Spring is finally here and it is time to bring our music and speakerphones outside. There’s no better way to enjoy sound outside than with a portable bluetooth speaker. But as Jordan noted to me during our CES coverage, there must be 100,000 Bluetooth speakers to choose from including a growing horde of no name brands OEM’ed from fly-by-night Chinese companies.
Rather than taking you through all the intricacies of our testing, let’s just skip to the best part. (We tried recording sample audio with the Blue Sparq Mic shown above, but YouTube distorted the audio… okay, it was really just me, my family, and friends comparing sound.)
For the best all around sound/price/features/form factor, we’re going (again, again and again) with Logitech’s Ultimate Ears Mini Boom (Starting at $99 at Amazon). It balances incredible-for-its-size sound – and mic – with incredible, nearly 10 hour battery-life, small jacket pocket size, huge easy-to-use buttons, great build quality and good looks in many colors.
The sound is so full that I can easily use it on a desktop and almost forget I’m not using my $200 Audyssey Lower East Side speakers or pop it in a rental car and don’t worry about getting your iPhone to work with a new car’s stereo. Speakerphone calls rival a conference room Polycom that costs 10x the price. This hits most of the sweet spots and I believe that a majority of people will find this the best option. But what if your budget isn’t up for a $100 speaker?
Best ultraportable/affordability: $49.99 Divoom: Bluetune-solo Portable Bluetooth Speaker/Mic combo or $29.99 for just the Bluetune Bluetooth speaker.
There’s a reason Amazon reviewers are going nuts over this thing. The Bluetune sounds almost as good as the much larger Jawbone Jambox but at half the size. The cylindrical shape speaker/mic is about half the volume and weight of a can of soda. I got about 6 hours of speaker time out of this one, including a few conference calls. Neither the mic nor the Bluetooth range is as good as Logitech’s UE Mini Boombox, but you have to manage your expectations considering for the $29-$49 price. It fits in cup-holders and still sound good, which is a big bonus.
|Output Power:||4 Watts|
|Total Peak Power:||6Watts at <10% THD|
|Driver Size:||50mm micro speaker, 4Ohm|
|Frequency response:||60Hz-20 kHz|
|Charging Voltage:||USB or AC/DC adapter 5V|
|Bluetooth compliant:||V2.1 +EDR|
|Bluetooth profile support:||A2DP Stereo|
|Dimensions:||60R x 73H(mm)|
Important note on quality here: there are hundreds of similar-looking small cylindrical speakers out there, but none that I’ve tried come close to this one. A bonus is that you can plug AUX speakers or headphones into this to make them wireless as well, something Logitech doesn’t offer above, and our ‘price not an object’ winner below does offer…
Best Sound/Portability at any price: Beats Pill ($155^).
If money isn’t a big concern but sound and portability are, the Beats Pill is the top performer with four separate speaker drivers in a solid/tight package. The sound does beat out our all around winner, the $60 cheaper Logitech’s Mini BoomBox and it is even more portable a lot of the time with a sleek pill-shaped look. I’d rate the sound closer to the Big Jambox or the full sized Logitech Boombox which I’ll discuss next.
The Pill looks extremely nice in three colors: Red, White and Black. It features an AUX line out for headphones or speakers and an easy NFC pairing capability if you have an Android phone (or an iPhone 5S;). The mic may be the best I’ve tried but the batteries fall an hour or so off the 10 hour Logitech Mini Boombox at about 3/4 volume. It also comes in a beautiful snug fit case.
A speaker with Apps? And Updates?
Probably the most famous, and really inventor of this category are Jawbone’s Jambox and Big Jambox. Both are solid performers and they still deliver great value and sound. I’ve had my original Jambox since it was released and it still performs like the day I bought it – perhaps with slightly less battery time which is still up over six hours. The Big Jambox just got an upgrade which improves battery time and AAC sound quality, which users appreciate.
Jambox apps and stylish looks also set the standard for Bluetooth speakers. Unfortunately, the prices, which now start at $129 for the Jambox and $240 for the Big Jambox, are higher than better sounding alternatives. In fact, the $29.99 Bluetune above gave the Jambox volume a run for its money. The Big Jambox sounds much much better, has an insane 15 hour battery life, and comes with additional controls but for less money, you can get the smaller Beats Pill or the grab the significantly louder/better-sounding Logitech Boombox for $249.
Sound. Period. Full Stop. Update: The Bose SoundLink Mini is better.
We reviewed Logitech’s full-sized Boombox and it probably has the best sound of any portable Bluetooth device we’ve come across. We’re not fans, however, of the non-USB AC adapter (also a problem with Big Jambox), its lack of a mic, and its battery, which wasn’t as good as we expected at around 5 hours. Still, this thing looks great with its aluminum encasement and Boombox handle. The sound is up there with systems like those of B&O or Bose for much more money. I know that statement will ruffle some feathers, but let’s just say you WILL be impressed like Amazon’s reviewers. Since it debuted in August, it has only been discounted 5 cents.
Some of these are USB batteries too. Update: The $149 JBL Charge is now the best here.
The RockSteadyXS ($99) and the Braven 570 ($120) units we tried are solid options shaped like the original Jambox with a nice looking metal covering in a variety of colors. They sound significantly louder than the Jambox but perhaps not quite as clear. They both include a USB port for charging your phone and keeping it going, which is very useful. Both say that they will last for 10 hours which I think might be a little optimistic especially while charging your phone. These are both great choices if you want something louder than a Jambox that still looks good and also functions as a backup battery for your phone.
Solar. Speaking of battery backups, Eton Rukus ($129) offers a larger Bluetooth speaker that charges via the sun and also allows you to charge your other devices via USB. I didn’t have a review unit in time but I did get to play with them at CES. They sound great but not in the same class as the smaller Logitech Boombox. Also, while they do charge via solar, the solar array is too small to keep up with speaker or charging devices. Also at about 5 pounds, these aren’t going into your purse.
Waterproof. One category of Bluetooth speakers I didn’t get to investigate is the Waterproof variety. I supposed these could go in the shower, out to the pool, the boat or to the beach without fear of going under water. I’ve been taking my Jambox/Boomboxes to the water for years and I’ve never had an issue. But there you go.
One final category that didn’t fit anywhere else: Inexpensive, good looking good sound.
Satechi sent us two $49 speakers that aren’t as compact as the Bluetune, and don’t offer the AUX Out port that I like. (They are both also Mini-USB, not microUSB –bleh!) They do look really good in their own way, sound as good as a Jambox, and get about 5-6 hours of music. The Satechi BT Touch Wireless Portable looks like a rounded version of Logitech’s old mini Boombox and has the same capacitive buttons with which I have a love/hate relationship. The Satechi ST-69BTS Audio Cube is a more squared version with similar sound qualities.
Bluetooth speakers are fun and bring sharable music where it wasn’t able to go before. I hope that one of the above items makes sense for you if you don’t already have one of these great products.