Whether you're chilling by the pool, the beach or the BBQ, a portable Bluetooth speaker can help you make the most of your summer R&R time.
Here are our tips for choosing a portable Bluetooth speaker. Plus, for CHOICE members only, we'll reveal the top-scoring speakers from our rigorous lab testing. If you're not yet a member, join CHOICE to get instant access to all of our expert, independent reviews.
Why buy a portable Bluetooth speaker?
"A Bluetooth speaker is a great personal audio solution where your smartphone does all the work," says Denis Gallagher, CHOICE's digital home expert. "It's a great, simple solution as long as your phone and speaker are within 10 metres of one another."
What sort of speaker should I buy?
If you're after a highly mobile speaker that you can take with you to the beach or park, look for something that:
- is light and portable
- has a battery as well as mains power
- fits in your backpack or coat pocket
- has a rugged outer casing to protect it
- has a built-in mic as the speaker may be useful as a speakerphone.
"Some of the smaller speakers we've tested produced surprisingly good audio when played at anything but the highest volumes," says Denis.
If you're after something for entertaining at picnics, BBQs and pool parties, you might need to consider a premium audio brand that will be powerful enough to deliver your music with gusto.
A Bluetooth speaker is a great personal audio solution ... as long as your phone and speaker are within 10 metres of one anotherDenis Gallagher
"Many of these Bluetooth speakers can pull double duty with two speakers providing true stereo sound or multiple speakers playing the same music in different rooms," says Denis.
And if you're a die-hard audiophile, you'll probably want to go for networked/Wi-Fi speakers so you can have speakers in separate rooms playing higher quality (less compressed) music that can be controlled from a single point, or set up to play in stereo.
These will give you more bass than the more portable speakers, and can play from sources other than your mobile phone: music saved to your hard drive or a NAS (network attached storage), for instance.
What's the difference between Wi-Fi and Bluetooth speakers?
The difference here basically comes down to how your smartphone connects to the speaker: via Bluetooth or Wi-Fi. If the connection is Bluetooth then you are basically creating a direct connection between your smartphone and the speaker, usually within an area of no more than 10 metres.
"A Wi-Fi or network wireless speaker is a great audio solution that depends on a home network to play music," says Denis.
"Therefore it's a great solution for your family and friends, as anyone with access to your home network can enjoy music on these speakers using their own smartphone, tablet device or computer."
The big advantage of Wi-Fi speakers is that you can control a number of them over a network, so you can have them dotted throughout your house and outdoor entertaining areas to have music playing everywhere or just in a specific room. And you don't need a single smartphone to control the music — any smart device on your home network can control the music.
Bluetooth connections make things easy and mean you can pair to a speaker just about anywhere. But Bluetooth requires music files to be compressed, which some music lovers say makes a big difference to the sound quality.
There's a little more to it than this. If you'd like to know more, read our wireless speaker buying guide.
What are the best portable Bluetooth speakers?
We recommend speakers with an overall score of 70% or above, as well as listening scores of 75% or above. Speakers with listening scores above 70% may also be worth considering if the price is right, particularly if it's a compact speaker delivering OK (not great) sound.
Only CHOICE members can access our speakers testing data. If you're not yet a member, join CHOICE to get instant access to all of our independent, expert reviews.
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