The Ultimate
Bluetooth Speaker
Buying Guide
Table of Contents
click on item to navigate
How Bluetooth works, different variations of Bluetooth and how it compares to other wireless protocols
Figure out exactly what you prioritize in a Bluetooth speaker, so that you can get the best one for your needs.
Charging speed, other inputs for music, connecting to multiple devices - most speakers include these features, but not all of them are created equal.
The nitty gritty technical details of what makes a speaker sound better than it's competitors - audiophiles, this is for you!
These are some additional bells and whistles to consider when buying a Bluetooth speaker (including how to check for water resistance before dropping it in the pool).
These speakers can be dropped, shaken, submerged, and generally survive whatever abuse you throw at them - and they sound great.
If you want something small, light and portable without sarificing sound quality, check out these speakers.
If filling a room with sound combined with the convenience of Bluetooth is more important for you than portability, check out these options.
Historically, in order for you to rock out to your favorite tunes, you had to hook up a complicated speaker system with a tangle of cords and wires that needed a manual to assemble. Or, at the very least, you had to fumble with different kinds of batteries to power your boombox and connect more cords to play music. The options for listening to audio were limited to one area with hope that you had the right batteries and cords to make it work. That is, until wireless speakers came into play.

In the last 20 years or so, the development of wireless speaker technology—particularly Bluetooth—has completely changed the game. Now, anyone can purchase their own wireless, rechargeable Bluetooth speakers for louder and better sound quality than, say, the speakers on your cell phone or laptop. Plus, wireless means way more convenience and no more "cord spaghetti."

However, advancements in this technology also means a boom in products available in the Bluetooth speaker market, including anything from puck speakers that fit in the palm of your hand to rugged speakers that can play in any environment to bookshelf speakers with sound that rival even a wired connection. There are multiple speakers to meet every need. Which makes it difficult for you, the buyer, to figure out what to buy. So we've put together this comprehensive guide on everything you need to know before purchasing a Bluetooth speaker… as well as a few recommendations of our own!
Let's get started!
What is Bluetooth?
Before we explore the ins and outs of Bluetooth speakers, it's important to understand how the technology works.
While Bluetooth is considered a wireless connection, it is different than Wi-Fi. Bluetooth does not require an internet connection; it allows two devices to communicate via "pairing." This means you can connect anywhere—at home, in the car, at the beach. The drawback is that Bluetooth can only connect to one, sometimes two, devices at a time. Wi-Fi, on the other hand, is better for creating networks of multiple devices around one source, such as your home or office.

Other advantages to Bluetooth include high functionality and better battery efficiency. It's best used for listening to digitized audio via streaming, such as through Spotify, Google Play, or Apple Music, or playing audio files directly off your device. Once you've paired two devices one time, you won't have to configure it again. Simple as that!

While Bluetooth technology has made huge strides in the last few years, there are still some limitations. First, it only works at a certain distance of about 30ft on average and the transmission can be interrupted by walls or furniture. Second, the connection isn't typically as quick as Wi-Fi, so streaming video is usually out of the question (although streaming audio works excellently). For the advanced audiophile, wired connections and even Wi-Fi provide a higher quality playback. This is improving, though, with each new version of Bluetooth. (See chart below.) And finally, both of your devices must be Bluetooth enabled for the feature to work (unless you purchase a Bluetooth transmitter to give a non-Bluetooth device that capability).
*These features will be explained in detail in a later section.

What each of these versions share in common is that they are backwards compatible—meaning that if your speaker is Bluetooth 4.0 and your phone is Bluetooth 2.1, they will still work. However, shelling out the cash for a Bluetooth 4.0 speaker would be a waste if your connecting device was not also Bluetooth 4.0.
Other Wireless Protocols
Outside of Bluetooth, there are several other types of wireless connections for speakers and home theatre systems. While we won't go into detail (since this guide focuses specifically on Bluetooth speakers), it will help you in the buying process to have a basic knowledge of different ways to connect devices.
Wireless connection via the internet, or Wi-Fi, is about as common as Bluetooth when it comes to speakers. It's better at long distances, but is not portable since it's tied to a Wi-Fi network and may even require a wired power connection. And if your Wi-Fi goes down, so do your speakers. But the stronger, faster connection means high audio quality and no lag between devices.
Apple AirPlay is another feature you may see during your research. AirPlay allows you to push music to your speaker once you've connected that speaker to the wireless network. However, it's restricted to Apple products and Wi-Fi-enabled speakers, so it may not work for everyone.
Play-Fi is another connection like AirPlay, developed by DTS. It also works over Wi-Fi with any Play-Fi enabled speaker, even those from different brands. Using the free Play-Fi app, you can play your music library or stream music services like Pandora, Sirius XM, or Spotify Connect. It's even possible to play different songs on different speakers at the same time.
There are also separate devices you can purchase to stream music through Wi-Fi, such as the Chromecast Audio. This small device plugs into your speaker via RCA, aux cord, or optical cord and allows you to "cast" directly from apps (such as Pandora, Google Play, Spotify, and iHeartRadio) without having to pair devices.
Android devices can use the Digital Living Network Alliance (DLNA) to transmit music, pictures, and videos over Wi-Fi, but it's clunky and slow. You're probably better off using Bluetooth instead.
Like Play-Fi, HEOS by Denon is an app that allows you to control HEOS speakers, which can be Bluetooth or Wi-Fi equipped.
Questions to Ask Yourself
Now that you're a Bluetooth expert, it's time to consider your speaker needs. Why are you buying a speaker? What do you need the speaker to do? Asking yourself these questions will help narrow the very large field of options for purchasing Bluetooth speakers.
Where will you stage the speaker?
Size varies greatly in Bluetooth speakers, from as small as a candy bar to big, multi-speaker sets. Thinking about where you might want to put the speaker gives you an idea of what size you need.
How big is the room?
Bigger rooms will require bigger, more powerful speakers to fill the room with sound. Also, furnishing and materials in the room can impact sound. For example, carpet and plushy couches muffle and absorb sound, where as sound bounces off of wood floors and furniture.
Will you take the speaker outdoors?
Playing music outside requires two features: A rugged build to withstand the elements and louder sound to overpower ambient noise from the environment, especially in cities and towns.
How will you use it?
Will you travel with it? Take it outdoors and/or indoors? Play music at parties? Different speakers cater to different needs, so try to imagine any possible use you'll have for it.
How many sources will you need?
Any two Bluetooth enabled devices can be paired, but some devices support multiple sources. For example, you may want to be able to answer a phone call while you're streaming music from your laptop. If this is important to you, you'll need to choose a speaker that can connect to more than one device simultaneously.
How long should the battery last?
For both the speaker and the device you intend to use to transmit audio.
What will you be playing?
Will it be music directly from your device's library (hi-res audio files)? Or do you prefer to stream music from Pandora or Spotify?
What's your budget?
Speakers range from $25 to over $1,000. Setting a budget will help you assess price versus features and value.
Bluetooth Speaker Features
As with any technology purchase, there are a number of features to consider when assessing which Bluetooth speaker is best for you. Not all speakers will have these features. Some will come with certain features at the expense of others—for example, an inexpensive waterproof speaker will have poorer sound quality. So, in addition to determining what features you need, you'll also have to decide how important each feature is to you. What is a MUST have and what could you compromise on? Keeping that in mind, let's look at the many possible features of Bluetooth speakers.
Inputs
Just because your device connects via wireless Bluetooth doesn't mean you shouldn't consider what other connections you have. First, some speakers will come with a 3.5mm headphone jack and aux cord for hardwire connection. This may come in handy if you have a non-Bluetooth enabled device. Also, connecting via aux cable saves power, since Bluetooth uses slightly more battery power, and produces a stronger, higher quality connection than wireless.

Some speakers come with a docking station, such as an Apple dock with a Lightning connector. While this is becoming less prominent, it's a convenient way to charge your device while also playing music.

Aside from audio inputs, it's also important to consider how the speaker will charge. A one-piece wall charger is more restrictive than a USB cable that could charge via computer or wall outlet. Some speakers come with a charging cradle, which adds more bulk to an item if you plan to travel with it. In the reverse, speakers that come equipped with a regular USB connection usually allow for battery sharing—meaning you can charge your device while it's playing music. This does drain the speaker's battery about 50% quicker, but will save your phone from dying and we know how tragic that can be!


Outputs
Any Bluetooth enabled device can be paired with a Bluetooth speaker. However, not all speakers have a wide range of output capabilities. For example, if you want to connect multiple speakers, you'll need a device that supports multiple pairings. While this feature is commonplace for Wi-Fi, AirPlay or other app-enabled speakers, it's found less often in Bluetooth. Connecting too many speakers crowds the signal, possibly causing a delay in the audio, and reduces the quality of sound, so don't plan on connecting a lot of speakers at once.

If you plan on using your speaker to make and take calls, you'll need a built-in microphone and speakerphone. Some speakers have call controls on the device for easy functionality. Also, if you plan on keeping it in an office, you might want a speaker that supports multiple call connections to receive calls on multiple lines.

Lastly, like we mentioned earlier, Bluetooth speakers with a USB connection usually support battery sharing to charge your mobile device on the go.
Portability
Bluetooth speakers have varying degrees of portability based on several features. Consider size, weight, and build when determining how portable the speaker is. Sound quality also varies with size, so keep that in mind when determining just how small you need it to be. Some speakers also come with a handle for easy travel or clips to attach to bags, bikes, etc.

Battery life and battery type are also important to portability. Battery life is measured in milliampere hours (mAh), but the manufacturer's estimated battery life will give you the best comparison. Be sure to assess battery life relative to the size of the speaker and how you use it—a bigger speaker will use more battery power and battery sharing will drain the battery much faster.

Finally, check what kind of battery operates the speaker for best functionality. Rechargeable lithium-ion (LI-ion) batteries are ideal; some speakers only take standard or rechargeable AA/AAA/C/D batteries. This is typical of low-end, inexpensive speakers. You may also find Bluetooth speakers that recharge via solar power—great for outdoor speakers!

Sound Quality
One of the most complicated features to assess in speakers is sound quality. The terms are complex, but if you want to get the most bang for your buck, you should definitely compare all of these measurements in speakers.
Power Handling
This number is described as the watt output of the speaker. A watt is a measure of electrical power. Thus, higher output means more powerful (or louder) speaker. When determining how loud your speaker needs to be, remember to think about the size of the room/area/environment it will be in. If you need something that will play over other sounds, such as a party or beach, you'll need more wattage than you anticipate.
Stereo or Mono
Mono speakers play audio from a single channel, giving the impression that the sound is coming from one direction. Stereo, on the other hand, uses two or more independent audio channels creating the illusion that sounds are coming from different directions. Mono is becoming less prominent, as stereo is more realistic and preferred. For better sound, make sure you choose a stereo Bluetooth speaker.
Enhanced Data Rate (EDR)
See, told you we'd get to this one! EDR was a feature added to Bluetooth connectivity to allow higher data transfer rates. The quicker the data transfers, the better the audio quality. EDR keeps a continuous connection (rather than bursts of data), which is better for streaming audio. However, it's not included in every device, so look for Bluetooth 2.0+EDR, 2.1+EDR, etc.
Frequency Response Range
Measured in Hertz (Hz), frequency response range describes how high and low a speaker can play. The larger the range, the better the speaker will be at reproducing the audio being played. As a frame of reference, the human ear can hear 20Hz to 20kHz. Any speaker 50 Hz or lower is considered good and won't need any additional bass (unless you like A LOT of bass, in which case you might want to consider getting a subwoofer). When you're looking at the different ranges for speakers, make sure there is a +/- after, such as +/- 3 or 4 dB frequency range. If no such note exists, the measurement isn't completely accurate.
Sensitivity
Speaker sensitivity is measured in the maximum decibel rating (dB). The higher the dB, the louder the speaker. An average speaker is 87 to 88 dB. Over 90 dB is considered excellent.
Number of Drivers
Drivers are the cones or horn-shaped objects inside the speaker box. The number of drivers tells you how many kinds of speakers make up your device. More drivers means sound quality won't suffer at the expense of high volumes.
Other Features
Finally, there are a suite of other features to consider when purchasing a Bluetooth speaker. Any one of this may or may not matter to you, but are certainly things to keep an eye out for during your shopping experience.
1
Rugged/Waterproof
Bluetooth speakers can be durable, shockproof, dustproof, armored, splash-proof, water resistant, waterproof, and more. Use the devices IP rating to determine just how tough it is. The first digit refers to dust protection and the second digit refers to water protection. The higher the rating, the more resistant it is to the environment. Anything higher an IP66 will be dust- and splash-proof. For example, shower speakers should have an IP66 rating or higher.
2
Near Field Communication (NFC)
NFC allows you to connect your devices by simply tapping them together. This is a feature of the newest version of Bluetooth and, while probably not necessary, is convenient to have.
3
Multi-Room Speakers
Most multi-room speaker systems connect via Wi-Fi or mobile app. However, they do make multiple speaker systems where your device connects to a "base," which then transmits audio to multiple speakers. While it may not play well in different rooms (due to the limitations of Bluetooth transmission and walls/furniture), you could place multiple speakers around a room to truly fill the space with sound.
4
Aesthetics
Be sure to take into account the look and feel of the speaker. Do you need something that fits in with your current media system? Will it match the room based on your desired placement? Also, a good speaker will have a solid, substantial feel with no looseness or flimsy parts. The buttons should be easy to press or the device might come with a remote control for convenient operation from anywhere in the room. And the device should play at maximum value without too much vibration. (Although the way that you position the speaker may cause more or less vibrations.)
Conclusion
Wireless speakers are definitely a staple of the modern home for convenience alone. But as Bluetooth technology continues to improve, the gap in quality between Wi-Fi/wired speakers and Bluetooth shrinks. Unless you are a huge audiophile, you probably won't notice a difference between a great Bluetooth speaker and other options on the market.

Plus, for listening on the go, you can't beat the portability of a Bluetooth speaker. Bring your new speaker to your next gathering—you'll be the life of the party!

If you're ready to embark on your Bluetooth speaker buying journey, we've created a super simple comparison chart for you to take notes while comparing speakers that stand out to you.
Rugged & Outdoor Speakers
For the camper, adventurer, traveler, and beach goer, a rugged speaker lets you enjoy your tunes outdoors, while ensuring it can withstand the elements. Remember to pay close attention to the IP rating for each of these speakers to gauge just how tough the speaker is. Also, if you do plan to travel with it, make sure you choose a speaker that travels easiest wherever you may be headed!
Cambridge Oontz Angle 3
The Angle 3 is a top selling Bluetooth speaker that is splashproof, rainproof, dustproof, and sandproof. It's size and weight are perfect for travel. And talk about bang for your buck! For under $30, you'll get clear stereo sound and up to 7 hours of playtime.
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Outdoor Tech Buckshot 2.0
Don't let the size of this Bluetooth speaker fool you. It packs a big punch! Not only is it small and light enough to mount to a bicycle or kayak paddle, but it's also dust- and water-resistant with an IPX6 rating. The speaker comes equipped with a built-in microphone for calls and a rechargeable battery with up to 24 hours of play time. One downside is that there is no aux cable connection, but for a small speaker you can attach to anything on-the-go, you can't go wrong with this choice!
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Anker SoundCore Sport
For another compact Bluetooth speaker option, this Anker product is one of the best. The IPX7 waterproof rating means it's made for the outdoors—built for immersion in up to one meter of water for up to 30 minutes. And it's 10 hours of battery life and 3W audio driver with subwoofer means you can listen all day long to high-quality, distortion-free sound. For the price and size, this speaker is unbeatable
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Braven BRV-X
For those looking for top-of-the-line audio quality and a speaker designed to withstand the environment, the Braven BRV-X is the clear choice. 12 hours of playtime combined, an IPX7 rating, shared charging capabilities—the list goes on. The speaker even has two settings, Indoor and Outdoor mode, depending on where you're listening. You can also pair your device with two speakers using Braven's TrueWireless technology for left and right stereo sound.
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Small, Non-Rugged Speakers
While water resistance and dust proofing can be a neat feature, you're likely paying a premium for it or sacrificing other qualities in favor of a rugged speaker. If resistance to the elements is not a necessity, you'll find that there are non-rugged speakers with more features and sound quality at better prices.
Etekcity RoverBeats T3
The two biggest advantages to this speaker are its size and its price. While you'll get what you pay for in sound quality, this item comes highly rated by users for great sound despite its small size. Connect via Bluetooth and play up to 7 hours or answer calls with a built-in microphone. And take it anywhere! It's only about 7 ounces.
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Anker SoundCore
Armed with both wireless Bluetooth connectivity and an aux line in, this Anker product is one of the highest rated speakers—and for good reason. Stereo sound, crisp bass, and reduced distortion at even the highest volumes means excellent listening. Plus, the SoundCore will play up to 24 hours continuously on a single charge. It's lightweight and compact build makes it super portable and a great deal for the price.
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Anker A3143
This upgraded version of the previous Anker speaker has all the same features of its predecessor. However, if you need powerful sound that will drown out ambient noise, party conversation, and more, it's worth the extra investment. Dual 10W speakers, MaxxBass technology and built in subwoofers provide a wide range of full stereo sound and impressive volume. The only downside is all that extra power means the speaker battery lasts about 8 hours—still a notable battery life nonetheless.
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JBL Flip 3
If you like music with bass, the JBL Flip 3 is the way to go. Reviewers agree that the sound quality is hard to beat—it's one of the highest rated speakers in the category. And while it is resistant to splashes, it's not recommended that you get this product wet. Still, for non-rugged use, it's top of the line. JBL connect also lets you built your own network by connecting multiple JBL speakers together, and you can connect up to 3 Bluetooth enabled devices to the speaker. Add a built-in speakerphone and 10 hour battery life, and you've got one heck of a speaker on your hands.
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Bose SoundLink II
Bose products are on the leading edge of speaker sound quality. For a speaker that fits in the palm of your hand, you'll be surprised by its full sound and deeper lows. 10 hours of battery life plus voice activated Bluetooth pairing and built in speakerphone gives this product all the features of a high-end speaker. Plus, you can connect this speaker with up to two Bluetooth enabled devices.
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Mid-Level & Bookshelf Speakers
Bluetooth speakers are also a great staple in the home, especially if you plan on keeping them in one spot—on a bookshelf, possibly. What you may sacrifice in size, making it less portable, you gain in volume and sound quality. But to fill an entire room with sound (especially one filled with carpet or furniture, as we've mentioned), you'll probably need a more powerful speaker.
G-Project G-BOOM
The G-BOOM is definitely more portable than other speakers in this category. With a handle and tough build, it is made to move. However, at 7.5 pounds, it's certainly not made to travel. You'll be able to move this speaker from room to room, but it's probably best used in a home or apartment. Fortunately, its 2.2 speaker configuration and powerful bass will fill any room with sound for up to 6 hours on a full charge. As a bookshelf speaker under $100, this product is a steal.
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Harman Kardon Onyx Studio
Design is certainly the aspect of this speaker that makes it unique. But that's not the only cool part about it! This speaker has power—a range of speaker drivers produce all the highs and lows of your favorite tunes at impressive volume. Although the speaker only has about five hours of playtime, its build is best for a shelf speaker, so battery power likely won't be an issue.
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Bose SoundLink III
For the ultimate audiophile that doesn't want to settle, this upgraded version of the SoundLink II comes with all the features of its predecessor, plus a few extra such as up to 14 hours of playtime and improved sound performance. Its sleek style is perfect for shelf placement—you can even purchase optional colors to match your other media equipment. Bose knocked it out of the park once again with this highly rated speaker.
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Article by Bre Bush

Bre is a Chicago-native, avid writer, travel enthusiast, and untamed soul who helps build comprehensive content marketing strategies that span every channel, including blogs, articles, emails, social media, digital marketing, and even traditional ads. On her off days, you'll find her planning her next international vacation, reading on her Kindle, or binge watching Netflix.
Article published on 23 Jan 2017

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