For today’s music lovers, modern technology has made pursuing sonic passions much easier and more convenient than in past eras of musical recordings. Case in point: A serious fan’s entire music collection, including days’ or even months’ worth of albums and tracks, can now be stored right on a smartphone and carried around in a pocket or purse, accessible at any time and from anywhere with just a few swipes and clicks. And for those who subscribe to streaming music services, virtual libraries filled with millions of artists, albums and songs can be accessed at home or on the go via an internet or cellular connection, with no record, CD or even digital file required when it is time to get into the groove.
While the best sound quality might still be found in the home via expansive and expensive stereo setups, on-the-go audio has also made major leaps forward in recent years. Often smaller than a soda can and typically an easy fit in a backpack, today’s portable Bluetooth speakers offer impressive sound quality for their size and cost. And when compared to listening to music directly from a phone, most of them represent a major step up sonically.
So what are some of the most important features to look for when shopping for a portable Bluetooth speaker? Consumers looking for their next Bluetooth speaker should consider the five characteristics listed below, along with the highlighted models that excel in each category:
- Size: When shopping for a portable Bluetooth speaker, consumers should be aware that “portable” is somewhat open to interpretation. Some of the speakers falling into this category are the size of a boom box and include a handle for hauling, while others are small enough to easily slip into the back pocket of the user’s pants. Regardless, for their small or relatively small size, today’s portable Bluetooth speakers are capable of producing some big sound.
Top options: On the larger end, the Braven BRV-XXL/2 features boom box styling, a rugged design and a built-in subwoofer to serve as something of an on-the-go sound system. Somewhere in the middle size-wise, the JBL Flip 4 delivers good sound, is waterproof and is about the size of a 16-ounce beverage can. And for those seeking an even more portable speaker, the Bose SoundLink Micro is small enough to clip onto a backpack strap or a bike’s handlebars, but still delivers sizable sound.
- Range: When users connect to their speakers wirelessly via Bluetooth, they can go about their business of listening to their favorite music and bring their phone along with them, as no wires are needed to connect to the speaker. But just how far they can roam without experiencing connection disruptions is dictated by the speaker’s mobile range, which typically varies from around 30 feet to north of 100 feet.
Top options: A couple of the portable Bluetooth speakers boasting some of the longer ranges available on the market include the Ultimate Ears Boom 3, which offers 360-degree sound and a mobile range of 150 feet, and the smaller Ultimate Ears Wonderboom 2, which floats on water (making it great for pool parties) and offers a mobile range of 100 feet.
- Battery life: Of course, the dance party comes to an abrupt end when the speaker runs short on battery power, and the battery life of different models of portable Bluetooth speakers can vary greatly. Most of the speakers feature rechargeable batteries and come with chargers, but some models can go much longer between changes than others.
Top options: A couple of the available models boasting battery life toward the top end of the spectrum include the Anker Soundcore 2 with 24 hours of playtime between charges and the Sony SRS-XB33, also featuring up to 24 hours of battery life.
- Audio quality: As mentioned earlier, a portable Bluetooth speaker can deliver a serious sonic upgrade when compared to listening to music directly from a smartphone, but some speaker models shine especially bright in the area of sound quality. The top-rated models for sound quality tend to be the largest, so consumers will have to decide for themselves whether they consider sound quality or portability a higher priority.
Top options: Among the highest-rated portable Bluetooth speakers for sound quality is the Ultimate Ears Hyperboom, which will not fit in anyone’s pocket, but delivers one of the loudest, most powerful sounds around. Another winner in this area, the Sonos Move, features drop-resistant durability, voice control, weather resistance and more.
- Useful perks: In addition to packing a good sound and easy portability, some portable Bluetooth speaker models add in useful extras that can come in handy for the user. Among these perks, some models feature built-in bottle openers, others include integrated light shows, and still others support hands-free phone calls. Depending on the user’s needs and preferences, an offering in this area just might push a particular model of portable Bluetooth speaker into the lead for the consumer.
Top options: The JBL Charge 4 features a built-in power bank that, when a phone is plugged into its USB port, will charge the phone while the speaker plays music housed on or streaming via the device. This can be an especially handy feature for avid travelers who are regularly on the go and tend to face frequent struggles with low battery levels on their phones. Another JBL offering, the Pulse 4, integrates 360-degree, high-resolution LED lighting into its design to deliver a light show while it plays music.
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