Best Bluetooth Portable Speakers

February 16, 2015 · 5 comments

We’ve been enjoying our great-sounding Bose SoundDock portable (sorta) speaker in our kitchen for the past decade or so.

Speaker Ratings Cartoon 1of4 | rickandkathy.com
The problem is our iPhones have outgrown our speaker: current generation iPhones have eight-pin Lightning connectors while the SoundDock has the previous generation 30-pin dock connector (discontinued by Apple in 2014). Oh, and it lacks the convenience of Bluetooth.

Although Bluetooth speaker adapters and 8-Pin to 30-Pin adapters are both available for not much money, Frankenstein patches are right up there with tape and chewing gum on the elegance scale.

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Plus, the old SoundDock is bigger than Winston’s head.

It just wasn’t going to work for us anymore.

Sniff, sniff.

Speaker Ratings Cartoon 2of4 | rickandkathy.com
Bluetooth portable speakers are widely noted for cool industrial design, sound quality, battery life, suitability for outdoor use and, in some cases, speakerphone capability. A good bluetooth speaker also seemed the way to go to avoid “pin non-compliance” issues in the future.

So, time to buy a bluetooth speaker. But where to begin?

Where we always begin these days: searching the Internet for bluetooth speaker reviews to help find the speaker to meet our needs. A Google search for “best bluetooth portable speaker” led to recent reviews from Consumer Reports, CNET, PCMag, and the Amazon community we thought would be helpful.

Speaker Ratings Cartoon 3of4 | rickandkathy.com
Unfortunately, the search results turned out to be more overwhelming than helpful. There are so many portable speakers available these days that it’s crazy-making to try to compare all of them.

Speaker Ratings Cartoon 4of4 | rickandkathy.com
We (by which we mean Rick) started building a comparison grid to help organize and sort through the mind-numbing information on the websites noted above, and even that proved really hard to do.

Consumer Reports tested 51 models of WiFi and Bluetooth speaker systems in May 2014 (which makes for quite a long list in itself) and awarded top honors to the Libratone Zipp WIFI/BT 4.0 Speaker.


Libratone Zipp

However, not all models tested by Consumer Reports even align with the manufacturer’s own websites. For example, #14 rated “Bose SoundLink Wireless Mobile Speaker II” can’t be found on the Bose website and, as of this writing, the Consumer Report site itself says “Currently there are no sellers listed for this product.”

 Consumer Reports: Top 10 Bluetooth Speakers
 Brand & Model Rating
 Libratone Zipp 63
 Jabra Solemate MAX 60
 Klipsch KMC 3 60
 Sony SRS-X7 60
 TDK Life On Record Wireless Weatherproof (A33) 60
 Bose SoundLink Color 58
 Harman Kardon Onyx 57
 Stelle Audio Couture Audio Pillar 57
 Definitive Technology Cube 56
 TDK Life On Record TREK MAX (A34) 55
Source: Consumer Reports, Wi-Fi & Bluetooth speaker systems Ratings

There are also such remarkable differences from one review site to the next that we often wondered if they’re even talking about the same product.

Take the Jawbone Mini Jambox for example. The bottom line from CNET states “While you’ll pay a premium for it, the Jawbone Mini Jambox is the best-sounding and best-designed micro wireless speaker” while PCMag says “The good-looking Jawbone Mini Jambox is a very thin and light Bluetooth speaker, but it makes too many compromises on sound quality.”


Jawbone Mini Jambox
Amazon Rating: 4.3 / 5 (~800 reviews)

Another example is the Logitech UE Boom. CR’s Take: “The Logitech UE Boom had overall sound quality that was only fair. While it’s perfectly fine for dialog and use as a speakerphone, more finicky listeners looking for a speaker for playing music and movie/TV soundtracks may prefer a different model” while PCMag says “Solid soundscape. Powerful, clear midrange and treble.” As a bottom line, Consumer Reports gives the UE Boom a less-than-spectacular rating of “40” while PCMag and CNET both rate this speaker as “Excellent” and the consensus of the Amazon community is 4.4  stars (out of 5) based on over 320 reviews.


Logitech UE Boom

Grrr…

 PCMag: Top 10 Bluetooth Speakers
 Harman Kardon Aura 4.5
 Bose Soundlink Color Bluetooth Speaker 4
 Bose Soundlink Mini 4
 Bowers & Wilkins T7 4
 JBL Clip 4
 Logitech X300 Mobile Wireless Speaker 4
 Soundcast Melody 4
 Creative Sound BlasterAxx AXX 200 4
 Polk Audio Woodbourne 4
 Ultimate Ears UE Megaboom 4
Source: PCMag “The 10 Best Bluetooth Speakers” (February 3, 2015)

 

 CNET: Best Bluetooth Speakers of 2015
 Logitech UE Boom ★★★★
 UE Megaboom ★★★★
 Bose Soundlink Mini speaker ★★★★
 Bose Soundlink Bluetooth speaker III ★★★★
 TDK Life On Record TREK MAX (A34) ★★★★
 Sony SRS-X3 ★★★★
 Beats Pill XL ★★★★
 Sony SRS-X5 ★★★★
 Bose SoundLink Color ★★★★
 Nyne Bass ★★★★
 Fluance Fi30 ★★★★
 Jawbone Big Jambox ★★★★
 Logitech X300 ★★★★
 Jawbone Mini Jambox ★★★★
Source: CNET “Best Bluetooth Speakers of 2015” (February 6, 2015)

 

Eventually, we became so overwhelmed by the process of researching “What is the best bluetooth speaker?” that, having sorted through all the high-brow audiophile chatter we could stomach, we ended up doing our own consumer testing, albeit sort of by accident.

Let us present our entirely manageable list of three top bluetooth speakers.

First, we went with price (plus Amazon reviewer love) and threw a dart at the AmazonBasics portable bluetooth speaker for about $50.


AmazonBasics Portable Bluetooth Speaker

Did we score a bulls-eye? Well, almost.

It’s a great well-balanced little speaker, and if you’re looking for something to keep you company while you’re doing laundry or hanging out in a college dorm room, you’ve found your speaker buddy. With over 700 reviews, a great average rating of 4.4 / 5, Amazon’s willingness to put their own name on it, and an unbeatable price tag, you can’t go wrong.

Clean round sound, acoustically well mannered, as well as being a really decent speakerphone, this unit has found a cherished home in my office.

Why my office and not, say, our living/dining room?

After our purchase, we realized that not only were we replacing our now defunct Bose SoundDock, but in fact, our entire home stereo system.

This is it. Our entire collective music library is now digital and is housed in a maximum of five devices per person, none of which have a great speaker.

bluetooth-blogpost

A bluetooth speaker is what we will be “listening to music” on now, as in, when we’re sitting in front of the fireplace and just want to zen to some tunes and drift a while. And while the AmazonBasics is a fine (probably the best) speaker for the money, we found we missed the richer dimension and bass response of the Bose for all around music appreciation moments.

Side note: Ironically, six weeks after we bought the AmazonBasics, as a Christmas gift we received a second portable speaker which had also been on our shortlist but was twice as expensive as the AmazonBasics:


Ultimate Ears Mini Boom

As grateful as we are for Rick’s new office speaker, we didn’t really hear a huge difference between the Ultimate Ears Mini Boom and the AmazonBasics.

The Mini Boom definitely wins the “tiniest footprint and cute” category with no obvious distortions at higher volumes (to our ears), so if you’re looking for something to easily fit into a crowded desk space or kitchen nook, this may be your answer.

Still, for the price delta, the AmazonBasics shines a little brighter in our opinion.

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The bottom line is that neither the UE Mini Boom nor the AmazonBasics was quite hitting the mark for what we now realized would be our home stereo, so we went back to the tried and true (and best seller on Amazon for bluetooth speakers, BTW) and purchased the ~$200 Bose SoundLink Mini Bluetooth Speaker.


Bose SoundLink Mini Bluetooth Speaker

We heartily agree with the 4500+ Amazon reviewers who gave it a whopper average rating of 4.8 / 5.

We love it.

rickandkathy.com’s thesaurus for Bose SoundLink Mini suggests: “rich,” “full,” “high color,” “substantial,” “convenient,” “sleek,” “portable,” “affordable,” …

For anyone else at the tipping point of moving from the full-meal-deal faux audiophile home stereo to something non-threatening (financially and technically) with amazing sound that works with your digital library, this is our vote.

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You’ll score astounding sound from a device that is just slightly larger than the transformer needed for our decade-old workhorse, the Bose SoundDock. Oh, what a difference a decade can make!

The only caution we found is that the Bose needs to be placed at least a foot or two from a solid/reflective vertical surface (which they specify in their user manual) to avoid an overly emphasized bass boom. This is, from our perspective, a small price to pay for a satisfying musical experience from such an inexpensive, portable, and succinct device.

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We now own not one but three bluetooth mini speakers, and given the right space, budget, and expectations, all three are winners.

His, hers, and ours. It’s how we roll.

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

PrimalX April 27, 2017 at 5:39 pm

My family all the time say that I am killing my time here at web, however I know I am getting knowledge everyday by reading thes nice articles or reviews.

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fred June 26, 2015 at 7:43 am

When considering a speaker dock there is much more to consider then just looks, and wattage, ect… For instance the NAD VISO 1 has a built in DAC, which uncompresses the audio from your iPod or phone, and fills in the missing bits. People tend to talk WiFi up over Bluetooth, while their arguwmwmts aren’t very accurate. WiFi or airplay will offer you more range then Bluetooth. But no days Bluetooth 4.0 can transfer audio at a much higher bit rate and can even play hi-res or 24-bit audio. You can even get Bluetooth with a range of 125 feet, vs the standard 30ft. The NSD VISO 1 has each driver in a separate enclosure each with its own individual amp, so the subwoofer, doesn’t compromise the sound of the drivers or tweeters. The NAD VISO 1 has an optical input for true 24-bit reproduction. This speaker dock can be used for your tv, by plugging the fiber optic cable into the tv and the speaker dock, so when you watch bluray or hd channels you are actually getting that HD sound as well. I mean out of all the speakers I have bought and have tested, the NAD VISO 1 i have to say blows most of the competition away. I had the B/W zepplin air, and she I bought the NAD VISO 1 i put the zepplin air back in its box and put it in the closet and it hasn’t been back out since. It serves as my tv surround sound system, and my stereo. The sound is BIG and realistic. The Samsung DA-E751 Is a close second, with more input options and a more elegant look. But these two speakers sound can’t be beat for the price. You should really check them out and go to an audio store and test them. You won’t be dissapointed !!!

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fred June 26, 2015 at 7:22 am

I have had both the Logitech and the Bose, but I found the JBL CHARGE 2 , to have the overall best quality sound. It has far better clarity, more volume, more bass, and crisper highs. The Bose soundlink mini sounds good but doesn’t get very loud. I own over 50 speaker docks, I know that sounds a little insane but I’m kindve a collector I guess you could say. Some of my favorite PORTABLE Bluetooth speakers are the HARMON KARDON ONYX, the LIBRATONE ZIPP, and BOSE SOUNDLINK , but if you are just looking for a nice speaker dock for your home and don’t need portability , I would check out the NAD VISO 1 , it stands out from the rest ! He bass , midrange, clarity, open soundstage , not to mention the music notes that seem to be coming from every direction and appearing out of thin air. Another great home Bluetooth speaker dock , is the GENEVA MODEL M. You can always go bigger with the model L, or XL, or even smaller with the model s. The Geneva speaker docks have AMAZING SOUND ! But I would have to say my favorite speaker docks I own would either be the NAD VISO 1 or the SAMSUNG DA-E751 ! the samsung speaker dock, has a beautiful cherry would finish, with old fashioned vacum tubes, that give it a warm sound, two fiber glass drivers, two tweeters, and a big subwoofer on the bottom. The Samsung dad-e751, also has every connection you could think of, airplay, bluetoother, an iPod dock, android dock, dnla, aux, fiber optic, you name it, it has it. Both the NAD VISO 1 and the SAMSUNG DA-E751, have fiber optic inputs and support 24-bit audio. Both of these speakers cost around 500-700$ when they first came out but can be bought now for about 180$-280$ on Amazon and eBay. So it all comes down to what your looking for. If Portability is a concern then you have the HARMON kardon onyx and libratoen zipp on the medium-larger size end and the JBL CHARGE 2 on The smaller end. But for just a home stereo speaker dock, to replace you old Bose sound dock, I would check out the 2 I listed above, both have amazing sound and a lot of power and support a number of inputs.

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Debra February 17, 2015 at 5:10 pm

Great info! Deirdre gave me a jawbone for Christmas. LOVE IT!

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Sandi Fentiman February 17, 2015 at 5:03 pm

Size is one thing to consider; if you don’t have a whole lot of space to put the speaker of module. Of course, appearance is another.

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