Whether you use them for listening to music at home, in the garden, at the poolside or whilst out for a walk, portable Bluetooth speakers are a versatile solution and provide ample battery life to accompany you throughout the day. Associated with a smartphone, a tablet, or with any Bluetooth or wired source, portable Bluetooth speakers guarantee powerful and high-quality sound, as long as you choose the device best suited to your needs. This is where things start to get complicated, and it’s easy to become overwhelmed by the innumerable models currently available on the market. Is it better to choose a small or a large Bluetooth speaker? What are the essential features that a Bluetooth speaker should offer? In this comparative guide about the best portable Bluetooth speakers, we will provide you with all of the elements necessary to choose a speaker that is suited to your needs.
Portable Bluetooth speakers: sizes
What often comes to mind when we think of portable speakers is a compact device that easily fits in a handbag or backpack, like the Sony SRS-XB12 Bluetooth speaker for example. However, the quality of a Bluetooth speaker is closely linked to its size. The smaller the speaker is, the smaller and fewer its drivers will be. To choose the correct speaker, it is therefore important to examine its technical specifications.
If the frequency response, especially in the lows, isn’t your main concern, any model will be suitable. But to enjoy a balanced sound from your Bluetooth speaker, several criteria are essential. Firstly, in order to accurately reproduce the entire range of low, mid and high frequencies, the speaker must be equipped with at least two drivers: one to restitute the lows and low-mids, and one for the mids and/or highs. Many larger Bluetooth speakers also include one or several woofers. The air load is usually tuned to a certain frequency. The more air there is, the more powerful and distortion-free the bass will be.
Two types of enclosure exist. The first is the classic bass-reflex technique, which uses a vent. It is the same principle that is used in most hi-fi speakers and subwoofers. The second technique uses a passive charge. A growing number of manufacturers are starting to adopt this technique which uses a passive, non-powered driver called a passive radiator. Its role is the same as that of a vent, which is to resonate at a given frequency to relieve the main driver, which can then focus on higher frequencies. This results in a significant reduction in distortion at high volume. The Sony SRS-XB32 Bluetooth speaker uses this type of charge with two 2” drivers and two passive radiators.
Therefore, it is clear that no matter what technology and DSP modes are used to optimize the restitution of a small Bluetooth speaker, it will never be capable of providing accurate sound at high volume. The lows will often be saturated, the highs will be aggressive and distortion will increase with the volume. That doesn’t mean that all small Bluetooth speakers are substandard; some, such as the Cabasse Swell, the Tangent Fjord mini BT and the JBL Pulse 3, are very good. If you are only planning to use your Bluetooth speaker on the go, at moderate volume and placed close by, these three references will meet your needs. They are perfect for an improvised picnic or a day at the beach.
On the other hand, as mentioned above, if you want to focus on sound quality and would like to be able to listen to your music at high volume without distortion, choosing a larger portable speaker is a must. Best of all, a bigger speaker usually means a longer battery life. Consequently, they are the best solution for long outings and for partying all night.
Portable Bluetooth speakers: connections
When choosing a portable Bluetooth speaker, the available connections are also an important factor so that you can connect all of your sources. Firstly, the presence of an NFC chip allows you to instantly connect the Bluetooth speaker to the source simply via contact. Amongst the best portable Bluetooth speakers featuring an NFC chip are the iconic Sony SRS-XB22, Bose SoundLink Revolve and Cabasse Swell speakers for more compact models, but also the larger Tangent Fjord mini BT and Cambridge Audio Yoyo (S) models.
If you own a DAP or wish to connect your speaker to a TV, a computer or any other device that doesn’t include a Bluetooth emitter, you should choose a portable speaker that has a mini jack or RCA line input. This input can also be used to conserve the source’s battery. The reference compact models are the Tangent Pebble Splash, the JBL GO 2 and the Bang & Olufsen A1. For more expressive models, the Dali Katch and the Klipsch The One are good choices.
Portable Bluetooth speakers with WiFi
An increasing amount of Bluetooth speakers feature an integrated WiFi module for an easy internet connection. This function isn’t very useful if you are looking for a Bluetooth speaker that will only ever be used on the go. However, if you are also planning on using the speaker at home, a WiFi connection alongside Bluetooth transmission will be a valuable tool to increase your device’s functionality.
Portable speakers that include WiFi are the most advanced, as they give you direct access to many online music services such as Spotify, Deezer, Amazon Prime Music, Tidal, and in some cases, even Qobuz. Access to music shared on the local network (DLNA) is also available to play your music using a process that is less destructive than Bluetooth. Without access to a WiFi network, this type of portable speaker is just like any other Bluetooth speaker.
Portable speakers that feature WiFi connectivity are usually very versatile and are compatible with numerous transmission protocols, in particular with AirPlay technology which facilitates streaming from an Apple device, whether it be an iPhone, an iPad, an iPod or a Mac. Better still, some portable connected speakers integrate the Google Assistant or the Amazon Alexa voice assistants, allowing you to easily control music playback and all your connected devices. Some of the best portable smart Bluetooth speakers compatible with a voice assistant are the Pure DiscovR, the Roberts iStream3 and the Harman Kardon Allure Portable.
Some portable Bluetooth speakers can be associated to one or several other compatible speakers in order to create a stereo system or to stream the same music on multiple speakers. This process is called linking or stereo pairing and is generally carried out via Bluetooth transmission, therefore requiring all of the speakers to be placed within a maximum perimeter of 10 meters. Choosing a portable speaker that features WiFi connectivity allows you to increase this distance and create a multi-room system including all compatible speakers connected the the home network. You can then play the same music simultaneously in every room, or you can stream a different track in each room. This applies to the Sony SRS-XB501G, Mass Fidelity Core and Soundcast VG10 speakers, for example. This makes portable multi-room speakers ideal for partying throughout the house.
It is important to note that multi-room connectivity is only available when the speakers are connected to the local network. Outside, they can be used like any other portable Bluetooth speaker. It is also necessary to take into account the multi-room protocol used by the speaker, as not all manufacturers use the same transmission technology. Therefore, a speaker created by one company won’t necessarily be compatible with a speaker made by a different company. The only exceptions to this rule are the portable speakers that feature the DTS Play-Fi, Google Chromecast or AirPlay 2 protocols, such as the Pure DiscovR speaker, for example. If you wish to create a multi-room system, it is important to carefully examine the technology used by the portable speaker, because once the first device has been purchased, it is essential to choose speakers using the same transmission technology.
Portable Bluetooth speakers: battery life
A Bluetooth speaker’s battery life is an essential feature to be able to enjoy many hours of non-stop playback. If your speaker is going to remain at home, the battery life isn’t very important, so you can consider connected speakers that don’t have a battery. Most compact portable speakers offer between 5 and 10 hours of playback at moderate volume, which is enough to accompany you for most of the day at the beach, in the garden or at the poolside. For more intensive use, choosing a larger portable Bluetooth speaker is a good investment to enjoy a longer battery life. Bigger speakers can easily provide more than 30 hours of playback at high volume which is enough to provide sound for your longest parties and eliminates the need to charge the speaker every day.
Portable Bluetooth speakers: control interface
The control interface varies hugely from one portable speaker to another. Generally, the more compact the speaker is, the less controls there are (power, pairing and volume). This is the case with the JBL GO 2 and Tangent Pebble Splash speakers. Other speakers offer more advanced settings: to pause playback, select presets, answer a phone call, etc. Some portable speakers even have a dedicated app for smartphones and tablets so that you can adjust the settings to your preferences.
Portable Bluetooth speakers: build quality and water resistance
The materials used to create a Bluetooth speaker should also be taken into account when you plan to take the speaker everywhere you go. Some Bluetooth speakers are splash resistant, while others are completely waterproof, which means that they can be used next to a pool, at the beach or in the shower, and can even be cleaned under running water.
Portable Bluetooth party speakers
There comes a point when even the best Bluetooth speaker shows limitations. This can happen when you want to play music in a large room or a garden, for example. In this situation, a portable Bluetooth party speaker is an excellent alternative. Even though they are more cumbersome than average portable speakers, they have the advantage of featuring large drivers, combined with generous amplification, often between 300 and 500 Watts. They combine considerable power with the practicality of Bluetooth transmission to bring music to large parties.
Party speakers also have the advantage of including numerous analog and/or digital audio inputs, as well as inputs for microphones and instruments. Consequently, they can be used to amplify a guitar to accompany a singer, for example. These speakers also usually include lighting to create a festive ambiance.
Which is the best portable Bluetooth speaker?
Throughout this guide, we have listed the best current Bluetooth speakers according to their size, power, connectivity, practicality, battery life, resistance and more. However, it is impossible to pick the best portable Bluetooth speaker, as it varies depending on the uses and needs of each user. However, as we have previously mentioned, larger portable Bluetooth speakers are often a much better investment allowing you to benefit from a versatile speaker that provides powerful bass, a long battery life and the possibility to listen to music at high volume without generating any distortion. The market leaders in this category are the Elipson Lenny, the Cambridge Audio Yoyo (S), the Klipsch The One, the Soundcast VG10, the JBL Flip 4, the Sony SRS-XB501G and the Bose SoundLink Revolve speakers.