portable bluetooth speakers buying guide

Portable Bluetooth speakers are hot right now, allowing you to listen to your favourite tunes and playlists from virtually anywhere, both within the home and out.

But the types of portable Bluetooth speakers today run the gamut, from ones that are designed to offer big sound at home to others that have rugged and waterproof housings so you can safely use them at the beach. Some can connect to multiple compatible speakers to provide enveloping sound for a backyard party or basement gathering. And others have multiple functions, including built-in AM/FM radios, plugs to charge your mobile device while you listen on-the-go, and mounts so you can bring them with you on a bike ride, or clip to your backpack while on a hiking adventure.

portable bluetooth speaker buying guide - house of marley chant portable bluetooth speaker lifestyleWhy do you need a portable Bluetooth speaker?

While a traditional speaker, even a wireless one, is great for listening to music at home, what happens when you want to go outside? Or listen to music on the deck up at the cottage? What if you are having a party, or want music while you are at the beach, in a hotel room while on a business trip, or having a picnic in the park? If there’s no plug available, a portable Bluetooth speaker is a perfect and convenient option.

Portable Bluetooth speakers are just that – portable – so you can take them anywhere. They run on rechargeable batteries so you don’t need a power outlet nearby. And some, as mentioned, are rugged in their design so they can withstand being thrown into your backpack, or you can feel confident placing it poolside without worry that it will get wet.

They allow for music anywhere, keeping up with the fast-paced nature of our lives. You can share audio on the go, listening on your own, with a friend, or even with a large group. Plus, you can connect to them wirelessly; leave your smartphone, tablet, or computer in your bag, purse, or pocket, and enjoy hands-free.

portable bluetooth speaker buying guide - harman kardon onyx studio 3 portable bluetooth speakerMost portable Bluetooth speakers connect to a wide range of devices, including anything that has Bluetooth, like smartphones and tablets, as well as portable audio players like an iPod Touch, portable gaming consoles, or laptop computers. Some also have Wi-Fi technology or Apple AirPlay, allowing them to connect to other devices when you’re listening at home, like a tabletop speaker, television, or other smart device, using your home’s Wi-Fi connection, or Wi-Fi wherever you are.

Where can you use a portable Bluetooth speaker?

The portable nature of a portable Bluetooth speaker, as the name implies, means that you can use one virtually anywhere. Because they are relatively small, some even hockey puck-sized, you can pack them into a backpack or purse and listen on-the-go. Rugged and water-resistant or even waterproof ones are safe to use at the beach, by the pool, while hiking, or enjoying the great outdoors. And because they operate on rechargeable batteries, once fully charged, they can often last for a full day of listening.

portable bluetooth speaker buying guide - sony portable bluetooth speaker with lightsTypes of portable Bluetooth speakers

Standalone Portable Bluetooth Speakers

These are single-unit Bluetooth speakers that are small and lightweight enough to hold in your hand. They can be rectangular, square, cylindrical, or circular, and connect to one (or more) mobile devices wirelessly, using Bluetooth technology. Some have other means of connectivity as well, like 3.5mm inputs, Apple AirPlay, Wi-Fi, DLNA, NFC, and others. Once paired with a device, you can listen to your music through the speaker, adjusting volume from the unit itself. Some also work with an app that allows you to control other settings as well, like equalizer, volume, and more. Some have added features like AM/FM radios, the ability to plug in and charge your device, or even pulsing lights.

portable bluetooth speaker buying guide - jbl flip 4 portable bluetooth speakerMulti-Connected Portable Bluetooth Speakers

These are the same as above, except they add the ability to connect to one or more of the same speakers, or compatible speakers from the same brand, to create sound for a larger space. Some can connect to one additional speaker, others several. Once connected, they can amplify the sound, or play back music in stereo.

Pocket-Sized Portable Bluetooth Speakers

These speakers are very small, often the size of a hockey puck or tumbler glass, making them particularly easy for transport, throwing into a backpack, packing into luggage, or clipping to a bicycle or clothing using a carabiner or optional mount.

Waterproof and Rugged Portable Bluetooth Speakers

These are designed to withstand the elements, so you can use them by, or in some cases even in, water, in the rain or snow, or outdoors where you’d otherwise not want to bring a more delicate speaker. They are designed with covered ports that prevent water from getting inside, and with rugged housings that can withstand drops, bumps, scratches, and water submersion. Some are even buoyant so you can put them in the pool while you listen to tunes.

portable bluetooth speakers buying guide - ultimate ears megaboom portable bluetooth speaker pattern waterSplash-proof or Water-Resistant Portable Bluetooth Speakers

Unlike fully waterproof speakers, these offer some protection against moisture, but are not recommended for complete submersion. Some can be submerged for a limited period of time, but they are mainly designed to be used poolside or at the beach where they might get a few drops of water on them, or outside with some light rain.

Voice-Controlled Portable Bluetooth Speakers

A relatively new category of portable Bluetooth speakers, these can fall into any of the above, but add voice control capability so you can use Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant, or Microsoft Cortana to control playback through spoken commands. 

portable bluetooth speakers buying guide

What features should you look for in a portable Bluetooth speaker?

When selecting a portable Bluetooth speaker, there are a few questions you should ask yourself to determine the features that make the most sense to seek out, and which types and specific models will meet your needs.

Where will you use it?

The first and most important question is to ask yourself where you’ll most often use it. Are you getting it specifically for listening at home, in the backyard, in a dorm, or on-the-go, for example? If using it mainly at home, you might not care so much about battery life if you know you’ll be close by a power outlet when it needs a recharge. If you plan to use it while out and about, though, at the park, beach, on vacation, while camping, or other places, you’ll want something that is ultra-lightweight and sports long battery life.

If you plan to use a portable Bluetooth speaker mainly at home, it might be worth considering one that has Wi-Fi connectivity as well, so you can connect it to your home’s wireless network and use it alongside other wireless devices in the home. AirPlay might also be useful if you have an iPhone and/or other Apple devices at home, and want to connect that way, too.

Do you plan to use it near water or while on outdoor adventures?

If you have a pool at home, or plan to use it at the beach or anywhere else it could get wet, it’s definitely worth opting for a fully waterproof portable Bluetooth speaker. Some models can withstand a spray of water, or submersion for a certain period of time. Others from brands like JBL, JAM, and Ultimate Ears, are fully waterproof, and can even float. Check the IPX rating and exactly what it means to ensure that the speaker can withstand use where and how you want to use it. Note that there’s a difference between speakers that are water-proof and those that are water-resistant

It would also be worthwhile to consider one that boasts a rugged design and can withstand not only moisture and weather-related elements, whether it’s a bit of rain or high/low portable bluetooth speaker buying guide - altec lansing lifejacket jolt portable bluetooth speakertemperatures, but also getting knocked around. Some from brands like Altec Lansing are built with an ultra-rugged chassis and fully covered ports (all waterproof ones will have fully  covered ports) so they’ll be OK to throw in your backpack or luggage.

Do you want to use it while hiking, biking, or any other adventure sport?

If you plan to use it while on an intense outdoor adventure, like on the ski hill, cycling, hiking, or another adventure sport, look for the ultra-small and compact models from brands like Bose and Sony that come with a carabiner clip so you can easily clip it onto a backpack or piece of clothing and listen on-the-go. Some also come with or work with mounts so you can secure them to a motorcycle, bicycle, ATV, or other device.

You’ll find some smaller portable Bluetooth speakers have adhesives on the back so you can affix it to a surface, like the side of a boat or a cooler, rather than place it atop a table or in the grass outdoors.

portable bluetooth speaker buying guide - bose portable bluetooth speakerAre you planning to use it for backyard parties, or entertaining in large spaces?

If you plan to use the speaker for backyard or pool parties, or for listening among a big group around a campfire, for example, you’ll want one that offers deep, enveloping, 360-degree sound. Thus, sound quality and sound dispersion will be an important factor to consider. See how powerful the speakers are, as well as how it performs on things like bass if you tend to listen to bass-heavy tunes. Some also work with a partner app that allows you to adjust equalization, so you can tweak the sound quality to suit your tastes and the genre of music.

Additionally, some portable Bluetooth speakers can be daisy-chained together, like models from JBL. This means they can be connected wirelessly to one another so you can place one in different spots around a room or outdoor space to ensure sufficient and pleasant sound coverage. Some models can connect to up to even 100 other compatible speakers! If you want to use it to cover sound in a big space, consider one that will work with more models should you decide to buy additional ones over time. Some can also work in stereo versus just amplifying the sound, so you can connect two together so one acts as the left channel and the  other the right. 

portable bluetooth speakers buying guide - marshall portable bluetooth speaker with strapHow important is sound quality?

Speaking of sound quality, whether it’s for tunes for a big group or your own individual listening, sound quality is important. Above all else, despite features and functions, a portable Bluetooth speaker has to sound good. So don’t neglect to look at the audio prowess and specs. If you have the opportunity to do so, have a listen to the speaker to ensure that it meets your needs, at volume levels you’re most likely to listen to music. If you tend to listen loud, you want to ensure there’s no sound distortion as the volume is cranked higher. Look for a portable Bluetooth speaker from a well-known brand like JBL that is guaranteed to offer a rich audio experience.

What phone do you have and is it good on battery?

Most portable Bluetooth speakers will work with multiple smartphone types as a source, as long as it has Bluetooth. But double check that your phone works with the speaker. Some might also have specific features for different smartphones within a partner app, for example. It’s worth finding the one that’s the perfect match for your mobile device. Some can also connect to more than one mobile device at a time, which is great if you want to use it with your smartphone, tablet, and laptop, or so others in the family can connect, too. This also allows multiple people to connect at a party, for example, so everyone can take turns playing DJ portable bluetooth speaker buying guide - ultimate ears portable bluetooth speaker with designwithout having to disconnect and re-connect each time someone wants to give it a try.

Battery-wise, you also want to consider you source device. If your phone tends to drain its battery quickly when you’re listening to music, look for a portable Bluetooth speaker with an ample battery and a USB port that allows you to plug in your mobile device and charge it while you listen.

How important is voice control?

Some of the latest portable Bluetooth speakers include voice control via Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant, Microsoft Cortana, or multiples options. If this is a feature you think you’d use and appreciate, consider looking for a model that supports it. This would allow you to simply say “Alexa” or “OK Google” and tell the speaker what song or playlist to play. You can also use your voice to pause, skip tracks, or adjust volume. This can be handy if you plan to use the speaker in the kitchen while cooking, so you can avoid having to touch your smartphone while your hands are dirty. Or if you are using it in the garage while you work with heavy tools or machinery, wearing bulky gloves or again, with dirty hands.

Are there other secondary features that could come in handy?

Some portable Bluetooth speakers have additional features, like the ability to plug in a smartphone and recharge it while music plays, an AM/FM tuner to listen to the radio, speakerphone capabilities so you can use it for conference calling, and glowing lights that pulse portable bluetooth speakers buying guide - jbl portable bluetooth speaker with clip and appto the tune of the music. Some have cords built-in, which can be useful for charging on-the-go, and so you can’t forget the power cord at home.

Other handy secondary features that might be worth looking into include a 3.5mm port so you can connect non-Bluetooth devices as well, like an MP3 player or iPod; quick charge to give a battery boost when needed in a hurry; and a battery life indicator so you know when it’s running low.

Size and style

Portable Bluetooth speakers come in all styles, sizes, and options, so you’ll want one that suits your personality and tastes, not just function. There are multiple solid colours or patterns from which to choose, including basic blacks and whites, as well as bold and bright colours that make them easy to spot, or two-toned finishes. Some, as noted, are super small if you want to listen while cycling or going for a walk and have a carabiner clip or loop so you can hook them on to portable bluetooth speaker buying guide - aquio portable bluetooth speaker water bottle togetheryour belt or an item like a bag to listen hands-free. Some are larger, offering bigger sound which might be fine for at-home use, or if you know you’ll only be transporting it short distances, or when you travel by car. Some are rectangular, others circular, and some tall and cylindrical. Some can lie flat or sit upright, allowing for multiple position options, which can come in handy as well. You might, for example, have a dedicated spot for it to sit upright on a shelf or night table at home, but want to lie it flat on a picnic table at the park.

Some portable Bluetooth speakers from brands like House of Marley are made from sustainable, recyclable materials that make you feel good about the purchase, too. There are also retro-designed ones (usually with AM/FM radios and clock faces as well, of course) and even water bottles that double  as portable Bluetooth speakers. Additionaally, some of the bigger ones have carry straps for  easy transport.

Take the next step

Now that you’re armed with all of this information, you’re ready to take the next step, and pick the right portable Bluetooth speaker to meet your needs. Check out a wide selection of all types of portable Bluetooth speakers at Best Buy Online.