Bluetooth Speaker Buying Guide
Generally small and lightweight, Bluetooth speakers are easy to tote around and produce less clutter than their wired counterparts. They’re also capable of far greater volume and sound quality than the speakers built into smart devices and laptops, resulting in an enjoyable listening experience no matter the setting.
But choosing the right model can be daunting. Wireless speakers come outfitted with a wide range of technologies and are available in all shapes and sizes, from mini egg speakers to designs that resemble a guitar amp. This guide breaks down these different styles and features, helping you pinpoint the right Bluetooth speaker for your lifestyle.
The essential technology of any portable speaker, Bluetooth acts like an invisible audio cable, connecting wirelessly to nearby smartphones, tablets, and computers so you can play their music libraries through the speaker. While it seems like powerful magic, Bluetooth can have some limitations: its maximum range is about 30 feet, and it transmits by line of sight, so the range can sometimes be shortened by walls or furniture.
Since it was first implemented in the late ՚90s, Bluetooth has seen a number of updates that have expanded its capabilities. While newer versions generally support higher audio quality at greater distances than older versions, you don’t really have to worry about which version your speaker has — every new version is backward-compatible with all of the older versions.
Bluetooth Versions Comparison Chart
|Version||Transmission Rate||Range||Backwards Compatibility||Special Features|
|2.0 + EDR||2.1 Mbps||Up to 33 ft.||Compatible with all previous models||EDR (Enhanced Data Rate) for faster data transfer|
|2.1 + EDR||3 Mbps||Up to 33 ft.||Compatible with all previous models||EDR (Enhanced Data Rate) for faster data transfer|
|3.0 + HS||24 Mbps||Up to 33 ft.||Compatible with all previous models||HS (High Speed) supports faster transfer rates over WiFi|
|4.0 + LE||25 Mbps||Up to 200 ft.||Compatible with all previous models||LE (Low Energy) for continuous transfer to low-power devices, such as heart-rate monitors|
Good to Bluetooth Speaker Features for All Uses
Rechargeable Battery: While most models have some sort of built-in rechargeable battery, the best are equipped with powerful batteries that last for a full day of playback and can be recharged quickly with a USB cable.
NFC: Where Bluetooth makes wireless streaming possible, near field communication (NFC) refines it. If you have a compatible phone, pairing it with an NFC-equipped Bluetooth speaker only requires tapping the two devices together. This digital fist bump allows the phone and speaker to connect instantly, eliminating the need to mess with your phone’s Bluetooth settings.
Good Features to Have for Specific Uses
Whether their aim is to replace a home stereo or clip to a backpack for on-the-go listening, most speakers are designed for a specific use. Below are some features to keep in mind based on when and where you'd like to most often use your Bluetooth speaker.
Perfect for picnics, camping, or beach lounging, outdoor speakers add an extra layer of protection to keep their internal electronics safe from damage. Here are some signs of a properly ruggedized speaker:
- Reinforced corners, to protect the speaker from accidental drops
- All-day battery life, so you can spend more time listening and less time charging
- IP water-resistance rating
Note: IP ratings indicate a product's resistance level to water and dust. The higher a speaker’s IP rating, the better, and anything higher than IP66 will be completely dust- and splash-proof. When reading an IP rating, the first digit refers to dust protection, the second digit to water protection.
Despite their compact size, portable speakers can often punch above their weight in terms of audio fidelity. If you’re looking to replace a bulky, wire-laden bookshelf stereo, keep an eye out for:
- Higher watt output, which helps the speaker fill larger rooms with sound
- Multiple drivers, to ensure sound quality doesn’t drop off as you raise the volume
- Multiple individual speaker units, which can be positioned around the room
Note: While these are typically the largest variety of Bluetooth speaker, they’re still compact enough to carry easily between rooms.
In the Shower
Singing in the shower doesn’t have to be a lonely pastime, especially if you have musical accompaniment to back you up on the high notes. These features are a sure sign of a shower-friendly speaker:
- Integrated suction cup, to hold the speaker securely to tiles or a glass shower door
- IP66 rating or higher, to repel errant splashes of water
As a Speakerphone
Some speakers are designed to be as good at listening as they are at making noise. If you plan on using yours as a speakerphone at home or in the office, look for a model with these features:
- Built-in microphone
Integrated call controls, so you can pause music to answer or reject an incoming call
- Multipoint connectivity, which allows you to receive calls on multiple lines
Bluetooth Speaker Technical Specs Explained
If you can’t decide between similar models, knowing a little more about the tech inside each one can help you make your choice a bit easier.
|aptX||A digital audio technology designed to increase the quality of streamed music|
|Bluetooth||The technology most speakers use to stream music wirelessly|
|Bluetooth + EDR||Stands for "Enhanced Data Rate"; transfers more data at once for greater audio quality|
|dB||A measurement of volume. The higher the dB rating, the louder the speaker.|
|Driver||These are the individual speakers themselves. The size of the drivers (given in millimeters) is a good general indicator of loudness and sound quality.|
|Frequency response||A measurement of the range of tones a speaker is capable of. The larger the range, the more faithfully the speaker can reproduce audio.|
|mAh||Abbreviation of milliampere hours, the measure of a battery's maximum capacity|
|NFC||A wireless technology designed to pair two devices quickly with minimal user input|
|Passive bass radiator||An unpowered speaker cone that helps improve bass response, which makes small speakers sound larger than they actually are|
Want to listen to music a little more privately? Learn which headphones are right for you.
Keep your smartphone powered on and protected while listening to music.