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Music goes well with a campfire, and is one of the few forms of electronic entertainment that’s acceptable on a backpacking excursion. All you need is a phone or MP3 player – and a set of speakers.
The latter requirements tend to be problematic. Lots of small, portable speakers exist, but most of the models you’ll find on sale at your local retail store are designed to sit on a night stand rather than a fallen tree. There are, however, some portable Bluetooth speakers that can meet the challenge of the great outdoors.
Braven BRV-1 ($125)
The big, bad Braven BRV-1 is the heavyweight champion of rugged speakers. At almost five inches long, four inches wide, and featuring a boxy shape, it feels hefty compared to some competitors.If you can accept that, however, the BRV-1 will reward you with just about everything you could ask for in a rugged speaker.
This workhorse is water and drop resistant, has a battery that can last up to 15 hours, produces excellent sound quality and can be used as a backup battery for a smartphone or tablet. Even the price is right; while $125 makes is more expensive than the competition, it more than makes up for that shortcoming with strong all-round performance.
Panasonic SC-NT10-D ($100)
Is that a UFO? Oh, no – it’s the Panasonic SC-NT10-D. Boring name aside, this saucer-shaped speaker boasts a “quad proof tough” rating, which means it is resistant to water, drops, dust and extreme temperatures.
Audio quality isn’t the best around, but will prove adequate for most buyers, and maximum volume is strong. The only real downside is the battery; while it’s rated for 8 hours, some reviewers have noted that jamming at maximum volume can cut that figure in half. Still, at $100, this Panasonic is a good choice for those who need a rough-and-tumble speaker.
Unlike most Bluetooth speakers, which do everything they can to reduce their size, the ECOXBT isn’t afraid to stretch its legs. This sucker is nine inches long, which is positively massive by this category’s standards.
In exchange, the ECOXBT provides a very important feature; it’s waterproof. That’s different from water resistant — not only can this speaker survive a splash, it can be fully immersed in water. In fact, the ECOXBT floats! Long battery life, which comes in at ten hours, is another mark in favor of this speaker, and the $93 price isn’t bad, either.
Philips ShoqBox ($90)
Besides a cool name, the ShoqBox a dizzying array of features, including some you wouldn’t expect. This speaker has a menu system that can accept voice and even gesture input, which means you can change tracks or stop the speaker without being bothered with touching it. Another cool feature is the option to use two speakers together to, effectively creating a Bluetooth stereo.
Otherwise, the ShoqBox provides everything you’d expect; water and drop resistant, about eight hours of battery life, and good sound quality. Though it was originally almost $200, the price has been cut to just $90, which makes for a great value.
Eton Rugged Rukus ($75)
Battery life is always going to be a concern with a portable speaker. Eton solves that problem in the simplest way possible; by slapping a solar panel on the top.
This doesn’t mean the battery lasts forever, but it does mean the speaker can recover a full charge after five hours in the sun. Better still, the internal battery can be used to recharge smartphones and tablets, turning this speaker into both a speaker and a portable charge station.
Otherwise, the Rukus acts as you’d expect, providing water and drop resistance alongside decent audio quality. Perhaps the best feature is the price. You might expect the solar panel to cost a fortune, but this speaker sells for just $75.
Pyle Sound Box ($50)
The Pyle Sound Box is called a “marine-grade waterproof” speaker, which is somewhat deceiving, as it is only splash-proof rather than fully waterproof like the ECOXGEAR ECOXBT. Still, this speaker provides strong sound, a durable (if bulky) exterior and up to six hours of battery life. In other words, it does the job.
That’s not the highest praise, but thankfully the Pyle Sound Box is only $50, almost three times less than the impressive Braven BRV-1. Though other options here may be superior, the Sound Box’s price is a lot easier to tolerate, making this a good choice for occasional travelers who don’t need or care about added features.
LogitechUE Boom ($180)
The stylish Logitech UE Boom is, at seven inches tall, one of the larger speakers here, but it has a cylindrical shape which makes it possible to stash the speaker anywhere a water bottle might fit. This design also gives the speaker 360 degree sound projection, which means you don’t have to worry about it pointing in the right direction.
Speaking of sound, the UE Boom offers superb audio quality. This may be because it’s not designed as a rugged speaker, but it is water resistant, so it shouldn’t be taken out of commission by a brief downpour. Battery life is strong, too, at up to fifteen hours. Unfortunately, all of these great traits add up to a price of $179, making the Boom one of the most expensive Bluetooth speakers available.
In my opinion, the Braven BRV-1 is the speaker to beat in this category. Though pricey, it otherwise is strong in all areas and, while boxy, it’s not the biggest of this bunch. I’d place the Eton Rukus Rugged in the runner up spot because of its extremely useful solar panel. With that said, all of these speakers have their niche – which is your favorite?