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In the past five years, we've tested more than 50 of the best Bluetooth speakers. In this review, we compare 11 of the most compelling models currently on the market. To test these speakers, we listened to each side-by-side for more than a hundred hours, took them to the beach, brought them to campfires, traveled with them, and pushed their batteries to the limit. We also consulted with a professional audio engineer to ensure our sound quality tests were up to snuff. The resulting recommendations cover the entire range of portable speakers, from larger models that emphasize sound quality to smaller waterproof devices that can take a beating, and everything in between.
The folks at Bose have been defining and refining quality compact speakers since the 1960s, and the latest Soundlink Revolve+ II lives up to that legacy. This stout yet portable speaker provides beautiful, voluminous, nuanced sound. According to our ears and audio analysis, the Soundlink Revolve+ II is the best-sounding Bluetooth speaker on the market. Booming bass, crowd-cutting mids, and crisp highs are balanced, perfectly mixed, and clear at any volume. Even when we crank this speaker up (and it gets loud), we didn't experience any clipping, artifacts, or distortion of any kind. Some of the competition may come close at lower volumes, but only the Soundlink Revolve+ II achieves this level of sound quality over the full volume range.
Our only beef with this impressive speaker concerns the high price and portability. At 32 ounces, this speaker is still very portable, but several models are much lighter and more water-resistant. This IP55 rated speaker can handle poolside splashes or a brief rain shower, but not full submersion, so it's not ideal for small watercraft or long stints in the shower, but with some care, it can go most places. The Revolve+ II has Siri and Google Assistant support, pairs with and switches between devices easily, and provides enough sonic satisfaction for backyard parties and BBQs without needing to bring out the extension cords.
If you're looking to stretch your dollar, but your discerning ears just won't accept lackluster sound, the JBL Flip 5 is a dependable choice. This speaker is very portable, with a better waterproof rating than the top-performing models from Bose. It can survive complete submersion, it only weighs 19 ounces, and it doesn't take up much space in a backpack. Its balance of quality sound and durability make it extremely versatile. Price aside, there are some compelling reasons to choose this speaker over a Bose. It's a safer choice for a day out on the lake, and can still crank out plenty of volume to be heard by everyone on your boat and probably any others nearby. With the party boost mode, it can be paired with another Flip 5 for a stereo experience, and purchasing two Flips would still be less expensive than a single unit of our favorite Bose model.
More expensive offerings from Bose sound better than the Flip 5, especially at max volume. The Flip 5 tends to sputter when it's cranked all the way up, but it still sounds great around 75%. There are certainly smaller, lighter models out there, but we feel the Flip 5 strikes a nice balance between sound quality and portability, and its affordable price makes it a great choice for anyone tough on their gear.
For those looking to up the volume of their audio entertainment in their small apartment, dorm room, or shower, but don't want to get spendy, the Soundcore 3 will do the trick just fine. This little unit produces sounds that are exponentially better and louder than the speakers on your mobile device. It's waterproof to 3 feet, can be synced with up to 100 other Soundcore 3s, and has an app to dial in the EQ, all for a very affordable price. It makes a great gift, as it's not exorbitant, but everyone can always use a little Bluetooth speaker somewhere.
As you likely suspect, the Soundcore 3 speaker is lacking in audio quality compared to its more expensive counterparts. It gets impressively loud, but there is lots of clipping and distortion when you crank it up. When listening to bass-heavy music at any volume, the bass tends to overwhelm the thin-sounding mid and high frequencies. Still, it's good for listening at medium volumes, and it'll give your ears a break from headphones and let you be more aware of what else is around you. With its low entry price, you can't go wrong with the Soundcore 3 as a gift or a secondary speaker.
The Sonos Roam is the only speaker we tested that's set up to take advantage of the ever more ubiquitous wireless charging stations. If you have a few wireless charging stations around your house for your phone, the Roam can use the same chargers. Just take this little speaker with you throughout your home, and conveniently set it down to charge. The Roam also utilizes your home's WiFi to sync up with other Sonos speakers, so if you've invested in a Sonos system, the Roam can serve as an additional speaker to pump out mids and highs, or seamlessly transfer to Bluetooth and go out to the park with you and your mobile device. Like most speakers we've tested from Sonos, the Roam also sounds great, producing excellent audio at decent volumes.
It's a good thing that this speaker is wireless charging compatible because battery life is not its strong suit. It churns out tunes for just over 10 hours, which isn't that impressive by today's standards, and not enough for a long weekend of camping. If you are a satisfied owner of a Sonos system or the wireless charging features appeal to you, this is the portable speaker you should add to your collection.
Higher frequencies hard to discern in bass-heavy music
The JBL Clip 4 is sure to cause some dissonance between your ears and your eyes. The sounds that come out of this tiny speaker are impressive, and it's so small you could even take it backpacking—it easily makes up for its weight by coloring every evening with pleasant vibes. JBL claims a conservative 10-hour battery life, but in our testing this speaker went a marathon 27 hours before expiring, making it an excellent choice for traveling. It's also waterproof up to 3 feet, and the built-in clip makes it easy to keep out of the water or position it for the best sound projection.
To be so small and compact, the JBL Clip 4 sacrifices some audio quality, particularly when we turn it up to its max volume, where the low end muddies up the whole mix. This speaker doesn't have a lot of power behind it, but at medium volumes, it sounds pretty good and is a vast improvement on your phone's speakers without adding much weight to your pack. If you're looking to get out and about this summer, your tunes need to come with you, and the JBL Clip 4 is an affordable way to bring them along.
To ensure that we used the best sound quality testing procedure possible, we consulted with sound recordist Palmer Taylor. Palmer has recorded audio for such high-profile clients as National Geographic, ESPN, and Google. His specialty lies in location audio, but he has completed several projects recording and composing music as well. Both lifelong musicians, authors Steven Tata and Max Mutter have been testing consumer audio products for more than 4 years. They have now used well over 100 of the most highly regarded home and personal audio gadgets on the market, so they have a strong finger on the pulse of what makes a speaker great.
As we do for all of our audio products, we spend weeks using and listening to each one of our Bluetooth speakers, side-by-side, shifting between widely varying genres of music and podcasts. After carefully assessing each speaker's relative clarity, bass quality, and overall fullness, we then put them through a battery torture test, blaring a playlist on a loop with the volume cranked up to 75% until they finally gave out. With that out of the way, we then took all of our speakers on bike rides to the beach, to backyard barbeques, and other leisure activities to assess how well they worked out in the wild. All told, we completed over 200 hours of testing and identified the best portable speaker for almost any situation.
Analysis and Test Results
The best Bluetooth speakers are small and light enough to be carried around in a backpack, but loud enough with quality sound to entertain a group of friends at the beach or in the park. They also need to have enough battery life so the party won't be cut short halfway through when the speaker dies. Accordingly, we divided our testing metrics into four categories that fit these ideals: sound quality, volume, portability, and battery life. We spend hundreds of hours comparing all of these attributes side-by-side to find the best speaker for every application.
The price range of Bluetooth speakers varies pretty widely, and their overall value depends upon what you're looking for and what you're willing to compromise. For instance, if you place a premium on sound quality, we think the Bose Soundlink Revolve+ II is well worth its high price tag. It also has an impressive battery life and support for Google Assistant and Siri. As you consider lower-priced options, you'll notice that less expensive models still have good waterproof performance and useful features, but sound quality goes down significantly, especially at higher volumes. For example, the inexpensive Soundcore 3 has an impressive waterproof rating and can sync with other Soundcores, but it's not usually great for more than providing audio for a small group of people. If you're seeking a reasonable balance between price, sound quality, durability, and portability, we think the JBL Flip 5 hits the sweet spot, providing sufficient volume and sound for a backyard.
Although no portable Bluetooth speaker is going to be able to match the sound quality of a home speaker system, to be of any real use, it needs to provide a big step up from the built-in speakers on your smartphone. To assess sound quality, we had a percussionist who is all about that bass and a guitarist that knows the intricacies of treble listen to each speaker play the same songs one after another. After listening to everything from the deep resonance of the Interstellar soundtrack to the high, staccato picking of classical guitar, we scored each speaker on bass, treble, clarity, and dynamic range.
The top step on our podium in our sound quality tests belongs to the Bose SoundLink Revolve+ II. In our testing, this speaker produced booming bass and is the only model that can hit high notes without even a trace of clipping. It sounds impressively clear, and each note could be defined — even fast saxophone trills. A close runner-up is the Sonos Roam, which also produces exceptional sound with no clipping. However, its bass isn't quite as powerful as the Revolve+ II, which leaves its sound with a bit less depth and well-roundedness.
The Bose SoundLink Color II and the Sony SRS-XB33 deliver great sound but are just short of exceptional performances in our sound quality testing. These models are just a small step down in treble quality and clarity from the top performers, with some more complex melodies sounding just a little less crisp. The SoundLink Color's bass is less muddled, but not quite as deep. The sound of the Sony SRS-XB33 is well-balanced across the board, but it doesn't have any particular strong suit that would allow it to flatter a specific genre of music.
Do I Need to Worry About EMFs?
Radiation from electromagnetic fields (EMF) has been in the news as of late. While exposure to significant sources of EMFs—like living directly under high voltage power lines for an extended period—has been proven to pose health risks, research into the effects of the much lower intensity fields emitted by personal electronics has been less than conclusive. Even if you'd like to employ the precautionary principle and avoid as much EMF as possible, our research to date indicates that Bluetooth speakers are unlikely to be something you need to worry about. According to our measurements, unless you keep the speaker within 6 inches of your head, these devices won't expose you to any more than the general background level of EMF (in which case you should probably be shopping for a pair of headphones instead).
Two of the super-portable, sub-1 pound speakers managed to perform reasonably well in our sound quality testing, including the JBL Clip 4 and the UE Wonderboom 2. The bass these models produce is quite similar, sounding much more robust and less thin than the other more compact models we've tested. Of the two, the Clip 4 is the smallest, making its sound quality particularly impressive.
If a Bluetooth speaker is small and light enough to shove in your bag, you're more likely to have it with you when your entourage demands some sweet beats. Our portability testing was based on three simple questions: is it too heavy, do I have to worry about getting it wet, and can it easily fit in my backpack? The first two questions were easy enough to answer with a scale, and by checking which models have waterproof ratings, with a swim just to verify. To assess packability, our testers took the speakers everywhere, stuffing them into backpacks, tote bags, and carry-on luggage to see how easily they fit in with the essentials we were carrying around anyway.
The JBL Clip 4 is the most portable model we've ever tested. It tips the scales at only 8.48 ounces, and it fits in the palm of your hand. It also has a built-in carabiner, so you can easily hang it on the outside of your backpack or even on a belt loop. To top it all off, the IPX7 waterproof rating makes it the perfect companion for water-based activities. This rating means that this model keeps water out should the speaker be submerged up to one meter.
Staying true to its name, the Bose SoundLink Micro weighs in at a scant 10.2 ounces and sports a thin and packable physique. It is also completely IPX7 waterproof, so it will survive even if you drop it in the lake. The integrated rubber strap attaches easily to backpacks and handlebars, too. It is more expensive, though, and has a shorter battery life than the JBL Clip 4, which makes us prefer the JBL model.
The UE Wonderboom 2 and the UE Boom 3 are quite portable and durable. The Wonderboom is slightly more portable than the other two, weighing in at 15 ounces and boasting IPX7 waterproofness. Its short and stout shape also helps it disappear inside of a backpack. The Boom 3 is considerably taller, but the cylindrical shape still keeps it fairly low-profile for transport. It's a bit heavier at 22 ounces, and the Boom 3 boasts an IP67 rating, making it both waterproof (up to one meter) and dustproof.
The Tribit XSound Go weighs a relatively feathery 13.4 ounces and boasts total IPX7 waterproofness, meaning it can survive a dunking in a meter of water. Compared to many other speakers, we found its rounded edges are more amenable to being stuffed into a bag already full of soggy beach towels.
Producing enough sound for a couple of people lounging on the beach and enough sound for a barbecue with 20+ people are very different tasks. Some speakers just won't be able to cut it in the latter situation. We evaluated volume objectively with a sound meter. We found that most of the speakers were able to produce similar maximum decibel levels, but some sounded incredibly shrill at high volumes while others were able to retain their musicality. So we ended up rating them subjectively by listening to each speaker in different sized spaces to see which could fill a room with dulcet tones, and which just filled it with cringe-inducing dissonance.
The Bose Soundlink Revolve+ II has the most punch of any of the models we tested. This speaker can blow your hair back. It had no problem filling our testing apartment with sound and could likely service a large backyard barbeque without having to max out the volume.
The JBL Flip 5, Sony SRS-XB33, and Sonos Roam are among the biggest and, consequently, the loudest speakers we tested. All three of these models could fill a large indoor area with music while maintaining good sound quality even when cranked up to the highest setting.
At the less expensive end of the spectrum, you get portable speakers that are just a step above the quality of your phone's speakers. We tested several models that fall into this category, including the Tribit XSound Go and the SoundCore 3. If you're having a small beach party, these devices produce enough volume to set the tone for the small gathering, but if the demand is beyond that, it will be a struggle.
Nothing can kill the mood of a gathering more than the music cutting out prematurely, so you want to make sure your speaker has enough juice to power you through. To test battery life, we set each speaker to the same level of sound output, which worked out to about 75% volume for most models, and made them all play the same loop of music over and over until they died. We'd tell you which songs we played, but at this point, we've heard them so much we can't even stand to utter their names…
The Bose Soundlink Revolve+ II crushes the battery life competition. Bose states the Revolve+ II is good to go for 17 hours, but we were able to stretch it to a whopping 34 hours in our testing. The JBL Clip 4 and the JBL Flip 5 also had us pleasantly surprised, keeping the tunes going for 27 hours, when JBL reports only a 10 and 12-hour battery life, respectively, for these two models. Also exceeding 20 hours of battery life on a single charge is the UE Boom 3.
Next in line is the Sony SRS-XB33, which lasted a respectable 19 hours before expiring. The Soundcore 3 went a solid 16 hours, which was several hours short of the manufacturer's 24-hour claim. The inexpensive Tribit XSound Go lasted 18.5 hours before giving in to exhaustion.
The Bose Soundlink Micro's battery was only able to pump out music for 4.5 hours in our test, making it the worst overall performer. Although it is hard to blame such a small speaker for having such short battery life, the limited playtime for a particularly portable device feels a bit disappointing, especially when the equally portable JBL Clip 4 can go for so long.
Bluetooth speakers are wonderful little devices that let you and your companions enjoy music almost anywhere you go. They are also incredibly diverse, with thousands of different models flooding the market. We hope our research and test results have helped you narrow the field to the speaker that will best satisfy your portable music needs.
GearLab is founded on the principle of honest, objective, reviews. Our experts test thousands of products each year using thoughtful test plans that bring out key performance differences between competing products. And, to assure complete independence, we buy all the products we test ourselves. No cherry-picked units sent by manufacturers. No sponsored content. No ads. Just real, honest, side-by-side testing and comparison.