We’ve long held that the extra cost of high end Bluetooth speakers from Bose, Ultimate Ears, JBL and Cambridge Audio Minx (all pictured above top row) were well worth the extra money even at prices up near $200 and beyond. But the fact is that not everyone wants to spend a lot of money on a Bluetooth speaker, and portability and ruggedness are often priorities over pure sound. For those people, we went on a search for high quality Bluetooth speakers that cost much less.
Our top 5 are speakers in this category from reviewing about 20 are from Omaker, Koss, Mpow and Boombot… These speakers fit into two form factors: “Jambox sized” and “small square-ish.” Remember that these cost around $50 or less so don’t expect the kind of bass you get from the more expensive, bigger boxes above.
5: Koss BTS1
($100 retail/$59 at Amazon) – Koss is a Milwaukee, WI-based company that has been producing value electronics for over 50 years. The BTS1 is probably the thinnest and lightest of the bunch here yet it has very good quality sound on the high end as well as 5 hour battery (confirmed in testing). It comes with both side mounted in and out AUX ports/cable and MicroUSB charging cable. In the back you’ll find a flip out stand which I didn’t find terribly useful because the speaker stands on its own fairly well. I usually laid it on its back in “Omni directional” mode however.
Bluetooth pairing is easy and straightforward, but this video helps. The downside of this speaker is its bass, which is a bit lacking as you’d probably expect from this thin/light of a form factor. It is still significantly better than the speakers built into a 15-inch MacBook Pro and it looks great, though at $59 it is at the high end of the devices we are reviewing here. It also lacks mic input for speakerphone calls if that is important to you.
The BTS1 is probably the most pocketable of the bunch however and I have no problem recommending it.
($100 retail/$56 Amazon): This is the second generation of this speaker (I reviewed the 1st version favorably last year). This years adds louder bass and much improved battery life. The Boombot’s claim to fame is its heavy-duty clip and rugged enclosure which fell off my bike at speed a few times last year without a blip. It also claims IP53 waterproof which means it is OK out in the rain or good for a few splashes in the bathroom but don’t drop it in the pool.
While I don’t think it looks as nice as the Koss above and it isn’t as pocketable, the Rex lets you make speakerphone calls, the battery claims an extra few hours (8 total and 1 to charge) and it is wearable in many colors, making it good for outdoor use.
3: Omaker M3
($70 retail $30 Amazon) The Omaker M3 is very similar in size and function to the Boombotix Rex above. It is rain and snow proof and ruggedized and has similar sound and speakerphone capability and same 8 hour battery. It lacks the clip on the back but has easier to access buttons and is lighter than the Rex weighing just slightly more than the Koss above. The cost on the M3 is its breakaway feature at $30, making this one hard to pass up.
2: Omaker M2
($100 retail. $50 Amazon) The Omaker M2 is best sounding speaker in this group, on par with more expensive speakers like the Jawbone Jambox and even UE Boom Mini with rich bass that fills up a room. It also has Bluetooth low energy, which, combined with a huge 2000mAh battery, gives it 8 hours of loud playing. The M2 is also the biggest, heaviest and comes with a questionable upside down leather handle that didn’t appeal to me aesthetically. It also doesn’t have a dedicated AUX-in port, instead opting for a combined MicroUSB/AUX cable which I lost almost immediately and had to go exclusively Bluetooth. This, at $50, is a great speaker to have on your desktop to make speakerphone calls.
1: Mpow MBOX portable
($100 retail/ $49.99 Amazon) My favorite speaker of this bunch is the Mpow Mbox because it is durable, stylish, pocketable and sounds good. The chamfered aluminum edges look great with Apple products. It is smaller than the Omaker M2 and is maybe 85% the size of a Jambox. You can throw it in a pocket or a purse without breaking stride. It also has Bluetooth 4.0, which allows for efficient energy usage yielding a group-leading 10 hours from a 1500mAh battery. The buttons at the top are easy to use and well designed as are the ports on the back. The speakerphone worked great as well. The downfalls were that the MBOX isn’t quite as rugged as others, as small as the Koss, nor did it sound as good as the M2.
You aren’t going to go wrong with any of the speakers in this lineup. At $50 or less, each has qualities of much more expensive Bluetooth speakers.
Though sometimes you can find some of the higher end speakers at 9to5toys for $50 – keep an eye out.
If you need rugged/water resistant, grab the $30 Omaker M3 or Boombot Rex. If you want extremely portable, the Koss is for you. If you want great sound, you are after the Omaker M2. Otherwise, do what I did and grab a few Mpow MBOXs.