’re hanging with your friends in the pool or if your kid is having a slumber party, the Pulse 5 will have you covered.
The Loudest Portable Bluetooth Speaker
The Turtlebox 2 is by far the loudest portable Bluetooth speaker on this list. It boasts a rugged design with full IP67 water resistance and a massive 120dB of volume. The Soundboks Go is another speaker you should consider, as the Turtlebox 2 and Soundboks Go have their own benefits and drawbacks, despite both being extremely powerful yet portable Bluetooth speakers. It may also be beneficial to view our dedicated article on portable Bluetooth that are loud if you want more options.
Understanding Our Data Points
We have provided volume performance for each speaker using third-party testing averages. Because no speaker is identical, there can be small variances in the measured volume. Because decibels are increased exponentially in measurement, it’s worth understanding how they work in more detail. Displaying a speaker’s decibels is more informative than using power, as power doesn’t directly relate to volume, only its volume potential.
You’ll notice the battery life listed for each product. These figures are also sourced from personal experience testing the products and an aggregate of third-party experiences. Battery life is another thing that varies depending on how you listen to your speaker and the features you have active during that testing period.
Battery life is often overstated by the manufacturer, as they will test using lower volume and with minimal features in order to market the product. Opting for an average gives a better idea of what we would expect from the battery of each speaker during typical use.
We consider waterproofing an essential feature of a good portable Bluetooth speaker. Every speaker on our list features a water-resistance rating of IPX6 or higher. IPX6 can protect from most water occurrence that doesn’t result in submergence, while IPX7 and IP67 can also protect from limited submergence in water.
Please note that just because a speaker is IPX7 or IP67 doesn’t mean it should be placed in water, likewise with speakers that float. There are very specific pool speakers that one can buy for those purposes, but consider these waterproofing measures on our selected products as safety nets in case of landing in water.
The last data point we’ve captured is the weight of each speaker. This will help you understand the portability of the speaker at a glance, without grabbing a measuring tape. We consider speakers under 2 lbs in this category light, while speakers over 10 lbs would be considered heavy.
Learn More About Our Selections
If you’d like to learn more about what made us pick these speakers, you can read our detailed product reviews by clicking on the model you’re interested in below.
The Ultimate Ears Megablast may not hold the same popularity as other flagship speakers, and even Ultimate Ears as a brand often feels undervalued. While UE has gained a rather passionate following among audio enthusiasts, for regular consumers, they are still a relatively unknown brand, which is a pity – given that their products are often able to humble the giants in the speaker world.
The Megablast is a great example of an unsung hero in the portable Bluetooth speaker space. It doesn’t try to do too much while still offering a range of functionality and also pulls rabbits from hats in how it’s able to produce such impressive volume at its small form factor.
Build & Design
In terms of size and weight, the Megablast is quite similar to the JBL Charge 5. It weighs just shy of 2.5 lbs, which is still extremely portable and can be carried in one hand. The design itself is nothing out of the ordinary, but perhaps its most distinct feature is the flat surface on the edge and not the typical bass radiator that we’re used to seeing.
This speaker offers robust IP67 weather resistance, protecting from both water and dust. Something that makes this speaker unique is the fact that it caters quite well to at-home use as well as outdoor use.
A huge feature of the Megablast is the way it incorporates modern home speaker features with the ruggedness of an outdoor speaker. We don’t typically see voice assistants or Wi-Fi offered on IP67 portable devices, but the Megablast offers them both. It is just a pity that there aren’t as many traditional connectivity features, such as an aux-in.
An area where the Megablast doesn’t do as well as in the controls. While you can change the volume and skip tracks on your phone, there are no on-speaker controls for playing or skipping tracks.
The UE Megablast packs some impressive sound for such a small speaker, but the bass response does leave something to be desired. There are very distinct limitations on bass potential when one is producing a speaker under 5 lbs, and the Megablast doesn’t do badly compared with its counterparts and is actually preferable to the bass on the JBL Charge 5.
The midrange of this speaker is balanced and accurate, especially as far as portable Bluetooth speakers go. While it’s not particularly bright sounding, using the equalizer settings will allow you to balance the sound as you feel best suits your needs.
If there’s one area we would recommend considering enhancing with some EQ off the bat; it’s the treble response – which feels a little recessed, especially when more elevated mid-tones are coming through on a track.
Volume capabilities on the Megablast are seriously impressive for a speaker of its size, and third-party testing has shown that the Megablast can outperform the Charge 5 when it comes to volume, with more than 92dB of volume.
When it comes to battery performance, the Megablast falls short of the JBL Charge 5 by quite a margin. With a moderate listening volume and standard Bluetooth connection, you can get around 11 to 13 hours of life from this speaker. However, during traditional use, this is closer to 9. Some redemption is earned from the fast charging time that can complete a full charge cycle in under 3 hours.
Why We Recommend It
If you’re looking for a portable Bluetooth speaker that can do it all, the Ultimate Ears Megablast is a great option. The Wi-Fi connectivity and voice assistant make it great as a home speaker, while the IP67 weatherproofing lets you take it with you to the beach.
2. Treblab HD77
Treblab’s HD77 is a portable Bluetooth speaker with excellent value for money. In recent years Treblab has been cementing itself as a real contender to larger household brands like JBL or Bose. In fact, this speaker is just a feature or two away from being able to potentially be a Flip 6 killer.
Design & Build
The Treblab HD77 features a somewhat familiar design that echoes some of the conventional Bluetooth speaker designs we’ve seen recently and is closely aligned with the design of the Flip series from JBL.
The Treblab HD77 weighs in at 1.3 lbs, making it just 0.2 lbs heavier than the Flip 6, and there aren’t any distinctly noticeable sacrifices in build quality. Granted, the one area where the Flip 6 still comes out ahead is the robust IP67 waterproofing, whereas the HD77 offers IPX6 water resistance. Other than that, the Treblab HD77 feels durable and also easy to use. The controls allow for a pretty intuitive user experience, and we even preferred it to the Flip when it comes to controls.
The Treblab HD77 first surprised us when we reviewed it due to how impressive the sound quality was. While we’re used to seeing Bluetooth speakers that can match big-brand build quality, we’re not used to seeing audio products that can stack up in all regards and, in this case, even surpass the performance of more popular speakers.
The bass is a little limited due to the size of the drivers that fit into a shell of this size, and if you’re looking for a speaker to drive a party, you’re going to want something a bit bigger. However, when comparing apples with apples – the HD77 actually offers a very similar sound in the low end to that found on the Flip 6.
The midrange performs well, with most midrange instrumentals coming through crisp and intelligible. While the midrange is elevated, the treble on the HD77 is far from its best-performing area. A distinct dip in the treble can make the speaker sound a bit washed out in some mixes when compared to the more balanced Flip 6, but the overall sound profile remains fairly similar.
We would have loved to have seen EQ options for the Treblab HD77, which would allow us to even out some of the sound signature issues a bit. With that said, the soundstage of the HD77 immediately stands out as impressive and easily surpasses that found on the Flip 6.
The battery performance from the Treblab HD77 is quite impressive, offering around 18 hours of listening at low to moderate volumes and around 10 hours at higher listening levels. The HD77 edges out the Flip 6 in this regard, which sees close to half of the battery life. The charging time on both the Flip and HD77 are fairly similar, at around two and a half hours.
Why We Recommend It
The HD77 isn’t a perfect speaker, but it is an excellent value-for-money alternative that can stand together with flagship speakers. While the Flip 6 still holds advantages over the HD77, it’s going to ultimately be up to you to decide whether those differences are worth the vast difference in pricing.
3. JBL Charge 5
The JBL Charge series was initially released back in 2012, and over the last decade, we’ve seen this flagship range continue to evolve with the times. The Charge 5 is the latest release in this range and improves the features and quality of the previous Charge model.
Design & Build
When we think of the term ‘portable Bluetooth speaker,’ the Flip & Charge series is often what springs to mind. The Charge 5 is a bit larger and heavier than the Flip but is still extremely portable, weighing just 2 lbs. The style of the speaker is still very similar to the Flip, just slightly beefier.
The Charge 5 sees some build improvements over the Charge 4, with the addition of dust proofing, moving from an IPX7 rating to IP67. As we’ve talked about with other speakers, the addition of a dustproof rating is a big step for portable Bluetooth speakers and can make a dramatic difference for those who plan to use their speakers outdoors. The Charge 5 is an impressively durable design.
While we would have liked to have seen additional improvements made to the controls, such as the addition of a volume control button – the Charge 5 maintains relatively the same controls as the Charge 4. The fact that JBL dropped the auxiliary input on the Charge 5 is a little surprising, however.
While the soundstage from the Charge falls behind that of the Flip 6, the overall sound quality and volume capabilities still favor the Charge in a head-to-head. The Charge 5 performance is distinctively better with regards to frequency response, with a more balanced midrange, a bit more bass, and a much brighter and exciting treble response.
Even though the Charge 5 edges out the Flip in bass performance, there are still a lot of troughs in the mid-bass range that lets the midrange and treble shine but prevent the speaker from ever really being conducive to a party environment.
The midrange, as mentioned, is more balanced than the previous Charge 4 and more in line with the sound signature we see on the Flip 6, albeit a bit brighter than the Flip. The addition of a graphic EQ option in the mobile application is a big step up for the Charge range, as the lack of EQ in the Charge 4 was, unfortunately, quite noticeable.
The volume capabilities of the Charge 5 are slightly more impressive than the Flip 6 and previous Charge model but don’t quite crack through the 90dB milestone that we’d consider a benchmark for a ‘loud’ portable Bluetooth speaker.
The battery performance of the Charge 5 is impressive and remarkably more efficient than the Flip 6. You can expect around 14 to 16 hours of battery life when listening at moderate volume but can squeeze out close to 18 or 19 hours at lower listening volumes. The recharge time isn’t the fastest and will require around 4 hours of charging to complete.
Why We Recommend It
The Charge 5 does well as a reliable, versatile speaker that is best suited as an everyday portable Bluetooth speaker that you can take to the park, beach, or pool. If you want big bass and a speaker that can drive larger get-togethers, we recommend investing in a larger speaker like the Turtlebox, which will perform better than the Charge for these types of situations.
The Marshall Emberton II is the latest release of the Emberton range. It follows a near-identical design to the previous version, though it sees a number of improvements when it comes to sound quality, battery life, and connectivity.
Design & Build
The Emberton II doesn’t stray far from the original Emberton in its overall design. Both speakers weighed in at just 1.5 lbs and are both very compact. At 2.75 x 6.25 x 2.75”, the Emberton II can easily be carried around, either in hand or in one’s backpack. In fact, it can even fit into some handbags.
When I think of Marshall, I think of studio equipment and not speakers that are built to withstand the abuse of daily portable use. However, the Emberton II is a durable and rugged little speaker that has an IP67 rating, protecting it from both dust and water.
There is a rugged metal grille that spans across the front of the speaker, protecting the drivers from damage. The rest of the speaker is made from a durable textured plastic that is better than the one found on the original Emberton model, which didn’t quite have the same firm grip that the added texture provides.
The Marshall Emberton II features intuitive controls, which are neatly built into the device, and the inclusion of track skipping and volume control on the device is welcome, as this is something we find lacking from many portable Bluetooth speakers. A battery indicator along the top right side of the speaker is also a very useful feature to have.
The Emberton II directs sound out both the front and the back of the speaker, which does an effective job of providing an improved soundstage over other similar speakers on the market. This also lends itself well to group listening sessions where you and your friends can enjoy intelligible audio together.
Marshall has a fairly good reputation when it comes to the sound profile on their Bluetooth speakers, with the original Emberton impressing us with its balanced but warm sound. The Emberton II doesn’t stray far from this sound signature, but there are improvements to the lower side of the bass range, which had previously felt a little lacking. The upper bass is accentuated, which helps improve bass presence, a challenge that all smaller Bluetooth speakers have. The Emberton II is far from a bassy speaker, but it still manages to create a lively sound with this tuning.
The midrange on the Emberton II is excellent, with distinct instrumentals which sound balanced in the mix. The treble response is also fairly balanced, with mild accentuation in the low and mid treble providing additional warmth. With that said, there’s also a distinct peak in the upper treble, which may annoy some listeners in tracks with a strong upper treble presence.
Unfortunately, there is no graphic EQ option with the Emberton II, but at least we see the addition of app support from the Emberton II, a feature that was distinctly lacking in the original iteration.
The battery performance from the Emberton II is outstanding, with massive improvements made from the Emberton’s first release. Marshall advertises 30 hours of battery life from the Emberton II. This is reasonable at lower listening volumes. In typical usage, you can squeeze out around 20 to 25 hours of battery life—an extremely impressive feat for a speaker of its size. The charging time is, however, quite a bit longer than the Emberton I, taking close to 5 hours for a full charge.
Why We Recommend It
The Emberton II is best suited for those looking for a smaller speaker than the Charge 5 but who also require good audio quality. It may not come with fancy LEDs or flashy features, but it does what it’s supposed to, and it does it well.
5. Turtlebox 2
The Turtlebox 2 is one of the loudest portable Bluetooth speakers on the market, but unlike most of the competition, the Turtlebox 2 is also a very reasonably sized Bluetooth speaker that isn’t excessively heavy.
Design & Build
At around 10 lbs, the Turtlebox 2 can still easily be carried around without a fuss. You wouldn’t want to carry it up a mountain, but the Turtlebox 2 can still be a reliable go-to speaker for outdoor occasions or camping trips. This speaker was specifically made for the outdoor lifestyle and features IP67 water & dust proofing along with a sturdy yet minimalist design that features fairly large buttons and what is almost a jerry can-like design.
That’s not to say that the Turtlebox 2 isn’t versatile or can’t be used indoors. While it has a very specific design appeal and may look a little out of place in some interiors, it manages to strike a balance that will appeal to both outdoors people and those who favor a house party. However, the lack of lighting may be a drawback for the party crowd.
“Big, dirty, stinking bass,” Dizzee Rascal said. The Turtlebox Gen 2 carries a lot of the same positive qualities we saw in the initial first generation of this speaker. However, there is a marked improvement in the bass response, which feels deeper, but also more punchy and authoritative.
While more detailed speakers are on the market in this range, you’d need to look at what are typically much larger speakers without the same kinds of outdoor protection. Nonetheless, while the sound quality may not quite reach that of the JBL PartyBox 300, for example, an overall impressive sound profile still excels in the outdoors, where wind and ambient noise can sometimes cut through brighter-sounding speakers.
Turtlebox states that the Turtlebox 2 can reach 120dB, but independent third-party tests have typically shown slightly lower values. Nevertheless, this is an incredible loudspeaker that can outperform even the JBL Boombox 2 in terms of raw volume.
One of the most noticeable issues we came across when testing the Turtlebox 2 was that at a lower volume, there was some muddiness where the bass felt a bit overtuned in comparison to the mid-tones – however, this problem goes away as you crank the up the volume.
The battery life on the Turtlebox 2 isn’t groundbreaking, but for the amount of sound and small size, the 10 to 12 hours of high-volume battery life is still impressive. If you run this speaker at lower volume levels, you can edge out around 18 to 20 hours fairly easily.
Why We Recommend It
The Turtlebox 2 is ideal for outdoor enthusiast who requires a lot of volume from their speaker. It’s rather easily portable, extremely loud, and also durable. The Turtlebox 2 has no problem driving a party either, don’t expect flashy lighting effects, however.
6. JBL Pulse 5
The Pulse 5 is the latest release from the Pulse range. The JBL Pulse is one of JBL’s more unique speaker designs, where vibrant lighting is at the center of the experience. While we’re used to seeing lighting effects available on portable Bluetooth speakers, the Pulse takes it to a new level.
Design & Build
As briefly touched on, it’s impossible to talk about the Pulse 5 without addressing the substantial lighting effects. In fact, the Pulse series is one of the only examples we can think of where there is more lighting than there is solid material.
While the design makes it look fragile, this isn’t the case. The Pulse 5 comes with robust weatherproofing, offering protection from both dust and water with its IP67 water-resistance rating. This makes the Pulse 5 a great speaker for socializing. Whether you’re hanging by the pool or having a small party indoors, the Pulse 5 lends itself to creating memorable experiences, with the ability to set the ambiance. This speaker isn’t for everyone, and if you’re looking for subtlety, this is the wrong place to look. This speaker represents fun and youthfulness.
We must note the lack of physical volume and playback controls, as we can understand why the Pulse 5 lacks them. This can be frustrating to those who prefer to keep their source device away from the speaker and rely on the speaker’s physical controls.
We were also happy to see the Pulse get a nice upgrade in Bluetooth connectivity, moving from 4.2 on the previous version to what, at the time of publication, is the latest Bluetooth version, 5.3.
While the Pulse 4 was far from a bad-sounding speaker, we had still hoped to have seen more improvements with the Pulse 5, particularly with regard to bass. There are no doubt sacrifices that need to be made by JBL with this design, with the attempt to retain portability potentially limiting the driver size that gets used.
The midrange of the Pulse 5 is similar to that of the previous model, which is not at all a bad thing as the midrange was rather impressive on the Pulse 4 as well, with a fairly balanced and bright midrange performance.
Treble has been improved on the Pulse 5, which is a great thing, as the Pulse 4 came across as a bit recessed in the mid and upper treble, which caused the brighter mid-tones to sometimes dominate the mix.
The Pulse 5 isn’t very loud, but it can easily cater to entertaining small groups of friends.
JBL advertises the Pulse 5 with a battery life of up to 12 hours, but this seems to be calculated from a low listening volume, and no lighting effects enabled. You should expect a more realistic battery life of around 6 to 8 hours when listening at modest levels with lights enabled. At louder volume with lighting effects, you can expect closer to 5 hours.
It’s easy to understand why battery performance isn’t the Pulse’s strong suit. There’s a lot of lighting to power, and while driving speakers at low and moderate volumes utilize little power, large amounts of lighting are more draining.
Thankfully, we see the charging time improved a bit on the Pulse 5, an area where the Pulse 4 lagged behind with a charging time of over six hours. The Pulse 5 is still a relatively slow charger; you can expect close to five hours of charging to get the battery full.
Why We Recommend It
If you’re looking for a unique speaker that not only stands out from the crowd but also provides some really cool lighting effects that can add ambiance to your next get-together with friends or next to your pool at night – the Pulse 5 does lighting in a way that few do.
The Anker Soundcore Motion Boom had a lowkey introduction to the portable Bluetooth speakers market but quickly became a beloved speaker that balances portability and volume in a way that few other Bluetooth speakers have managed to do. This speaker can be thought of as a budget alternative to the JBL Boombox 3.
Build & Design
The Motion Boom Plus features a modern boombox-style design and can be most closely compared with the Boombox 3 from JBL. Unlike the Boombox 3, however, the Motion Boom Plus is available at an affordable price. One of the most impressive features of the design is that Anker has managed to cram a lot of volume into a speaker that is only around 5 lbs in weight and extremely easy to carry. A shoulder strap is included with the Motion Boom Plus, which makes the process of carrying the speaker even easier. You are unlikely to need to use the strap, but knowing that it’s there offers peace of mind.
It’s worth noting that the Motion Boom Plus is a larger speaker than the original Motion Boom model. However, the advances that we see with the new iteration make the slightly larger form factor a non-issue in our eyes. The controls are easy to use, well-placed, and also well-sealed.
A stand-out feature for the Motion Boom Plus is its ability to float in water, another peace of mind feature that lets you place the speaker around your pool, on a lilo, or next to a lake without the stress of it accidentally falling in. In addition to its ability to float, the Motion Boom Plus also comes with IP67 weather resistance, protecting it from rain, dust, and limited submergence in water.
When it comes to sound performance, while the initial Motion Boom was no slouch, the Motion Boom Plus continues to build on the legacy of the first iteration by offering a lot more volume and overall improved sound quality across the board. In fact, third-party testing showed the Motion Boom Plus to outperform the Boombox 2 in raw volume.
The most noticeable differences are in the low-end response, where the new array of drivers, including two dedicated woofers, produce a thumping low end that can even meet the needs of those who enjoy a lively sound signature. The bass range extends fairly deep, while the mid and upper bass carries a punchy, authoritative presence.
The midrange isn’t the most balanced that we’ve seen on a speaker, but it still sounds really good and is tuned well in relation to the strong bass presence. We found that with the original Motion Boom, even though it was a good-sounding speaker, the midrange warmth could have been improved, which the Motion Boom Plus does better on.
The treble on the Motion Boom Plus is perhaps where the speaker struggles the most, with the treble coming across as a bit too sharp and pronounced. Thankfully, the EQ availability through the app allows one to adjust the sound signature as required, and if you find the highs a bit too much for you – this can be rectified with the app.
While the JBL Boombox 3 does better at providing a clean, balanced sound profile. Given the price difference, it may be hard to justify for many users.
While the Anker Soundcore Motion Boom Plus has a fairly lengthy charging time of around five and a half hours, this allows up to 20 hours of playtime. A realistic battery life of 13 to 15 hours is achievable with typical use. This isn’t quite as impressive as the Boombox 3, but still more than enough for most users.
Why We Recommend It
The Soundcore Motion Boom Plus is a beast on a budget. It’s rare we see speakers able to perform well across the board when they are offered at more affordable prices, but the Motion Boom Plus manages to fit a whole lot of value into a speaker that retails for less than $200.
The JBL Boombox 3 is another fairly new model from the company that sees the extremely popular Boombox 2 taken to new heights with the addition of new features and enhanced sound performance.
Design & Build
At around 15 lbs, the Boombox 3 pushes the limits on portability, but even with the slight weight increase from the previous model, the Boombox 3 can still be carried around with reasonable ease thanks to the sturdy handle that forms part of this speaker.
The large JBL branding is somewhat controversial in our office, with staff split over the change. The Boombox 2 featured a small classic JBL logo with a distinct red background, while the new JBL Boombox 3 has a larger logo, albeit more subtle in color.
A huge benefit of the Boombox 3 in terms of design is the superior waterproofing and the way the speaker can float in water. While the Boombox 2 already offers impressive IPX7 water resistance, the Boombox 3 expands on this by replacing it with an IP67 rating, meaning the speaker is protected from both dust and water, a big bonus for those who like taking their portable Bluetooth speakers outdoors.
The ability the speaker has to float is an additional bonus, though we do caution against intentionally placing any non-dedicated pool speaker in the water. This floating ability is best retained for accidents where the speaker may accidentally get knocked into the pool.
JBL made some improvements across the board to the sound quality of the Boombox 2, which at times felt lacking. There are fewer dips in the low end on the Boombox 3, which results in a fuller, more defined bass response. The midrange doesn’t see as much difference between the previous version and still sounds balanced and warm. The treble response is where the most noticeable differences lie. The Boombox 3 is distinctly more bright and lively in the upper end of the response.
There were sacrifices that needed to be made with the Boombox 3, with the overall maximum volume potential being decreased. However, the Boombox 3 is still loud at over 91dB, and the new changes result in a more impressive dynamic performance with fewer compression artifacts.
If you’re looking to enhance the sound, the mobile app allows for graphic EQing, to ensure you get the sound that works for you.
The Boombox 3 offers fantastic battery performance that can squeeze out close to 30 hours of use at moderate volume levels. This even exceeds the Boombox 2, which we already found to have impressive listening time. The charging time is around four and a half hours, which is seriously impressive given the battery capacity.
Why We Recommend It
The JBL Boombox 3 is a versatile speaker that has more uses than one would think. Whether you’re looking for a speaker to sit courtside while you shoot hoops or want a dedicated party speaker in your home – the Boombox 3 is robust enough to handle almost any demand.
How We Selected These Products
Choosing just a handful of products from one of the largest consumer electronics niches is no easy feat. There are literally hundreds of quality portable Bluetooth speakers on the market, but for this list, we chose products that we thought best represented the needs of the average consumer. We looked at pricing, portability, durability, sound quality, and waterproofing as some of our primary data points when making these selections.
You’ll notice that we’ve included some established brands like Sony and JBL, which offer reliable quality and a balance with affordability, but also that we’ve included some more affordable products that don’t carry the same household name as other manufacturers but still offer high-quality products for their lower price point.
What to Expect for Your Budget
For most of us, the number one consideration when it comes to any electronics product is cost. As the competition among brands increases, portable speakers are getting cheaper with more features. Here is what you can expect from a portable Bluetooth speaker in your price range.
I’ve focused on audio quality and speakerphone quality, which are essentially audio features, and since this is an audio product, it would be the reason you purchase a Bluetooth speaker. Another important factor is, of course, Bluetooth. Since portable speakers have upgraded to Bluetooth version 4, connectivity and range have improved significantly. Rule of thumb, if the manufacturer doesn’t specify the Bluetooth version or if it’s earlier than version 4, don’t buy it.
Buyer’s Guide – What You Need To Know When Buying a Portable Bluetooth Speaker
Everyone has heard of frequency and knows it relates to sound. Frequency response is measured in Hertz and is often described as a range, for example, 100 Hz to 20 kHz (20,000Hz). It would then be reasoned that the wider the range, the better the chance of the speaker being able to reproduce audio as it was intended.
Having a wide range alone doesn’t always guarantee good sound, though. This also depends on how the individual perceives sound and varies from person to person. In an audio track, the bass is heard from around 20 Hz to 250 Hz. Instruments and vocals typically reside in the range of 250 Hz to 4kHz, which is referred to as the mid-range. The remainder of the frequencies (up to 20kHz) for the treble.
Drivers are the foundation of any speaker so it is important to get one that is reasonable in size. Most portable Bluetooth speakers have an entry range driver of 40mm, which is a good size to start with. If you want a bigger driver, however, expect the overall size of your speaker to increase. The number of drivers and positioning also make a difference in how the speaker will sound.
Most speakers have a twin-driver setup which tends to be noticeably loud. Small Bluetooth speakers, however, will normally include a single, full-range driver, which is placed either downwards or upwards in order to displace sound better. Being small in size, most Bluetooth speakers will not include a woofer. Therefore, manufacturers will install passive radiators which vibrate to produce bass.
Bluetooth versions are constantly evolving, with newer versions typically providing increased range and better compression. The result is that we can see lower latency and even marginally improved audio quality with the use of modern Bluetooth devices. At the time of publication, Bluetooth 5.3 was the latest version being used in speakers, though everything from 4.2 onwards still remains viable.
A portable speaker which has a USB charging port is very convenient, especially if you’re outside or in a place that doesn’t have wall sockets. Older models of Bluetooth speakers would use Micro-USB cables, though these days, USB-C has become the standard and is far more widely used. USB-C comes with its own benefits over the micro-USB connections of yesteryear.
One of the main advantages of a Bluetooth speaker is it’s portable. However, sometimes it’s nice to have the alternative of a wired connection through an auxiliary connector. This port is generally labeled as ‘aux’ at the back or wherever your inputs/outputs are found on the speaker. A wired connection often saves battery power or produces better-quality sound.
We’ve also started to see speakers like the Ultimate Ears Megablast merging both outdoor and indoor features to create a multipurpose speaker that serves more than just one purpose. Wi-Fi connectivity and voice assistants are common features of modern home stereo systems, and seeing them brought across to portable Bluetooth speakers is great.
Technicalities aside, you should always think about where and how you plan to use your speaker. If it’s mainly for home use, you should choose something that blends in with your home décor. Because of the way acoustics work indoors, you won’t need as powerful of a speaker as outdoors. Additionally, you may want to put more focus on the sound signature. If you’re going to use it for outside parties and a lot of traveling, you should consider a speaker that is waterproof, rugged, and exceptionally loud with good bass.
Quick Guide to Waterproof Ratings
Without going into the topic of waterproofing too much, here is a list of waterproof ratings relevant to portable Bluetooth speakers featured in this article. This is a good resource for an in-depth look at waterproof ratings.
- IPX4 – splashproof
- IPX5 – resistant to water sprays from all angles
- IPX6 – resistant to jets of water from all angles
- IPX7 – waterproof up to 1m of water for 30m
- IPX8 – waterproof to a depth past 1m and time as specified by the manufacturer
- IP65 – IP6 dust protection and resistance to water sprays from all angles
- IP66 – IP6 dust protection and resistance to jets of water from all angles
- IP67 – IP6 dust protection and waterproof up to 1m for 30 min
Here are some answers to frequently asked questions on portable Bluetooth speakers.
How waterproof is my portable Bluetooth speaker?
There are so many waterproof Bluetooth speakers on the market. I often read reviews and comments from people who have purchased a waterproof speaker complaining that the product bombed out after a few months because of water damage. Even though a speaker is rated IPX7 or IPX8, try to keep the water time to a minimum. Even with the best waterproof features, a speaker can get damaged from an extended time in the water. Splashes are one thing, but continuously submerging a speaker is not good.
The weakest point in any waterproof portable Bluetooth speaker is the input panel where the ⅛ inch AUX and power inputs live. Always make sure the cover is sealed to its watertight fit properly before taking the speaker near water.
What is a bass radiator?
A bass or passive radiator is connected to an active speaker to accentuate certain characteristics of that speaker. In the case of a portable Bluetooth speaker, the passive radiator is used to enhance the bass properties of the speaker. The passive radiator is essentially a bass port with a radiator that resonates or “excites” the bass frequencies inside the speaker enclosure produced by the active speaker driver.
If you cup a sheet of paper between your palms and blow through your hands, this is similar to what’s happening to a bass radiator. Pressure from the airflow makes the radiator work to amplify the bass frequencies. So, the radiator is not connected to any electronics or amplifier; its movement is the result of airflow leaving the speaker enclosure.
Why doesn’t my speaker battery last as long as specified?
Manufacturer specifications on battery life can be vague. Most manufacturers base their battery life on running the Bluetooth speaker at 50% volume without using lights, bass boost, charging devices, or any other power-hungry features. As soon as you go above 75% volume, you start to drain the battery life much more quicker. At 100%, with any additional features engaged, your battery life with last 30-50% less than specified, especially on cheaper products.
Why does my portable speaker distort?
A common misconception is that because a speaker can go to 100%, you should be able to operate at 100% without experiencing distortion or poor audio quality. Even professional audio equipment is void of this issue. For some music, you can go up to 100% and still experience good sound quality. For bass-heavy genres like hip-hop and dance, you generally have an accentuated bass. This means going to 100% will overload the bass driver resulting in distortion. For these genres, 75-80% is generally the sweet spot for a small speaker.
Another issue is having separate volume control between your Bluetooth device and the speaker itself. In this case, turning the volume full on your phone and then full on the speaker will always result in distortion. If you do have a separate volume control, set the Bluetooth device to 75% and then only use the speaker to adjust the volume from there.
Generally speaking, any portable Bluetooth speaker under $50 is probably going to distort at high volumes.
What features do I need in a portable Bluetooth speaker?
Often buyers are swayed by the number of features a portable Bluetooth speaker includes. What you have to keep in mind is that the more features you have, the cheaper the parts are. This is especially true for budget Bluetooth speakers. If you look at the premium speakers like Marshall Kilburn or Altec Lansing XPEDITION 4, neither has a built-in microphone with speakerphone capability. Both of these products focus on build and sound quality.
Does frequency response matter?
When it comes to something as small as a portable Bluetooth speaker, the answer is no. Frequency response does not matter and should be ignored. Brands are simply adding this to the description to impress you with fancy professional terms. Yes, a Bluetooth speaker may be able to produce a frequency response of 20Hz to 20kHz, but from 20Hz – 100Hz, most Bluetooth speakers are only capable of producing 12-15dBs lower than the rest of the frequency range. So in simple terms, you won’t hear that sub-bass frequency range even if the speaker is producing it.
We’ve put together a guide explaining frequency response in more depth if you’d like to understand further what frequency response means and how it affects your music.
Does speaker wattage matter?
Speaker wattage is important, but there are other factors involved which affect the power a speaker produces. The biggest factor is how efficient the built-in amplifier of the portable Bluetooth speaker actually is. You’ll often find that a premium 10W portable speaker will outperform a cheap 20W speaker. This is because the premium speaker has a superior amplifier and processing to amplify the sound better than the cheaper speaker. The result is your premium, less powerful speaker will fill the room better with a cleaner sound at higher volumes.