Gear

Smackdown! The Best Portable Bluetooth Speakers


Best portable bluetooth speaker: Smackdown!

With the boom box era firmly behind us and the smartphone era in full swing, wireless speakers have become nearly ubiquitous. Even if you’re not constantly streaming music, having a wireless speaker makes it easier to listen to podcasts and other audio wherever you want without being tied to anything but your smartphone. Some models even let you take calls, working as a supped-up speakerphone.

More recently, Bluetooth speakers have really come into their own in terms of style, sound quality, and portability, which makes them even more of a wish list topper this year. (If you’re especially interested in design-savvy speakers, check out some of my favorites here.)

Shop Design-Friendly Speakers here

To help you sort through the (literal) noise, we’re going to compare five hot Bluetooth speakers on the market right now that are all around the same price, $150 to $300: the Beats by Dre Beats Pill 2.0, Logitech UE Megaboom, JBL Xtreme, Sony SRS X77, and the Bose Soundlink Mini 2.

All of them have great user reviews online, but what really sets them apart? Here’s a closer look.

 

Bose Mini Soundlink II: Best portable bluetooth speakers

Bose Soundlink Mini 2

Let’s start with the Bose Soundlink Mini 2. The major selling point of this little guy is that it’s… well, little. The fact that it fits in the palm of your hand makes it super easy to transport and disguise in a room. Despite its small size and light weight, its control range and battery life are impressive, especially compared with the much bigger Pill+ and UE Megaboom below. The weight alone makes it a great choice for tucking into your carry-on for use in a hotel.

The sound is great too for such a diminutive speaker, but doesn’t compare to some of the larger speakers we review below. Reviews complain that while they sound good indoors, they lose their richness when outside. While the rest of these speakers charge with a cable, the Bose has a charging cradle you can rest it in, which makes it easy to listen at home without fumbling with cables, and then grab a fully charged speaker when you want to take it on the go.  Other features include voice activation and speakerphone function with paired smartphones, tablets, and other Bluetooth devices.

Bose also designed cute, colorful covers that can keep it scratch and bump free, though many of the speakers below have a rugged enough design without a rubber sweater.

All in all, it’s a great price and great size to travel without the bulk.

  • Price: $199 ($179 on Amazon)
  • Size: 2″ x 7.1″ x 2.3″ inches
  • Weight: 1.5 lbs.
  • Range: 30 ft.
  • Battery Life: Up to 10 hours
  • Colors: Black/Copper, Carbon and Pearl

 

beats pill+: Portable bluetooth speakers Beats by Dre Beats Pill+

Let’s start with the Beats Pill+, which looks cool and carries some street cred thanks to the company’s namesake, rapper and entrepreneur Dr. Dre. It has swagger, but previous versions weren’t known for their superior sound quality. Since they’ve been bought by Apple, however, that’s improved, and the Pill+ is much improved, but for a company that’s known for boosting the bass, the bottom end leaves a bit to be desired.

The design is simple, sleek and a bit more sophisticated this time around… still pill-shaped, but less gimmicky. Buttons are simple: Just a pair of volume buttons and the “b” button for play/pause/phone call control. Ports are hidden out of the way, including the lightning port (hi, Apple!), which lets it charge quickly with the included lightning cable.

The Beats app does the rest of the tricks, allowing you to adjust the EQ, pair two Beats Pills together for stereo sound, or connect a friend’s phone so you can take turns DJing. You can also use it as a speakerphone for calls, and if your phone or even use it as a portable battery if your phone is running low on juice.

Bummer that, for this price, it’s not splashproof, or completely waterproof, like other models below. And for a company founded by two music guys, that it still don’t rank high for sound quality. But it’s pretty, portable, and ready to party.

  • Price: $230 ($195 on Amazon)
  • Size: 2.5 x 2.7 x 8.27
  • Weight: 1.3 pounds
  • Range: 30 feet
  • Battery Life: Up to 12 hours per charge; charges in 3 hours with the included cable.
  • Colors: Black and white

 

UE Boom: Best Portable Bluetooth Speakers

Logitech UE Megaboom

The Logitech UE Megaboom is UE Boom 2‘s bigger brother, and looms larger than it — and the Beats Pill+ when it comes to price, size AND weight. Here’s what you get in the larger package: 360-degree sound (the speakers radiate in all directions) with deep bass that blows the Pill+ out of the water; a much longer Bluetooth range— you can operate it from 100 feet away (expecting a few dropouts when you approach that distance); and a much longer battery life— 20 hours.

The Megaboom has been designed to go where other speakers fear to tread— it’s splashproof, shockproof, and can even be submerged in water for 20 minutes and still come out blasting Lady Gaga. UE knows that if your partying by the beach, poolside or in the mud, your phone might want to take cover, so they’ve integrated a Siri and Google Now voice activation, so you can talk to the speaker and it will play as you wish. Grab your phone and launch the accompanying app and do things like tweak the EQ settings, pair two speakers together, or set an alarm. Other fun features include “Block Party” where you can add two friends to help you DJ a party (similar to Beats Pill+’s feature) and “PartyUp”, where you can wirelessly stream to more than 50 UE speakers at the same time. That’s a crazy amount of speakers, but if you and your friends had 2 or 3, that could really make a difference in the quality of your backyard party music.

  • Price: $299.99
  • Size: 3.3 x 3.3 x 8.9 inches
  • Weight: 1.93 pounds
  • Range: 100 feet
  • Battery Life: Up to 20 hours; charges quickly with included micro-USB cable
  • Colors: Plum, Charcoal Black, Lava Red, Electric Blue 

 

JBL Extreme: Best Portable Bluetooth Speakers

JBL Xtreme

The JBL Xtreme has most of the same features the Beats Pill 2.0 does – multiple USB ports for charging devices, ability to connect multiple smartphones (3 in this case), and voice call capabilities – with a few extra perks. You can wirelessly connect three JBL speakers together for bigger sound (perhaps adding a couple of the Xtreme’s cheaper cousins, the Flip 3 or the Clip 2?), and it’s splash-proof, so you don’t have to worry so much if you’re using it poolside, or at the beach. It’s heavier and larger than the UE Megaboom,

Let’s talk about sound quality. In most reviews, it wins out over the UE Megaboom— it does hail from it’s acoustic royalty parent company, Harman. Clear vocals in the Mids, distinguishable bass in the Lows, and less-than-perfect, sometimes harsh Highs, but manageable at lower volumes. But it’s soo much bigger and heavier than the rest, making it tougher to tote to the pool (even with the shoulder strap it comes with), and it’s not submergible like the UE Megaboom, so if you’re out in the elements it will be more worrisome.

This speaker sounds the best to us so far. But with less battery time, a larger and heavier design, and no waterproofiness, all at the same price as the UE Megaboom? It might not be the best buy at that price point, in spite of it’s acoustic excellence.

  • Price: $299.95 (starting at $199 on Amazon)
  • Size: 12.5 x 8 x 7.5 inches
  • Weight: 4.6 lbs.
  • Range: not stated
  • Battery Life: Up to 15 hours, however some customer reviews report that the battery life can be as little as four hours if the device is used at high volume
  • Colors: Black, Blue and Red

Sony SRS X77: Best Portable Bluetooth Speakers Sony SRS X77

If you’re a die-hard music lover, this may be the speaker for you. Like the Logitech, the Sony SRS X77 has great sound that’s worth the price. A built-in subwoofer and passive radiators provide a great bass sound without sacrificing high notes— generally pretty well-rounded and among the best sound I heard of the bunch. Surprising, given the small size of this speaker. Plus, it has an audio input for analog sources, so you can convert them to high-quality wireless sound. The SRS X77 also features “Tap to Play” device connectivity function similar to that of the Beats Pill+, and connects wirelessly with AirPlay, Google Cast, and Spotify Connect on your smartphone and PC.

The design is a bit… um, square, and feels like it’s a missed opportunity to deviate from the black boxes of old. That said, I appreciate the lack of branding… it doesn’t call attention to itself too much, but the glossy top does get fingerprinty. It’s a bit lighter than the JBL but has about the same battery life, both paling in comparison to the UE Megaboom’s 20 hours.

The Sony SongPal app gives you remote control, and allows you to stream music through a network or have a multi-room experience by placing several speakers throughout your home. You can stream the same song to each, or different ones to different speakers, mimicking the functionality of a Sonos system (not reviewed here, since it’s not portable and doesn’t support Bluetooth!). Plus you can stream music wirelessly w/ Bluetooth or NFC connections. It also doubles as a smartphone/tablet charger like many of the others.

  • Price: $299.99 ($269 on Amazon)
  • Size: 11.81 x 5.20 x 2.36 inches
  • Weight: 4.19 lb
  • Range: 32 ft.
  • Battery Life: Up to 10 hours
  • Colors: Black

What are your favorite portable Bluetooth speakers? Have you tried any you didn’t love? Let me know in the comments! And do check out more of our Smackdowns here!



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