Best Bluetooth speakers 2021: Top portable speakers

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(Pocket-lint) – Bluetooth speakers come in all different shapes and sizes, from larger options that have the power to fill your whole living room to smaller portables that are great for taking out and about.

Finding the right device for your needs is no easy task, however, so we’ve rounded up a select few of the portable speakers that we’ve tested reviewed. Below, you’ll find a mix of styles, power, sizes and budgets.

There can be some crossover with wireless speakers and even some smart speakers, but, in this list, we’ve concentrated on units that are predominantly designed to stand alone and use Bluetooth for a direct connection with your phone or another device.

Best Bluetooth speakers available to buy today

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Bang and Olufsen Beosound A1 (2nd Gen)

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For

  • Exemplary sound quality
  • Far better low-frequency handling than many speakers
  • Solid battery life
  • Simple yet iconic industrial design

Against

  • No 3.5mm jack
  • Not truly 360-degree sound
  • App-based EQ can push to excess
  • Can’t stereo pair new model with old

If you’re looking for a portable Bluetooth speaker – and can forgive the lack of Wi-Fi, AirPlay, and a 3.5mm port – then the Beosound A1 2nd Gen is unrivalled.

With added Alexa voice control and waterproofing, it’s clearly superior to the already awesome original.

For many, the elephant in the room will be the Beosound A1 2nd Gen’s asking price. No, this isn’t a low-cost speaker. But, yes, it most definitely is a high-quality one that delivers huge sound from a beautifully made package.

There were the odd gripes we experienced during testing, such as the lack of a 3.5mm jack and the inability to stereo pair with the older model, but these are small grievances in what is a very accomplished Bluetooth speaker.

It might be small, but the Beosound A1 2nd Gen packs a big punch that makes it worth every penny. We can name no better portable at this scale.

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Ultimate Ears Megaboom 3

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For

  • Waterproof and dustproof
  • Brilliant sound quality
  • Great battery life
  • Boosts bass from the original model

Against

  • Power Up charging dock not included
  • Magic Button playlist feature limited
  • Won’t pair in stereo with original
  • No 3.5mm jack

The UE Megaboom 3 is a standout product; one only really limited by the relatively high price point. However, even the price can’t muddy the raft of good points that see it swim along – literally, if you dunk it in the bath or pool – thanks to waterproofing and its float-ready design.

The floating feature is a novelty that really makes this speaker unique, but, make no mistake, this is still a comprehensive sound experience when you’ve linked it up to your device. The bass is as booming as the name suggests, and mids and treble are still defined at pretty much every volume level.

The bass is also much improved from the original, and we still love the cylindrical design that defines the Ultimate Ears range. Our only gripes are that it can’t stereo pair with older models and the lack of a 3.5mm jack, but these omissions are somewhat to be expected.

All in all, the UE Megaboom 3 is one of the best packages we’ve tested – tough enough to tackle music in the office, provide a backdrop for a summer picnic or festival, or whatever else you happen to throw at it. It’s Bluetooth speaker bliss. 

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Marshall Stockwell II

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For

  • Highly portable
  • Great battery life
  • Robust design that’s water-resistant
  • Physical bass/treble controls

Against

  • Expensive compared to the competition
  • No Wi-Fi
  • Many rivals with similar appeal

It’s not a party speaker – Marshall leaves that other Bluetooth devices in its range – but this is a super-portable unit that provides you with powerful audio on the go. And it looks outstanding when doing so.

We found it ideal for camping, picnics and other small get-togethers, and it’s probably been the speaker we’ve received the most positive comments from friends and family regarding the overall look. 

The sound is also typically excellent, with Marshall allowing users to physically control the bass, treble and volume with three knobs that sit on the top of the device. This really makes you feel like you’re in control, and is just a much more natural way of tweaking the sound to your taste, rather than through an app.

The design also packs in a battery level indicator, too. You’ll get well over 20 hours of listening time out of it, and, indeed, you’ll try hard to remember the last time you had to charge it.

We probably wouldn’t recommend it as the main speaker in your home, since there’s a lack of Wi-Fi and better-priced alternatives, but it absolutely shines on the road. 

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Sonos Move

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For

  • Excellent sound quality
  • Durable and water-resistant design
  • Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, AirPlay and smart assistant-ready
  • Multi-room audio pairing

Against

  • Not the most portable speaker
  • Quite expensive
  • No voice control in Bluetooth mode
  • Can’t stereo pair two Move devices

The Sonos Move is both a Bluetooth speaker and a Wi-Fi speaker – offering a toggle on the rear to switch between the two modes.

In Wi-Fi mode, it connects to other Sonos speakers for a multi-room audio experience, while, in Bluetooth mode, it delivers a fantastic sound experience with plenty of bass and a durable and water-resistant design. It will also automatically tune itself to its surroundings.

It’s not cheap by any stretch of the imagination, and it’s weighty, too. This means that although it is portable – thanks to that integrated handle on the back – it’s not the kind of device you can pop in your backpack for a picnic. That said, if you take it to the park or the beach, its sound and volume are as impressive as anything we tested. 

It’s a great option for those with a Sonos system, and particularly those who want a device to predominately live in their home with the option of heading out, too.

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Ultimate Ears Wonderboom 2

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For

  • Great sound quality
  • Good battery life
  • Compact design

Against

  • Uses older Micro-USB connection
  • The older model is almost as good
  • Need a pair to unlock full potential

If you want to invest in UE’s range of portable Bluetooth speakers, but want something smaller than the Boom 2 or Megaboom, the Wonderboom is the boom for you – now available in this improved version.

When you turn it on, prepare yourself for an explosion of 360-degree sound that belies its size. While it’s often the bass that suffers in small format speakers, that’s not the case with the Wonderboom 2. It will keep that low-range richness all the way through the volume range, escaping distortion at top volume – which is really impressive.

It’s also small enough to fit inside your palm, and, like other speakers in the range, is protected against knocks, bumps, drops and splashes thanks to its rubber casing and IP67 rating.

The design and protection rating also means it can float, too, allowing you to take it in the pool with you – or place it in the bath, if you have nowhere else to put it.

You can even stereo pair two together, and, while just one device is enough, we couldn’t really go back once we’d unlocked the potential of the Wonderboom 2 pairing.

Other products we considered

The Pocket-lint editorial team spends hours testing and researching hundreds of products before recommending our best picks for you. We consider a range of factors when it comes to putting together our best guides including physically testing the products ourselves, consumer reviews, brand quality, and value. Many of the devices we consider don’t make our final best guides.

These are the products we considered that ultimately didn’t make our top 5:

How to buy a Bluetooth speaker

Bluetooth speakers come in different forms. They can be portable, lightweight, even waterproof. What they have in common is the capability to play music wirelessly from your phone, tablet or laptop, for instance, or to handle phone calls. 

So, what should you be looking out for?

What will you use the speaker for?

If you only want to play music at home, then you could choose a mains-powered speaker. You lose the complete portability that a battery-powered speaker offers, of course, so it’s basically an indoors-only speaker. But you never have to worry about the power running out. 

Mains-only speakers tend to be bigger and heavier, which means they can have stronger bass, for instance. Speaking of which…

How much bass do you want?

Although smaller speakers can often produce surprising levels of volume and bass, for room-shaking sound you need to go bigger. That doesn’t quite rule out battery power as there are some big and hefty speakers, with enormous batteries inside. They are heavy and barely qualify as portable, and they make quite a statement in most households. 

What should it look like?

When someone hears music play, they’ll look to see the source. So, you want it to be eye-catching as well as ear-pleasing, don’t you? There are plenty of speakers which come in black, and that’s fine, but consider a cool colour that’s less tech-y and more fun, perhaps. Another advantage of a bright colour is, if you want to grab it and go, it’s infinitesimally quicker to have something that’s easy to see.

Beyond bass, how important is audio quality?

Important, right? And if the bass isn’t the thing you crave the most, you could even opt for something smaller that is still strong on melodic, crisp audio with clear vocals and tight instrumentals, no matter how loud it goes. If you can, listen to the speaker before you buy it and, if possible, turn it up so you know it doesn’t go all muddy when there’s a bit of oomph behind it. 

Did you check battery life?

Some speakers have just a few hours of battery life, others go for almost a day. Not that you’ll want to play it continuously for that long but it tells you if you’re going to need to take the charger with you or charge it to the brim before you go to the beach or the park. 

How many people can connect?

It’s good to choose a speaker that lets a few devices connect to it, not just so you can share music-choosing duties, though that’s part of the enjoyment, certainly. Does it remember your device and if so, how many others? Since you have to pair your phone with the speaker first time you connect it, it’s good to check that you don’t have to redo the process every time you turn it on.

Do you need other features like waterproofing and charging devices?

Some speakers, even battery-powered ones, have enough juice to recharge your phone or tablet while they’re playing, which is a handy bonus. 

Similarly, if this is a speaker you’re going to take to the pool or the beach, then waterproofing is important. You may never actually dunk the thing (it really doesn’t sound as good when it’s actually underwater) but waterproofing gives you peace of mind against everything from splashes to an accidental topple. 

Oh, and the next step up in terms of peace of mind, check out whether it’ll float, too!

More about this story

Every product in this list has been tested in real-life situations, just as you would use it in your day-to-day life.

In the case of Bluetooth speakers, we put each device through its paces in both indoor and outdoor environments. By listening to a range of different genres, discovering each speaker’s level of portability and testing battery life, we’re able to decipher which are worth your time and why.

We aren’t interested in pointless number crunching or extraneous details – we just want to provide an easy to understand review that gives you an idea of what it’s going to be like to use. And don’t for a second think that the products aren’t tested fully because the reviews are concise.

We’ve been covering tech since 2003, and, in many cases, have not only reviewed the product in question, but the previous generations, too – right back to the first model on the market. There is also plenty of models we’ve considered that didn’t make the cut in each of our buyer’s guides.

Writing by Conor Allison and David Phelan. Originally published on .





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