How We Found the Best Bluetooth Speaker
Sound quality is the first thing that many think of when it comes to choosing the best Bluetooth speaker. But when we consulted Dan Wiggins, an acoustics and audio expert, he told us that “when you’re talking about Bluetooth speakers there really isn’t such a thing as high-fidelity; that’s a limitation of Bluetooth.” He explained that manufacturers often “look at Bluetooth speakers as too much of a lifestyle product and not the primary way a consumer will be listening to music.” In other words, Bluetooth speakers aren’t designed to reproduce perfect audio.
In short, the convenience of Bluetooth comes at a cost. To send audio across a Bluetooth connection, data needs to be compressed — the data is too large otherwise. When you compress audio data it leads to a loss of audio quality. In exchange, Bluetooth technology removes the limitations of wires and allows you to listen to your speakers anywhere and at any time. In that sense, choosing the best Bluetooth speaker is more about finding the best option for your particular lifestyle.
Wired speakers still offer the best audio qualityUnlike Bluetooth speakers, wired speakers don’t rely on compression. This means wired speakers won’t lead to a loss of audio quality, and you’ll be able to hear finer details like a deeper bass. But finer details are difficult to hear in outdoor or noisy environments like a gym where Bluetooth speakers are more practical.
That said, the best Bluetooth speakers should still sound good. In our search for the best, we looked for Bluetooth speakers that were widely celebrated for their audio quality. But, we also looked for the Bluetooth speakers that would best suit a variety of lifestyles and activities from a backyard barbeque to hiking. After reading through audiophile reviews on sites like What Hi-Fi? and CNET as well as consumer reviews on Amazon, we selected 10 Bluetooth speakers that had the best reputations for both sound quality and portable designs. It’s not a comprehensive list — there are plenty of other Bluetooth speakers in similar sizes and shapes — but we focused on the ones that had the most thorough praise for those two features.
But once we received our Bluetooth speakers, we realized that our smallest speakers simply couldn’t compare to the larger ones — size differences have an effect on both portability and sound quality. So we grouped our speakers into three size categories to make sure our comparisons were fair.
- Fugoo Style XL
- Braven BRV-X
- Libratone Zipp
- B&O Beoplay A1
- Bose Soundlink Revolve
- Jbl Flip 4
- UE Roll 2
- VAVA Voom 20
- JBL Clip 2
- Creative MUVO 2c
Wiggins told us “if you’re looking for something to use around home, go bigger because to create large powerful bass, and a great sound experience it will take size and volume. On the other hand, deemphasize sound quality just a bit if you want a portable speaker to drop in your backpack or suitcase.”
A large speaker will be difficult to move around but will be louder. This means they’re best suited for use at home or situations where you need your speaker to cover more ground — think listening at a bonfire versus around a campfire. Small speakers are easy to carry around, but they won’t be able to produce enough bass or volume to fill larger spaces. Medium sized speakers are a nice compromise between the two. Choosing a size will depend on your lifestyle and needs, but no matter what size or brand, our top picks had to be portable, include useful features like long battery lives, and sound great.
We compared our speakers to find the most versatile and best sounding options.
Our experts told us the best way to evaluate our speakers was to simply give them a listen. However, they also recommended that we think carefully about how each speaker would fit into our lifestyles while doing so. A large speaker would be a great match for relaxed activities such as reading at home or hosting a backyard cookout. For active lifestyles including frequent travel or weekend biking with friends, a smaller speaker would be hard to beat. With this in mind, we compared our speakers according to three criteria…
First we looked at portability to find the speakers that were easy to move around.
The main advantage of a Bluetooth speaker is that it doesn’t have to be physically tethered to your device to play music. That makes them great for more active environments, where wired speakers are simply impractical — riding your bike, walking downtown, hanging out at the pool, etc. So our first priority was portability: These speakers had to be easy enough to toss in a backpack, gym bag, or other small bag.
Large speakers will naturally be harder to carry around than smaller ones, so we didn’t spend much time comparing portability across size categories. Instead, we focused on identifying the most portable speaker within each size group. For example, the JBL Clip 2 came with a clip for easy carrying while hiking or rock climbing. The Creative MUVO 2c was just as small, but didn’t come with any clips or straps for easy listening while biking with friends.
L-R: UE Roll 2, Creative MUVO 2c, Libratone Zipp
In addition to size and features, we also considered weight. Even the tiniest Bluetooth speaker wouldn’t count as portable if it weighed 20 lbs. We looked for speakers that wouldn’t weigh us down too much, relative to their size. The Beoplay A1 was only slightly larger than the UE Roll 2, for example, but it had considerably more heft — enough that we noticed picking it up, versus the comparatively weightless Roll 2.
We realize that it sounds counterintuitive to compare the portability of larger speakers. But part of the idea behind Bluetooth speaker technology is the ability to move it around. While large speakers are still better for use around the home, we gave preference to any that were portable enough to leave our homes for special occasions. The Fugoo Style XL was large but slim enough to take with us on a day trip to the lake. In contrast, the Libratone Zipp was so bulky we couldn’t even imagine taking it for a walk around the block.
We checked to see which speakers sounded best.
As we mentioned before, Bluetooth speakers won’t be able to compete with their wired counterparts when it comes to sound quality. If you’re willing to sacrifice a bit of sound quality for the portability of Bluetooth speakers, Wiggins told us “you’re going to find most of them don’t play very deep in frequency response. They’re mid-range [devices] that may disappoint bass lovers.” In other words, Bluetooth speakers will have difficulty producing the deep bass you can get with wired speakers, but when it comes to vocals and lead instruments, they’ll sound great.
Our experts advised us to listen for speakers with a deeper bass response and any that are capable of playing loud. A deeper bass and louder volume will be able to fill a room and provide a better listening experience. We listened to each speaker multiple times to get a good sense for how each speaker sounded. To our surprise, some differences were easy to pick up. The Libratone Zipp struggled to match the volume of the Fugoo Style XL which managed to get surprisingly loud. The Beoplay A1 had a rich bass that did more justice to songs like Run the Jewels’ “Hey Kids (Bumaye)” than speakers like the VAVA Voom 20.
We’re not audio experts, so we also compared our experiences with those from audiophile and tech sites such as What Hi-Fi?, Sound Guys, CNET, and the Master Switch. We also watched audiophile comparisons such as clavinetjunkie’s YouTube videos to see what trained ears said about our speakers. For the most part, the audiophile reviews aligned with our own experiences. For example, our tester reported the Fugoo Style XL had a balanced bass and clear vocals, but cymbals on Pearl Jam’s “Immortality” sounded a bit fuzzy at louder volumes. The Sound Guys reported high notes came through clearly without sounding shrill or piercing while clavinetjunkie reported a mostly smooth treble that sounds slightly muffled at times.
In any case, sound is largely subjective and as we learned during our Bluetooth Headphones review, small differences in sound can be more about a speaker’s character rather than overall quality. In addition, you likely won’t notice subtle sound differences while entertaining friends, hiking, or relaxing at home. Rather than limit our focus to imperceptible differences, we looked for speakers that were able to give the most consistent and enjoyable listening experience in our homes, on a patio, or in the great outdoors.
Last but not least, we looked for speakers that were durable and convenient to use.
We looked for speakers that would be able to withstand common accidents such as a spilled drink or fall from a table. We gave preference to speakers with high IPX ratings — a certification published by the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC) that marks a product’s water and dust resistance. For example, the Fugoo Style XL had an impressive IP67 certification which meant it could handle exposure to harmful dust and immersion in up to 3 feet of water for up to 30 minutes. Put simply, you won’t have to worry about any accidents while listening poolside. Competitors like the Bose Soundlink Revolve only had IPX4 certification for handling spills but not immersion.
We also compared the Bluetooth range of our speakers, to see which speakers you could set and forget. The UE Roll 2 had a stunning range of up to 100 feet, which meant you were free to walk around the barbeque and chat with friends. Some, like the Brazen BRV-X, only promised 15-30 feet, which meant you had to stay closer to the speaker. If you want to speak to someone further away without static or disconnecting, you’ll have to leave your phone behind or give them a shout.
We looked for speakers with intuitive designs or useful features that made changing volume, switching songs, and pairing devices a breeze. The Libratone Zipp came with a neat touch pad, but we found it a little confusing and had to consult our manuals when we forgot touch commands. Others like the Fugoo Style XL had buttons with simple symbols that we figured out immediately.
L: The Libratone’s confusing interface. R: The Fugoo Style XL.
Some of our speakers offered voice command compatibility with Siri and Google Assistant. We’ll be upfront: The feature didn’t work that well on any of the compatible speakers we tested. For instance, our tester had to be very close to the Fugoo Style XL in order for our volunteer on the other end of the call to hear them. We’ll pass on yelling at inanimate objects, and evaluate our speakers for what they do best — playing audio.