There are a wide range of Bluetooth speakers available, and perhaps this isn’t surprising. Carrying sound with you wherever you go isn’t a problem these days. Technological developments mean that it’s easy to find a compact, light solution that doesn’t need to cost a fortune. And given that we’re all running around with about 20 million songs in our pockets, it seems like a carefully selected Bluetooth speaker is an all but mandatory gadget to add to your home technology list. The major advantage with a Bluetooth speaker is that it's portable. The combination of battery operation and wireless freedom – normally using Bluetooth – means that you can easily play music indoors but also take your speaker out into the garden. The Bluetooth protocol normally allows for distances of about 10 m between the speaker and the music streaming source – sometimes more, but also sometimes less. The range depends partly on the version of the Bluetooth protocol in use, and partly on the materials and other things used in the speaker.
Often speakers of this type are splash resistant, and some are even waterproof. This means that you can take them outdoors even if they’re likely to get splashed with water from the pool. Speakers have an IP code number to help you tell which ones are waterproof. IP code numbers are constructed so that the first digit indicates the level of protection against foreign objects, such as dust, and the second digit indicates protection against water. The higher the figure, the better the protection. If the figure is 0 it provides no protection. For example, IP56 indicates protection against dust and powerful jets of water, while IP44 indicates that a steel wire of 1 mm cannot penetrate the unit and that it is protected against splashes of water. In our test, we chose to focus on watertightness, as this type of speaker is often used by the water.
Low watertightness means that you should avoid soaking the unit but that it won’t hurt if it gets dripped on. Medium watertightness means the unit can cope with more severe soakings for longer periods, such as pouring rain or splashes from the pool. And if the watertightness is high, you can actually take the speaker into the pool with you!
NFC (Near Field Communication) is another exciting feature of many Bluetooth speakers. This is a standard that means you can connect two units together simply by touching them to each other. But both units must support NFC to make this work. Once connected, Bluetooth is used for the actual transfer between the units.
When you want to buy a Bluetooth speaker, it’s important that you choose a model with the right combination of long battery life, high sound quality and attractive features on the basis of your own preferences. Often you have to compromise between sound quality, battery life and features if you're looking at the lower price classes. You need to take into account your needs to make sure that you pick the speaker that’s best value for money for you. And of course design is an important feature for many people. This is an area with major variations. There are substantial models intended to be stand in a single place and look nice, and there are smaller models meant to be carried between different locations. Often you can find the same model in a range of colours, so you can choose one you really like.
All speakers were tested in two different indoor environments: in a smaller room with muted acoustics, and placed on a table in a space with an open layout. The speakers were tested at three volume levels (maximum, average and low) with the same selection of modern pop/RnB, rock and classical music. We also tested sound quality in hands-free mode. The speakers were also tested outdoors at 10° C in a light wind. Because we had no rain outdoors during the test period, we created artificial rain using a shower. The speakers with relevant IPX classifications also got to take a bath. Decibel measurement was carried out using the apps Decibel 10 and SoundMeter, installed on an iPad. Measurements were carried out at ear height, two metres from the speakers. The measured value is an average based on what the apps stated. In addition to sound quality, operating time, output power, functions and watertightness, we have also taken into account design and product price in our score.
We tested the speakers using the following music:
Ana Diaz – Jag kan låta mätaren gå
New York Dolls – Personality crisis
Yomiuri Nippon Symphony Orchestra – Mahler, Symphony no. 5
NEIKED feat Dyo – Sexual (Oliver Nelson remix)
Sound source: Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge and Apple iPad via Bluetooth. Streaming via Tidal.
With its great noise quality, many functions and extremely long battery life, the Sony SRS XB30 is our best in test. However, it's easy to get the wrong initial impression of this "party speaker". The disco blinking LED lights in the speaker grille and the words "Extra Bass" splashed across the box seem to indicate more volume than finesse. But appearances are deceptive. This speaker sounds really good. Bass, mid-range and treble are extremely well balanced and can cope valiantly with everything from modern RnB to classical music, regardless of the volume. The sound is characterised by impressive airiness and separation. If you want a little more pressure there's the "Extra Bass" button, which gives a surprisingly sophisticated boost to the lower ranges – surprisingly without affecting the mid-range too much. The extra bass does swallow a little of the lower mid-range and the energy of the sound diminishes somewhat, but nothing like as much as similar functions usually do. It almost sounds as though two new speakers have popped out of the side of the unit to make the bass a little broader, while the rest of the sound is unchanged. The speaker is also less direction sensitive than many other products in the same segment.
Operating time is stated as being around 24 hours. With the disco lights and the extra bass activated it's actually more like six hours, but without these functions the XB30 does in fact deliver what it promises. You can also control the disco lights with an app. A slightly odd detail is the patent protected USB contact that comes with the speaker. You really don't want to lose this as the speaker can't be charged using a normal USB cable, which is a big minus. However, a clever detail is that the speaker can also be used to charge other USB gadgets via an outlet on the back. The XB30 is also IPX5 classified, which means that it should tolerate splashes of water and even light rain – something our test can confirm that it does. The XB30 can also be used as a hands-free unit with your mobile. In this area too, both functionality and sound quality are impressive.
The JBL Charge 3 distinguishes itself by combining good sound quality and really good water resistance, making it suitable for outdoor use and even in the pool. We were sceptical when we first dropped JBL's Charge 3 into the water. But we quickly saw that the speaker both floats and carries on playing as if nothing happened. And when we angled the speaker up to the surface of the water, we also got an entertaining demonstration of the bass, which sprays out water droplets in time to the music. The IPX7 classification means that in theory you can take this speaker into the bath with you, but these kinds of claims don't always stand up in the consumer electronics world. But JBL deliver what they promise – in other words the speaker can survive for 30 minutes at up to 1 m depth.
And as if that wasn't enough, the Charge 3 also offers extremely good sound. It's primarily the bass that impresses, with an energy and bite that's rare in this segment. And the mid-range may be the best on the market. The treble is equally good, but unfortunately extremely direction sensitive. Aiming the JBL logo on the front towards you makes an enormous difference compared to aiming it only a few centimetres in another direction. It doesn't sound bad, but to get an optimal sound definitely requires a little care in positioning the speaker. The speaker elements don't start to complain before you've got the volume turned up quite high, and this is where we noted some distortion in the otherwise pleasant mid-range. At lower volumes, the frequency response is good right from bass to treble. Thanks to its relatively large battery, with a full 6000 mAh, the speaker also works as a portable power bank, and can be used to charge smartphones or other units via USB. Unfortunately there is no support for NFC.
The JBL Flip 4 is without a doubt one of the very best alternatives in this size class, and definitely the best if you're looking for a waterproof speaker, because this speaker can join you in the pool without problems, as long as you don't use it at depths over 1 m for more than 30 minutes. However, we discovered that it doesn't float, so you do need to be careful around deep water, which we thought was a bit of a shame. The Flip 4 feels heavy and robust in a way that's reminiscent of its big brother, the Charge 3, and in many respects it can be seen as a reduced version of that speaker. But apart from this speaker offering sharp and precise bass, an unparalleled mid-range and a really good treble, it also lasts for a very long time on one charge. We tested the speaker on medium high volume and can confirm that the promised 12 hours certainly weren't a problem.
The Bluetooth connection is also very stable. We couldn't get it to drop before we were 17 m away, which is an impressive range. On the minus side, however the sound quality isn't the best when you use it as a hands-free unit with your mobile. It sounds tinny and distant, which is a problem if you think this type of functionality is important. But apart from that, this is an excellent buy in terms of both price and size class.
The Bose Soundlink Mini 2 stands out with its long battery life and high sound quality, which means it quickly becomes a favourite. Just like the four year older Soundlink Mini, this unit is capable of an amazing amount of bass. In terms of the higher frequencies, the sound is characterised by a soft and extremely detailed treble, but a slightly less obvious mid-range. One impressive aspect is that both bass pressure and definition are consistent and well distributed, regardless of the volume. The Soundlink Mini 2 also works in a larger room in a way that speakers this small rarely do, even though the stereo width is limited for obvious reasons.
The Soundlink Mini 2 is also a sober and neat looking speaker, with an aluminium outer shell and a design that leans towards minimalist Danish interior design rather than home electronics. The speaker also has a monster of a battery, which despite the fact that we used it heavily for more than 12 hours coped with no problems. It also gets plus points for the voice telling you how much battery power you have left. Unfortunately, however, the Soundlink Mini 2 lacks a number of useful functions and features such as NFC and water resistance, which means that it is primarily of interest to those who want good sound indoors. This is a shame given the long battery life and high price. Based on this, the Soundlink Mini 2 may feel a little on the expensive side. However, anyone looking for a compact and attractive indoor solution will have a problem finding anything better on the market.
Despite its small size, the Bose Soundlink Color II offers impressive dynamics and meticulously balanced timbre. Here you get just the right amount of treble, a well-defined mid-range – and a whole load of bass, at least in relation to the size of the speaker. It may not move mountains, but it's still extremely powerful for its category. And it does it with style, too. It has both tone and definition. However, other than the sound, the speaker's a bit nothingy. For example, eight hours' operating time is perfectly acceptable, but not astonishing. And the IPX4 classification means that it's water-resistant rather than waterproof. So you shouldn't take the Soundlink Color II in the pool with you. But if it's raining a bit, it should cope without problems.
A plus point for the Soundlink Color II is how mobile it is. It's not exactly flat, but it's certainly thin enough to fit in a jacket pocket. The rubberised material covering the speaker also gives a good grip, and keeps off dust and dirt very effectively. The controls are well positioned on the upper part of the speaker, although they could have been a little bit clearer. But once you've learned what's where, it quickly becomes easy to operate. It's easy to pair the speaker with your phone, and the clear instructions from the built-in voice makes the whole procedure very easy. So what is the target audience for this Bluetooth speaker? The Soundlink Color II is a speaker for anyone prioritising portability and sound quality over volume and watertightness. Although to be perfectly honest, you'd better not be all that bothered about stylish design either.
The Philips BT6000A is an incredibly attractive and well built Bluetooth speaker whose low weight and compact design makes it easy to carry with you. The build quality feels sufficiently solid and robust and it has a particularly attractive solution for turning it on and adjusting the volume in the form of an aluminium knob on one short side, a welcome exception to the classic rubber or plastic panel with buttons. Unfortunately the first impression is somewhat marred by an exceptionally short USB cable that comes with the mains adapter, which is a problem right from the start. In our case we were forced to stand the unit on the floor for charging, which isn't optimal. We also had quite a lot of problems with the Bluetooth pairing. After a couple of attempts at turning on and off Bluetooth in both units, they finally found each other. We didn't have the same problem with the test's second sound source. In general, however, the Bluetooth connection seems to leave a lot to be desired, because the unit lost the connection at between 6 and 7 m during repeated testing in a range of environments.
The sound from the unit is perfectly OK, but definitely not among the best either generally or for its size class. At low volume the bass is far too weak and only starts to come into its own at volumes that are so high you experience distortion in the higher frequency ranges. A somewhat tinny sound also makes the experience of the upper mid-range and treble rather thin. However, the speaker produces less direction sensitive sound than many of its competitors as it has full range speakers both front and back. As a result of its low weight and compact size, the BT6000A is also very easy to take with you and its IPX4 classification means it can cope with rain.
The Marshall Stockwell is a substantial piece of design with solid build quality that works well on the patio or beach. And it's not just the design that the Marshall Stockwell has in common with the classic guitar amp it shares its first name with. Perhaps not unsurprisingly, it's also about the noise level. This is a speaker that provides a great deal of volume. With full bass, we measured a volume of an astonishing 93.8 dB. However, it doesn't offer particularly spectacular hi-fi quality. When you turn on this rectangular, black and gold plated box, you get a unit with a relatively tinny and muffled sound. The bass doesn't bottom out or distort, but nor is it particularly obvious or heavy. If you play music that's mixed with a slightly more airy and separated sound, it becomes painfully obvious that the frequency response is rather weak in the lower mid-range and the treble lacks bite.
If you're looking for a speaker that's loud, and which ideally doesn't sound awful, this one isn't a bad choice. It's also very attractive and well-built. The speaker feels nicely heavy, stable and sophisticated and has substantial controls in metal, as you'd expect on a unit displaying the classic amp brand's logo. The intelligent support that comes with the speaker also makes it easy to position it so you get the best sound quality for the conditions. But if you're primarily after really good sound quality, this one isn't for you.