There's a lot of choice when it comes to speakers, and it's not always clear which will be the best speaker for you. Here, we bring you our pick of the 15 best speakers available and expert buying advice to help you choose from the selection. We've got the best iPhone speakers, best bluetooth speakers, best portable speakers and more.
The iPhone 6s and 6s Plus provide up to 128GB of storage, which makes them ideal for home entertainment and storing all your music and video files – even those with 16GB devices can stream the latest music through the likes of Apple Music and Spotify. With music becoming more easily available, you’ll need a good speaker system to go with them, and you’re really spoilt for choice these days.
There are dozens of speaker manufacturers fighting for a slice of the Apple pie, with speakers in all shapes and sizes, designed for both indoor and outdoor use. Many speakers talk the talk – but do they walk the walk?
In this article, we explain various features you should look out for when in the market for a new speaker for your device, including the compression technology used by the speaker, and '360 degree audio'. If you want to skip straight ahead to our round-up of the best speakers click here, but for more buying advice simply read on.
Best speakers 2016 buying advice: Compression Technology
By default, every Bluetooth audio-capable device must be able to use an agreed basic compression system, known as SBC. Sub-band coding is a psychoacoustic lossy codec – that is it discards music information deemed not so important to our ears, to greatly reduce the number of bits that must be sent in a digital music stream.
The quality of SBC varies and it runs at various bitrates, depending on how fine and deep the slices are made into separate frequency bands known as ‘bins’. Actually quality depends on how the sending device has been configured by its maker. But SBC typically runs at around 200 kb/s, and has the subjective quality of MP3 at 128 kb/s – which is to say, not at all good.
Alternatives are now in use thankfully. Top dog is aptX, a British invention that forms the basis of DTS cinema sound. It’s still lossy and compressed sound but amazingly nearly transparent to CD resolution at its fixed bitrate of 350 kb/s. Samsung invested heavily in current aptX license holder CSR plc and now fits aptX compatibility into most of its Google phones.
Apple does not include aptX in any of its iOS devices, although Macs since Snow Leopard can use aptX Bluetooth audio. Instead, the iPhone and iPad will try to beam out Bluetooth audio using the AAC codec, which is part of the MPEG-4 standard. Results are always better than SBC, but not quite so good as aptX.
Best speakers 2016 buying advice: Amp classification
The second hindrance to Bluetooth speaker sound is the current reliance on low-fidelity amplification technology, in common with other budget consumer electronics. While natural sounding hi-fi amplifiers still use a linear system known as Class A or Class B (more typically both, to form Class AB), cheap and portable audio devices use a fast-switching PWM system to drive speakers, known as Class D.
Class D is a clever way to make amplifiers far more efficient, turning more precious mains or battery power into usable amp output power. That’s particularly noteworthy in a mobile age dependent on batteries. Class D amps run cold so don’t require massive heatsinks to vent unwanted heat. A complete powerful 20W amp module can be built around a small microchip, saving much space and cost. The technology has everything going for it – except sound quality, which is typically grainy, harsh, lifeless and stripped of the natural essence of music.
The smallest of speakers with a single midrange speaker and limited volume can hide some of these issues; the challenge for the designer is to make a full-range speaker system that makes you actually want to listen to it.
Best speakers 2016 buying advice: 360-degree audio
A popular feature of Bluetooth speakers is “360-degree audio" – but what is 360-degree audio? Generally speaking, speakers that offer 360-degree audio are usually cylindrical or circular in design and feature drivers facing every direction, opposed to the traditional front-facing speaker setup. This produces ‘room filling audio’ which waves goodbye to the audio ‘sweet spot’ that you’ll find on traditional speakers, where audio will sound best when facing a certain direction. Though it’s not a deal breaker, it’s usually something we look for when in the market for a new speaker.
Best speakers 2016 buying advice: Battery life
What about battery life? While not too long ago, the standard battery life for a Bluetooth speaker was a slightly disappointing five hours, we've come along way with regards to Bluetooth accessory battery life and with many budget speakers offering upwards of 10 hours per charge, we wouldn't recommend buying a speaker that offers anything dramatically less. Also, it's worth keeping an eye out for speakers that double up as portable battery chargers, as it'll probably come in handy when using your smartphone to play music.
Best speakers 2016 buying advice: WiFi connectivity
Some Bluetooth speakers also offer Wi-Fi connectivity, so which connection should you opt for? Traditionally, using a Bluetooth connection gives you a 10m range (although this may vary between products), which means that you'll only be able to play music from a speaker in the same room as you - any further and you'll probably experience the audio cutting out. However, Wi-Fi has a much wider reach, and could allow you to play music from anywhere in the house. With this being said, the Wi-Fi setup process can be quite stressful and require users to install a specific app on their smartphone in order to operate the speaker, whereas Bluetooth setup takes 30 seconds.
- RRP: £22
This tidy speaker from Gear4 is great value for money. It’s got a nice silicone finish but is perhaps a tad bulkier than others – but who can complain for forty English sheets?
It weighs nearly half a kilo, which is pretty good considering the sound it can make. It has twin speakers and a passive radiator backing up the bass, and the audio is impressive, reaching high volumes without distortion that is common amongst similarly priced speakers.
It’s also got physical buttons for changing volume, skipping track and pausing, and will give you about six hours on a single charge of the rechargeable battery. The Bluetooth range is around 10m, and there’s an auxiliary input if you want to wire up an older device.
UE BOOM 2
- RRP: £169.99
Ultimate Ears’ UE BOOM 2 is the second generation BOOM, bringing with it a number of improvements when compared to the original (and hugely popular) UE BOOM. The main selling point of the UE BOOM 2 is its 360-degree audio, providing truly room filling audio and waving goodbye to the speaker audio ‘sweet spot’. It’s not just audio projection that makes the UE BOOM 2 the speaker that it is though, it’s shock and dirt proof with IPX7 rated water resistance, meaning it’ll survive any journey you take it on.
The UE BOOM 2 also boasts a 15-hour battery life, has a 100ft wireless range and can connect to two devices at once, providing a musical switch-over without having to disconnect from the speaker and stop the music from playing. It helps to make listening to music a more sociable experience, rather than having one person deciding what’s played. Users can also download the UE BOOM app to tweak the EQ of the speaker and even pair up with a second UE BOOM 2 for a true stereo experience.
It’s available in a range of colours, from a rather modest black and grey to a more outlandish orange and purple combo. The best part about the UE BOOM 2 is that the company is constantly updating the speaker and adding new features, all of which can be installed via regular OTA updates, making the speaker future-proof (to a certain extent, anyway!).
Marsboy B2 5W Orb Bluetooth Speaker
- RRP: £38.99 inc. VAT
Marsboy’s Orb is a 5W Bluetooth-enabled budget speaker that will turn your bedroom into your own private disco, thanks to its built-in colour changing LEDs. Circular in design, this black plastic speaker is half mesh and half soft-touch plastic. Below the meshed surface a series of LEDs can transmit a range of colours, creating a disco-like effect in your bedroom.
Rather than pulsating to the music, the LEDs are controlled by choosing one of seven programmes. You can also hook it up using an AUX cable, or take advantage of the built-in Micro-SD card slot - the Marsboy supports MP3, WMA, WAV, APE and FLAC. Removable memory card support is not at all a given on cheaper Bluetooth speakers.
There’s also an option that allows you to pair two Marsboy Bluetooth speakers to create surround sound from your iPhone or iPad – which is handy, as the Orb isn’t the loudest Bluetooth speaker we’ve ever heard. While audio isn't of the crystal clear variety you'd find in true audiophile equipment - and neither would you expect it to be at this price - the Marsboy was able to handle everything we threw at it, from rock to pop and everything in between. For the money, you certainly can't complain about the performance. And with a built-in 3,000mAh battery, you should see around 12 hours of battery life on a single charge.
You can read our full review here.
- RRP: £149.99
The Cowin Ark is unlike many other Bluetooth speakers as its formed of two parts; a portable Bluetooth speaker/soundbar that sits on top, nicknamed Cruze, and the wired base, nicknamed Ark. The mixture of brushed metal sides and a mirror finish on top makes for a space age device.
Though the Cowin Ark comes as a two-piece Bluetooth speaker system, the Cruze can be taken to the beach or the park and be used by itself, thanks to its built-in rechargeable battery. The Ark features Magnatec technology, which syncs the two parts of your system ready for playback, while also keeping the Cruze securely attached to the Ark whenever its placed on top – but that’s not its only functionality. The Magnatec technology also provides wireless charging for the soundbar, which means the Cruze is fully charged and ready to go whenever you are. Oh, and the Ark can also be used to charge up your smartphone too, if it supports wireless charging.
We were really surprised by the audio quality of the Cowin Ark, especially with regards to its bass output. The levels of bass are nothing short of phenomenal and when paired with a soundbar that can produce 35W of room-filling audio, the result is a well rounded sound perfect for a variety of tasks, from background audio when you’re relaxing to playing tunes full blast in your living room with your mates. This is thanks to its two speaker drivers, two passive radiators and a 5in ported subwoofer.
You can read a review by our colleagues at PC Advisor here.
Edifier Bric Connect
- RRP: £77
The sophisticated design of the Edifier Bric Connect is suited more to the home than outdoors in our opinion, especially with no kind of water, dust or shock resistance provided with the speaker.
Unlike many other Bluetooth speakers, the Bric Connect offers two ways to power the speaker, one suited for home and one suited for the outdoors. The first option is to plug the speaker directly into the mains, which is ideal for stationary use at home. The good news is that the speaker can also be powered via batteries, but not the lithium-ion rechargeable ones that you’re probably expecting. Instead, the Bric Connect requires six AA batteries wherever a plug isn’t available.
The Bric Connect produces well-rounded, room filling audio that we think is well above the Bric Connect’s £65 RRP. The main cause of shock was the levels of bass produced by the speaker (thanks to its bass reflect port at the rear), as we’d only heard a similar level of bass produced by two-piece systems. It doesn’t drown out the mid range either, which is an issue we’ve experienced with Bluetooth speakers in the past. Vocals sound rich, and the speaker performs as well playing acoustic music as it does playing dubstep.
You can read a review by our colleagues at PC Advisor here.
Cambridge Audio Bluetone
- RRP: £199.95
- Buy from Cambridge Audio
The Bluetone’s matte black casing isn’t much to look at, but it packs a serious punch for speaker costing just under £200.
With 100W output, the Bluetone is powerful enough to really fill a room with sound, and provides a more solid bass sound than many compact speakers of this size. It measures 182x354x118mm and weighs 4.1kg so isn't quite as portable as some of the other speakers in this round-up. It only runs off mains power, but there’s a carrying handle built into the back of the speaker and it’s light enough to easily carry from room to room at home.
It uses Bluetooth for wireless connectivity – with the option of Apt-X for devices that support it – and there are two inputs for non-wireless devices as well.
- RRP: £99
The Denon Envaya Mini is a gorgeous little Bluetooth speaker ready for use with your iPhone, iPad or Mac. It measures in at just 20.9x5.4x5.1cm, but it weighs a surprisingly hefty 558g, which makes it a little less portable than we'd like.
But where this speaker really excels is the audio, so there's a bit of good news for you. It boasts dual 40mm full range drivers with a 40x83mm passive radiator, which produces both crisp sound and impressive bass.
Could the Denon Envaya Mini be the speaker you've been looking for? Check out our colleagues at PC Advisor’s review
- RRP: £45 inc. VAT
This petite portable speaker from Maxell will appeal to those who value style, ease of use and true portability above audio quality. It's by no means a bad little speaker set for your iPhone or iPad. It comes in a variety of colours including white, blue and black.
Weighing just 278g and just 154x59x46mm in size, it's well put together and should survive most tumbles thanks to its durable build. It's a 6w output wireless speaker set with two cones and no subwoofer so don't expect amazing audio quality, but for its affordability and portability it's a price some will be willing to pay.
There's Bluetooth 4.0 or you can plug in via the 3.5mm cable, and it's loud enough to fill a room. There's a built-in DC 6V 12000mAh rechargeable Li-ion battery, too.
Find out more in PC Advisor's Maxell MXSP-BT03 review.
- RRP: £80
Third in the series, the Bayan Audio SoundBook GO is a Bluetooth portable speaker worth reading about (see what we did there?).
It's an affordable little speaker that bucks the trend for many of its Bluetooth breed by being a delight to listen to. Plus, it's a neat design that provides some protection to the front perforated grille if you should travel with it.
Inside the SoundBook Go is a pair of 35mm full-range drivers powered by a 7.5 watt stereo Class D chip amplifier. You'll get reliable Bluetooth connection or the option of a 3.5mm minijack for improved sound performance.
Interested? Find out more in our Bayan Audio SoundBook Go review.
- RRP: £119 inc. VAT
The Scosche BoomBOTTLE is a portable speaker ideal for outdoorsy types. As the name suggests it's designed in the shape of a drinks bottle, which is actually designed to fit in the bottle holder on your bike. It's able to pair with an iPhone or iPad via Bluetooth, USB or 3.5mm jack.
Using the BoomBOTTLE in your bike's bottle holder is not exactly ideal, but thankfully it's not limited to just that. It lends itself to other outdoor situations and it's robust, too. The cylindrical speaker shape means it offers omni-directional sound, provided by two 3w 40mm speakers.
Plus, it weighs a surprisingly light 443g and is 70mm across and 205mm long.
If you're tempted by this unusual speaker, find out more in PC Advisor's full BoomBOTTLE review.
Pure Jongo S3X
- RRP: £129
Pure’s Jongo speakers have been really popular, and the company recently added the portable S3X model to the range. Admittedly, the S3X is a little heavier than many of its portable rivals – at 1.25kg it weighs almost as much as the 13-inch MacBook Air – but its rechargeable battery lasts for up to 15 hours and its 20W output is powerful enough to get things going at an outdoor party or BBQ.
The S3X includes both Wi-Fi and Bluetooth for streaming your music. And, like all the other Jongo models, the S3X can be used on its own, paired with another Jongo for two-channel stereo, or as part of a multi-room system that beams music all around your home.
- RRP: £129.99
It’s a while since we’ve heard from Creative, but its Roar speaker deserves to get your attention. It’s a relatively compact speaker, about the size of a thick paperback, and finished off with a smart metallic grille. However, Creative’s engineers have managed to cram in five separate drivers and two amps, including a proper sub-woofer that gives it a nice firm kick in the bass.
Creative doesn’t quote a figure for the amp output, but it really does create a big sound for such a small speaker system. It’s a little heavy at 1.1kg, but the sound quality, eight-hour battery, and extras such as a microphone for voice calls make the Roar one of the best portable speakers we’ve seen in this price range. There's Bluetooth, 3.5mm line-in, micro-USB and a micro-SD slot to boot.
Jabra Solemate Max
- RRP: £299 inc VAT
The rugged design and attractive sound of the original Solemate speaker earned it a lot of fans, so Jabra recently followed it up with the larger Solemate Max.
Admittedly, a weight of almost 3kg means that you probably won’t be carrying the Solemate Max around in your backpack, but it does have its own carrying handle to help you out, and the extra size and weight means that it can include a big battery that lasts for up to 14 hours.
It produces a big sound too – the bass could be a bit stronger, but its 90W output is powerful enough to get the party going when you’re on holiday or out in the garden. The £250 price tag is a bit steep, but it’s dust, dirt and water-resistant, so it’ll earn its keep if you need a speaker system that can cope with the British weather.
- RRP: £99.95
Most speakers of this size sacrifice sound quality for portability, but the modestly named SuperStar claims to be the ‘world’s smallest audiophile’ speaker.
It really is a pocket-sized little speaker, measuring just 48mm thick and 206mm long. However, it’s splash-resistant and sturdy enough to cope with life on the move.
The sound quality, inevitably, isn’t up to true audiophile standard, but the bass radiator gives it a firmer sound than many of its ultra-compact rivals. It kicks out a decent volume too – noisier rock and dance music can distort a bit at high volume, but it’ll still do the trick for listening to a few tunes when you’re out and about with your friends.
Read next: Best headphones for iPhone
iClever IC-BTS02 Bluetooth Wireless Speaker
- RRP: £25.99 inc. VAT
iClever's Bluetooth Wireless Speaker is one of the best cheap Bluetooth speakers we've tried. It looks great and it's affordable.
It's surprising just how much sound emanates from this tiny zinc-alloy box. Given that you can easily fit the 64.5x64.5x70.1mm 261g iClever in a single hand, the 5W speaker hidden inside does a much better job than we should reasonably expect from such a portable speaker, both good on bass and free from distortion at high volume.
Find out more in PC Advisor’s full review.