The Ultimate Bluetooth Speaker Buying Guide
Welcome to my Big Bluetooth Speaker Buying guide.
I get several questions from people every day to help them to buy a Bluetooth speaker:
‘Which Bluetooth speaker should I buy?’
‘Which Bluetooth speaker is the best?’
and my answer is almost always: ‘It depends on what your needs are’.
So I decided to write a super comprehensive guide about how to buy a Bluetooth speaker, what things you should consider when you choose one, what their most important characteristics are.
So you will learn everything you need to know to choose the right Bluetooth speaker and I will spare tons of time by sending only the link to this guide to all of those questions.:-)
This is not a ‘Best speaker’ guide, however, I will outline some speakers here or there as an example which are worth to be checked but I am pretty sure that there are many great Bluetooth speakers which are not mentioned in this guide.
As I said this is a comprehensive guide, so I will share everything I know, because there are always guys who want to know everything, however, if you want to jump to the particular chapters just click on the links below.
- What size Bluetooth speaker should I get?
- How much is a Bluetooth speaker?
- Durable speakers
- Attachment options
- What is a good battery life?
- Music Control
- How long is the Bluetooth range?
- Wi-Fi speakers
- Sound quality
- Extra features
- What are the smart speakers?
- What is the multi-room audio?
- I need something cool...
So grab a coffee, lean back and learn everything about Bluetooth speakers.
What to look for in a Bluetooth speaker?
1. What size Bluetooth speaker should I get?
Okay, so when you are choosing a Bluetooth speaker, first and foremost, I suggest thinking over for what and where you will use it.
Do you need a speaker for your bedroom, living room, patio, pool or you need something that you will carry around the whole day?
This is an important factor because usually there is no ‘one for all’ speaker and these different use cases mainly mean different-sized speakers.
So let’s see the different size categories and what their common usage is.
Micro, nano speakers
These are the smallest speakers with a similar, a slightly larger size than a matchbox.
They can be a good choice if you are looking for something really portable and lightweight, what you can easily put into your pocket or purse, however, the usage of them is quite limited.
Because of their size, they usually have a short 2-5 hours battery life and a basic sound.
They are good enough to improve the sound of your phone and they can be used as a super portable speakerphone but they are too small to upgrade and replace the speaker of your notebook or to be used as a desktop speaker.
I do not really recommend buying a such a small speaker, if you want a really portable one then I suggest choosing from the next size category.
The next size category is the ultra-portable speakers.
These speakers are still intended to be with you the whole day, so they are small enough to carry them easily in a bag or attach them to your backpack or belt.
However, they have a pretty decent sound which is enough for a smaller bedroom and provides better sound quality than a usual notebook speaker.
Mostly, these speakers are used outside, they are bought for the beach, for hiking or to attach it to a bike, so before buying, it is worth to check if the speaker got any water protection and if it is durable enough.
Since we are speaking about very portable speakers, the one of the most important attribute I would check in the specification is the battery life.
A good speaker in this category has around 10-15 hours battery life at moderate volume.
To improve their portability, usually, these speakers got some built-in attachment options like a carabiner or a strap what you can use to attach the speaker to anything like your backpack or bicycle.
It is worth to choose a speaker which has such a feature because it can be very handy when you carry the speaker around but even at home it is really comfortable that you can hang them on hooks or attach them to your belt while doing housework.
The sound of these speakers is enough to fill a smaller room but because of their smaller size, their sound quality is still quite basic usually their sound is flat without bass and deeper lows.
There are some exceptions like for example the Bose SoundLink Micro, which has a pretty decent sound despite its small size but in turn, it comes with a quite high price tag.
So, I suggest buying a speaker from this size category only if you really want a portable speaker what you will carry a lot.
If you would mainly use it at home or the sound quality is a more important factor for you then I suggest buying a bigger speaker because usually, they provide a much better sound with a similar price.
Medium-sized portable speakers
The next category is the medium-sized Bluetooth speakers, which are still quite portable, you can take them to the beach or to a barbeque but they have a significant weight, so it is not comfortable to carry them a whole day.
You can also choose from this category if you need a bookshelf speaker for home because they have a pretty decent sound, they can fill a living room and the larger ones can even work as a home audio system.
They have a higher volume level, so you can use them outside in your garden, patio or at a pool.
The most of the smart speakers can be found in this size category, so you can even use them to build a multi-room audio system.
They have a pretty decent sound and volume level, however, it is not enough to fill a large garden or use by a big swimming pool, also for a home party I would suggest something bigger.
There are several speakers in this category but here I outlined some.
Large boomboxes and party speakers
If you would use the speaker in a larger space like by a garden party or you want a serious sound at home, then I suggest buying something from the extra-large category like the boomboxes.
These speakers can get extremely loud and provide a full soundstage with deeper lows and a punchy bass.
Some of them are even relatively portable like the JBL Xtreme or its bigger brother the JBL Boombox but there are also some real monsters like the Sony GTKXB7BC, the Soundboks 2, the Altec Lansing Xpedition 8 or the DiamondBoxx Model XL.
Those are mainly outdoor party speakers but if you would rather buy something more elegant indoor audio system then you can also find some great speakers like the Fluance Fi70B, Aiwa Exos-9, Bowers & Wilkins Zeppelin or the Devialet Phantom.
2. How much is a Bluetooth speaker?
It is not a surprise that besides the size, usually, the most important factor is the price.
As by any other products, the price of the Bluetooth speakers varies a lot and while there is a correlation between the price and the quality, it is not always the case.
There are bad speakers with high price tags and fortunately, there are also great budget speakers.
So the good news is that if you are on a budget you can still find good speakers on the market.
Let's see how much is a Bluetooth speaker?
The cheapest Bluetooth speakers are available from around 10-15 dollars, however, even if you are on a budget I would definitely skip this price range and buy something in the $35-40 price range because here you can find much better devices.
The medium-sized speakers are mostly in the $100-200 price range while you can buy a larger speaker between 200-300 dollars.
Of course, if you want something really premium, the price can go up to several thousand dollars.
3. Durable speakers
If you are looking for an outdoor speaker it is important to choose something rugged which can withstand the elements.
In this case, you should avoid everything made from hard materials because they can collect scratches and dents quite easily when you toss them into a bag or accidentally drop them.
The best if the speaker is covered by fabric or rubberized plastic.
The outdoor speakers are often used by a pool or during a hiking where it can get wet, so it is important to choose one which has a water protection.
However, speakers have different types of water protections and some speakers are more durable than others.
To differentiate these protections, a rating system, called IP rating, was introduced, so the best if you choose a speaker which got an IP certification.
In order to get a certification, the speakers must successfully complete various tests.
In the name of the certification the first digit means the level of dust protection, the highest number is the better, if the speaker is not certified for dust then it is replaced by an ‘X’.
The second digit means the water protection, where also the highest number means the better protection.
Basically, checking the specifications of the Bluetooth speakers these are the two most common types of water protections.
IPX7 water protection
Devices with this certification are completely waterproof they can be submerged into 1-meter-deep water for 30 minutes, so you can even drop them into the water.
Do not buy speakers without this certification if you plan to use them next to a pool or for any water sports like canoeing, SUP or jet ski.
In this case, it is worth to be checked if the speaker floats on the water, so you can easily rescue it if you accidentally drop it in.
Fortunately, nowadays, many new speakers come with this certification.
IPX5 water protection
The other commonly used certification is the IPX5 water protection which means the speaker is splash-proof, so it cannot be submerged into water, however, it is resistant against the projected water, so it can be used as a shower speaker or you can wash it off.
If the second digit in the IP certification is not X but a number like IP67 then it means the speaker is not just waterproof but it is also dustproof.
You can find the complete IP code breakdown here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/IP_Code
If you are choosing a speaker with fabric material and you want to use it on the beach, then it is good to know that they can collect sand quite easily what is hard to remove.
4. Attachment options
Some small, portable speakers offer solutions to fix the speaker to something or to hang it to somewhere.
These solutions can be really useful if you carry the speaker a lot.
The most basic options are the loops and the cutouts which can be used to attach a lanyard or a carabiner to the speaker.
These straps work great if you want to attach the speaker to your backpack or to the handlebar of your bike.
5. What is a good battery life?
If you do not plan to use the speaker solely at home, then you should definitely check the battery life of it, especially because it varies a lot between the different models.
You have to keep in mind that volume heavily affects the battery life, the numbers given by the manufacturers in the specifications are usually measured at around 50% volume level.
Increasing the volume level to maximum can mean around 70-80% shorter battery life which is a huge difference and can be very disappointing.
So for example by the UE Wonderboom, the manufacturer estimates 10 hours battery life, which is likely reachable at around 50% volume level, however in my test, at 70% volume level I got only 6 hours 40 minutes, while cranking up to full volume it could play only for 2 hours 10 minutes.
This is mostly fine with the bigger speakers because likely you will not use them at full volume all the time, however, it is much more likely by a smaller speaker.
At a moderate volume level, the most basic speakers provide around 3-5 hours play time, while the average can play music for around 5-10 hours.
A speaker with good battery life has around 10-15 hours play time while the exceptional ones can do even 20+ hours.
The charging time of the speakers are usually around 2-5 hours and it depends on the output of the charger.
It takes longer if you charge them via a micro USB cable plugged into a USB port and can be shorter if you use a wall adapter.
Battery level indicator
Before buying a speaker, it is worth to check if it has any battery level indicator because it can be really annoying if the speaker runs down and turns off unexpectedly.
There are some speakers which do not have any battery level indicator at all and unfortunately, this is quite common especially in the smaller category.
Some speakers have a basic solution, which means the color of a LED indicates the approximate battery percentage or it plays different tones if the battery level is low, medium or high.
A better solution is when the speaker has 4-5 battery indicator LEDs, so you know pretty precisely how much juice is left.
However, the best solution is when the speaker can tell you via a voice prompt the exact remaining battery percentage.
As a final note, it is worth to mention that there are Bluetooth speakers, especially among the larger ones, which do not have a built-in battery at all.
6. Music Control
Speakers provide different possibilities to control music, so it is worth to pay attention to that.
Unfortunately, there are speakers which do not have any music control capability like for example the UE Roll 2, with it you can only adjust the volume level but you cannot even pause/play a song.
What can be really missing when you use the speaker in the shower or by a pool typically far from your phone.
The most speakers provide the possibility to pause/play a song and skip a song, however usually you cannot forward, backward in a song and the function to jump back to the previously played song is also often omitted.
The best if the speaker has dedicated buttons for music control, however often this is not the case but you have to press more buttons at the same time which can be a bit uncomfortable and cumbersome.
7. How long is the Bluetooth range?
Another important factor which is worth to be considered when buying a speaker is the Bluetooth range.
The Bluetooth range is the longest distance between the speaker and your phone till the speaker can play music without any noises and cutouts.
Outdoors, in an open field, the Bluetooth speakers have around 20-150 feet range, so it can be pretty long.
However, you have to keep in mind that any physical obstacles can drastically reduce this range, so likely indoor with obstacles like concrete walls you will get a much shorter range.
It is not a problem if your phone is always in your pocket but if you plan to use the speaker far from the Bluetooth source for example in an other room, then I suggest choosing a speaker which has a long range.
8. Wi-Fi speakers
It is worth to mention that not all wireless speakers use Bluetooth technology some of them stream music via Wi-Fi protocol using AirPlay or Chromecast.
The AirPlay is the Apple’s music streaming solution which can be found on iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch and on any Mac or Windows PC running iTunes.
So if you would like to use AirPlay then you have to choose such speaker which supports this technology.
There can be some differences in the provided ports of the speakers.
Audio input port
Fortunately, besides the Bluetooth connection, most speakers feature a 3.5 mm auxiliary input port, so they can be connected via an audio cable.
Some speakers like the JBL Clip 2 even has a built-in audio cable.
Of course, all portable speakers with built-in battery has a charging port.
In most cases, this is a micro USB 2.0 charging port which can be used by any compatible micro USB cable and adapter.
However, it is worth to check this, since some speakers especially the larger ones have own charging cables and adapters, which are not so easily replaceable than the standard solutions.
There are speakers with large battery capacities, which can be used as a power bank and can charge other devices.
They have one or more USB charge-out ports, so you can easily connect and charge your devices with them using a USB cable.
This feature can be a life-saver at the beach or on a hike.
SD card slot
If you do not want to have your phone always by hand or do you prefer to play music from an SD card then you can find speakers with an SD card slot.
However, the usage of this SD card reader can be limited since some speakers do not support folder structures or cannot play the songs shuffled.
10. Sound quality
Unless you are looking for something very small and portable, the most important thing what you expect from a Bluetooth speaker is definitely the good sound quality.
There are some typical problems you can notice regarding it.
The most common is the distortion, which means that the speaker reaches its limits during some songs and it can’t handle too high or low frequencies, so it starts playing a distorted sound.
Of course, it does not happen by all songs, so it is worth to try out the speaker with more different tracks and it is worth to choose ones with deep bass lines and heavy vocals which push the speaker to its limits.
Usually, distortions occur at higher or maximum volume level.
Also, complex songs with many instruments can work well for testing the quality, by the good speakers you should hear a clear sound with separation between individual instruments and vocals.
Another usual problem is that the speakers sound flat, which means the bass is weak and the lower frequencies are missing.
This is pretty common by the smaller speakers because generally, we can say that the full, big sound has some size requirements.
Not balanced sound
Other problem can be that some frequencies are overboosted in the sound of the speaker.
This can mean that the vocals and the high frequencies are too harsh, they bother your ears and the sound of the speaker is not pleasant to listen to but other times the bass can be uncontrolled and it can ruin the songs by overpowering other frequencies.
So overall we can say what you should look for is a nice, balanced sound.
However, everyone has their own preferences when it comes to sound balance, someone likes more bass, someone more highs, so it is always suggested to try out the speaker before buying.
Another important aspect, you should consider regarding sound is the maximum volume level.
The smaller pocket-sized speakers have enough volume for a smaller bedroom or to sit together with one-two friends to listen to some music.
However, I do not recommend them for a garden or for a larger room.
The bigger bookshelf speakers can provide enough sound for a larger living room or for a smaller garden and pool but you need something more powerful for a bigger gathering.
The volume level of the large Bluetooth speakers is enough for home parties and for outside events as well.
Direct vs Omnidirectional sound
One difference between the speakers, that some of them can play songs mainly in one direction while others have 360° omnidirectional sound, so you can put them in the middle of the room and you will get similar sound quality everywhere.
11. Extra features
The Bluetooth speakers vary a lot in terms of the extra features, some speakers are basic while others are quite powerful.
Checking the extra features, the most popular one is the built-in microphone, what you can find in almost every Bluetooth speaker.
These speakers can be used as a speakerphone to accept and decline calls without using your phone.
This can be really handy if you are in a pool or doing some water sports when your phone is in a waterproof bag.
You can also control the digital voice assistant of your phone with most of these speakers.
While it is a common feature, you better check it in the specification before buying because there are some popular speakers like for example the UE Roll 2 or the UE Wonderboom which do not have a microphone.
You can also find Bluetooth speakers with built-in FM radio, so you can use your speaker to tune-in to your favorite radio station and listen to songs, for example, the Anker SoundCore Mini or the Creative Metallix have a radio tuner.
By these models, you have to plug in the USB charging cable while listening to since it acts as an antenna for tuning into FM stations.
To make the connection and the pairing process easier, some speakers feature an NFC chip.
NFC (near-field communication) is a communication protocol, which enables two devices to wirelessly communicate by simply touching them together.
This means if you buy an NFC-enabled speaker and your phone has an NFC chip as well then it is enough to touch the phone to the speaker and they will automatically pair and connect together, so you can start streaming your music immediately.
I think it is a not so important, must-have feature but it makes the usage of the speaker easier.
Connect more speakers, stereo pairing
By some Bluetooth speaker models, it is possible to connect more devices together for an amplified sound, so it is worth considering this if you plan to purchase more speakers.
In most cases, it is possible to connect together two devices from the same type.
This is supported by many speakers, however, you have to keep in mind that not all of them support stereo mode as well, so you will only get an amplified mono sound.
Some brands provide a solution to connect together the different models of the brand.
Such solution is, for example, the ‘Party Up’ feature of the Ultimate Ears which allows you to connect more than 50 nearby UE speakers together and get all of them playing the same music in sync.
JBL Connect+ is the similar solution of the JBL, so you can connect together the JBL Connect+ enabled devices.
However, you have to be careful because usually these features are not supported by all models of the brands, for example, the UE Roll 2 or the UE Wondeboom cannot be connected with other types of UE speakers, while the UE Boom, Boom 2 and the Megaboom can be connected together.
Some speakers come with an optional mobile app which can provide some useful features.
For example, they can contain an equalizer, you can rename the speaker with them, they can make the pairing process easier or with them, you can connect more devices together.
Some apps provide party mode, so you can connect more phones to the speaker and choose via the app which phone streams music to the speaker or with some of them you can even turn on/off the speakers remotely.
The usage of the apps is optional; I think it is not the most important factor when you buy a Bluetooth speaker but it is nice if the speaker comes with an app.
You have to keep in mind that although many manufacturers have a mobile app, usually not all of their models support it, so it is always good to check it before buying.
The Bluetooth speakers are usually light on accessories, so there is no big difference here.
The most common is that only a micro USB cable is included, so don’t be surprised if you do not even get a wall adapter.
As an extra, some speakers come with a lanyard, carabiner or a carrying pouch.
Occasionally, you get a charging, docking station to make the charging process easier like by the Bose SoundLink Mini 2 or you can buy it as an optional accessory like by the UE Megablast and the Bose SoundLink Revolve+.
One interesting accessory is, for example, the Floatie of the UE Roll 2 which is a small, inflatable life preserver which helps the speaker to float on the water.
13. What are the smart speakers?
After the success of the Amazon Echo, the smart speakers getting more and more popularity and many manufacturers bring they own smart speakers to the market.
So if you are looking for something which does not just sound good but provides smart assistant functionalities then there are several options you can choose from.
However, before speaking about the specific speakers let’s see what the smart speakers exactly are and what they can be used for.
What makes a speaker smart that it connects to the internet and provides voice controlled, digital assistant functionalities.
There are several different ecosystems with different functionalities but usually, with a smart speaker you can initiate voice searches and it can answer different questions like ‘What’s the weather today?’, ‘When was this song released?’.
With them you can listen to the news, set timers, reminders, take notes and they can usually stream music directly from an online music library.
You can also use a smart speaker as a hub to control your other smart home devices with voice commands, for example, controlling the lighting or the temperatures in your rooms.
In terms of hardware, the big difference between the normal and smart speakers that the smart ones have a built-in processor and several microphones ensuring that it can hear your voice commands over the music.
This hardware can also improve the sound quality because they can analyze, monitor the surrounding and with smart algorithms adjust the sound according to the acoustical conditions.
By choosing a smart speaker, definitely, the most important question is that which ecosystem and voice assistant you would like to use.
So let’s see what are the different options and which speakers support them.
Amazon was the first one who started to release smart speakers for its ecosystem and seeing its success the competitors tried to catch up, however, still they are the leader in the smart speaker segment.
The Amazon-enabled speakers can be a good choice if you would like to use the Amazon Alexa voice assistant and the Amazon Music streaming service.
Google’s solutions are also very popular and they have started to release their own smart speakers, so if you would like to use the Google Assistant and the Google Play Music services then you have several speakers you can choose from.
Apple came quite late into this game and released only one speaker so far the Apple HomePod, so the choice is quite limited but at least if you are an Apple user now you have the possibility to use Siri and Apple Music on a smart speaker.
Cortana is the voice assistant solution of Microsoft and if you are a Cortana user the good news that they have just released the first Cortana-enabled speaker the Harman Kardon Invoke.
14. What is the multi-room audio?
If you are thinking of buying multiple speakers for home instead of carrying one speaker across the rooms, the best if you choose speakers with multi-room audio support.
The multi-room audio means that all your speakers are connected to the same wireless network, so you can easily control them with a remote or using a mobile app.
You can blast the same music throughout your entire home with only one click or if you want, you can even set different music in each room.
Usually, you can customize the sound with equalizers and you can save favorite profiles.
Some multi-room solutions allow to group speakers and if you have more speakers in a room you can even tell which one is the left and which one is the right channel, so you can get a nice stereo sound.
Generally, we can tell that to have those speakers connected together and to ensure they work well, you need to choose all speakers from the same brand.
In this area, the most popular manufacturer with the most experience and history is the Sonos.
However, many other brands have their own multi-room solution like Bose with the SoundTouch series: Bose SoundTouch 10, 20, 30 or Marshall with its multi-room speakers: Marshall Action Multi-Room, Marshall Stanmore Multi-Room, Marshall Woburn Multi-Room.
Nowadays, creating a multi-room system is much easier than it used to be because usually, the new smart speakers like the Amazon Echo and the Google Home devices provide multi-room support as well.
When you choose speakers to your rooms it is worth to consider if there is a power outlet next to the place where you want to put them because some speakers have a built-in battery but some others require a power supply.
You have to also ensure that all speakers can connect to the same wireless network.
15. I need something cool...
If you are looking for more than a simple speaker, you want something special or cool, then the good news is that there are lots of interesting speakers you can choose from.
Bluetooth speakers with light effects
For example, if you want a party speaker, then it is worth to check those ones which have some lighting effects to spice up the party.
The Sony SRS-XB41 is clearly designed to be a party speaker because it even got some music-making features, which means tapping the speaker from five different directions will cause the speaker to play various sounds over the top of the song you’re listening to.
From the JBL speakers, the JBL Pulse 3 has a nice lighting effect.
If the light is not enough and you want to take it to the next level, then the Fireside Audiobox even gives you real flames which are dancing according to your played music.
Another interesting category is the levitating speakers, if you want something eye-catching, futuristic in your living room then you definitely have to check these speakers.
What common in these devices that some parts of them are able to float magnetically in the air creating a stunning audiovisual experience.
You can also find several options if you want a modern device with a retro look.
Mainly the guitar amplifier manufacturers represent this design line like the Fender or the Marshall.
They produce great Bluetooth speakers with a vintage look mainly in the bigger bookshelf speaker category, however, you can also find some smaller models like the Fender Newport.
If you want something even more authentic then check the Vintage Vinyl Bluetooth speaker which is actually made from used vinyl records.
The retro game fanatics can find the 8Bitdo Retro Cube speaker interesting.
If you are looking for something for your kids or just something funny, then you can find many devices related to cartoons or movies.
With this I reached the end of this Bluetooth speaker buying guide I hope you found it helpful and now you can choose the best Bluetooth speaker for you.
If you still have a question or you would add something to this guide, please let me know in the comment section.