You can’t beat the convenience of going wire-free. Sure, for the best audio quality, you’ll still need to use wired speakers and input. But since you’re more likely to stream music on your phone, Bluetooth speakers are a must-have accessory nowadays.
Broadly, you can break down Bluetooth speakers into three categories:
- Portable speakers that travel with you, and double up as speakerphones or chargers for other devices.
- Primarily home speakers which include a built-in battery.
- Home speakers that require a power cable and are part of your entertainment system.
These categories fall into low-end, mid-range, and high-end budgets, respectively. When you’re buying Bluetooth speakers, you need to know how you’re going to use them. But at the end of it all, the sound matters most.
Depending on your budget, here’s a quick guide to the best Bluetooth speakers you can buy at the moment.
For $25: VicTsing Waterproof Shower Speakers ($19.99) (UK/CA)
If you’re spending less than $25, then you probably just want a set of speakers to hang in your shower. You’re not going to get good audio quality in this range. The sub-$25 budget also restricts you to mono output.
Forget the big brands here and go with the VicTsing waterproof shower speakers. It features a handy clip as well as a removable suction cup to hang or stick it in place. There’s also a built-in microphone for hands-free calls.
The rechargeable battery lasts for the advertised six hours of playtime, according to multiple customer reviews on Amazon. It’s the nifty gadget to make workouts less boring.
If you’re set on that sub-$25 budget, the VicTsing is your best bet. But I’d strongly advise extending your budget to get the JBL Clip+ for $35. It has much better sound and includes an integrated one-foot cable to plug it into a phone’s headphone jack.
For $50: JBL Clip 2 ($50) (UK/CA) or Anker SoundCore ($35.99) (UK/CA)
For those with $50, you have two great options: the JBL Clip 2 or the Anker SoundCore. Both have virtues, so we’ll quickly talk about what makes them good.
Multiple reviewers praised the Anker SoundCore as the most surprising budget speakers they’ve tried. It is one of the few speakers in this range to come with dual drivers. That means better quality sound, but it’s not quite loud. The SoundCore also offers incredible battery life, lasting for 24 hours of continuous playback. That long life makes it perfect to have your Bluetooth gadget talk to you about interesting things.
The JBL Clip 2 provides excellent sound quality for sub-$50 speakers and it gets louder than one might expect. It’s also splash-proof so that you can take it out in the rain or into the shower. Just don’t submerge it in water — it’s not fully water-resistant. The Clip 2 also has an excellent speakerphone, if you expect to take a lot of hands-free calls while in your room. If you see it at $60 on Amazon, run it through the best price comparison sites to find it at $50.
Both the Urban Ears (UE) Roll 2 and the JBL Flip 3 have their ardent fans. Base your purchasing decision on how you plan on using the speakers.
The UE Roll 2 is for those who want Bluetooth speakers for a pool party or beach outing. It’s compact and lightweight, so carrying it around feels natural. It is waterproof up to one meter deep. UE even throws in a floating device to keep your speakers bobbing on top of the water. On top of that, the sound is loud for its size, but the range isn’t wide enough for you to enjoy every type of music. Mids and highs are all right, but the bass (even with the Bass Jump feature) feels artificial, not rich. Add 11 hours of continuous playback and you have a winner. But note that it doesn’t have a built-in mic for double-duty as a speakerphone.
The JBL Flip 3 is splashproof but doesn’t offer the waterproofing delights of the UE Roll 2. However, it makes up for that with great sound quality. In the sub-$100 price range, this is the best audio quality you can find anywhere, whether it’s thumping bass or soft cymbals. The Flip 3 also has excellent speakerphone capabilities, with a dedicated call button. It lasts for a similar 11 hours of playback, and can also charge other devices (like your smartphone) with its battery backup.
For $200: Bose Soundlink Mini II ($199) (UK/CA) or Marshall Acton ($185.99) (UK/CA)
Your next jump in Bluetooth speakers takes you to the home speakers category. In that, the Bose Soundlink Mini II is the undisputed king of home portable devices, while the Marshall Acton offers the best sound.
You just have to listen to the Soundlink Mini II to understand just how much better it is than other compact speakers. Yes, it’s battery powered, but it still packs a punch with its bass that you’ll rarely hear in this class. And its speakerphone is arguably the best in the business; even better than devices twice its price. Remember, it’s still a compact speaker, so the audio feels dampened down, not booming and alive. And its battery will last for about 7-9 hours before needing to be recharged. Those are small flaws, though, and the overall package is good enough to be even be listed in our best back-to-school gadgets.
On the other hand, the Marshall Acton sounds richer, warmer, and fills the room with sound. The video above should give you an idea of the difference in their audio quality. The vintage look and the old-school knobs to control treble and bass are excellent additions. Unfortunately, the Acton does not have batteries and needs to be plugged into a power source. It also lacks a speakerphone, so you can’t answer calls with this.
For $300: B&O PLAY A1 ($249) (UK/CA) or Riva Turbo X ($299) (UK/CA)
If you want to upgrade from the Soundlink Mini II, get the Bang and Olufsen (B&O) PLAY A1 for $250 or the Riva Turbo X for $300.
The B&O A1 is a decorative piece in your living room, not just a Bluetooth speaker. Its perforated aluminum top draws attention, and you’ll never feel like it needs to sit in a corner. With 24 hours of continuous playback, you won’t need to use the standard USB Type-C charger all that often either. It matches or surpasses the Soundlink Mini II in audio quality and looks good doing it. If your budget allows for it, the Play A1 is a Bluetooth speaker you’ll be proud of. Also, you can buy one more A1 later and pair the two for richer sound.
The Riva Turbo X is The Wirecutter’s pick for the best-sounding compact Bluetooth speakers, so you know the audio quality is as good as it gets. Again, you’ll get 24 hours of playback on a single charge, packed in a gorgeous body that can sit regally on any mantelpiece. However, the custom power plug means you’ll have to lug another wire and adapter with you when you are traveling with this. If you want regular portability, skip this one. It’s fine if you plan on traveling with it only once in a while, or for weekend trips.
The Premium Range: Fluance Fi70 ($500) (CA)
If you’re spending more than $300, you are almost certainly getting a home speaker. No batteries involved, it’s all about the sound now. So get the best sound and forget about everything else.
In the past few months, the Fluance Fi70 has bowled over every reviewer out there. It’s a big, hulking machine, but that’s what you have to get for high audio quality. How else will you get dual 8″ subwoofers, dual 5″ woven glass fiber midrange drivers, and twin neodymium tweeters?
Yes, there’s also the gorgeous and Airplay-compatible Bowers & Wilkins Zeppelin, everyone’s darling Bose SoundTouch 20 (UK), and WireCutter’s favorite Peachtree Deepblue2. But if you want the best sound, it’s the Fi70 for you. And it only makes sense to get the best sound when you’re paying 500 bucks or more.
If you’re more particular about sound than what the Fluance Fi70 has, then you shouldn’t be buying Bluetooth speakers. Get yourself a pair of good high-fidelity speakers. Wireless playback compresses audio, so after a certain point, it doesn’t make sense to sacrifice audio quality for the convenience of Bluetooth.
Which Bluetooth Speakers Did You Buy?
Recommending speakers always leads to debate, so let’s fight it out in the comments. Which speakers have you bought? Which speakers do you think are the best in one of the above price ranges? Do you think Bluetooth is as good as wired now?