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Top four portable Bluetooth speakers

Tips to help you find the best speaker for your needs, plus the top scorers from our lab tests.

woman with portable bluetooth speaker
Last updated: 22 January 2020

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 another

Denis 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. 

Or log in to this article to find out which speaker will be music to your ears. 

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Stock images: Getty, unless otherwise stated.

bowers wilkins zeppelin wireless

1. Bowers & Wilkins Zeppelin Wireless

  • CHOICE expert rating: 87%
  • Price: $899

It may look like a football or a piece of weird modernist art, but this big speaker delivers big sound: very good audio performance, very good ease of use and excellent range. 

It doesn't have a battery and is a bit heavy and awkward to carry, so it's not the most portable option, but it's great around the home. 

Read the full Bowers & Wilkins Zeppelin Wireless speaker review.

harman kardon go play

2. Harman Kardon Go + Play

  • CHOICE expert rating: 85%
  • Price: $499

If you're after excellent audio performance in a more portable package, this Harman Kardon speaker is a winner. It's still relatively heavy so probably wouldn't be your go-to for trips to the beach, but it's a good option if you want to take the speaker with you to parties. 

It gives very good unobstructed range performance but its performance through brick walls is borderline. However, it's very easy to use and can even charge other devices via the USB port. 

Read the full Harmon Kardon Go + Play speaker review

jbl xtreme

3. JBL Xtreme

  • CHOICE expert rating: 82%
  • Price: $349

Weighing in at 2.2kg, the JBL Xtreme is a highly portable option. It's also splashproof and comes with a carry strap. Our experts rated it as very good for audio performance, range performance and ease of use. 

It can also charge other devices, and the design is pretty funky. Be careful when picking it up, as the exposed speaker cones at each end can be easily damaged.

Read the full JBL Xtreme speaker review.

marshall stanmore

3. Marshall Stanmore

  • CHOICE expert rating: 82%
  • Price: $649

This Marshall speaker is definitely one for the home: it doesn't have a battery, can't be powered by USB and is heavy and awkward to carry. But it looks the business and delivers solid performance. 

Read the full Marshall Stanmore speaker review

Stock images: Getty, unless otherwise stated.