If there’s one thing I’ve learned about today’s Bluetooth speakers, it’s that for general consumers, the options are pretty good. However, that doesn't make the process of sifting through the dozens of choices to find the best buy any easier. So I set out to test out some of the most popular models at different price points, from entry-level, sub $100 speakers to high-end, $500-and-above devices.
Most of the speakers I tried sounded good on first listen; it was only through side-by-side comparisons that I began to suss out the nuances among the best-sounding ones. Just reading the spec sheets only goes so far. As such, we’re focusing a bit more on audio quality and dynamic range, while also taking into consideration other factors like utility and price. Ultimately, there isn't one best portable Bluetooth speaker out there, but we've found plenty of good options that will fit a range of use cases and price points.
Tribit StormBox Micro 2
Soundcore Motion 300
UE Wonderboom 3
Anker Soundcore Motion+
JBL Flip 6
Bose SoundLink Flex
Marshall Emberton II
JBL Charge 5
Bose Portable Smart Speaker
JBL Xtreme 3
Ultimate Ears Hyperboom
JBL Boombox 3
Factors to consider before purchasing a portable Bluetooth speaker
IP ratings (Ingress Protection) are the alphanumeric indicators you often see in a product’s spec sheet that define the tested resistance of a product to both solid objects (dirt, dust, fingers?) and water. It’s usually a combo of two numbers with the first indicating solid object ingress and the second being water. The former goes from 0 (no protection) to 6 (dustproof). The water-resistance rating goes from 0 (no protection) to 9 (protected against immersion and high pressure jets). When an X is used instead of a number, that means the product wasn’t tested for resistance. If it’s waterproof, it may have some innate resistance to solids, but there’s no guarantee.
IP67 is a common rating these days indicating highly resistant and potentially rugged speakers suitable for outdoor adventures. These are safe for quick dunks in the pool or tub and should be more than OK in the rain or in the shower. They’re also good options for the beach, playground and other rough environs.
Additionally, speakers with ports and a high rating will often include a tight-fitting cover over the charging or auxiliary ports. If you plan on using the ports, that may limit the product's rated ability to fend off the elements.
Consider the IP rating and also how you plan to use your Bluetooth speaker when making your decision. It may be worth splurging on a better sounding model with a lower IP rating if you’ll mostly be using it indoors, for instance.
The focus of this guide is on portable Bluetooth speakers, and while “portable” can be a relative term, these devices are generally for people who are likely to find themselves far from a power outlet. These days, around 12 hours of runtime seems to be the baseline but obviously, the more battery life you can get out of a speaker, the better.
That said, be careful when looking at battery specs, as they frequently list a maximum runtime (“up to” x amount of hours). This usually means they tested at a low to mid volume. If you like your tunes loud, it can often end up cutting the expected usage time in half or more. Luckily, some manufacturers also list the expected hours of battery life when used at full volume and that transparency is appreciated.
Additionally, if your Bluetooth speaker also happens to have WiFi connectivity, they're usually designed for always-on functionality. Unlike normal Bluetooth speakers that go to sleep after a short period without use, these will usually stay awake (to listen for your commands) and slowly run down the battery. If you're out and about, you'll want to remember to turn these speakers off manually when not in use to maximize battery life.
Bluetooth range is tricky business. Some companies list their product’s longest possible range, usually outdoors and in an unobstructed line-of-sight test environment. Other companies stick with a 30-foot range on the spec sheet and leave it at that, even though they may be running Bluetooth 4.x or 5.x. That’s likely underselling the speaker's potential, but unpredictable environments can affect range and there’s little point in promising the moon only to get complaints.
I’ve seen signal drop issues when crouching down, with my phone in the front pocket of my jeans, and barely 30 feet away from a speaker inside my apartment. I ran into this issue across several devices regardless of their listed Bluetooth connectivity range.
If you’re hosting a patio party and duck inside, it’s wise to have the source device remain close by just in case. It’s hard to gauge what aspects of any environment may interfere with a Bluetooth signal. In general, take range specs around 100 feet or more as a perfect-world scenario.
This is a minor mention for those out there who use a speaker for their computer output, or as a mini soundbar solution for setups like a monitor and streaming box. It’s annoying to find that your speaker’s latency isn’t low enough to avoid lip sync issues. Luckily, it seems that most speakers these days don’t often have these problems. Only a handful of the few dozen speakers I tried had persistent, noticeable lip-sync issues. Aside from occasional blips, all of our picks worked well in this regard.
If you plan to frequently use a speaker for video playback, look for devices with the most recent Bluetooth versions (4.x or 5.x) and lower latency codecs like aptX. Also make sure the speaker is close to the source device as distance can be a factor. To avoid the issue altogether, though, consider getting one with a wired auxiliary input.
Best lower mid-range portable bluetooth speakers: $50 to $200
Tribit StormBox Micro 2 ($60)
If you’re just looking for a small speaker that can kick out some decent volume, the Tribit StormBox Micro 2 fits the bill. The audio quality here is fine; it doesn’t stand out in terms of fidelity, but the volume you get from this affordable little speaker is what makes it a good choice. If you’re bopping about outdoors on your bike or chilling in the park, it’s usually more about portability and volume anyway. The rubbery rear strap works well on relatively thin things like belts, backpacks and bike handlebars.
While it’s small and affordable, the speaker supports USB-C charging for your devices in a pinch and you can wirelessly connect two of them for party mode or stereo sound. It also supports voice assistants for both iOS and Android users.
Soundcore Motion 300 ($80)
Soundcore has been releasing some very able speakers lately and one of its newest is a quality personal portable. The Motion 300 is of the pint-sized variety, but offers 30-watts of punchy and bright output. It’s IPX7 rated so it can handle a bit of water, and it works with the Anker Soundcore app that allows a fair amount of customization from EQ settings to button brightness. It also supports hi-res audio using the LDAC codec for Android users with a compatible device.
The Motion 300’s size and frequency range don’t quite allow for a ton of bass, but it’s relatively loud and thumpy, especially when it has surfaces to reflect off of. Soundcore has even extended its high-frequency range to 40kHz, and while its utility is debatable, the Motion 300 does sound crisp in the high-end spectrum. You can also enable adaptive audio, which helps optimize its sound delivery depending on the speaker orientation (on its back, standing up or hanging from its removable button-fastened strap).
The speaker’s design merges a funky style with office-machine chic, from the playfully speckled soft touch exterior to the metallic, logo-emblazoned grille. Its 1.7-pound weight and clutch-purse size makes it better as a handheld or stowed in your bag rather than hanging from a backpack or bike handlebars. Ultimately, you get great sound in a small package with features you can tweak to your liking, all at an approachable $80 price tag.
UE Wonderboom 3 ($100)
The Ultimate Ears Wonderboom 3 is a tiny yet powerful portable, delivering the biggest sound in its size range that we tested. It’s still a cute, barrel-shaped small speaker with a nubby little strap that probably needs a carabiner to help attach it to most things. But this refreshed model includes a couple of bright new colors, an extra hour of battery life and improved wireless range. With an IP67 rating on top of the company’s five-foot drop test durability, it can go with you almost anywhere and survive to tell the tale.
The audio quality is punchy and bright enough for what you’d expect at this scale and price range. Although there’s no app support or connectivity with the rest of the Ultimate Ears speaker lineup, you can easily pair it with speakers like the Wonderboom 2 or Megaboom 3 for stereo sound. There’s also an outdoor mode button on the bottom that boosts the mid and high range to help the audio carry over a greater distance.
Soundcore Motion+ ($107)
This nondescript wedge of a wireless speaker could easily slip under your radar, but it’s worth a listen. It has a bright and bassy output, which is helped along by Qualcomm aptX support for hi-res audio. This Anker Soundcore device has a solid, slightly heavy build with a metal front speaker grille, a soft-touch rubberized exterior (that loves your greasy fingerprints) and IPX7 water resistance. While it’s not the lightest or most portable, it has good sound, especially for the price. Plus the app offers EQ customization, so you can fine tune to your liking.
There’s also a 3.5mm aux input for wired connections. That’s fortuitous, as we found that this small speaker works well as a mini soundbar alternative and the wired input offers a foolproof connection.
JBL Flip 6 ($130)
JBL’s Flip 6 deserves high marks for overall sound quality, durability and volume considering its size, and those features make it the best JBL speaker for most people. As with most JBL speakers, it has a good dynamic range from solid lows to crisp highs with volume tipped towards higher registers. The cylindrical shape works well on its side or even standing on its end to save desk space. It has a capable carrying (or hanging) strap and raised buttons you can discern in the dark.
The JBL Portable app gives you a 3-band EQ to customize the sound profile if desired and if you have two Flip 6 speakers, you can run them as a stereo pair. If you happen to have a mix-and-match assortment of different PartyBoost-enabled JBL devices, you can connect multiple speakers for a bigger sound.
Bose SoundLink Flex ($149)
While the $99 Bose SoundLink Micro is half the size, we found that it's definitely worth the extra $50 if you trade up to the SoundLink Flex. While it’s still not a room filler, the speaker offers some bright, dynamic finesse to your tunes, along with a significant amount of bass for its size. It’s similar to the scale of a small clutch bag, with a very small strap for carabiner-type hanging. Much of the exterior is sheathed in soft-touch silicone, except for the powder-coated steel speaker grilles. Like others in this range, the speaker is IP67 rated so it can handle the elements and sound good doing it.
Setup and connecting to the speaker should be done from within the aptly named Bose Connect app. You can also turn off voice prompts (which can become annoying) and pair with similar speakers for either party mode or stereo.
Note: Some users running Android 12 may encounter connectivity issues with the Bose Connect app. The company is working to resolve the problem.
Marshall Emberton II ($170)
The recently released Emberton II Bluetooth portable from Marshall has a bumped up set of specs that make it a better value than the previous gen. This clutchable rectangular slab still has a pair of 10-watt full-range drivers and passive radiators to deliver the brand’s signature sound. It may not be the loudest in its size range, but it focuses more on balanced output than raw power. There’s still 360 sound as well, making it a good companion for small get togethers. Although, with its 60hz low end threshold, you’ll find a better bass response when there are surfaces to reflect off of, and not so much if it’s in the middle of a table.
This new model now offers up to 30 hours of listening on a charge (10 hours better than before) and a more rugged IP67 rating. There’s also a new ability to pair with another Emberton II or Willen II using the new “Stack Mode”. The range between them is limited, however, so stacking them probably is the best way to go. Additionally, Marshall is offering a more environmentally friendly product than before, using 50 percent post-consumer plastics in its construction.
JBL Charge 5 ($180)
If you’re willing to spend a little more for bigger sound, more hours of battery life and a USB-C port to charge your devices, the midrange JBL Charge 5 is a great upgrade over the Flip 6. It has the same bright output and capable low end, but in a slightly larger package. If you’re looking for a smallish portable speaker, but something capable enough to entertain a few guests, this works.
Best mid-range portable bluetooth speakers: $200 to $450
Monoprice SoundStage 3 Portable ($250)
Portable Bluetooth speakers don’t always have to be rugged to be good. The Monoprice SoundStage 3 is a prime example. This midrange, $250 portable is a homebody without an IP rating, but checks quite a few other boxes. Most importantly, it has good sound for the price, offering a balanced output with respectable low-end and clear dynamic mids and highs.
It has a minimal bookshelf speaker design, with a dark gray exterior, top mounted control panel (which is hard to navigate in low light and generally fidgety overall) and a faux leather handle. There’s a 5.25-inch concave aluminum cone woofer, two 1-inch silk dome tweeters and a rear bass reflex port.
The SoundStage 3 can get 10 hours of battery life with the volume at 50 percent, which is fine, but not spectacular. However, it also operates at full volume when plugged in and charging. You can also top up your devices with the USB charging port drawing from its 8800mAh battery. The other output port is a single RCA for mono analog subwoofer support, although it does well in the bass category on its own. As for inputs, there are a few: a 3.5mm stereo jack, RCA stereo and a digital optical S/PDIF.
Monoprice is known for affordable, no-nonsense devices with a good deal of utility. If you don’t need a speaker that’s built for rugged on-the-go action, this speaker offers its own flex, with great sound quality, Bluetooth and plenty of hard-wired connections.
Orange Amps Orange Box ($299)
The Orange Box portable Bluetooth speaker from legendary guitar amp maker Orange is essentially a no-frills product with great analog sound and ‘60s-era bohemian chic. For Orange Amp fans, it’s a faithful mini-version of a classic (although you can’t plug in your guitar). It’s not particularly heavy, but it is a bit chunky and the wooden frame means there’s no waterproofing or ruggedness rating. Battery life is average with up to 15 hours run time and you’ll want to keep track of that DC power cable since it doesn’t support any USB charging.
That said, we like this speaker in part for its natural charm and unique design (at least as far as Bluetooth speakers go). There’s a 3.5mm aux input, a mechanical power toggle switch, a cool domed power light and several dials for volume and EQ. The front-facing grille is audio transparent fabric emblazoned with the classic Orange logo. It’s also a proper piece of kit built for a long life, with authorized repair centers across the globe.
Most importantly, you get both analog and digital amps pushing 50 watts of bright, clear and unadulterated output with plenty of low end, at least for nearby listeners. It also supports aptX, so if you have high-quality files or hi-res streaming, you’ll get the most out of it.
This speaker is ideal for Orange Amps fans or those who like no-fuss operation, natural analog sound quality and generally want a mid-sized device they’ll keep close to home. Most styles of music sound great on the Orange Box, but the speaker really shines with songs that have live instrumentation or anything that can benefit from an analog touch.
Marshall Middleton ($300)
Marshall launched the Middleton in January 2023 and positioned it as the new flagship for its portable Bluetooth speaker line. It’s the largest of the company's IP67 rugged portables (measuring 4.3 x 9 x 3.75 inches) and offers a significantly louder output, with 50-watts of 360-degree sound. There are dual woofers and tweeters for the front and back, with passive radiators along each side. It also offers Stack Mode, which lets you pair with any other Middleton, Emberton II or Willen speakers nearby to expand your listening experience.
The Middleton can be managed through the Marshall Bluetooth app, but it also includes most of those same controls on the top. There’s a Bluetooth button (which doubles as the Stack Mode control) and a multi-use joystick for power on/off, volume control and track selection (forward or back). You also get bass and treble controls, which are a welcome addition and a first for one of Marshall’s speakers without physical knobs.
It has that traditional Marshall look, made with a soft-touch exterior composed of 55-percent post-consumer recycled plastic and is 100-percent PVC free. It also has a carry strap you can easily fit your hand through. Any dust, dirt or prints on the outside can be scrubbed off with a damp cloth, and even the exposed USB-C and 3.5mm input port components are waterproofed. That USB-C port can be used to recharge the speaker, or power up your other devices with its 9,600mAh battery.
Of course audio purists should know that it only supports SBC, but the sound quality is still top notch for most people. And while Marshall devices are usually priced at a slight premium, the good sound quality and decent low-end capability definitely makes this model worth checking out.
Bose Portable Smart ($399)
We did test a couple smart home speakers, including the Bose Portable Smart and I decided to compare it with its closest Bluetooth equivalent: the Revolve+ II. While that’s best suited for portability, has a loud bright sound that will carry outdoors and long battery life, its low end is a little less pronounced than its smart companion. If you’re willing to spend more and appreciate bass, the Bose Portable Smart speaker is a big improvement. It has a well-rounded low end and a bright dynamic sound with plenty of nuance that makes for a great listening experience.
This 360-degree portable comes as a combo WiFi/Bluetooth speaker primarily geared toward smart home use with the occasional outing. It’s rated IPX4, so not the most weatherproof, but good for casual outdoor listening. The battery is rated for up to 12 hours, but since this is an always-on smart device, you’ll need to be more attentive at keeping it topped up. There’s a charging dock accessory for use around the house, but as an away-from-home portable, you should power it down when not in use.
Smart features: WiFi, voice and app control, support for Google Assistant, Amazon Alexa, Spotify Connect, Amazon Music, Chromecast (built-in), Apple AirPlay 2 and SimpleSync connectivity with Bose Bluetooth speakers.
Note: Some users running Android 12 may encounter connectivity issues with the Bose Connect app. The company is working to resolve the problem.
JBL Xtreme 3 ($380)
If you’ve enjoyed any of the smaller JBL speakers out there and are willing to spend a bit more, the Xtreme 3 is a good all-around choice. It’s big enough to warrant a shoulder strap, but still only about the size of a football. There’s a pleasant dynamic sound here with hefty lows and a lively high end that seems slightly better balanced at this size than the smaller options from JBL in this range.
This is easily a favorite if you want something under $400 with a little more gusto than your average portable, but still being IP67 weatherproof. It has enough output to breathe life into a small soiree or backyard hang, although while it’s quite loud, it’s best when it’s close by or indoors where the bass can resonate to its fullest.
Best high-range portable bluetooth speakers: $450 and higher
Marshall Tufton ($450)
If you didn’t know about Marshall’s history in amplifiers and rock music, the design should clue you in. The Tufton is the largest portable Bluetooth speaker from the company, looking much like an amp itself (as do most of them). It has physical knobs at the top and a carry strap to help move it about. While it may appear as rugged as concert gear, it’s less impervious to the elements as some with just an IPX2 rating, so it’s protected from light splashes from above.
Whether or not you’re a fan of the brand, the rich and distinctly thumping output may make you one. We felt pulled into the sound while listening to the Tufton, a bit more than most other speakers we tested at this scale. It’s dynamic, warm and, dare we say, analog in its audio presence. It’s also multi-directional with a supplemental driver on the back along with a bass port.
There’s no app to adjust the EQ, just the physical controls including a Bluetooth connect button, a power/volume knob and two for bass and treble. Once powered on, you can use the volume knob to set a max headroom and adjust volume on the fly from your source. The bass and treble knobs help you choose the tone of your adventure, from a purely flat soundscape to an enhanced one. We just wish you could see the dial indicators in the dark. Other features include aptX support and quick-charge capabilities that provide four hours of listening time in just 20 minutes, plus great standby battery life.
Ultimate Ears Hyperboom ($450)
The UE Hyperboom is an all-arounder with good looks, portability, plenty of connectivity options and a loud and punchy (albeit compressed) output. The technical fabric exterior (which now includes a white option) lets it live among your furniture without screaming “party box,” while the optical input offers a possible TV speaker alternative. The large capacitive buttons on top let anyone adjust the volume, pause or play the music and select from two concurrent Bluetooth connections or a hardwired input (3.5mm or optical). On the edge with the silicone carrying handle there are the wired ports, plus one for charging USB devices and another for power. You can expect to get up to 24 hours of battery life, and the Hyperboom is good at holding a charge on standby.
This capable and loud (roughly 100dB) speaker will please most people as long as the party is of primary concern over fidelity. The ability to remotely power your device on or off using the UE app is also a welcome feature. Plus you can easily expand the sound to other Ultimate Ears Boom speakers (except Wonderboom) using the PartyUp feature. The IPX4 rating means a few spilled drinks won’t hassle it, but it’s not the best Bluetooth speaker choice for all-weather adventures.
JBL Boombox 3 ($500)
If you’re a fan of JBL’s smaller portables, but want to kick the volume up several degrees higher, the Boombox 3 is a good choice. This 160-watt-plus big brother to the Xtreme 3 provides that familiar JBL sound but, you know, louder. The output has bright and dynamic highs and floor shaking sub-bass that may benefit more from an indoor environment with surfaces to bounce off. It doesn’t have the long throw that “loudspeakers” have, although to be clear, it is pretty loud. This is a dance party tool for your basement rumpus room, garage hangout, beach or poolside craziness.
The Boombox 3 has a few upgrades from the previous gen. The exterior looks mostly the same, but it’s now IP67 rated making it very rugged. It’s also a touch heavier at 14.7 pounds, possibly since this device now has a woofer alongside the mids and tweeters.
It’s still a convenient grab-and-go speaker for most occasions when you want the music to be the star of the show (or at least not disappear into the background). The battery can keep you playing for up to 24 hours, but it also runs at full volume while plugged in. In fact, while it’s connected to an outlet, the total output wattage gets a boost from 160 watts to 180 watts.
Soundboks Go ($699)
The Soundboks Go is a great speaker if you’re looking for a portable Bluetooth option that provides a big sound for larger spaces, although it comes at a price. This unpretentious black rectangle is half the size of its more professional sibling the Soundboks Gen 3. It packs one 10-inch woofer and a 1-inch domed tweeter, both powered by two 72W RMS amps for massive sound and chunky bass, even at a distance.
At 20 pounds, this party speaker is fairly easy to lug around and looks about the size of carry-on luggage. You can even get the optional shoulder strap, which helps for longer missions. It has a flexible TPE handle on top, silicone bumpers around the edges and ABS+Polycarbonate exterior and grill. The IP65 rating also marks it as a resilient device in most environments.
The sound makes a big statement here. Output levels are rated at up to 121dB, with clear mids and highs projecting clearly across large areas. The low end also has a significant presence at a distance, matching up with 40Hz frequency response. It's definitely capable enough to support large gatherings.
The speaker is easy to connect to via Bluetooth and the partner app offers EQ customization, audio profiles and OTA firmware updates. There’s a solitary 3.5mm stereo input on the Go, but its wireless expansion shines, letting you connect up to five Soundboks Gen 3 or Go speakers at the touch of a button with its built-in SKAA wireless support.
Lastly, the battery pack is removable, swappable and also long-lasting for a speaker this size; at low to mid volume, it’s rated at up to 40 hours runtime. For transparency, Soundboks also lets you know to expect around 10 hours of play at full volume. You can also run this while charging, but there are strict warnings about keeping the volume low while doing so (it’s not recommended unless you're desperate).
How does a Bluetooth speaker work?
Bluetooth technology lets devices connect and exchange data over short distances using ultra high frequency (UHF) radio waves. It’s the frequency range that’s carved out for industrial, scientific and medical purposes, called the 2.4GHz ISM spectrum band. This range is available worldwide, making it easy for companies to use with devices for global markets.
Bluetooth speakers include this tech, which lets them communicate with source devices like smartphones, tablets or computers in order to exchange data. The two devices pair by sharing a unique code and will work within the proscribed range for the device and Bluetooth version.
Ever since Bluetooth 4.0 was released over a decade ago, new iterations usually improve on range, use less power and offer expanded connectivity with features like multipoint (allowing more than one device to be connected at the same time, for instance).
Who should buy a Portable Bluetooth speaker?
If you want to play music while you’re out-and-about on something other than headphones, a portable Bluetooth speaker is probably what you want. There’s a broad range of devices for all types of circumstances. Many adventurous people will want a relatively lightweight portable that’s rugged enough to handle the elements while also packing enough charge to play for hours on end. Others may simply need a speaker they can move around the house or use in the backyard. In this case, you can choose larger less rugged models that may offer better sound.