After listening to a total of 157 portable Bluetooth speakers over the past two years, we think the UE Roll 2 is the best choice for most listeners. It sounds better and plays louder than most of the competition, plus its slim, waterproof, rugged design means you can slip it easily into a backpack or laptop bag—and it can survive almost any journey.
A year and a half after the introduction of the original (and barely different) Roll, the UE Roll 2 remains the Bluetooth speaker we use more than any other, and the one we’d buy if we could own only one. The Roll 2 sounds full, with smooth reproduction of everything from bass notes to cymbals, and it plays loud enough to fill a hotel room or a spot at the beach with sound. It’s so watertight, it will survive being dunked 1 meter underwater for 30 minutes. Its 10.5-hour tested battery life and 60-foot range are remarkable for a speaker of this size. Seventeen months of worldwide traveling with the Roll 2 and the original Roll have only confirmed our love for this design. The only real downside is that it lacks a speakerphone function.
If our main pick sells out, or if you want fuller sound and don’t mind sacrificing a bit of portability, the Vava Voom 20 is a nice alternative to the UE Roll 2 at a substantially lower price. It’s a completely different design from the UE Roll 2: more tallboy than bagel, and about twice as heavy at 1.5 pounds. It’s too cumbersome to fit easily into a laptop bag, but it’s easy to carry around the house or out back, or to toss into a beach bag. Since it delivers a lot more bass than the Roll 2, it’s better for hip-hop, rock, and most pop music. It also carries an IPX5 water-resistance rating, so it should easily survive splashes and rainstorms. But despite the Voom 20’s larger size, its eight-hour battery life and 24-foot range fall far short of the Roll 2’s capabilities, and it doesn’t get quite as loud.
If you want better sound quality and louder volume, or if you also want an excellent speakerphone for making calls, the Bose SoundLink Mini Bluetooth Speaker II is worth the cost (roughly twice the price of the Roll 2). It’s shocking to hear how much better the SoundLink Mini II comes across than most competitors, with clearer voices and a fuller sound closer to what you might expect from a decent small stereo system. It also plays loud enough to drown out a small dinner party. At nearly 1.5 pounds in a boxy frame, the SoundLink Mini II is probably heavier than backpackers and business travelers will want to carry, but perfect for lugging along on family vacations. (A recent price reduction has pushed the larger, even better-sounding Riva Turbo X down into the SoundLink Mini II’s price range, but because the Turbo X is four times as large by volume, it’s really in a different category.) Additionally, this model’s speakerphone was the only one in our tests that didn’t muffle voices or pick up echoes, so it’s a good choice for home-office use.
If portability isn’t your primary concern and you just want the best possible performance, we think the Riva Turbo X is one of the best portable Bluetooth speakers you can buy. Its sound is clearer, livelier, more spacious, and more natural than its competitors’. It gets you closer to the sound of a real stereo speaker system than any other Bluetooth portable we’ve tried, and it’s the only speaker among our picks that delivers enough volume to be heard over loud party conversation. It’s also more refined and elegant looking. Note, however, that even though the Turbo X is splashproof when its rear jacks are protected by its included rubber cover, it’s heavy for its size and not as rugged as the other speakers we’ve picked, so it’s best suited to places like offices, bedrooms, and living rooms.
If you’re looking for an inexpensive Bluetooth speaker for day-to-day listening, the DOSS SoundBox Touch is a fantastic choice. It has a fuller, more natural sound than any other model we’ve tried in its price range, and it plays loud enough to fill a fairly large room. It also looks much nicer than most budget Bluetooth speakers, with an elegant design and cool illuminated, touch-sensitive controls. In our tests, it outperformed all similarly priced speakers with its 8.5-hour battery life and 31-foot range, but it fell substantially short of our top pick’s capabilities. For its price, the DOSS SoundBox Touch really has no significant downsides, but we think most people will get enough benefit from the greater portability and flexibility, longer battery life, and farther range of our top pick to justify the premium.
In addition to our picks, many of the other models we tested are quite competent and may be good alternatives if you can find them at a good price. If you’re curious about whether a particular model you’ve seen or heard about is worth considering, check out the Competition section near the end of this article, where we include our comments about the more than 100 models we’ve tested over the years.
Table of contents
- Why you should trust us
- Who should buy a portable Bluetooth speaker
- How we picked
- How we tested
- Our pick: UE Roll 2
- Flaws but not dealbreakers
- Runner-up: Vava Voom 20
- Also great (with a speakerphone): Bose SoundLink Mini II
- A bigger, better-sounding upgrade: Riva Turbo X
- Budget pick: DOSS SoundBox Touch
- The competition
- What to look forward to
Why you should trust us
I’ve reviewed audio gear professionally since 1990. I currently review for the SoundStage and SoundStage Xperience websites, and have written reviews for magazines and websites including Sound & Vision, Home Theater Review, LifeWire, and Home Theater. I’ve probably conducted more blind tests of audio products than any other journalist, and my home has a dedicated listening room (where we did most of the tests for this guide), racks built specifically for testing multiple compact speakers, and a dedicated testing lab. I’ve tested well over 200 wireless speakers to date. I also spend roughly a quarter of my life traveling, and since 2008 I have brought portable Bluetooth speakers with me on more than 50 trips, from bike tours to transoceanic junkets.
Others who have contributed to this review with writing or listening include veteran AV reporter Dennis Burger, who has reviewed audio gear for more than a decade; The Wirecutter’s headphone editor, Lauren Dragan; professional musician, audio mixer, and Wirecutter writer John Higgins; and former Wirecutter AV editor, current Wirecutter writer, and veteran AV journalist Geoffrey Morrison.
Who should buy a portable Bluetooth speaker
Anyone who owns a smartphone or tablet would probably enjoy owning a portable Bluetooth speaker, which can improve the listening experience anywhere. Bluetooth is available in every current smartphone and tablet as well as in most laptop computers, so you don’t need any additional equipment. (Note, however, that all sound, including ringtones and notifications, will pass through the speaker, not just the songs or podcasts you’re listening to.) Portable Bluetooth speakers have a rechargeable battery and are frequently waterproof or water resistant, so you can easily take them all around the house or to the park or the beach. We’ve found they make hotel rooms feel more like home and long business trips much more bearable.
The best portable speakers deliver sound quality that’s good enough for casual music listening, podcasts, and Internet radio. Though Bluetooth does degrade sound quality slightly, you’re unlikely to hear the effects through relatively low-quality speakers such as the ones discussed in this guide. If you’re worried about it, take the online blind test on my website and see what you think.
If sound quality and volume are your top priorities and you don’t plan to take the speaker out of your house, you can get better sound quality from a larger unit. Portable speakers are compact devices, with small speaker drivers and comparatively weak amplifiers. Instead, check out the larger, more powerful speakers featured in our best home Bluetooth speaker and best multiroom wireless speaker system guides. For true high-fidelity sound, get a pair of decent speakers and a receiver, or one of the top picks from our best computer speakers guide, and add a Bluetooth adapter if the system doesn’t already have Bluetooth. You’ll get clearer sound, much better stereo imaging, and usually much deeper bass response.
If you want voice controllability, you’ll also have to sacrifice portability. Voice-controlled speakers, like the Amazon Echo or the Google Home, may have Bluetooth built in but typically don’t have batteries. And the ones that do still need a Wi-Fi connection to function.
How we picked
The Bluetooth speaker category is evolving faster than any other segment of the audio industry, with new models introduced literally every week. We can’t listen to all of them, but there are few, if any, major models we haven’t heard. We give a listen to every model that manufacturers offer us and occasionally buy samples if we stumble upon a model from an unfamiliar brand that looks promising (or even a familiar brand that looks dubious). But the truth is, most Bluetooth speakers stand little chance of making their way to the top of this article, because many of them are generic devices designed and built by companies in China you’ve never heard of and then stamped with an English-language brand name. Though a company you’ve never heard of may have some brilliant engineer lurking in its development labs, and sometimes may even luck into making a great-sounding speaker, getting good sound generally takes careful design and the willingness to spend lots of time and money on product development.
To help us determine what we should focus on, we had to come up with some criteria to figure out what matters to our readers and what doesn’t. So we asked readers, through a survey that received more than 1,000 responses.
- About 82 percent of the respondents ranked good sound highest on their list of concerns when buying a Bluetooth speaker.
- This desire was followed by long battery life at 65 percent. While six hours might be enough for a short beach trip or picnic, we think 10 hours is ideal if you’re planning an all-day picnic or camping trip.
- People in our survey also said they wanted something that plays loudly enough to fill a room, with the “lots of volume” option getting 35 percent of the vote.
- About 73 percent of survey participants told us they were looking to keep the cost between $50 and $150.
- Again, 73 percent said they wanted “something I can throw in a backpack or purse.”
- About 15 percent told us they expected to use it in the park, for camping, or at the beach, which implied that some degree of water resistance would be helpful.
- And although we didn’t ask about this topic in the survey, we also think most people would prefer speakers that can charge via USB cords they already have instead of relying on proprietary connectors.
We also made note of, but didn’t put too much weight into, a number of lesser features:
- Some people need speakerphone functionality, so we wanted some picks that worked for them. But not everyone needs that feature, so we didn’t exclude any contenders for lacking it. Furthermore, most speakerphones built into these things are barely usable, owing to cheap microphones that distort your voice, pick up echo, or both.
- NFC support can make the pairing function slightly easier if you have an NFC-equipped smartphone, but the added convenience is fleeting, because you use it only the first time you mate the products.
- Almost all Bluetooth speakers (including all of our picks) have a 3.5 mm stereo analog input that lets you connect non-Bluetooth devices such as an iPod Classic.
- Some offer the ability to pair with another Bluetooth speaker, usually of the same model. Generally, you can use the two as separate left and right speakers in a stereo pair or run the same mono signal to both and split them up between two rooms.
After considering all of the criteria, we ended up evaluating 17 new models for the most recent update, including new releases from AmazonBasics, Anker, Bang & Olufsen, Bose, Monster, UE, and V-Moda. That’s in addition to the 61 models we tested in 2016.
How we tested
As has become my standard practice for updates of this article, I started by giving all the new models a long listen, connecting them via Bluetooth through my Samsung Galaxy S6 phone and playing the same four test tracks: pop, heavy metal, hip-hop, and jazz. I compared the speakers not only with each other but also with some of our previous picks. I measured the maximum output of each speaker using an NTi Minilyzer audio analyzer and a calibrated NTi MiniSPL test microphone.
Following that initial testing, I narrowed the contestants down to the models I thought had a real chance to impress our listening panel, and I included a couple of past picks. I then set up two blind tests for Lauren Dragan and John Higgins—one test for larger models, a separate test for smaller models. The testing rack the speakers sat in was covered with thin black fabric so that Lauren and John couldn’t see which models they were hearing. They used one of my custom-built testing switchers to switch between the speakers, which they could identify only by number. After they had given me their opinions of the sound, I unveiled the speakers and got their comments about the designs and features. I later brought the best-sounding models and a few other competitors to Geoffrey Morrison’s house, where he evaluated them all and contributed his opinions. (Occasional listening-panel member Dennis Burger was unavailable for this round of testing.)
Once we narrowed the list down to a manageable group of finalists, I checked battery life by performing rundown tests on all of our picks to confirm their approximate playing life. This process involved repeating Steely Dan’s “Aja” at an average level of 75 decibels (measured at 1 meter) over and over until the power ran out. Note that our results may not agree with the manufacturers’, likely because their testing methodology—which they almost never publish—varies from ours.
For speakers that offered speakerphone functionality, I tried placing a call with each model to Lauren Dragan, who has been helping me evaluate speakerphone quality for years. I speak to her from the same place in my living room, starting with my mouth 2 feet from the speaker; then I note how she sounds to me, and she tells me how my voice sounds. In particular, we’re looking for the ability of the built-in microphone (or microphones) to reproduce my voice clearly and naturally, without picking up a lot of reverberance from the room.
Other features weren’t a major consideration in this test, but we still evaluated them where applicable, just to try them out. Many of these speakers don’t have a lot of features and don’t need them—volume and power controls are often all that’s necessary or even desired. Forward/reverse track-skip controls, for example, can come in handy if you use your speaker in the shower, but otherwise their utility is marginal.
In addition, many models offer the ability to pair with two Bluetooth devices at once. The speaker can’t play sound from both devices at once, but if you press play on phone B while phone A is playing, the speaker will switch automatically to what’s playing on phone B. We’ve tried this feature, and it seems like nothing more than an annoyance, especially when you have two people in a house using Bluetooth speakers with different Bluetooth source devices. If you’re having a party where everyone wants to share their favorite music, the function could be useful, but in our experience, that happens more in ads than in real life.
Our pick: UE Roll 2
Though some of our Bluetooth-speaker pick decisions involved numerous back-and-forth comparisons plus a lot of discussion and hand-wringing, we agreed about making the UE Roll 2 our main pick. Like its predecessor, it’s not the cheapest or the best sounding, and it lacks a speakerphone function. Yet, all things considered, we think it’s the most appealing portable Bluetooth speaker available, the one we’d buy if we could get only one. Consider it the Toyota Camry of portable Bluetooth speakers—if the Camry were styled like a Corvette, that is.
The Roll 2 is visually indistinguishable from the original Roll, but it has some slight performance enhancements that are noticeable in daily use. UE claims that the new model plays louder, runs for nine hours instead of the original’s seven, and has 50 percent longer Bluetooth range. The pool float shown in the photo at the top of this article is now included with all Roll 2 units; with the original Roll, it came only with models purchased direct from UE.
The new model does play a little louder—typically 2 decibels louder, by my measurements. However, with some music (such as sonically dense and dynamically compressed hip-hop, R&B, and rock), the sound can be a little more distorted and less clear at the higher volume. Back the volume down a couple of clicks, and the Roll 2 sounds just like the original (something I confirmed by measuring the frequency response—the evenness of the sound level at different audio frequencies—of the two units). So the extra volume is there if you want it, but you don’t have to use it.
Battery life is substantially improved. With the new model, we got an average of 11.5 hours running time in our tests, compared with seven hours for the original. Bluetooth range is also improved: We measured a roughly 60-foot range with the Roll 2 versus 45 feet for the original—although for most people, 45 feet is probably plenty.
Overall, the Roll 2 represents a marked improvement over what was already a great speaker, an assessment shared by CNET’s David Carnoy: “Overall, while this may not seem like much of an upgrade over the original, the UE Roll 2 is a better speaker and clearly one of the top mini Bluetooth speakers on the market.” That said, the original Roll can still be found in some places for less, and if you can get it at a closeout price that’s at least $20 lower, go for it.
The Roll 2’s design might be the most radical of any Bluetooth speaker (except maybe the one that floats in the air), but the radical aspects of the design enhance its functionality. Its flat, saucer shape makes it easier to slip into a laptop bag or suitcase and also creates an omnidirectional sound pattern that fills a room better than the sound of most conventional Bluetooth speakers. The integrated bungee strap on the back provides a secure, simple way to attach the Roll 2 to all sorts of things. Plus, the strap keeps the speaker from scooting or vibrating along a tabletop when it’s playing deep bass notes.
Then there’s the whole waterproof aspect of the Roll 2. Because it’s IPX7 rated, it can tolerate being submerged to a depth of 1 meter, so it’s safe for, say, campouts in a rain forest. The bungee also attaches the Roll 2 to the included inflatable pool float, eliminating the need to buy a dedicated floating speaker. And not to be discounted is the simple joy of owning something that’s designed and built with originality, thought, style, and sheer nerve.
None of that would matter if the Roll 2’s sound quality weren’t good—but it is. The speaker plays about as loud as a typical smaller TV set (say, in the 32-inch range), enough to fill a bedroom or hotel room or to provide background music for parties. There’s not much bass, but the sound isn’t thin or harsh as it is with many Bluetooth speakers. Voices sound especially clear, and the little details such as the sizzle of cymbals are easy to hear.
That’s using the factory-default sound settings. UE also offers a free iOS and Android app that provides a Bass Jump setting plus a custom setting with a five-band audio equalizer that allowed me to get the Roll 2 sounding even better. The app also has an alarm function that turns the unit on at a preset time and plays the tune of your choice from your phone or tablet, and it allows you to pair up two Rolls so that they both play from the same source.
The Roll 2 has proven to be a great companion on business trips. The omnidirectional design does seem to spread the sound out better around a hotel room, and I love being able to hang it from a faucet handle while I’m showering. I’ve never once had to think about where to pack the Roll 2 in my suitcase, because it fits handily between my clothes and the side of the suitcase.
It’s currently available in blue, green, orange, or charcoal, plus a multicolor anime-graphic pattern. I’ve found the Roll 2 rugged enough to just toss into whatever luggage I’m using, but you can also find purpose-built Roll carrying cases.
Flaws but not dealbreakers
The only glaring flaw of the UE Roll 2 might be its lack of a speakerphone function. None of us use this function much, but some people do; if that’s you, check out any of our other picks. The lack of a speakerphone does mean that, unlike other UE Bluetooth speakers, the UE Roll 2 doesn’t allow you to use Siri or Google Now directly from the speaker (although you can still use either virtual assistant from your phone). It also lacks playback controls that would let you start, stop, and skip tracks while in the shower.
We don’t think the Roll 2 sounds quite as pleasing as the Vava Voom 20, or even as full as our budget pick, the DOSS SoundBox Touch, but it’s close. Those larger speakers have more bass, so they don’t make singers sound as sibilant as the Roll 2 sometimes can (although only to a minor degree).
The Roll 2 plays loud enough to serve up background music, but half a dozen people talking will mostly drown it out, so it’s not party friendly unless your parties are small and sedate. If you want something similarly portable, rugged, and waterproof but with more volume, check out the JBL Charge 3 or the UE Boom 2 (both discussed in The competition).
The Party Up feature of the UE Boom 2 and Megaboom, which lets you play the same audio through multiple Boom 2 and Megaboom units to get multiroom audio on the cheap, is not included in the Roll 2.
In tests, the Roll 2 gave me about 60 feet of Bluetooth range with the signal passing through one wall. That’s 15 feet (33 percent) more than I got with the original Roll and well above average in this test. But as with the original Roll, when I was carrying the Roll 2 around the house, it seemed somewhat more prone to brief signal dropouts while in motion than some of its competitors.
Runner-up: Vava Voom 20
While the UE Roll 2 is the most versatile portable Bluetooth speaker we’ve found, people who just want a good-sounding Bluetooth speaker to use around the house or on vacation might prefer the Vava Voom 20. Although the Voom 20 can easily fit into a suitcase, and is built to survive the rigors of poolside and beach use, it’s 120 percent heavier and about 60 percent larger by volume than the Roll 2. But its sound is obviously fuller than that of the Roll 2, with substantially more bass. It also tends to be notably less expensive than the Roll 2.
The Voom 20 puts out more bass than almost any other Bluetooth speaker under $100. But it’s good bass—it makes music sound more real, unlike that annoying, boomy bass you might associate with bad headphones and third-party car-stereo systems. Most small Bluetooth speakers make your favorite band sound as if its bass player switched from a big amp stack to a tiny practice amp, but the Voom 20 actually delivers at least a hint of the entire bass range. Anyone who listens to hip-hop, rock, or EDM will instantly appreciate the Voom 20’s extra bottom end; jazz, classical, and folk fans will like it, too.
The Voom 20 has three sonic downsides. The first is that it doesn’t play as loud as the Roll 2 or even the DOSS SoundBox Touch; the Voom 20’s max volume is about 3 decibels lower, which is like turning your car stereo down a couple of clicks. It also can sound a little distorted at max volume, depending on what music you play—but so can the UE Roll 2, and the solution is just to turn the volume down one click. Last, we found the speakerphone function unusual: “It sounds like you left your phone across the room and you’re talking through a toilet paper tube,” Lauren said, adding that she couldn’t understand about half of my sentences even when I was talking into the Voom 20 from just 1 foot away.
Its Bluetooth range and battery life were merely sufficient in our tests. It’s rated at eight hours between charges, and that’s exactly what we got in our tests. We measured Bluetooth range at 24 feet going through one wall, which is adequate but falls far short of our top pick’s range.
The Voom 20 carries an IPX5 rating, which means it can withstand splashes and some jets of water. You can’t immerse it in water as you can the Roll 2, but we found that it easily tolerates use in the shower, and you can leave it out in the rain without worry.
As for its other features, the Voom 20’s rear jack panel offers a USB output for charging your phone. The speaker also comes with a drawstring travel bag, and Khanka sells a semi-hard-shell travel case for it. We did see a few gripes about the black embossed power and volume controls, which are practically impossible to see in dim light, and about the lack of track-skip controls, although the unit does have a play/pause button.
Michael Gowan of Tom’s Guide generally liked the Voom 20 even at its initial $80 price, writing in a review, “The Voom 20 delivers impressive bass, and produces a good overall balance of treble and midrange that rivals the best speakers in the $100 or less category.”
iLounge’s Phil Dzikiy gave the Voom 20 an A- grade, concluding that “the Vava Voom 20’s sound stacks up to any top performing speaker in the sub-$100 price range.”
Also great (with a speakerphone): Bose SoundLink Mini II
Even someone who doesn’t care much about sound can probably hear how the Bose SoundLink Mini Bluetooth Speaker II outclasses most other small Bluetooth speakers. Many small Bluetooth speakers (and some large ones, too) have a harsh, thin sound, as if your favorite rock band’s singer caught the flu, someone kicked in the guitar player’s speaker, and the bass player didn’t show up for the gig. (I’m not exaggerating.) But the SoundLink Mini II sounds clear and full, almost like a decent small stereo system but without the enveloping sound of a real stereo.
The SoundLink Mini II is a much more appealing model than the original SoundLink Mini. The sound seems about the same, but the features and performance have improved in other ways. We didn’t include the original SoundLink Mini as a pick in large part because that unit required a separate charging cradle, making us question its suitability for portable use. The SoundLink Mini II can charge directly through its USB port, so you can use a generic USB smartphone charger with it if you want. It also has a speakerphone function and claims to get 10 hours of battery life. (We got only eight in our tests, but still, that’s pretty good.)
At 1.5 pounds, this isn’t a speaker you’re likely to want to toss into a backpack or laptop bag, even though it’ll probably fit. The SoundLink Mini II doesn’t look especially rugged, but you can find several third-party covers and cases for it. The speaker is available in black or white. We got about 35 feet of range with the Bluetooth signal traveling through one wall, which is above average.
The SoundLink Mini II’s speakerphone is also above average—far above average. With the speaker on a table about 2 feet from me, Geoff said my voice sounded about the same to him when I used the SoundLink Mini II as it did when I spoke straight into my phone, and his voice sounded clear and full from my end of the line, as well. If you want to make business calls through your Bluetooth speaker, this model is a superb choice.
This speaker isn’t a good choice for the beach or backpacking, though, because the SoundLink Mini II isn’t waterproof. If you want something more rugged, get the UE Boom 2 or maybe the JBL Charge 3 (both discussed in The competition).
If you want a much larger but better-sounding speaker for about the same price, check out the Riva Turbo X, which we review below. It recently got a price slash that puts it in the SoundLink Mini II’s price range.
Note that the SoundLink Mini appears to be the most counterfeited of any Bluetooth speaker design. We tested one of the counterfeits and found the copy to be probably the worst Bluetooth speaker we’ve ever tested. Even if your budget is under $20—typical counterfeits go for $12 to $15—you’d be better off getting an AmazonBasics Nano or an Omaker W4N.
CNET’s David Carnoy gave the SoundLink Mini II four stars (out of five), writing that it ranks among “the few standout products in the ultracompact wireless speaker category, featuring a top-notch design and very good sound for its tiny size.”
PCMag’s Tim Gideon also gave it a score of four (out of five), concluding, “The tiny Bose SoundLink Mini II delivers the richest bass you’ll find in a portable Bluetooth speaker this size, while managing to stay balanced with crisp highs.” (Gideon also criticizes the speaker because its “[d]igital signal processing changes bass response at different volume levels,” and we could hear what he’s talking about, but almost every Bluetooth speaker does the same to some degree.)
A bigger, better-sounding upgrade: Riva Turbo XAudiophiles tend to deride Bluetooth speakers as little more than plastic junk, but even a picky listener might still want a compact audio system for use in a vacation home, on weeks-long business trips, or in the office. We think the Riva Turbo X will make such people pretty happy. In fact, it might make them very happy, judging from the reaction we’ve seen to the Turbo X at several high-end audio shows, where $5,000-a-pair speakers are considered “affordable.”
As of this writing, the Turbo X’s price has been slashed by 43 percent, which puts it in the same price range as the Bose SoundLink Mini II and makes it a fantastic bargain. Riva told us that the new price would be in effect for the foreseeable future.
The Turbo X sounds better and plays louder than the SoundLink Mini II, but it’s four times as large by volume. It’s obvious when you listen to the Turbo X that it’s playing a whole different game than most other portable Bluetooth speakers. Voices and instruments sound clear and natural, much as they would if you were listening to a good small stereo system. For such a compact speaker, it has plenty of bass, enough that you can crank up bass-heavy music such as EDM or hip-hop and it won’t start to sound strained or distorted.
The Turbo X also offers lots of useful features. On the bottom is a rubber cover that you can place over the rear audio and charging jacks to make the Turbo X splashproof. Riva offers an iOS and Android app that lets you control volume, switch from voice prompts to tones, and activate turbo and surround modes. It includes a speakerphone function, and the turbo mode boosts the volume (at the possible expense of slight distortion and shorter battery life). The battery lasted a whopping 24 hours in our rundown test, so you could probably take it on a long weekend and leave the charger behind. It’s available in black or white. In our tests, Bluetooth range (going through one wall) was about 25 feet, which is quite adequate, even if it isn’t impressive compared with the results from some of our other picks.
The main downside of the Turbo X is that it’s not particularly rugged. The top is made from glossy plastic that scratches easily (a travel bag is available for $30 at the time of this writing). Charging it requires the use of a dedicated charger (you can’t charge it via USB), and if you forget to push the BATT button on the back, the battery won’t charge even if the charger is plugged in. Also, the speakerphone, though functional, didn’t impress us: Geoff said he could hear a lot of noise whenever he talked, which he speculated was the Turbo X picking up the sound of his voice after it echoed around the room.
If you need something that’s much more rugged and sounds good (although not quite as good as the Turbo X), and also offers a limited but useful multiroom-audio feature, check out the UE Megaboom (discussed in The competition).
Oluv’s Gadgets, a site that does extremely in-depth reviews of Bluetooth speakers, praises the Turbo X, saying, “The RIVA Turbo X gets my strong recommendation for anyone who is longing for a real high performance portable speaker that is still compact but without having to make any compromises on sound or loudness.”
CNET’s David Carnoy gave it 3.5 stars (out of five), subtracting points mainly for its rather high original price but concluding, “While it isn’t a bargain at $350 [its original price], the Riva Audio Turbo X is one of the loudest and best sounding compact Bluetooth speakers available.”
Even high-end audio writers, such as The Absolute Sound’s Robert Harley, tend to rave about the Turbo X: “It brings audiophile values to a product that fits the way in which many non-audiophiles listen to music,” Harley writes.
On Amazon, the Turbo X currently has an overall rating of 4.2 stars (out of five) across more than 370 reviews.
Budget pick: DOSS SoundBox Touch
Whether you need something inexpensive that lets you stream Internet radio in your cubicle at a level just loud enough to hear, or you need something a little louder that’ll cover a living room or a workshop, the DOSS SoundBox Touch is a great choice. The sound sets a new standard for quality in this price range: reasonably full, surprisingly clear, and plenty loud enough for most situations where you’d use a portable Bluetooth speaker. The SoundBox Touch sounds slightly less smooth than the Vava Voom 20, so voices sometimes have a subtly sibilant edge and don’t seem quite as natural, and it doesn’t have the satisfying bass power that the Voom 20 has. Still, it sounds much more natural than the other speakers we’ve tried in this price range.
The SoundBox Touch beats out most budget models when it comes to design and features, too. The exterior is simple, fairly elegant, and not cheap looking. The top panel offers backlit, touch-sensitive controls that work more reliably than those on most electronics. (The backlighting is pretty bright and permanently on, though, which may put off some people.) Controls include forward and reverse track skip, volume, play/pause/answer, and a Mode button, which switches between Bluetooth, the rear 3.5 mm analog input, and the TF (microSD) card slot.
Said card slot lets you insert a microSD card full of MP3 files and play music without using a Bluetooth device. For certain people—kids who don’t have phones yet, perhaps, or businesses that want to keep nonintrusive background music going all day long—it’s a useful feature. You have no way to browse the music, though: The SoundBox Touch just plays each album folder in alphabetical order, and each tune on an album in numerical order. You can use the top panel controls to skip forward and back.
A couple of online commenters complain that the SoundBox Touch shuts itself off after 15 minutes of inactivity, but DOSS has noted on Amazon that it will send a firmware update to disable this option for anyone who wants to do so.
In our more formal, numbers-based tests of the SoundBox Touch’s functionality, it worked well overall. Average battery life was 8.5 hours playing Steely Dan’s “Aja” at a 75 dB sound pressure level (measured at 1 meter), and the Bluetooth range was 31 feet going through one wall.
The speakerphone function wasn’t great—I could hear Lauren clearly when I called her, but she said my voice sounded somewhat muffled. “I wouldn’t want to have a long conversation on it,” she said (although we did), “but it’d be okay for quick calls, or for conference calls where you’re doing a lot of listening and not much talking.”
In addition to black, the SoundBox Touch is available in red, white, or blue; the other colors typically cost about $2 extra. It isn’t waterproof, so it carries no IP rating, but it does come with a sturdy-feeling waterproof drawstring carrying sack. Of course, water can get into the opening at the end of the sack, but the bag should at least protect the device from an occasional splash, such as when you’re on a motorboat heading into light chop. Khanka offers a case for the SoundBox Touch with room for a couple of cables, but it’s about half as costly as the speaker.
We haven’t found a speaker in this price range that offers anything like the SoundBox Touch’s performance and is outdoors friendly. If some degree of water resistance is important to you, check out the Vava Voom 20, which costs nearly twice as much as the SoundBox Touch but has much more bass and carries an IPX5 water-resistance rating. Neither the SoundBox Touch nor the Voom 20 is compact and light enough to toss into a laptop bag; if you need something smaller yet more affordable than the UE Roll 2, try the Braven 105, which is closer to the SoundBox Touch in price. It doesn’t sound as good as, or play as loud as, the SoundBox Touch, but the 105 is IPX7-rated, and its hockey-puck shape makes it much more travel friendly. We discuss the Braven 105 in The competition below.
We couldn’t find many extensive reviews of the DOSS SoundBox Touch, but it’s clear from a review on Nerd Techy that writer TechGuru got ahold of it and liked what it offered: “To our surprise, the sound was quite good – MUCH better than we originally expected,” TechGuru writes. Currently the Touch has an overall score of 4.4 stars (out of five) across 2,800-plus Amazon reviews—which seems slightly suspect, though Fakespot gives those reviews an A grade. Inexplicably, this model is Amazon’s number one best seller in the Outdoor Speaker category, even though it isn’t an outdoor speaker.
We have tested more than 150 portable Bluetooth speakers specifically for this article (as well as many others in work for various publications). Though we consider our picks the best choices for most people, some of the competitors came very close in performance and value to our picks, and might be worth considering depending on your priorities. Here’s everything else we looked at, in alphabetical order.
The 808 Thump costs very little, but if you really need an ultra-low-budget Bluetooth speaker, the AmazonBasics Nano is a better-sounding, more versatile choice.
The 808 XS Sport is a nice-sounding, midsize speaker for its current price of about $80, but in our tests other models that cost less played a little louder and sounded a little fuller.
If we were to expand our top picks, the Altec Lansing Boom Jacket 2 might be a strong contender. It has speaker drivers on both sides, so its sound covers a larger area. It has an IP67 waterproof/dustproof rating, and though it’s a stretch to say the Boom Jacket 2 floats—the speaker drivers become submerged, so you can’t use it as a floating pool speaker—at least you won’t have to go diving for it if it falls off the dock. It doesn’t have the versatile, travel-friendly design of the UE Roll 2 or as smooth a sound as the Bose SoundLink Mini II, but it would be a great choice for a beach speaker.
We got an early sample of the Altec Lansing Sonic Boom, a “pool blaster” model that looks like a small PA speaker and has AC outlets to power small appliances and devices. But in our tests the Sonic Boom didn’t play anywhere near as loud as we expected—it was no louder than some much smaller models.
While we found that the Altec Lansing Super Life Jacket played extremely loud and had impressive bass for its size, we thought the sound was rather rough and uneven compared with that of the better large portable Bluetooth speakers. It’s a good choice if you need a Bluetooth speaker mainly for blasting tunes poolside.
The AmazonBasics BTV1 is a great value for a Bluetooth speaker—that’s why we made it one of our budget picks in a previous version of this article. But we’d rather buy (or receive as a gift) the DOSS SoundBox Touch, which costs about the same.
Although the AmazonBasics Nano doesn’t sound quite as clear and full as our current budget pick, for less than $15 at the time of this writing, it’s a great buy. Unlike most ultracheap Bluetooth speakers, it has a full, balanced sound. It plays as loud as the BTV2 mini Bluetooth speaker, but it does distort a little when cranked up. You can use its strap to attach it to all sorts of things, such as a shower faucet or a backpack strap. Amazon lists it as splashproof, and it doesn’t have any exposed jacks, so it should survive outdoor excursions pretty well. It even has a speakerphone function. If you need a cheap stocking stuffer, or want a speaker for backpacking and hiking, it’s a great choice.
The AmazonBasics Portable Bluetooth Speaker seems like a pretty good deal at its very low price (roughly $20 as of this writing), but our panelists were unenthusiastic about the performance even considering the price, calling the sound “very tiny” and lacking both bass and treble.
The Amazon Tap is the portable version of the Amazon Echo voice-command speaker. It has Bluetooth, but most of its voice-command features work only when it’s connected to a Wi-Fi network. Thus, it’s more like a Wi-Fi speaker that happens to have Bluetooth. We like the Tap a lot, because it makes accessing music and Internet radio easy. However, its sound quality doesn’t even come close to that of the UE Roll 2, mainly because the Tap’s bass thins out when you turn up the volume. Also, the Tap doesn’t have a “wake word” like the Echo does; you have to push a button on the front to give it a voice command. Still, the voice-command technology is fantastic, and if you’re not picky about sound quality or you listen only to talk programs, the Tap is lots of fun and a great value. We discuss the Amazon Tap further in our Amazon Alexa guide.
The Anker Premium Stereo Bluetooth Speaker has a handsome design considering its relatively low price, but our panelists found it a little harsh-sounding relative to some other options in its price range.
The Anker SoundCore has much to recommend it, including a price in the mid-$30 range, an appealingly simple design, and a rated 24-hour battery life. But in our tests it didn’t sound as full and smooth as our top budget pick.
We seriously considered making the Anker SoundCore Sport XL a top pick. This IP67-rated model has a rugged aluminum enclosure that looks like it was built for use in tanks. It also plays very loud for a model of its price. Our panelists found its sound a little too harsh for their tastes, but we still consider it a good pick for anyone who needs a rugged budget speaker with lots of volume.
The Aomais Sport II looks like a great value, with solid construction, an IPX7 waterproof rating, and an included pool float, but in our tests its sound was excessively trebly.
The Aukey SK-M12 might be the loudest Bluetooth speaker we’ve heard in the $50 price range, but we thought its sound was too bright and edgy.
At a paltry under-$15 price on Amazon at the time we checked, the Aukey SK-M15 is probably the least expensive bike speaker we’ve seen, and for what it is, it sounds okay. But the handlebar mount is too flimsy to be useful, and in our experience the speaker didn’t play loud enough to overcome typical street noise.
The B&O Beoplay A1 looks great, and you can pair two for stereo. In our most recent round of blind tests, John and Lauren both picked this model as their favorite, too. But when I told them that the A1 was in the $250 price range, they lost their enthusiasm, noting that many less-expensive models came close in performance. As for the Beoplay A2 Active, although it’s resistant to splashes and dust, it’s twice as expensive as the Riva Turbo X, which sounds better.
We found the Bass Jaxx Retro Mic Audio Speaker selling in a discount store for $5, and wanted to see what a $5 Bluetooth speaker sounded like. For that price, it’s surprisingly usable, at least for podcasts, but at this model’s current Amazon price of more than three times that, the AmazonBasics Nano is a much better choice.
In our tests the Beats Pill played about as loud as the UE Roll 2, but I thought its sound was blaring and thin, making voices sound lispy.
When we saw how much larger and heavier the Beats Pill+ was compared with the original Beats Pill, we had high hopes that the Pill+ would sound a lot better than the loud but harsh and thin-sounding original. Unfortunately, it sounded merely like a louder version of the original.
The Bose SoundLink III sounds good, but we think the Riva Turbo X is much better, and now the Riva is less expensive.
A nicely designed, good-sounding speaker, the Bose SoundLink Color used to be one of our top picks. It has been replaced by the SoundLink Color II.
Compared with its predecessor, the Bose SoundLink Color II is a nicer, more full-featured speaker, with a loud, full sound for the price. It adds water resistance and a speakerphone function. Our panelists said they wouldn’t hesitate to step up to the Bose SoundLink Mini II for that model’s clearer sound and sleeker design, but the SoundLink Color II remains a solid choice in its price range.
The Bowers & Wilkins T7 sounds clear and looks nice, but the Riva Turbo X sounds fuller and more satisfying, and now costs much less.
With a hockey-puck shape and an elastic mounting strap, the Braven 105 could be considered a budget UE Roll. It doesn’t play especially loud for its size, and we don’t think it sounds as good as the less expensive but much larger and less portable DOSS SoundBox Touch, but if you’re looking for a travel speaker in the $50 range, it’s quite decent.
The Braven Balance has a nice, slim design and a reasonable price, but our panelists concluded that though its sound quality was reasonably full, it didn’t play loud enough.
The Braven BRV-1 is a nice, compact, rugged model that sounds pretty good and plays fairly loud for its price, but it doesn’t sound quite as good as our top picks at comparable prices.
Geoff and I liked the Braven BRV-Pro for its ability to play loud and for its waterproof design, but John and Lauren thought it sounded way too bright and trebly. This model has a neat design, though, with a metal case and an optional solar panel, backup battery pack, mounts, and other accessories. If you just need a rugged speaker that plays loud (maybe to mount on an ATV), it might be a good choice.
The Braven BRV-X features an outdoor mode intended to deliver better sound in open settings, but to my ears it sounded harsh, sizzly, and lacking in bass. With its outdoor mode off, it brings back the bass but still sounds sizzly.
In our tests the treble of the Cambridge Audio Go sounded dull and uninvolving.
To our ears, the Cambridge SoundWorks OontZ Angle 3 sounded a little thin and shrill but above average for units in its very cheap $30 price range. It plays very loud, too—about 9 decibels louder than the OontZ Curve, roughly twice as loud to the ear. If you want the maximum possible volume at this low price range, the Oontz Angle 3 will give it to you, but the DKnight MagicBox II sounds much better to us and plays almost as loud.
The Cambridge SoundWorks OontZ Curve was a former top pick until it disappeared from the company’s website and Cambridge SoundWorks failed to respond to our inquiries about whether the item was officially discontinued. It’s very good sounding for its size and price, with a speakerphone function and play/pause and track-skip buttons to control playback, and carrying cases are available for a few bucks from FitSand and Khanka. If you can still find the OontZ Curve available on Amazon, we still recommend it.
The CB3 Ultra Slim has a travel-friendly, slender design, as well as good sound for its size, but it scoots around a lot when it plays bass notes.
With a built-in MP3 player and microSD card slot, plus a USB input for use with computers, the Creative SoundBlaster Free is a nice speaker for its price. We think most people will like the UE Roll 2 better in this price range, and we also think the JBL Flip 3 is a more compact and appealing choice.
The Creative SoundBlaster iRoar Go adds water resistance (it’s IPX6 rated) to the Roar formula, but our panelists didn’t care much for the sound, with Lauren and John both complaining about a buzzy sound in the midrange and some distortion in the bass. The control app offers different EQ options, but getting it to connect with the iRoar Go is difficult and unpredictable. Early customer reviews on Amazon echo our findings.
The Creative SoundBlaster Roar is priced affordably for a large, feature-laden Bluetooth speaker, and it plays loud and sounds pretty good, but our panelists complained that it had a big dip in the midrange, which is why we preferred the Denon Envaya, our previous pick for a larger portable Bluetooth speaker.
The Creative SoundBlaster Roar 2 came close to being one of our picks. It’s currently about $30 less than the Bose SoundLink Mini II, and it plays even louder. It also has some unusual features, such as a USB input for use with computers, and a built-in microSD music player and voice recorder. However, in our opinion it didn’t sound as smooth and natural as the SoundLink Mini II; in our tests the Roar 2’s lower treble range seemed a bit boosted, giving voices a sort of twangy tone. Still, the Roar 2 offers a great combination of sound, features, and price, so it’s a recommendable speaker.
One of our main picks in a previous guide, the Denon Envaya remains a great choice if you want bigger, better sound than a small portable can deliver at a modest price. If we had more product and price categories, we’d probably still include it as a pick.
The Denon Envaya Mini is a much more compact model than the Denon Envaya. It sounds very smooth, almost like a set of small conventional speakers. In our tests the voice quality was nearly as good as what we heard from the Riva Turbo X.
The DKnight Big MagicBox plays loud for a low-priced model, but in our tests its sound was very midrange-oriented and had a blaring character we didn’t like.
Our previous budget pick, the DKnight MagicBox II, doesn’t sound as good as the DOSS SoundBox Touch, our new budget pick, but it is much smaller and more portable. If you’re looking for a good, compact, inexpensive budget speaker to toss into your suitcase for trips, it’s a great choice.
Although the EcoXGear EcoPebble sounds excellent for such a small and modestly priced speaker, in our tests its Bluetooth performance was by far the worst we encountered. The signal cut out often, sometimes even when the speaker was in line of sight with the source and only 8 feet away.
The EcoXGear EcoRox came close to being one of our top picks. It has a full, satisfying sound with especially clear voice reproduction, and it’s not only waterproof but also capable of floating. Its only real downside is that the passive radiator—a vibrating device commonly used to reinforce bass in small wireless speakers—is mounted on top, causing the speaker to jump up and down slightly and rattle against whatever it’s sitting on when it plays bass notes. Obviously, that’s no big problem when the speaker’s floating. “For someone who wants a floating speaker but doesn’t want to mess with the inflatable donut on the UE Roll 2, this one would be a great choice,” Geoff said.
The EcoXGear EcoStone was one of the top picks in our guide to the best waterproof Bluetooth speakers, specifically for people who want a Bluetooth speaker that floats. It plays loud but sounds just so-so; we’d rather get the UE Roll 2 with its pool float.
The waterproof EcoXGear EcoXBT had a somewhat blaring sound quality that tired our ears out.
The Edifier Extreme Connect MP260 is a nice, compact, and affordable small Bluetooth speaker, but the Vava Voom 20 is cheaper.
We thought the Edifier MP700 sounded impressively clear, but it didn’t play as loud as we hoped for its size, and its metal handle made it comparatively heavy to lug around.
The Fugoo Sport XL has a cool waterproof, ruggedized design and notably long battery life (it’s rated at 35 hours), but I found its sound coarse and blaring in the treble, and it played only about 1 decibel louder than the much smaller and less costly UE Boom 2.
The Fugoo Style and its Sport and Tough variants are among the few compact Bluetooth speakers with separate woofer/midrange and tweeter drivers. It has a very clear midrange and treble but not much bass, and it can’t approach the volume levels of the comparably priced Bose SoundLink Mini II or UE Boom 2.
The G-Project G-Boom plays loud and has a lot of bass, but it’s very large and has some strange sonic colorations, with what sounded to us like big peaks and dips in the midrange and treble. But it’s currently just $100, so if all you need is lots of volume, it could be what you’re looking for.
Offering a cool “oceanproof” design with a built-in FM radio, the Hercules WAE Outdoor Rush is intended for use in outdoor sports. Our panelists, however, thought its output was too midrange-heavy and thus emphasized vocals and sounded somewhat thin.
Although Geoff wanted to make the HMDX Audio HX-PEM Jamoji Chocolate Swirl “poop emoji” Bluetooth speaker our top pick solely on the basis of its styling, we’re sad to say it sounded like what it’s designed to look like. If you want a stocking stuffer that’s guaranteed to get attention, though, this one will do it. There’s also the Jamoji JK, a more SFW version with a smiley face, but in our tests it sounded no better.
Our panelists didn’t love the sound of the iClever Ultra Slim, complaining about distortion at higher volumes, but its aluminum shell, sleek design, and extremely low price make it an appealing choice for ultra-low-budget, low-volume background listening.
The iHome iBT37 didn’t sound as loud, clear, and robust as iHome’s only slightly more expensive iBT82 in our tests.
While in our tests the iHome iBT82 didn’t come across quite as loud or clear as the comparably priced speakers we tried, it does sound better than average for a ruggedized, waterproof speaker in its price range.
For us, the IK Multimedia iLoud lived up to its name, delivering enough output to fill even large rooms. It also sounds good and has an input for musical instruments, too. So what’s not to like? It made an annoying electronic whine whenever our music stopped.
In our tests, the Jam Classic 2.0 sounded a little distorted and a bit lacking in treble clarity compared with our faves in the under-$30 range.
The Jam Tag-A-Long has an appealing, travel-friendly design; it’s about the size of three stacked smartphones, and a little kickstand props it up for desktop use. For something so small and inexpensive, it has a full, natural sound. But our first sample didn’t work (it happens, especially with review samples, which are often the first out of the factory), and our second suffered Bluetooth dropouts if the phone was more than about 4 feet away. So we were skittish about making it a top pick.
The Jam Xterior Plus is a pretty good deal considering its size and its IP67 moistureproof and dustproof rating. But we thought other similarly priced models sounded clearer.
Even though the JBL Charge 2 fits into our small category, it plays even louder than the Denon Envaya. But it doesn’t have enough bass to balance out its edgy, blaring treble response.
The JBL Charge 3 is a nicely styled, IPX7-rated model that plays very loud and sounds pretty good for its price. We thought the sound of the Bose SoundLink Mini II was smoother and more enjoyable to listen to, but if volume is your priority—maybe for pool parties?—the Charge 3 is a great buy.
The JBL Clip+ delivers excellent sound quality for its size, but many Amazon reviewers complain about problems getting the Clip+ to charge fully. And although JBL bills it as splashproof, an open Micro-USB jack makes it vulnerable to moisture.
Thanks in large part to an IPX7-rated waterproof design, the JBL Clip 2 solves the problems we’ve found with the Clip+. Its design is also more practical, with a carabiner-style clip instead of the Clip+’s molded plastic clip. For a compact model, it’s pretty great, although at around $60 as of this writing, it’s pricey for its size. We’d rather spend more for the UE Roll 2, but if you really need something small, such as for hanging from a backpack strap, the Clip 2 is a nice choice.
The splashproof JBL Flip 3 is similar in size to the UE Boom 2 and currently sells for about half the price. But it lacks bass and sounds somewhat thin, and deep bass notes make it scoot around on a table. And with the extra volume now available with the UE Roll 2, we think the Roll 2 is a more appealing choice overall.
The JBL Pulse features an incredibly cool LED light show that wraps around its cylinder-shaped body. It sounds much smoother than the Charge 2, but not as good as our top picks.
The JBL Xtreme is essentially a bigger, more rugged version of the Infinity One, which came very close to being one of our top picks in last year’s article. It puts out an amazing amount of sound for its price, about 7 decibels more than the very loud UE Boom 2. It’s loud enough to power a dance party. Unfortunately, in our tests its sound was very trebly, blaring, and fatiguing, and the device provides no way to adjust the tone. You could make adjustments through a third-party app on your smartphone, but we think you shouldn’t have to.
We initially thought the JLab Crasher Mini sounded surprisingly full and natural for its size, but our test sample soon started distorting badly, and owner reviews on Amazon also note various defects.
The JLab Crasher Slim sounds pretty good considering its slender build, and it’s affordably priced. We prefer the fuller sound of the Vava Voom 20, which costs just a few dollars more, but if you’re looking for a speaker with a slim design, the Crasher Slim is probably your best buy.
The JLab Crasher XL is a nice-sounding, good-looking, powerful speaker for its price. It actually sounds smoother than our pick in this price range, the UE Roll 2. It also carries an IPX6 water-resistance rating and has an anodized-aluminum shell that seems quite rugged. However, at 8 inches long, it’s not the kind of item you can easily slip into a suitcase. We’re sticking with the UE Roll 2 as our top pick for its design, versatility, and easy portability, but if you want a bit better sound and don’t mind the Crasher XL’s bulk, this model is a great choice.
We wanted so much to like the Kicker Bullfrog, because its design is perfect for the emerging “pool blaster” (waterproof Bluetooth speakers that play really, really loud) category. It has an especially rugged design with perforated metal grilles, speakers firing on both sides, and a top handle that makes lugging the relatively heavy speaker easy. But while it sounds good at lower volume, it distorts too much at high volume, and high volume is why you might spend the $300 to $500 that most pool blasters cost.
The Klipsch GiG got so-so reviews from CNET, Digital Trends, and PCMag.
Compared with most other portable Bluetooth speakers, the Klipsch KMC 1 has a super-clear midrange and treble. The bass is a little lacking, though, so it sounds thinner and less pleasing than some of the other models in its price and size range.
We strongly considered the Libratone One Click as a top pick in the $200 price range, because it sounds good, plays pretty loud, and has a beautiful, slim design with cool detachable straps. However, compared with the Bose SoundLink Mini II, it sounds a little too trebly and adds too much extra sizzle to cymbals and acoustic guitars.
The Libratone Too sounds very clear and natural and has a beautiful and practical design, but we don’t think it plays loud enough for a model in the $150 price range.
Our panelists thought the Marshall Kilburn came close enough in performance to the Riva Turbo X to necessitate extensive comparisons between the two models. The Kilburn has much of that big, robust sound that made the non-battery-powered Marshall Acton one of our top picks for a home Bluetooth speaker, and it shares the Acton’s guitar-amp look and feel (plus a cool leather carrying handle). Geoff and I were torn between the Kilburn and the Turbo X, but John and Lauren thought the Turbo X had clearer voice reproduction and a more spacious sound. If the Kilburn’s style appeals to you more than the Turbo X’s understated looks, go for the Kilburn.
The Marshall Stockwell is another portable speaker from a brand whose home Bluetooth speakers we’ve loved. Our panel liked the Stockwell’s design and its cool pop-up tone and volume controls, but found that its bass sounded somewhat boomy and sloppy. It’s a nice speaker overall, but in this price range, we prefer the sound and size of the Bose SoundLink Mini II.
The Ministry of Sound Audio S Plus sounds pretty good overall, but we found its maximum volume low considering the price.
We think the Monster Blaster is the best of the new breed of “Bluetooth boomboxes”—large models designed primarily to play loud. It sounds clearer and more natural than the Braven BRV-XXL and the Nyne Rock, but it’s currently about $50 more than the BRV-XXL and about double the price of the Rock. It doesn’t have as much bass as we’d like, and the bass section doesn’t blend well with the other speaker drivers. If you need an especially loud Bluetooth speaker and can handle the Blaster’s rather high price, it’s a good choice.
The Monster SuperStar HotShot has a cute design, but it’s very pricey for the volume level and sound quality it delivers.
I often travel with the NudeAudio Move M, a cute, compact speaker. But the Polk Boom Swimmer Jr is a more rugged alternative.
The NudeAudio Super M doesn’t sound as good as the brand’s less expensive (and cuter) Move M.
The Nyne Bass was one of our previous picks for its terrific ratio of dollars to decibels. If you want the highest volume for the least money, this is the speaker you want. Many competing speakers sound better, and almost all rechargeable Bluetooth speakers are more portable, but the Bass is still a great choice if you need an affordable little sound system to power your next pool party.
Although the Nyne Cruiser comes with a bicycle-handlebar mount, it’s rather bulky for a bicycle accessory. In our tests the bass was surprisingly full, but I thought voices sounded zippy and unnatural through the Cruiser.
A large model designed to play loud enough for big parties, the Nyne Rock was one of the first models in the “Bluetooth boombox” category. It plays a whopping 10 decibels louder than the Riva Turbo X. That’s loud enough to fill a small club with sound, but that sound is pretty crude; I found that with some of my favorite recordings, the Rock buzzed and distorted to the point where I couldn’t enjoy the result. The bass was also one-notey, more a boom than individual notes. Still, if you want the maximum decibels per dollar and aren’t really concerned about sound quality, the Rock is the best choice.
If we had a category for “best ultra-low-priced, ultra-compact Bluetooth speaker,” the Omaker W4N would probably win. It’s a roughly 2-inch cube with a rubber cover, and it’s said to withstand drops from 3 meters. (We tossed it onto a wood floor, and it kept working.) A carabiner clips it to backpack straps and the like, and it plays loud enough for listening to background music in a typical hotel room (about 6 decibels less loud than the UE Roll 2 and the DOSS SoundBox Touch, which is about the difference you’d get when outside and listening to someone talk from 20 feet away versus 10 feet away).
The Om/One is a novelty Bluetooth speaker that uses magnetic repulsion to float above its base. Considering its high price, its 1.7-star overall rating (out of five stars) across more than 160 reviews on Amazon at this writing, and comments likening the sound to “listening to music through a walkie talkie,” we saw little point in evaluating it.
We came close to making the Polk Boom Bit our pick for the best budget Bluetooth speaker. The Boom Bit is one of the most flexible and useful Bluetooth speakers ever. Its integrated clip and tiny size allow you to attach it to backpack straps, a bike helmet, or a shirt collar, or even to hook it securely to a key ring or D-ring. The Boom Bit is splash resistant enough to shower with, and it integrates a USB plug for easy charging without a cable. It also sounds amazingly good for its tiny size, enough for hikes and bike rides, and maybe background listening in a hotel room. What’s not to like? The battery life is rated at just three hours, a figure that we confirmed in our tests. Still, the Boom Bit’s surprisingly low price makes it a great impulse buy if you already have a larger, louder Bluetooth speaker, and it’s a perfect stocking stuffer, too.
The Polk Boom Swimmer Duo is a larger, more capable version of the Boom Swimmer Jr. Unlike with the Jr, you can swap out the Duo’s bendable tail hook for a suction cup that lets the unit play atop a table or shelf without scooting around. You can also pair two Duos for stereo sound. We like the Jr’s sound better, however. In our tests it sounded to us as if the volume limiter inside the Duo was too aggressively tuned, so the peaks in the music were clamped down—almost as if someone kept turning the volume down briefly. We think the Jr is a more appealing choice, and it’s typically priced about $20 less.
We recommend the Polk Boom Swimmer Jr if you want an especially rugged, inexpensive waterproof speaker; the Swimmer Jr’s IPX7 waterproof rating means it’ll survive splashes and even dunkings. The reason we didn’t make the Swimmer Jr a main pick is that its design, though delightful, isn’t all that practical. You have to hang it from something; if you put it on a table, deep bass notes make it scoot around like a caffeinated hamster. Compounding the issue is that its bendable hanging hook isn’t stiff enough to secure it reliably to a backpack or bike. Still, it’s a good option for outdoorsy types who need a tiny, tough speaker.
The Razer Leviathan Mini gets great reviews on Amazon, but our panelists thought it lacked bass and sounded too bright.
The Riva S is a smaller version of the Riva Turbo X, and it shares the Turbo X’s refined, smooth sound. The S doesn’t play quite as loud as the UE Roll 2, so it’s harder to justify the S’s price. Still, if you need something compact, great sounding, and elegant (perhaps for an executive office or a designer living room), the S has a lot of appeal.
Given our generally high opinion of Marshall’s guitar-amp-styled Bluetooth speakers, we were excited to hear the Roland JC-01, which mimics the look of Roland’s classic Jazz Chorus guitar amp. However, the JC-01 is not in the Marshall models’ league. Its volume is substandard for its size and price, and I found the sound too distorted to enjoy, particularly with bass notes.
I reviewed the Samsung Level Box for Mashable and found that its sound was pleasingly full, but it lacked treble response and sounded rather lifeless as a result.
The Scosche BoomBottle+ has a neat design that’s built to fit in the water-bottle rack of a bicycle or perhaps the cup holder of a golf cart. It has a midrange-heavy sound that emphasizes voices and helps make its sound loud enough to carry outdoors, but I didn’t find it pleasant to listen to.
The Scosche BoomBottle H2O plays pretty loud for its size, but I thought its sound was too buzzy and somewhat distorted. It does fit in a bicycle water-bottle cage, though, so cyclists might like it.
The Sharkk Boombox is a best seller on Amazon, and it plays surprisingly loud for its relatively low price, but our panelists ranked it near the bottom in sound quality.
The Soen Transit doesn’t sound as good as the smaller, less expensive Transit XS.
The Soen Transit XS has a slim, travel-friendly design, plus a socket in the back that lets you attach it to tripods and bike mounts. We think it sounds pretty good, although its bass is rather pumped up and its treble isn’t as smooth as that of some competitors.
The waterproof Sol Republic Deck has a cool, flat design, but we prefer the sound and style of the UE Roll 2.
A similar, smaller waterproof speaker, the Sol Republic Punk, has a nice, full sound for its size, but outside its ¼-inch threaded mounting hole, it doesn’t give you any way to attach it to anything, as the UE Roll 2 and Braven 105 do. We suggest the Braven 105 if you need a rugged speaker in the Punk’s price range, but the Punk is a nice speaker nonetheless, and some versions are available at very low prices on Amazon.
The Sony SRS-HG1 H.ear Go offers built-in Spotify Connect and Google Cast, and it sounds okay with its XBass mode turned on, but I found its tonal balance too inconsistent in our tests; the bass seemed bloated and boomy on some tunes, and the unit sometimes sounded distorted and harsh. We prefer the sound of the less expensive SRS-XB3.
Though the Sony SRS-X2 sounded good enough to me for inclusion in our blind-testing session, Lauren found the treble too edgy when the sound button was pushed, and too dull when it wasn’t. This is a well-made unit that plays loud for its size and price, but we prefer the UE Roll 2.
I wasn’t particularly impressed with the Sony SRS-X3 when I heard it; I thought it sounded coarse when turned up. For the price, I’d prefer the Bose SoundLink Color.
The Sony SRS-X11 is a nicely designed 2½-inch cube, but we think it doesn’t play very loud or sound very clear, and it’s priced about twice as high as many similar competitors.
In my initial tests, I found the Sony SRS-XB2 had a harsh sound whether its XBass feature was employed or not.
The Sony SRS-XB3 came close to being a top pick, because with its XBass feature on, it offered a satisfyingly loud and full sound that three of our four panelists liked. Its balance of bass to midrange to treble sounded rather uneven, though; panelists complained of a little too much sizzle in the treble, making voices come across as somewhat lispy. We’d rather get the Bose SoundLink Mini II or the UE Boom 2. However, we have seen the SRS-XB3 selling for as little as $120 or so on Amazon, and at that price it’s kind of a steal.
While the Soundcast VG1 sounds very clean and clear, it doesn’t play particularly loud for its price, which at the time of this update is just a few dollars less than the cost of the more capable and full-featured UE Boom 2.
The Soundfreaq Pocket Kick is about the same size as the Jawbone Mini Jambox, and a little less expensive, but our panelists criticized it for tinny sound.
The Soundmatters Dash7 has some of the clearest treble of any portable Bluetooth speaker we’ve heard, partly because its drivers are built much like high-end tweeters. It also has a super-slim, travel-friendly design. But it’s expensive for the performance it delivers. Ditto for the Soundmatters FoxL Platinum v2.
The Soundmatters Moment is an unusual, travel-friendly mini speaker based on the company’s Dash7 design; its coolest feature is that the back is magnetic, so it sticks to a refrigerator. The sound quality is fantastic for the size, but this speaker is very pricey for the volume and the amount of bass it delivers.
The Sticky Sounds Bluetooth speaker has a flat, triangular design that mounts to all sorts of objects (think snowboards and surfboards), but I found its sound distorted and its Bluetooth reception dicey.
We hoped to make the Targus TA-2000 a budget pick, because as of this writing it costs just $13 and its 2-inch speaker driver puts out a much fuller sound than the 1-inch or 1¼-inch drivers found in most under-$30 Bluetooth speakers. We picked it up while browsing the aisles of our local Fry’s store, but it doesn’t seem to be available anywhere else and it’s not mentioned on the Targus site—and we can’t recommend a product if we’re not sure you’ll be able to buy it.
The Tayogo Magic Cube might be the best-sounding under-$20 portable Bluetooth speaker you can buy as of this writing. It has a cool Borg-cube-inspired design and a large driver that allows it to play surprisingly loud. But the 4-inch cube is too bulky for easy portability. We think the DKnight MagicBox II is a worthwhile step up for its more natural and spacious sound as well as its more compact design, but if your budget is especially limited, the Magic Cube is a solid choice.
The TDK Trek Max A34 plays nice and loud, but in our tests it sounded too bright and trebly for us to enjoy it.
Compared with the best of its similarly sized competitors, the TDK Trek Micro doesn’t play quite as loud or sound quite as smooth.
The Turcom AcoustoShock HR-903 is a large and fairly powerful unit for its modest price. In our tests voices sounded clear, but its bass distorted a little too often for our taste.
The Turcom AcoustoShock Mini TS-456 has a cool, ruggedized design and plays loud for its size, but we thought it sounded blaring and coarse.
Offering an appealing, slim design, the Turcom Titan TS-455 is typically priced $10 to $20 lower than similar competitors. But to our ears, the sound was too heavily focused on bringing out the vocals; we didn’t hear enough bass and treble to remain entertained.
We had a tough time deciding between the UE Boom 2 and the Bose SoundLink Mini II when we were debating a pick in the $200 range. The Boom 2 plays loud enough to cover a suburban backyard or to drown out voices at a dinner party, but we think voices sound a little more natural and smooth through the SoundLink Mini II. The Boom 2 now has a nice Party Up feature, which lets you play the same audio source through as many Boom 2 and UE Megaboom units as you like. It’s a great way to do multiroom sound on the cheap, but you’re still limited by Bluetooth’s relatively short range. Party Up works well if you want to put Boom 2 units in a few rooms of an apartment or small home; in our tests, however, if the extra speakers were more than about 25 feet away, or separated by two or three walls, from the speaker mated with the Bluetooth source, the sound tended to drop out. The recent firmware update that gives Siri and Google Now voice-command capability to the Boom 2 is nice, but the feature doesn’t respond as quickly as on the Amazon Tap and Echo, and you can get much of the same functionality through your phone no matter what Bluetooth speaker you use. The Boom 2 is IPX7 rated, so you can safely submerge it in water, and it has an iOS and Android app that gives it stereo pairing and EQ features much like the Roll 2’s. It also has a function where you can pause or resume playback or skip tracks by picking up the unit and tapping its top. Anyone who needs something more portable, rugged, and waterproof than the SoundLink Mini II should get the Boom 2.
The UE Megaboom was our top pick when we had a separate article for waterproof Bluetooth speakers. It’s a great speaker, because it plays really loud, sounds very good, and has the same great features found on the UE Roll 2 and Boom 2, including an IPX7 rating, which means it can tolerate being submerged in up to 1 meter of water for half an hour without damage. As with the Roll 2 and Boom 2, you can pair a couple of Megabooms for stereo or multiroom use, as long as both speakers are within wireless range of the source device (namely, your phone). The Megaboom also provides the same multiroom feature and Siri and Google Now functions as the Boom 2. We don’t think the Megaboom sounds as good as the Riva Turbo X, but if you’re looking for something that plays loud and is more rugged, portable, and waterproof than the Turbo X—and gives you voice-command capabilities—the Megaboom is a great way to go.
The UE Wonderboom costs about the same as our top pick, the UE Roll 2, and seems to have pretty similar insides. Eschewing the flying saucer design of the UE Roll and Roll 2, the Wonderboom looks like a squat version of the Boom and Megaboom speakers. As a result, while it has a slightly fuller sound than the Roll 2, it’s far less portable and practical.
On the surface, the Vava Voom 21 looks like a great value, with a low price, an appealing design, and three sound modes. I liked it fairly well, but our panelists didn’t agree with me, complaining that none of the sound modes really sounded right and that the bass sounded “thuddy” and “one-notey.”
The Venstar S404 has a nice, bike-friendly design, but I found its sound very unnatural and crude.
The cutely named Venstar Taco sounds quite good for its low price. It doesn’t sound as smooth as the Vava Voom 20, but it’s less than half the price; if you’re looking to spend the absolute minimum on a Bluetooth speaker, the Taco is okay, but we’d go for the DOSS SoundBox Touch instead.
I thought the Venstar Tempo sounded a little harsh compared with the lower-priced Venstar Taco.
The Vifa Oslo is one of the most expensive portable Bluetooth speakers available, but it’s easily one of the best. We can’t include it as a main pick here because very few people are interested in spending more than $500 for a wireless speaker. But if you’re fortunate enough to have that kind of disposable income, the Oslo is worth considering. It plays about 4 decibels louder than the Riva Turbo X—definitely loud enough to annoy the people in the next apartment, and powerful enough for a large party. It also sounds fuller than the Turbo X, with a lot more bass but not too much bass.
From the standpoint of sheer elegance, the V-Moda Remix is probably the nicest Bluetooth speaker ever. We prefer the sound of our picks in the $200 range, which as of this writing is only two-thirds of the Remix’s price, but if you need a speaker to complement a sleek executive desk, it’s a cool choice.
Considering the Yell BTS700 cost just $9 at the time of this writing, we feel bad criticizing it, but it produces little volume, and we thought its sound wasn’t clear enough to make it worth carrying around.
What to look forward to
Manufacturers pitch us new portable Bluetooth speakers a couple of times a week, so we expect to add many more models in the coming months.
We’re looking into testing the 808 Canz Glo and Canz H2O, the Bose SoundLink Revolve, the Braven Ready Outdoor Series, HDMX Audio’s Jam Session, the JBL Flip 4 and Pulse 3, the Kickstarter-backed Lemon California Roll, the Indiegogo-funded Mass Fidelity raD, and the MVMT S4, as well as the Samsung Level Box Slim and Sony’s SRS line of Bluetooth speakers. We’ll evaluate them as they are released, and we’ll update this guide with our thoughts.
(Photos by Brent Butterworth.)
- UE Roll 2 review, CNET, June 6, 2016 ,
- Ultimate Ears Roll 2 review, What Hi-Fi?, May 26, 2016
- Vava Voom 20 Speaker Review: Big Sound, Small Price, Tom’s Guide, September 20, 2016 ,
- Review: Vava Voom 20 Bluetooth Portable Speaker, iLounge, August 3, 2016 ,
- Bose SoundLink Mini II review, CNET, June 23, 2015 ,
- Bose SoundLink Mini II, PCMag, June 29, 2015 ,
- Review: RIVA Turbo X - Vrrooommmm!!!, Oluv's Gadgets, May 2, 2015
- Riva Audio Turbo X review, CNET, August 10, 2015 ,
- Riva Turbo X Wireless Music System, The Absolute Sound, May 2, 2016 ,
- In-Depth Review of the DOSS SoundBox Touch Bluetooth Speaker, NerdTechy, January 13, 2017 ,
- Apple Recalls Beats Pill XL Portable Wireless Speakers Due to Fire Hazard, United States Consumer Product Safety Commission, June 3, 2015
- KEF Muo, PCMag, October 15, 2015 ,
- Review: Sony SRS-X5 vs. Denon Envaya - priced small like a Soundlink Mini, sound big like a Soundlink III?, Oluv’s Gadgets, July 8, 2014