The Bluetooth Advantage
It's no secret smartphone and tablet speakers are bad. You just can't get very good sound out of a small, flat object designed to fit in your pocket. Fortunately, you don't have to rely on your smartphone or tablet to put out sound when you're on the go. Portable Bluetooth speakers are the best way to bust out the jams wirelessly when you can't carry around your entire sound system, which is pretty much all the time.
Thanks to integrated Bluetooth, the speakers here work with Android, iOS, and, well, any Bluetooth-enabled device, including most laptops and desktops. Also, they don't require a Wi-Fi network, making them much more flexible than Apple-only AirPlay speakers. Still, there are a few things to consider when picking a Bluetooth speaker.
Bluetooth speakers are usually portable, but they don't have to be. Some speaker systems are built for connecting to your PC or HDTV, and Bluetooth connectivity is a secondary function, like the excellent Audioengine HD3. These types of speakers are great if you want wireless audio at home, but you can't easily haul either of them around, unlike many of the smaller, more bag-friendly speakers on this list. For more options, check out The Best Computer Speakers.
Most, but not all, Bluetooth speakers use rechargeable batteries, so you can take them anywhere and use them without a power outlet. Some larger speakers, especially those intended for home theater or PC use, need a dedicated power supply to run, even though you can connect your devices to them wirelessly. Size is often a trade-off for power; the smaller a speaker, the less powerful it will likely sound.
If you're willing to give up portability, you can gain some advantages that regular Bluetooth speakers don't offer. The Amazon Echo, for example, connects to Wi-Fi and lets you talk to the Amazon Alexa voice assistant. It's worth pointing out that this feature doesn't rely on Bluetooth—you need an internet connection for Alexa to work, not just a Bluetooth link to your mobile device. (If you want to take Alexa to go, there's also the battery-powered Amazon Tap, though again you'll need to be connected to Wi-Fi for any voice functionality.)
Not all portable speakers are built to be carried around outdoors, or used by the pool. Rugged speakers can handle splashes, dunks, drops, and gunk and keep running. If you try that with the non-rugged speakers on this list, however, you'll find yourself with a brick instead of an audio device. Look for speakers with IPX ratings and guarantees of water and shock resistance if you want to carry them around to the beach, the lake, the slopes, or the sewers.
Unless portability is at the top of your priority list, sound quality is paramount. Plenty of speakers don't offer much in the way of features, but produce top-notch audio. Big bass isn't for everyone, but unless your speaker is downright tiny, it should be able to reproduce low frequencies accurately without distorting at high volumes. Clarity is more important than sheer power, and a balanced, clean sound should be your goal when shopping for a speaker. If you want a sound system that can drive a whole party instead of just fill a small room, keep the size of the speaker in mind; generally, the bigger a speaker is, the louder it can get while still sounding good.
Beyond an auxiliary input (so you can connect your smartphone or tablet with a wire, if you wish), you'd be lucky to find much else in the way of connectivity on most Bluetooth speaker systems. Even a 3.5mm aux input isn't a certainty if you're getting a particularly small or inexpensive speaker. However, larger speakers can often serve multiple purposes, and even use multiple wireless standards.
Apple's AirPlay used to be completely separate from Bluetooth and other Android-friendly wireless systems, but now there's plenty of overlap, and you can find some speakers pulling double-duty as both Bluetooth and Wi-Fi systems. The Libratone Zipp Mini, for instance, doubles as an AirPlay and Spotify Connect speaker. The Amazon Echo, meanwhile, is primarily a voice-controlled speaker that can work autonomously once it's connected to your Wi-Fi network; you can just tell it to play music, if you don't want to stream audio over Bluetooth. These multi-platform speakers sacrifice portability for their flexibility, however. For more options that aren't necessarily Bluetooth, see The Best Wireless Speakers.
Bluetooth speakers come in a wide range of prices. Don't assume, however, that the most money always buys the best overall product. Generally speaking, higher-end models do sound better, but sometimes they lack the features you might expect for the price. The trick is to get the best sound, along with the features you want, at a price you can afford.
The easiest way to get the best price: Shop around online. You'll often find prices well below list if you do a little bargain hunting on the web. Don't be afraid to look for similar speakers to the ones on this list, either; a number of the options included here have solid predecessors that you can now find for much less since they've been replaced. We've also rounded up our favorite Bluetooth speakers under $100.
%displayPrice% at %seller% The B&O Play Beoplay A1 is a portable Bluetooth speaker with some of the best bass response you'll find in such a compact size. Read the full review
%displayPrice% at %seller% The Marshall Kilburn portable Bluetooth speaker delivers a powerful audio performance that can be tweaked to your liking. Read the full review
%displayPrice% at %seller% The Amazon Echo is so much more than a wireless speaker. It's part voice assistant, part home automation hub, and its abilities continue to expand steadily. And it's a blast to use. Read the full review
%displayPrice% at %seller% The B&O Play Beolit 17 speaker provides a bass-forward, balanced Bluetooth audio experience at a slightly lower price than its predecessor. Read the full review
%displayPrice% at %seller% The rugged EcoXGear EcoCarbon portable Bluetooth speaker offers solid audio performance in one of the best outdoor-focused designs we've seen. Read the full review
%displayPrice% at %seller% The Harman Kardon Onyx Mini speaker delivers powerful Bluetooth audio performance from a modest frame. Read the full review
%displayPrice% at %seller% The JBL Clip 2 is a budget-friendly Bluetooth speaker that delivers solid audio performance in a supremely portable, outdoor-friendly design. Read the full review
%displayPrice% at %seller% The JLab Block Party is a wireless speaker that delivers some serious thunder from its modest frame. It's an excellent building block for a simple multiroom audio system. Read the full review
%displayPrice% at %seller% The Libratone Zipp Mini speaker delivers a bass-forward, user-friendly Bluetooth and Wi-Fi audio experience that can be used in multi-room scenarios. Read the full review
%displayPrice% at %seller% The new UE Boom 2 Bluetooth speaker from Ultimate Ears packs powerful sound in a colorful, rugged, waterproof build. Read the full review