Wireless speakers have become a must-have audio gadget for a multitude of uses – indoor or outdoor, on the road, festivals, parties, walks and hikes..the list is endless! They’re portable, pack surprising volume and audio quality and can go with you wherever you happen to go with minimal extra weight or hassle.
They have become very popular and the result is that there are hundreds and hundreds of options available on the market to choose from. Picking the best portable speaker that suits your every need isn’t easy!
Some models are ideal for playing music at home, say if you’re using your phone but want to play audio on Spotify through speakers on the other side of the room. This also applies to house parties – no need to leave your phone wired up to the speakers all night!
Other models perform optimally for active use and are equipped with waterproofing, rugged exteriors and extreme battery life. Hiking, camping, travelling, watersports, pool parties..you name it and there’s a Bluetooth speaker out there to fit the bill.
To assist, we’ve compiled this guide full of cool info on the best portable speakers and their various features.
The core feature of Bluetooth speakers is their ability to play audio anywhere wirelessly, provided you have a Bluetooth audio device like a phone or media player. Most portable Bluetooth speakers are equipped with two speakers for stereo playback and despite their small sizes, you’ll be surprised at how much volume they can pump out. With extra bass boost features and fine tuning, some are impressively loud and impactful. Portable speakers are rapidly replacing bigger conventional sound systems in homes and offices.
When choosing a Bluetooth speaker, decide upon power based on what room you’re placing it in and the volume you want to achieve. For smaller rooms like offices, you can easily opt for a smaller but higher quality speaker. If you’re looking for a speaker for parties or other similar larger events then power is the aim of the game! A second consideration is direct vs omnidirectional sound. Most speakers are direct but a growing number of omnidirectional speakers from manufacturers like Samsung or Bose are billed to fill rooms with detailed 3D audio.
Yep, it’s a bit strange that small portable Bluetooth speakers are somewhat replacing the larger stereo hi-fis found in homes across the world but as tech gets more advanced, things do generally get smaller and more refined! You can’t fault the usability, performance and flexibility of Bluetooth speakers – they’ve become invaluable components of our gadget collections and repertoires.
When hunting for a waterproof or dustproof speaker, you need to be aware of the IP ratings which are designed to indicate how proofed a speaker is to adverse events.
An IP rating uses two numbers, the first indicates how sealed the unit is to dust and particles. Most speakers are dust proof level 6, which shows that they’re completely sealed to the intrusion of fine particles e.g. sand.
The second number refers to how waterproof a unit is. The most common rating here is 7, which indicates that the speaker can be submerged at a depth of 1 metre for approx. 30 minutes.
So, if you’re looking for a weatherproof speaker, look for one that is rated IP67. This is the most common rating for adventure-proof or waterproof Bluetooth speakers.
The best portable Bluetooth speakers can double up as voice assistants using Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant or Microsoft Cortana. These function via an internal mic. You won’t even have to pick your phone up to change track – just tell your speaker to do it! You’ll also receive reminders about calendar events, info about news, weather or any other media found on Google or other search engines.
An internal mic also doubles up to allow you to receive hands-free calls. If your phone goes off whilst you’re using your speaker, you can simply talk through its inbuilt mic, even from across the room!
The first part of the puzzle are the various Bluetooth versions indicated in the descriptions of Bluetooth devices.
These versions look like: 3.1, 3.2, 4.1, 5.1, etc. The later the version, the better in general! Bluetooth evolved to cater for really complex devices in industries such as the medical, military, tech and IT industries – audio devices are comparatively simple.
That said, the factors that are influenced by Bluetooth version in audio devices are range, reliability and bandwidth or streaming speed. Higher Bluetooth versions will carry better ranges, move the speaker outside its maximum working range and it’ll likely disconnect or audio quality will be compromised.
The only versions of Bluetooth you’ll find commonly in Bluetooth speakers right now are 4.X and 5. Both perform well regarding audio playback.
Bluetooth 5 is better equipped for streaming uncompressed files in formats like Wav or FLAC.
However, the streaming of high quality files depends on one other variable: codecs.
When you play an audio clip via Bluetooth, it’s converted into data which can be transferred wirelessly to a speaker or headset. Codecs encode the audio for streaming and there’s a few different codecs which are used by different devices.
Some codecs are capable of transferring hi-res audio like FLAC and WAV. These include LDAC and Aptx HD. Aptx HD can carry 48kHz audio at bit rates up 550kbs, enough for most hi-res audio. LDAC can carry 96kHz audio at bitrates of 990kbs, easily sufficient for almost all hi-res audio.
Standard codecs AptX and SBC are only capable of carrying 44.1kHz CD quality at 350kbs. Any WAV or FLAC file played with AptX or SBC codecs will be reduced to 350kbs.
High-end home Bluetooth hifis use LDAC or AptxHD. LDAC is specifically designed by Sony and their new high-end audio gear is typically LDAC compatible.
But does any of this matter? It does to audiophiles who want to hear their hi-res uncompressed files in all their glory but for the most part, CD quality is easily sufficient. Everything in Bluetooth is backwards compatible, there’s no incompatibility between hi-res formats are lesser codecs – it just limits the audio quality.
Bluetooth speakers come with inputs for connecting your phone via standard AUX or USB. Some speakers even come with a headphone amp so you can enjoy high-fidelity sound on your hiifi headphones.
Take notice of the speaker’s ports if you need USB-C connectivity.
Bluetooth speakers come in all shapes and sizes – some are split by major differences in their appropriate uses, features and quality but many are well matched.
Choosing the best portable speaker is no easy task! Like with many audio gadgets, selections are often narrowed down initially by budget. From there, it’s best to decide whether you want a speaker for home or outside use, what power you require and then overview its battery life and other features. These little speakers can be tremendously useful and many don’t cost very much given the flexible audio solutions they pack. Good luck!