Bluetooth & Wireless Speaker Reviews

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Wondering what you need to look for when buying a bluetooth speaker? This buyer's guide will tell you what you need to know.

What is a Bluetooth Speaker?

Whether you are having a jam session with friends, relaxing on the beach, watching movies on your tablet or pumping your favorite tracks throughout your home, there is a Bluetooth speaker available to fit nearly any use and preference.

While Bluetooth speakers were once very expensive and offered questionable audio quality, modern Bluetooth speakers feature exceptional sound at much lower price points.

If you’ve ever considered purchasing a Bluetooth speaker but weren’t sure where to start, we’ve got you covered.

Bluetooth Speaker Basics

Speaker Designs

Physical designs of speakers vary widely. However, most can be grouped into one of three categories:

1. Portable Speakers
These speakers are light and compact. Most feature rechargeable battery cells for convenient charging and use on the go. Some feature water resistance, protective shells and other protective features to improve durability as well. Sizes range from smaller than paperback book to larger boom box-styled models with handles.

2. Home Audio Speakers
These speakers are typically larger and heavier than portable models. While some offer battery power, most require a connection to an electrical jack. While they are light enough to carry or move in most cases, they are designed to be placed in a location or room and stay there. These speakers are often more expensive than portable models but offer better audio quality.

3. Stereo Bluetooth Speakers
Many home audio speakers feature multiple speakers in a single device. Stereo Bluetooth speakers place each speaker in a separate box for better audio separation and clarity. These devices are smaller than home audio speakers but larger than portable speakers. In most cases, a cable connects the two speakers to provide power. For computer, laptop or tablet use, these speakers offer good sound and reduce cable clutter without taking up substantial amounts of space.

Connecting Your Bluetooth Speakers

While instructions will vary between devices, most speakers feature a dedicated pairing button. Connecting your audio device to your speakers is typically as simple as setting your phone, tablet or computer to detect Bluetooth devices and pressing the pairing button on the speaker. Once you have paired your device, most speakers will recognize it and pair automatically until another device is connected. If your speaker features multipoint pairing, it will remember multiple devices. Checking the manual for your speaker is the best way to know about specific features and instructions.

Streaming Audio to Your Bluetooth Speakers

After pairing your devices, any audio played should automatically stream to the speaker. For speakers with microphones, this will also include incoming calls from mobile phones or voice prompts. Most speakers also feature control buttons or a control pod for skipping tracks, increasing volume or activating additional features. For advanced devices, consulting the manual will offer in-depth instructions on operation.

With an idea of what to expect from your Bluetooth speaker and the basics of operation, we can move on to what to look for in a speaker. These tips should help you find the perfect speaker for your needs.

Bluetooth Speakers - What You Need to Know

Size Matters – Finding the Ideal Speaker
One of the most important considerations when choosing a Bluetooth speaker is its size.

While there are always a few exceptions, in general, larger speakers come with higher price tags. However, they also tend to offer better sound quality as well.

If you are looking for a portable Bluetooth speaker, consider how easy it will be to throw it in your bag or purse.

While many of these include protective covers and cases, it is still up to you to transport it from place to place.

While larger portable speakers typically offer greater volume and improved bass response, they also require more power.

Check the model you are considering to ensure it will offer plenty of battery life for your intended usage.

Protecting Your Bluetooth Speaker Purchase
Unless you intend to use your speaker strictly in the home or office, there is always the risk of exposure to water, sand, dust and the bumps and bruises of mobile life. Many speaker models, such as the Fugoo Style, utilize protective grills, dust sleeves, water-resistant designs and a wide range of other protective features. The slight premium on the price of these models is often much less than replacing the cost of the average Bluetooth speaker.

Rechargeable vs. Traditional Batteries
Portable Bluetooth speakers, especially larger ones, might offer a choice of power sources. While rechargeable cells reduce waste and overall operating costs, unless you have a charger nearby, you will find it difficult to use your speaker for an extended period. Traditional batteries offer the ability to keep extra power on-hand for those long parties or extended camping trips. Many premium models offer both options for the best flexibility.

AptX, A2DP, Bluetooth 4.0, NFC—What Features Really Matter?
Do feature listings for the average Bluetooth speaker look like an impossible list of random letters and numbers to you? Let’s break it down and find out what’s really important in a Bluetooth speaker.

NFC Support: NFC, or Near-Field Communication, is an increasingly popular feature on new mobile devices. If both devices offer NFC, pairing them is as simple as enabling the feature and tapping the two devices together. While this is certainly not a crucial feature, it does add a level of conveniences and simplicity to using the speaker.

Bluetooth Versions: When looking at Bluetooth speakers, the version of Bluetooth used by the device is most likely unimportant. A speaker using Bluetooth 2.1 or higher is likely capable of connecting with virtually any device and producing adequate sound. However, newer versions and protocols can improve this quality.

A2DP: Also known as Advanced Audio Distribution Profile, this feature allows a Bluetooth speaker to receive true stereo sound. If you are using a portable speaker, this might not be noticeable in audio quality. However, for larger speakers or split-speaker designs, the difference is clear. Fortunately, most speakers that would benefit from the feature support it.

AptX: Traditionally, Bluetooth audio is compressed before it is streamed to a device. The result is a reduction in audio quality, especially in high frequencies, such as cymbals, and low frequencies, such as drums or bass sounds. AptX is a new feature that allows for audio streaming at much higher qualities than traditional Bluetooth streaming. For larger speakers or hi-fi devices, it makes a noticeable difference in quality. However, both devices must support AptX for it to function. Before purchasing an expensive speaker for AptX support, consult the manuals of the devices you plan to stream from most frequently to ensure compatibility.

Pricing Bluetooth Speakers

Like most audio equipment, audio quality will increase with the cost of the speaker. To help find the best price and device for your needs, consider these price brackets:

Under $100: These are your entry-level Bluetooth speakers. In most cases, these speakers will offer decent clarity but little in regard to bass response or overall volume. They might also distort at higher volume levels. Quality and performance can vary greatly. In this price bracket, reviews are your best tool for finding a good device.

$100 to $350: For the average person, this price is the sweet spot for decent sound and features. Many devices in our recent list of best Bluetooth speakers fall into the price bracket. Expect improved bass response, better build quality and increased features over the sub-$100 price point. From ultra-rugged portables to room-filling home audio speakers, this price bracket has plenty to offer.

$350 and Up: This range tends to feature high-end home systems and hi-fi devices. Most speakers in this range are designed to be placed in a room, not carried about. However, for the price, speakers such as the JBL Authentics series, can offer sound quality that rivals traditional wired speakers and make your favorite tracks or movies truly shine.

What Type of Bluetooth Speaker is Best for Me?

We’ve discussed features, designs, prices and more. You’re now ready to go out and find the perfect Bluetooth speaker for your needs. Still unsure on how to proceed? Consider these common scenarios:

Nature Lovers, Athletes and Those On-the-Go: From hitting the beach with friends to practicing for the big game, you’re always on the move. You need a Bluetooth speaker that is ready to take a beating, is easy to toss in a bag and is ready to blast the soundtrack of your life loud and clear. For you, a mid-to-high range portable is probably the best option. If your activities tend to involve groups of people, splurging on a boom box style model might provide a little more enjoyment for you and your friends.

The Audiophile, Professional Musician or At-Home Movie Junkie: Want to hear every nuance of your favorite tracks and movies faithfully reproduced? Frequently stream movies to your tablet or phone and would prefer a more movie-like experience at home? Looking to drop the bass and blow the windows out of your apartment? Then you’re looking for mid-to-high end home speakers. These larger, cabinet-style Bluetooth speakers offer improved bass response, louder volume and wider sound stages for an optimum listening experience. For even better quality, consider a speaker with AptX support.

Frugal Music Lovers, College Students and Parents of Teens: You’ve got too many cords to keep track of and are looking for an affordable way to cut the clutter and enjoy your favorite music or movies. While you don’t want your favorite song to sound like crying cats, you don’t need the thump of the club either. For you, a mid-tier portable or low-end home speaker is a good choice. It offers respectable sound quality without breaking the bank. For college students and teens, it also won’t annoy the neighbors or cost too much to replace should the unexpected occur.

Social Butterflies and Party People: You’re always up for a good party. Whether you are at the park or at the club, you’re always surrounded by friends and looking to have a great time. When it comes to listening to your favorite music or catching a movie on your mobile device, it is always a group affair. For you, portable boom box designs or 360-degree speakers are likely to be the best fit. These speakers offer plenty of volume to blast over the crowd, are easy to pick up and take to the next location and will fill the area with noise instead of shooting it forward in a straight line.

All that’s left is to go out and find that perfect speaker to fit your budget and lifestyle.

At this point, you just might know more than the sales team at the store, but if you have any additional questions or concerns, we’d love to hear them! Just head on over to the community forums and ask.