We’ve been enjoying our great-sounding Bose SoundDock portable (sorta) speaker in our kitchen for the past decade or so.
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.
It just wasn’t going to work for us anymore.
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.
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.
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.
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|
|Jabra Solemate MAX||60|
|Klipsch KMC 3||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|
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.
|PCMag: Top 10 Bluetooth Speakers|
|Harman Kardon Aura||4.5|
|Bose Soundlink Color Bluetooth Speaker||4|
|Bose Soundlink Mini||4|
|Bowers & Wilkins T7||4|
|Logitech X300 Mobile Wireless Speaker||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||★★★★☆|
|Bose Soundlink Mini speaker||★★★★☆|
|Bose Soundlink Bluetooth speaker III||★★★★☆|
|TDK Life On Record TREK MAX (A34)||★★★★☆|
|Beats Pill XL||★★★★☆|
|Bose SoundLink Color||★★★★☆|
|Jawbone Big Jambox||★★★★☆|
|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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
His, hers, and ours. It’s how we roll.