For those of us that have strong memories of times spent untangling speaker cables, Bluetooth speakers can seem like witchcraft. Plonk a pill-shaped box on your shelf, or hang it up in the kitchen, then zap your music to it with nothing more than a few swipes. No knots. No jumbles. Magic.
After you’ve gotten over that initial delight, however, you’ll start to notice what makes one Bluetooth speaker better than another. Sound quality is a given, but what about battery life, charging speeds, connectivity support, or price? Here, we have a concise guide of what to consider when you’re buying a portable speaker, as well as our 13 current favourites.
Best Bluetooth speakers 2017: Sound quality
The first thing to consider is, clearly, audio quality, but that’s a difficult thing to measure, not least because some manufacturers drown you in wild claims and even wilder specifications. What’s more, you may have different aural needs to others: vocals, orchestral, pop, spoken word… the list is endless. We explain the strengths and weaknesses of each Bluetooth speaker in the individual reviews below.
Certainly, be wary of big numbers in the specs lists. Common sense may suggest that the larger the “total power output” – usually measured in watts – the louder and better a speaker will be, but in reality, it’s more important to consider how it sounds with different types of music. Also, bear in mind that the laws of physics can’t be hoodwinked: as a rule of thumb, a small speaker will always struggle to match a big speaker for bass and volume, unless you’re a fan of distortion or bass boom.
Another indicator of quality (but by no means a guarantee) is support for the aptX codec, which patent-holder CSR claims offers significantly better audio quality than standard sub-band coding (SBC) compression – and legions of audiophiles agree. Your source needs to output aptX as well, though, and notably iPhones, iPods and iPads don’t do that. If you’re in the Apple camp, aptX is very much a moot point.
Best Bluetooth speakers 2017: Features and connectivity
Once you’ve taken audio quality into consideration, you move into features, and there’s a wide array of choice out there. If you’re looking to party, consider a speaker that lets you pair three devices at a time – such as the UE Boom 2 and JBL Extreme – so three of you can pick up the DJ reins.
More important than this, however, is to buy a speaker that’s as flexible as possible in how you can connect to it. All wireless speakers have Bluetooth support, naturally, but not so many have Spotify Connect or Apple AirPlay support. These modes of connection all use your home Wi-Fi to stream audio and can deliver better quality audio and a more reliable connection to your phone, tablet or laptop. And don’t underestimate the usefulness of a bog-standard 3.5mm audio input, either. If you want bigger sound from a device without Bluetooth, it’s the easiest way to hook up.
Also, look for speakers that have been designed with outdoor use in mind. We’re seeing many more Bluetooth speakers with a rugged bent these days, and when they’re so light it is tempting to sling them in a bag and take them with you wherever you are. Some are less suited to this than others, including one of our top choices, the KEF Muo. This is one reason why it’s important to work out where you’ll be using your speakers before you hand over your £100/$130-plus.
Almost all Bluetooth speakers also offer a companion app. These aren’t necessary to connect your phone or tablet – that’s done simply enough via your device’s Bluetooth settings, providing the speaker is in findable mode, and note that several devices support NFC to make this even easier – but they do allow you to set up pairs of devices for stereo effects and access extra features such as internet radio stations.
Our top choice, the Libratone Zipp Mini, is even gunning for Sonos by offering multi-room features, meaning you can either set your music to follow you around or you can set different outputs for different areas. It’s a highly tempting feature, and just one of the reasons why we like the Zipp range so much.
Best Bluetooth speakers 2017: Battery life, charging and price
There are three final factors to consider. The first is battery life. Manufacturers tend to quote a battery life for “medium” volume, so if you’re the kind of person who puts music on full belt then knock a couple of hours from the quoted time. All good Bluetooth speakers will provide over eight hours of life, so this isn’t the crucial factor it used to be.
Do note, though, that while many Bluetooth speakers charge via micro-USB, others use proprietary chargers. The former is more convenient because you’re likely to have a power supply to hand – indeed, some speakers even act as portable batteries, providing a USB port so you can plug in your phone whilst travelling – but they will normally take longer to charge than a speaker with its own power supply.
The final factor? Price. This can fluctuate massively, with some speakers jumping up and down by £70/$91 as different offers and discounts apply. Whilst we don’t think an audiophile would ever regret buying the KEF Muo for £300/$390, nor can we ignore the fact the UE Boom 2 looks something of a bargain right now at £100/$130. Just bear in mind that you may end up buying more than one speaker, so your first buying decision could end up multiplying.
1. Libratone Zipp Mini
Score: 5/5 ⎮ Price: £179/$233 from libratone.com
KEY SPECS: 10hr battery life ⎮ DLNA ⎮ AirPlay ⎮ Bluetooth 4 with aptX codec ⎮ 3.5mm jack ⎮ 1 x USB ⎮ 100 x 100 x 224mm ⎮ 1.1kg
This is a crazily versatile speaker, as we’ve come to expect from those Scandinavian iconoclasts at Libratone. You can think of it as a rival to Sonos, with multi-room audio support if you buy more than one (and you will be tempted).
Connect it to your wireless network and it becomes an internet streaming radio: using the not terribly intuitive app, you can select up to five favourites and then select them directly using the touch-sensitive button on the top of the speaker. Or you can link it directly to your Spotify Premium account. Cleverly, there are very few places it can’t go either. The strap makes it easy to carry with you or hang up on a hook in the bathroom.
This is a real all-rounder, too, with SBC and aptX Bluetooth, Spotify Connect and AirPlay support, and while its sound quality isn’t up there with the KEF – it can’t match it for clarity or punch – it’s still a fine, warm speaker. Its particular talent is down to the circular design, which means music plays evenly in all directions. No matter where you put this speaker, it will sound great.
2. KEF Muo Wireless Speaker
Score: 5/5 ⎮ Price: £300/$390
KEY SPECS: 12hr battery life ⎮ Bluetooth 4 with aptX codec ⎮ NFC ⎮ 3.5mm aux ⎮ 210 x 60 x 80mm ⎮ 800g
If the KEF Muo was to walk into a roomful of Bluetooth speakers, there’s no doubt a respectful hush would descend: it’s royalty when it comes to audio quality. Put on a piece of orchestral music and it feels like you’re there; listen to a radio play and you can hear every detail; play a thumping drum’n’bass track… well, that’s where you may be let down a little, because at this size it will inevitably lack punch.
There’s no lack of style, though, with the “storm” grey of our sample – blue, gold, silver and orange are also available – looking suitably understated and regal. (Although we are reminded, just a little bit, of an electric heater.) Naturally, it supports Bluetooth AptX if you have a suitable source. It can be paired with another to provide stereo output and there’s NFC for quick pairing.
Cleverly, it can be used either vertically or horizontally: an internal sensor will automatically determine its orientation and change the output accordingly. Is it worth the money? If you’re an audiophile, undoubtedly. It’s a stunning Bluetooth speaker, with incredible sound quality.
3. Bang & Olufsen Beosound 1
Score: 4/5 | Price: £995/$1294 from Selfridges.com
If we thought the KEF Muo was good, though, it can’t touch the Bang & Olufsen Beosound 1. Resembling more a futuristic spaceship than a device for streaming your Spotify tunes through, this cone-shaped 360-degree speaker is a stunner of a portable speaker – although when I say portable, but its size means it’s more suited to being carting from room to room around your house than slung in a bag and taken down to the park.
Having said that, it does have a battery built in for up to 16 hours of mains-free playback, and the range of streaming services and wireless protocols it supports is truly impressive. There’s Bluetooth of course, but also Spotify Connect, Apple Airplay and Google Cast no less. It also slots into the firm’s multiroom speaker setup.
Sound quality-wise, it’s the best Bluetooth speaker we’ve ever come across. Music played through the Beosound 1 has tremendous atmosphere and a real sense of depth and authority. The highs are crisp and detailed, the bass is textured and controlled, and vocals have a presence and breadth that’s truly breathtaking. The price is very high, but if you want the best…
4. JBL Xtreme
Score: 4/5 ⎮ Price: £179/$233 from johnlewis.com
KEY SPECS: 12hr battery life ⎮ Bluetooth 4 ⎮ 3.5mm jack ⎮ 2 x USB ⎮ 283 x 122 x 126mm ⎮ 2.1kg
The biggest and boldest speaker on test here, the JBL Extreme would be our top party choice by a mile. It packs bags of bass that rebounds around the room – and your entire house – and you can connect up to three phones simultaneously if you want to vary the DJ. The speaker handles classical music and vocals well, but lacks the clarity of the KEF Muo, in part due to that non-too-subtle bass.
Unlike the KEF, though, the JBL Xtreme is rugged enough to go anywhere: it’s “splashproof” rather than waterproof, but you could take it out on a blustery day without fear. JBL even provides a strap that clips onto either side like a satchel, which is a good thing when you consider its 2.1kg weight. The other bonus: with two USB ports, you can use it as a portable charger thanks to its enormous 10,000mAh battery.
5. Audio Pro Addon T3
Score: 5/5 | Price: £165/$215 inc VAT
KEY SPECS: 30hr battery life | Bluetooth 4 (SBC) | 3.5mm aux | 215 x 135 x 115mm | 2kg
Audio Pro’s Addon T3 is just the sort of speaker you’d expect from a manufacturer of boutique Swedish audio gear. It’s solidly made, boxy form, leather handle and brushed metal detailing is delightfully retro, and yet the T3 doesn’t skimp on features or sound quality.
You can run the T3 from the mains or battery power – its internal power pack is good for 30 hours of playback at “medium” volume and 12 hours at maximum – and charge your phone from the USB port on the rear.
It’s fairly basic when it comes to connection – you can hook up via standard Bluetooth (there’s no support for aptX) or 3.5mm audio input – but that’s it. No Spotify Connect. No Apple Airplay.
Still, when the sound quality is this good, I’m willing to forgive that. It isn’t the most detailed speaker you’ll ever hear, and the bass gets a little boomy on certain tracks, but its sound is otherwise weighty, solid and the well-made cabinet keeps reverberations to a minimum and there’s no distortion to speak of either.
Others here have more facilities or better sound quality, but for £150/$195, you won’t hear many speakers better.
6. B&O Play Beoplay A1
Score: 4/5 | Price: £200/$260
KEY SPECS: 24hr battery life ⎮ Bluetooth 4.2 ⎮ 3.5mm jack ⎮ 1 x USB Type-C ⎮ 133 x 133 x 48mm ⎮ 600g
Scandinavian audio specialist B&O is famous for its high-end, highly priced lifestyle audio systems, but the baby Beoplay A1 is something different. Not much bigger than a small jewellery box, this compact Bluetooth speaker is an ultra-stylish entry point for those may not be able to afford the firm’s pricier offerings.
It isn’t all about the looks, though; this tiny speaker sounds great as well, has a battery that will last 24 hours at moderate volumes and can be used for speakerphone calls as well. In terms of what it can do, it’s pretty basic. It doesn’t have Wi-Fi, just Bluetooth connectivity, and there’s no support for aptX.
It isn’t the loudest of speakers either, but for sound quality and style they don’t come much better than this.
7. UE Boom 2
Score: 4/5 ⎮ Price: £100/$130 inc VAT from johnlewis.com
KEY SPECS: 15hrs battery life ⎮ IPX7 weatherproofing ⎮ Bluetooth 4⎮beoplay NFC ⎮ 3.5mm aux ⎮ 67 x 67 x 180mm ⎮ 548g
Roughly the size of a pencil case, the UE Boom 2 is designed to be your carry-anywhere speaker to survive all weathers. You can shower with it, leave it in the rain, even immerse it in a metre of water for half an hour. It’s also robust, with a tough-rubber finish, so you can chuck it into a rucksack or a suitcase and not worry about it. Battery life is yet another strength – the longest I’ve come across, at a quoted 15 hours.
Its weakness is sound quality, with a lack of warmth evident in all our testing. Pianos, for instance, emerged a little harshly, and supposedly funky tracks like “Get Lucky” felt like they’d been smartened up and slipped into starched shirts. It’s a speaker for those who need a rugged companion rather than the last word in sound quality, but a recent price cut makes it undeniably attractive.
8. Beats Pill+
Score: 3/5 ⎮ Price: £189/$246 inc VAT from Apple
KEY SPECS: 12hrs battery life ⎮ Bluetooth 4 ⎮ 3.5mm aux ⎮ 210 x 69 x 63mm ⎮ 745g
Sleek, compact and light, the Beats Pill+ is a deceptive little speaker. It’s just that little bit in love with itself, with a backlit “b” on the top in stark contrast to its black surround, but it packs a lot into that tiny form.
Audio quality sits in the middle of the pack, but that isn’t a damning statement when the standard is so high: on a slow jazz track, for instance, the low echo of a bass drum is perfectly clear and all the instruments are easy to make out, so it can do subtlety. As soon as tracks get a bit more tempestuous, though, the audio becomes a tad muddled.
Also note the lack of support for the aptX codec, but this isn’t surprising when iPhones and iPads don’t support it – Beats is an Apple brand, after all. Then again, this speaker puts style and convenience at the top of its agenda, and with a 12-hour battery life and simple interface, it’s exactly what you’d expect from Apple. Sadly, it also has a price to match.
9. Libratone One Click
Score: 5/5 ⎮ Price: £139/$181
KEY SPECS: 12hr battery life ⎮ Bluetooth 4.1⎮3.5mm aux ⎮ 120 x 41 x 205mm ⎮ 900g
A compact and thoughtfully designed Bluetooth speaker, the Libratone One Click is light on features but boasts a refined, balanced sound quality.
Design-wise, the Libratone One Click is about the size of a hardback book. The speaker grill is covered in soft cloth, while the edges are bordered with a removable rubber frame, with what can only be described as protruding rubber bumpers surrounding the outside.
Altogether, the Libratone One Click is more-than-decent Bluetooth speaker. We love the design and the sound, and scarcity of features aside there’s very little here to complain about. It’s an exceedingly good compact speaker.
10. Harman Kardon Go + Play
Score: 4/5 ⎮ Price: £250/$325 ⎮ Buy the Go + Play now from Harman Kardon
KEY SPECS: 8hr battery life ⎮ Bluetooth 4.1 (SBC) ⎮ 3.5mm aux ⎮ 418 x 182 x 212mm⎮ 3.4kg
The Harman Kardon Go + Play is surprisingly basic when it comes to modern wireless speakers. It has no Wi-Fi connectivity and thus no support for Spotify Connect, Apple Airplay or Google Cast. There isn’t even aptX support here for improved Bluetooth audio quality.
However, what it does do, it does brilliantly. It’s big and beefy and sounds wonderful, with oodles of solid bass and plenty of top-end detail. It has enough volume to keep even small garden gatherings rocking and the built-in eight-hour battery means you won’t have to get out the extension reel if the revelries go on a bit later than you expected.
All this, plus the fact that it looks fantastic, means it’s one of the best wireless home speakers you can buy. It only loses a mark because of its lack of features.
11. UE Wonderboom
Score: 5/5 ⎮ Price: £90/$117 ⎮ Buy the UE Wonderboom now from Amazon
KEY SPECS: 10hr battery life ⎮ Bluetooth ⎮ 90 x 90 x 100mm⎮ 0.43kg
The UE Wonderboom is a small portable speaker that floats in water. With its IPX7 rating, this Bluetooth speaker can be submerged for 30 minutes at a depth of up to 1m. Its portable size and vibrant colour schemes make the UE Wonderboom an attractive portable speaker to take on a picnic or hang in the shower.
The UE speaker has a quoted battery life of 10hrs at 75% volume. It connects through Bluetooth, and with an impressive 20m range through walls, so you won’t have any problems taking the speaker with you around the house. Though, there’s no Bluetooth aptX codec support, nor a 3.5mm jack if you prefer to connect to it more traditionally.
Its sound quality is truly a marvel. For its small size, the UE Wonderboom outputs a loud, low-distortion sound that can be heard clearly from range. Its overall sound quality is extremely impressive, from its deep pronounced bass to its clear treble, the speaker sounds great for all genres of music. If you’re looking for the best sub-£100/$130 speaker, look no further than the UE Wonderboom
12. Libratone Zipp
Score: 5/5 ⎮ Price: £250/$325 ⎮ Buy the Libratone Zipp now from Amazon
KEY SPECS: 8-10hr battery life ⎮ Bluetooth ⎮ 122 x 122 x 261mm⎮ 1.5kg
The Libratone Zipp is an expensive wireless speaker that has Bluetooth 4.0 aptX and 802.11n Wi-Fi connectivity. The large cylindrical speaker is extremely loud and doesn’t distort when pushed to its limit. It can easily fill a large living room or be used in the garden.
Its sound quality is impressive, with a deep rumble in the bass from sparkly trebles. Better still, its soundstage is open and provides a 360 sound, which means everyone can enjoy your music.
Through the Libratone app, you’ll be able to set up a multiroom system and stream through Spotify Premium, Apple AirPlay and listen to your favourite radio stations. At £250 it’s no cheap speaker, but if you’ve got the budget, the Zipp is one of the best around.
13. House of Marley Chant Mini
Score: 3/5 ⎮ Price: £25/$33 ⎮ Buy the House of Marley Chant Mini now from Amazon
KEY SPECS: 10hr battery life ⎮ Bluetooth ⎮ 10.8 x 10.8 x 140mm⎮ 0.49kg
The House of Marley Chant Mini is a small, inexpensive, beautifully crafted Bluetooth speaker. Made from bamboo and ‘Rewind Fabric’, this small speaker is environmentally friendly and aesthetically beautiful.
Its small 3W speaker is loud enough for a small gathering, but don’t expect it to fill a large living room or come in outdoor windy conditions. At £25/$33, there’s very little to dislike about the Chant Mini. As long as you set yourself realistic expectations for a speaker of its size, price and sound quality, you won’t be dissapointed.
14. Bose SoundLink Revolve
Score: 4/5 ⎮ Price: £200 /$260
KEY SPECS: 12hr battery life ⎮ Bluetooth ⎮ 82 x 82 x 152mm⎮ 0.66kg
The Bose SoundLink Revolve is a small Bluetooth speaker that boasts an impressive sound. Despite its size, the speaker can fill a medium-sized room with its 360-degree sound. Music isn’t the only thing the speaker can do, as the speaker’s multifunctional button grants you the ability to use Google Assistant or Siri with a compatible Android or iOS device.
At the bottom of the speaker is a 1.4in thread, which means it can be fitted to a tripod. There’s a docking port too – allowing you to wirelessly charge the speaker through the optional £25/$33 base. At £200/$260 it isn’t cheap, but if you’re looking for a portable, 360-degree, IPX4 water-resistant speaker, the Bose SoundLink Revolve is an excellent choice.