What's the best Bluetooth speaker you can buy?
Chooseing a Bluetooth speaker is never an easy task. There are countless to choose from at a huge range of prices, all seemingly offering different features. Here we've reviewed 10 great wireless speakers to use with iPhone, iPad and Macs.
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're looking for something simpler and less expensive, perhaps you should check out how to make a cheap iPhone speaker. Note that Apple's HomePod speaker does have Bluetooth but it can't be used in the normal sense like the speakers below. After the list, we have provided our buying advice to help you choose the right model.
Best Bluetooth speaker reviews
UE Wonderboom 2
Ultimate Ears (UE) has made a great little all-rounder in the Wonderboom 2.
There are cheaper Bluetooth speakers out there, of course, but this is still affordable and may well be worth your investment if you're looking for a portable speaker with lots to offer.
The Wonderboom 2 is available in a range of colours, has a rugged design thanks to an IP67 dust and waterproof rating. UE even calls it 'drop proof' and there are big buttons for volume as per usual, plus a button for playback on the top.
There's no 3.5mm jack input but Bluetooth connectivity is good and there's long battery life available at 13 hours, which is impressive for its size.
Also surprising for the size is how good the sound quality is and a hidden button on the bottom offers an outdoor mode for when you take the Wonderboom 2 into the garden or to the park.
It's a portable, pint-sized, powerhouse.
Read the full UE Wonderboom 2 review on Tech Advisor.
Libratone Zipp 2
Libratone updated the popular Zipp speaker with a number of upgrades, even if it does look very similar than the original. That's fine with us though as it's not only distinctive but has a useful carry handle and removable fabric cover available in different colours.
The speaker now has AirPlay 2, but there's so much more when it comes to connectivity with far more options than most speakers. It's got dual-band Wi-Fi, 3.5mm headphone jack, Bluetooth 4.1 and USB.
Furthermore, it has Spotify Connect, touch controls and now has a set of six far-field mics meaning it's also a smart speaker with support for Amazon's Alexa digital assistant.
Of course, you still get big 360 sound that can go for 12 hours per charge and Libratone offers features such as room EQ, Hush gesture detection and five custom presets for playlists or radio stations.
It has a relatively high RRP of £279 but can be found for a lot less and you can also opt for the Zipp 2 Mini if you want something smaller and cheaper.
Most of Marshall's speakers have been larger devices to sit on a desk or bookshelf but the Emberton is a pocket-sized Bluetooth speaker that will go anywhere with you but can equally sit anywhere around the house.
Not only is it stylish and lightweight, but there's also IPX7 waterproofing and the speaker can go for a whopping 20-hours on a single charge which is longer than most - despite being so small.
Sound quality is excellent and far bigger than you would expect from such a pint-sized speaker. It's not quite the 360-degree experience available from some rivals but it's certainly room-filling sound.
It won't break the bank either, but it is a shame that the Emberton doesn't have a 3.5mm headphone jack for the times when you can't use Bluetooth. It also can't be used with the Marshall app to tweak the EQ and you also can't create a stereo pair if you can afford to buy two.
Read our full Marshall Emberton review on Tech Advisor.
The Megablast is chunky, but balances portability, sound quality and features nicely.
This is arguably the best portable Bluetooth speaker with support for Amazon Alexa you can buy. One of the upsides to its size is long battery life at a whopping 16 hours.
And the speaker unusually supports wireless charging and with the Power Up base, Alexa becomes always on making this a great smart speaker for the home you can simply grab and take wherever you go.
It's also got plenty of audio prowess with two tweeters, two active drivers and two passive bass radiators. It's not called the Megablast for nothing so you can expect big sound here making it great for indoors and out - placing it anywhere thanks to its 360 design.
Sound quality doesn't take much of a dip at higher volumes and bass is warm and powerful without drowning out the mid-range. Vocals are crisp, too so it's suitable for a range of genres.
It's quite expensive so you will really need to use the features on offer here to justify it.
Read the full UE Megablast review on Tech Advisor.
It's expensive but the Move is the first Bluetooth speaker from Sonos and will make sense for anyone already with a system or plans to go down the multi-room route.
As the name suggests, the Sonos Move is the first to come with a portable design. The speaker sits on a charging base but a handle on the back means you can quickly pick it up and take it to another room or outside.
The bulky size and 3kg weight makes it harder to take to the park or beach but you can if you like. It's extremely durable with an IP56 and has been drop tested as well as with things like sand and olive oil.
If it's not too bulky for you then you'll benefit from the power on offer here, especially outdoors where other speakers can sound weedy. The Move really can project down a large garden.
As well as 10-hour battery life, the speaker features a replaceable battery, touch controls, mics for voice assistants (Alexa or Google) and Auto TruePlay so will retune itself every time you move it to a new location.
Read our full Sonos Move review on Tech Advisor.
Bayan Audio SoundBook Go
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. And US readers should note that, at time of writing, you have to buy via third-party sellers on Amazon US, with the result that it's less of an appealing deal on that side of the pond.
Tribit StormBox Micro
If you want something fairly simple with price and portability as your main tick boxes then the Tribit StormBox Micro is the perfect option.
Not only does it comes in at under £50, but it's palm-sized and has a clever design. There's IP67 waterproofing and a silicone band at the back means you can attach it to various things when needed.
As well as being pocketable, the buttons and simple and easy to use.
It won't provide pumping tunes for a party but the StormBox Micro does have better sound than you'd expect for a speaker this small, especially bass thanks to ‘XBass’ DSP technology.
If you do buy more than one, they can be paired with another but at double the price you might want to get a different speaker instead.
An eight-hour battery life isn't bad for a speaker so small but charging is quite slow.
Read the full Tribit Stormbox Micro review on Tech Advisor.
Marshall's range of Bluetooth speakers continue to be impressive and the Uxbridge combines various features making it an attractive choice.
It's not portable, but if you're looking for a stylish speaker to sit on your desk or a bookshelf then you'll struggle to find something better thanks to Marshall's iconic guitar-amp style.
Make sure you have space for it, as the Uxbridge is bigger than a lot of other Bluetooth speakers on the market.
Part of the design is Marshall allowing you to easily customise the sound with bass and treble controls on the top. As you would expect, the sound is big, rich and easily able to fill a large room.
Adding value here is plenty of support for smart features including Apple AirPlay 2, Spotify Connect and Amazon Alexa. So this is much more than just a simple Bluetooth speaker.
Read the full Marshall Uxbridge review on Tech Advisor.
Denon Envaya Pocket
The Denon Envaya Pocket is an attractive, portable speaker and the frame is comprised of hardwearing fabric and sturdy polymer. It can take a knock and there's IP67 water resistance, too.
Like other speakers, you'll find a built-in mic that offers the ability to make- and receive phone calls when connected to a smartphone.
Another cool feature of the speaker is Envaya Link, which allows you to pair up an additional Pocket speaker for stereo playback.
Depending on the volume of playback, the Pocket usually lasts around 10hrs on a single charge. It’s fairly quick to recharge too, going from 0 to 100 percent battery in around 1hr30, or two hours max.
Overall the speaker sounds impressive, from the low- to the high-end, especially when considering the sub-£100 price-tag. It’s more focused on punchy, deep bass but it doesn’t overpower vocals or the treble, and there’s not even a slight hint of distortion.
Read the full Denon Envaya Pocket review on Tech Advisor.
Harman Kardon Go + Play
The Go + Play speaker has been around in various forms for several years, but this latest update is the best one yet. It retains the classy design of its predecessors, with the curved stainless steel carrying handle that gives it such a distinctive profile.
While you can pair two Harman speakers together for a more powerful sound, the Go + Play is pretty powerful all by itself, with its two woofers and two tweeters providing a total 100W output. It's thunderously loud, yet still maintains clarity and detail even at high volumes.
Throw in a microphone for taking voice calls, and a USB port for charging your iPhone, and you've got a truly powerful and versatile speaker system at a competitive price.
The only minor disadvantage of the Go + Play is that it's a bit on the heavy side. Despite the carrying handle and eight-hour rechargeable battery, the Go + Play weighs in at around 3.4kg, which means that it probably needs to go on the back seat of a car if you're travelling any great distance.
Even so, it's a great choice if you need a powerful, high-quality speaker that you can take to a holiday apartment, or carry outside for a BBQ in the summer.
How to choose a Bluetooth speaker
Here are some of the key speaker specs and features you should be checking when buying a Bluetooth speaker.
By default, every Bluetooth audio-capable device must be able to use an agreed basic compression system, known as sub-band coding (SBC). This 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. 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 licence holder CSR plc and now fits aptX compatibility into most of its Android phones.
Sadly 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 as good as aptX.
The second hindrance to Bluetooth speaker sound is the current reliance on low-fidelity amplification technology. 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 Class D.
Class D is a clever way to make amplifiers far more efficient, turning 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 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.
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.
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.
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. (If you are experiencing Bluetooth issues read: How to fix Bluetooth Problems)
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.
Wi-Fi has a much better range, 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.
This is a feature where you buy more than one unit of the speaker and set them up in multiple rooms around your house. They can then all be controlled via a single app.
This is an area that Sonos has traditionally dominated, but there are plenty of options. (Even the HomePod will support multi-room once AirPlay 2 launches.) This is quite a niche area, and we cover it in a dedicated group test of the best multi-room speakers.