by Rebecca Day
Looking for a portable Bluetooth speaker? You could spend days studying all the wireless speakers on the market. You can shop based on color, design, size and functionality. You can find a multi-tasking speaker that delivers music with a helping of LED lighting. Your showerhead can deliver the morning news and traffic reports. It gets crazier. There are Bluetooth speakers that masquerade as purses or makeup mirrors – and others shaped like animals or model cars.
But what if you really care about sound quality? Most portable Bluetooth speakers—especially the two-figure types — trade off sound quality for convenience or fun. Many produce tinny, thin sound that can become grating on the ears. If you’re looking for better audio quality from a Bluetooth speaker, your options narrow, but they’re out there for the right size and price.
Thanks to features including Bluetooth aptX audio, higher amplifier power and better quality speaker drivers, it’s possible to get satisfying sound from a Bluetooth speaker while still enjoying the convenience of streaming and digital downloads. After sound quality, look for extras to get the most out of your speaker: USB charging for your phone, an auxiliary input for that iPod you’re clinging to, a microphone to use your it as a Bluetooth speakerphone and a rechargeable battery for listening when you’re out of reach of a power outlet. And if you’re a water rat check out the new Bluetooth speakers that beg to get wet. They’re waterproof, not just water-resistant, as some speakers claim. Monster, for one, is just hitting stores with its audio submarine: the BackFloat ($169), designed for use in the shower or pool.
If hearing isn’t believing that the JBL Charge 2 packs punch, check out the ends, where twin passive radiators on the tubular speaker pulse with the beat. As its name suggests, the speaker charges your phone via USB while playing and offers up to 12 hours of listening from each charge. Noise and echo cancellation technology bring resonance and clarity to speakerphone chats. But mostly this wireless speaker is about sharing the music, and JBL’s Bluetooth Social Mode lets you and a couple of buddies take turns playing music from different smartphones. Choose from black, white, red, blue, or purple. Dimensions: 7 :¼ 3 1/8 inches; 1.3 pounds. $149
Logitech keeps improving the popular Ultimate Ears Bluetooth speaker line with each generation while redefining the category every time. The latest model, the Logitech UE Megaboom, is waterproof. Logitech dares you to dunk the Megaboom in the pool and to take it into the shower. The speaker was designed for 360 degree sound so placement is uber-flexible. Bass has been extended over previous versions and you can fiddle with the five-band EQ to tailor sound to your taste using iOS and Android apps. This Logitech wireless speaker boasts NFC, a Bluetooth range of 100 feet and battery life of 20 hours with 2.5 hour micro USB charging. Talk about flexible. You can use the Megaboom as a speakerphone, connect two source devices at once and double your music reach by pairing two speakers from one phone. It comes in four colors: black, red, blue and plum. Dimensions: 8.9 x 3.3 inches; under 2 pounds. $299
The Bose SoundLink III doesn’t win on trendy style points, price or extras (speakerphone capability, for example) but those who place a premium on sound quality will be more than satisfied with the SoundLink’s rich audio reproduction and solid build. The rechargeable battery is rated at up to 14 hours on a charge, and there’s an auxiliary input on the back panel. Those who want to dress up the rectangular box can accessorize with one of five colorful covers that frame the grille ($35). Fans of the Chicago Bears, Dallas Cowboys, New York Giants, New York Jets, New England Patriots, Green Bay Packers and Seattle Seahawks can tailgate with the NFL edition of the SoundLink III (also $299) that includes team colors and a print of the team mascot on the grille. Dimensions: 5.2 x 10.1 x 1.9 inches; under 3 pounds. $299.
You don’t expect big sound from a speaker the size of a foot rest, but the RIVA Turbo X packs a surprising 45 watts of amplifier power. That’s more than enough to drive seven custom drivers that deliver impressive full-range sound – easily enough for a mid-size room. The Turbo X supports aptX, SBC and AAC, and was built to offer a portable Bluetooth option for a demanding music lover. The built-in rechargeable battery is rated at up to 26 hours, and the unit can power your phone, too, via USB. Apps are available for iOS and Android. An auxiliary input accepts audio from non-Bluetooth sources. When used as a speakerphone, the unit’s echo cancellation is said to boost audio quality and maximize voice quality. Dimensions: 9.1 x 3.5 x 4.1 inches; 3.5 pounds. $349