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Audio

Best Portable Speakers

While most of us listen to music on our smartphones with headphones, sometimes you want to break out your tunes for all to hear. This growing trend of using smartphones as a primary music library has resulted in the rapid expansion of the portable speaker market.There are many to choose from, but the top-rated portable speakers are lightweight, powerful, and compatible with many different types of portable devices.

We've chosen portable speakers that can be used completely free of wires, with rechargeable batteries and the ability to connect devices using Bluetooth. All of the following picks are also compact and highly portable, sometimes being small and light enough to fit into a jacket pocket. With so many good options to choose from we've left many popular models out, but each of the following speakers offers some of the best sound quality and portability currently available. As a result, most of our picks aren't focused on being especially budget-friendly, but still offer good value for money.

Ultimate Ears BOOM Wireless Bluetooth Speaker

The Boom wireless Bluetooth speaker from Ultimate Ears stands out for its 360 degree sound output and excellent versatility. This speaker is sized and shaped roughly like a tall can, and can be placed horizontally or vertically. Either way, it offers big and full sound for its size. The Boom is designed to be durable and rugged, with stain and water-resistance that allow it to be used outdoors.

The speaker is easy to use, and can be paired via Bluetooth, NFC, or a 3.5mm aux cable. It can remember up to eight devices, pairing automatically with them as they come into range. You can also purchase a second speaker to create a wireless pair (stereo or double) using the UE Boom app for iOS and Android. Battery life is excellent with up to 15 hours of use, and the speaker can also be used as a speakerphone. Sound quality is very good, although bass is somewhat lacking, an issue typical with smaller speakers.

BeatsByDre Pill 2.0 Wireless Bluetooth Speaker

Beats by Dr Dre has been enjoying tremendous popularity, so it comes as no surprise to see them expanding further into the portable speaker market. Building upon what made the first Pill speaker so good, the Pill 2.0 offers the same unique and compact design with a few upgrades. These include a USB port to allow for charging your smartphone, as well has NFC. This allows for tapping two Pill 2.0 speakers together to create stereo sound or simply double up on sound output.

This well-designed speaker is reasonably rugged and offers good sound quality and ease-of-use. Like many speakers of this size, it tends to have trouble with bass and loud volumes, but the Pill 2.0 keeps up with most of its competition. The Pill 2.0 can be used as a speakerphone, and comes with a non-slip sole and all the wires needed for full connectivity. Although quite pricey for sound quality that doesn't particularly stand out, the Beats Pill 2.0 offers trendy design and a good overall package.

JBL Flip Wireless Bluetooth Speaker

JBL has updated their popular Flip wireless Bluetooth speaker, adding several performance upgrades to what is essentially the same exterior design. The JBL Flip 2 now has better speaker and speakerphone clarity thanks to enhanced noise cancellation, a higher power rating, and the ability to charge using micro-USB.

Unfortunately, nothing has been done to address the Flip's major weakness, it's short battery life. At four to five hours, this speaker lags behind the leaders in this market. However, the Flip 2 remains an excellent overall choice, as well as being a marked improvement over its predecessor.

This portable speaker can be used horizontally or vertically, and can be paired to devices using Bluetooth or NFC. It has solid range and is simple to use, with sound output being good overall. The JBL Flip 2 is quite a bit more affordable than some of the top portable wireless speakers available, making it a good value.

Jabra SOLEMATE Wireless Bluetooth Portable Speaker

The Jabra Solemate offers solid overall performance and a unique design. This wireless Bluetooth speaker can be paired with devices using Bluetooth, NFC, or a 3.5mm aux cable. It can also be connected to a computer or other device using the USB port, which doubles as a charger. The integrated subwoofer and dual tweeters produce sound with defined highs and relatively strong bass, although some quality is lost at higher volumes.

When connected to a smartphone or computer, the Solemate can also be used as a speakerphone for both standard and Skype calls. This wireless speaker uses a non-slip rubber sole to keep it in place, and features a rugged and splash-resistant design. Battery life is decent, making the Jabra Solemate an overall solid choice.

Bose SoundDock XT Speaker

The SoundDock XT Series is available in two color combinations but can be used with almost any type of iPhone available right now. Plug your iPhone into the unit and not only is it ready for hours of music, but the dock will charge your device while it’s docked. Volume controls are integrated into the dock, but all other functions are accessed from your phone's touchscreen just as they would be if you were listening through a pair of ear buds.

If your iPhone isn't lightning compatible, it's no problem as there's a 3.5mm auxiliary input for plugging in 30-pin Apple or Android phones, DVD players, a tablet, laptop, or any other sound source you prefer. But of course, these are all standard items for a dock like this.

The real selling point with Bose is the sound quality you're going to get through the speakers. The company's proprietary speaker design and signal processor engineering combine to deliver rich, full, highly detailed sound reproduction. Whether you play your music at low levels, or you prefer to really crank the volume, the Bose SoundDock XT delivers the same consistent clarity and layered subtleties to your music.

Best of all, perhaps, is the size of the dock. It's small and compact enough to place in just about every room of the house. The XT takes up little to no space, but delivers a sound profile of docks that measure three times the size.

Philips Original Radio iPod Speaker Dock

Philips has engineered and built their Original Radio dock to deliver deeper bass than you might find on standard speakers of this size. They do this by adding a bass pipe that has been aligned with the woofer for optimum acoustic sound featuring a smoother low end frequency output. The result is fuller bass and resonance to make your music sound more richly detailed during playback for a truer representation of the way it was intended to be heard.

The speakers have also been specifically shielded from any mobile phone interference. After all, you're hooking the speakers up directly to a mobile phone, you don't want any hum or static from the signal to mess up your audio output.

The unit is compatible with a variety of Apple products and, when connected directly via the 30-pin hookup, the Radio will sync with your iPhone all while you charge your mobile device at the same time. Don't worry if yours isn't a 30-pin, there's an audio-in jack for other devices that aren't compatible.

The dock offers a vintage visual look, having been styled after Philips' own iconic Philetta 254 radio made popular back in 1955. Today's model retains many of the previous model's lines and they even recreate the dials of the original radio, with just a little bit of modern flair.

Pure i-20 iPod & iPhone Speaker Dock

What makes the i-20 such an interesting product is the way which it processes and plays your music. Just connect any iPhone, iPod, iPad with a 30-pin connection to the base of the dock and press play. Almost immediately, you'll hear a different in the sound quality and volume of your music. The i-20 digitally extracts songs through the direct dock connection, processing it through a highly advanced digital end-to-end extraction technology which improves digital output as well as the highest quality 24-bit, 192 KHz digital to analogue conversion process for analogue output.

What does all that techno speak mean? The resulting sound you get from the dock's speakers is of superior quality due to the clean and direct signal path that comes from your device to the 30-pin connection. The sound quality is so pure, you can even connect the dock to any amplifier or set of premium speakers via optical/coaxial outputs for an even bigger sound to fill any size room with a minimal amount of interference or signal distortion.

Sony RDP-XA900IP Premium Dock for iPad, iPod and iPhone

This dock from Sony has a few things going for it that got it a spot on our list. First off, the Bluetooth capability was a nice touch because while there's a lightning connector dock for your iPhone, the compatibility range among the products is limited. With the Bluetooth wireless sync-up, it enables more devices to be connected to it via Apple's Airplay wireless technology, so your entire iTunes library is available for streaming. Of course, Sony's dock also has the auxiliary input that just about all of these docks come equipped with so you're covered all around.

The other great thing about this Sony dock is the level of high-quality sound output it delivers. Built with a 200 watt sound system that includes two 25W woofers, two 25W tweeters, and two 50W subs, these speakers can handle all the frequencies at both ends of the spectrum, especially at high volume. That’s aided largely in  part by Sony's Clear Phase linear phase correction circuitry which cuts down on sound distortion while increasing the clarity and detail of your output.

iHome iBT44 Bluetooth Portable FM Boombox Speaker Dock

Just pick it up, hoist it on your shoulder, and you're ready to strut down the street pumping your favorite jams with this dock from iHome. Fashioned after the popular boom boxes from the '80s, this unit boasts two four inch woofers and one inch tweeters to create a crisp sound that tends to favor the high-end frequencies more than any others. But fire up the SRS TruBass signal processor and the low-ends burst to life.

Sweeten your sound further with the 5-channel equalizer that lets you adjust your highs, mids and lows to just the way you like. The unit can accommodate an iPhone or any other mobile device through a wireless Bluetooth connection or with the 3.5mm auxiliary port. A USB port has been included to charge your devices while in use.

There's also an FM tuner and you can even stream thousands of internet radio stations through the iHome radio app for even more entertainment options. The dock comes with a magnetic remote to give you full control of every function on the unit, and in keeping with the old-school feel of this boombox, it runs on 6 D batteries for hours of fun.

Bowers & Wilkins Z2 Wireless Music System

Bowers & Wilkins have built a pretty powerful dock that offers deep, full sound in a small package. It's equipped with a Lightning connector so it's compatible with the latest iPod and iPhone models. If you want to stream wirelessly from iTunes or any networked Mac or PC, the Z2 has got you covered by way of the AirPlay service.

The minimal, curved cabinet houses two 3.5-inch full-range drivers, fiberglass cones, and the latest class D amps to deliver superior sound. B&W's Flowport port openings at the back of the unit incorporate a dimpled design for enhanced air flow which results in a deeper bass response for a richer overall sound experience.

There's even an app to help you connect, set up, and control the settings on your dock, all of it quite effortless to perform. At a price tag of around $300, its one of the more expensive choices on our list, but you certainly get your money's worth in terms of performance and looks.

Bose SoundDock Series III Digital Music System

Bose has upgraded their SoundDock into an even better unit than the one we featured here previously, optimizing sound output for a more well-rounded audio experience. The Series III still carries the company's proprietary acoustic design which offers a warmer sound that still puts a strong emphasis on the bass instead of keeping to a neutral audio spectrum.

They've carefully calibrated their speaker output to produce a rich, natural sound for more accurate reproduction of your music. It's compatible with any Apple product as the SoundDock III works with 30-pin iPods and iPhones or those that use a Lightning connector as well. The Series III also lets you connect mp3 players and smartphones through the unit's auxiliary input, offering even more content sources for your music.

Securely docked devices can be charged while in use through the unit's AC power connection and this as fully shielded unit is certified by Apple so you won't encounter any interference. Size-wise, it's compact enough to fit in any room without taking up much space and a full-function remote lets you control both the dock and your device at once.

Cyber Acoustics CA-461 30-Pin iPod Speaker Dock

The CA-461 is one of the best docks on the market right now because it combines affordability, quality, and versatility all in one attractive and easily portable package. Plug any 30-pin iPhone or iPod into the dock well and your tunes are ready to play immediately. Just find the track or album you want and press play.

Don't have a 30-pin iPod, or maybe you don't have an iPod at all, but an Android or mp3 player device instead? No worries, just connect it to the auxiliary input at the back of the unit for hours of music. Cyber Acoustics' dock lets you take your music with you, as its entirely portable and even comes with a handy little carrying pouch.

Equipped with two, two-inch full-range speakers, the CA-461 delivers six watts of clear, balanced sound with strong low-end and crisp highs. But if you really want to bring the bass, there's also an "Xtreme Bass" feature that lets you pound the lows even harder without any messy distortion. Additionally, If the dock is plugged into an AC outlet, the CA-461 will charge your device while it’s in use.

Philips DC390/37 Dual-Docking Alarm Clock Speaker Dock

There's a lot to love about the DC390/37 Phillips speaker dock because you can dock an iPod, iPhone or an iPad to it; you can even dock two at the same time. That's right, this dock lets you attach two of them at the same time to charge both while one of them plays.

When you plug in your device, the dock will automatically sync up the time on the unit so  you can use the dock as a handy alarm clock, which allows for dual alarm clock settings that can be set for weekdays and weekends exclusively. Wake up to a gentle alarm that gradually increases in volume or set it to play music from one of your devices or the FM tuner.

Like all of the other docks on our list, an auxiliary port allows you to plug in any mp3 player or smartphone device for added versatility. Audio quality on the dock is very good, with 10 watts of power and preset EQ levels that let you adjust the output parameters best suited for the style of music you're playing. There's even a loudness adjust that boosts the low-end for heavier bass. Clarity on these speakers isn't as defined as on the Bose, making it more neutral in the spectrum between lows and highs.

Aktimate Micro Black 2-way Active Speaker System with iPod Dock

Aktimate's Micro 2-way speaker system is an ironic name at best, as there's nothing "micro" about this dock whatsoever. Available in three different colors, this speaker set looks and behaves much like a set of high-quality stereo speakers, but instead of patching them into the back of your receiver, there's a 30-pin dock attached. This dock can accommodate all Apple devices with a Lightning connector adapter used for the newer models.

Performance-wise, the Micro delivers true reproduction of your music with deep, full bass and a sharply detailed highs. You can also crank this thing all the way up and it will still give you great sound without distortion or loss of any elements in your music.

But this is strictly a dock device and you don't get wireless capability here for streaming without connecting. The size may also put a few consumers off as well, as it can fit on your desktop but will taking up substantial room. Of course, if you're concerned about desk space instead of head banging, then maybe you're not rock and roll after all.

Belkin Thunderstorm Handheld Theater Speaker and Case for iPad

Dock solutions for iPad users who want to watch content in landscape mode have been few and far between. Fewer still are docks that cater to users of older iPads that use Apple's 30 pin connector and its newer Lightning connector used on the iPad 4 and mini. Belkin's created a solution for these users with the Thunderstorm. The Thunderstorm is speaker dock and is as powerful as it is it portable. The docks is designed around its full frequency speakers and unlike other speaker docks, it is designed to be portable, with a cover to protect the screen and provide support to prop up the dock when its in use. However, this dock is not a full featured dock — it isn't designed to connect with a desktop or laptop. But with solutions like wifi syncing and iCould, having an actual physical connection between your iPad and computer is becoming less of a concern.

iHome iD37GZC Dual Alarm Stereo Clock Radio for iPad

As an iPad user, you've embraced the post-PC lifestyle. While you used to go to bed surfing the web with a laptop, now you go to bed with the soft glow of your iPad's touch screen. If that's you, then having a convenient dock that does double duty as your clock radio is the perfect addition to your late night, pre-nocturne Internet routine. The iHome iD37GZC not only features a powered port for overnight recharging, but presets for the AM/FM radio. However, if your audio needs require something off a playlist, the iHome has you covered there as well through the company's app for the clock/radio. Also of note is the dual alarm, which allows different wake up times for weekdays and weekends.

Logitech Speaker Stand for iPad

Logitech is known for their solid, well-built computer speakers with excellent fidelity. It's a no-brainer that they'd bring that same expertise to the exploding tablet market, and specifically the iPad. Integrating their speakers into a stand that docks in landscape and portrait mode allowing it be viewed at practically any angle, it also charges the device. Volume and power are available through the stand. The addition of a 3.5mm audio plug allows the stand even more flexibility, as it can be used with other MP3 players and audio sources. The Logitech Speaker Stand for iPad makes it a perfect choice for those using their iPads with keyboard as a replacement for a conventional PC.

iLuv iMM747 Audio Cube Hi-Fidelity Speaker Dock

While iPad speakers aren't anything new, iLuv adds something that makes its offering of interest to those who like music that goes boom — subwoofers. It's a well-known fact that packing in sound for the low-end is something that just can't be done in basic small speakers and usually requires dedicated speaker drivers for bass. The iLuv iMM747 also connects to other audio devices through a 3.5mm plug and iPhones and iPads with Apple's 30 pin connector. The dock also allows iPads to be synced with PCs and Macs.

Apple iPad Dock

Apple loves minimalism. In a marketplace full of electronics with superfluous buttons, dials and displays, Apple has made simplicity its calling card. But Apple's iPad dock that's a dock, just a dock, and nothing but a dock, it seems pretty lacking when compared to third party offerings that do everything from play music, buzz with alarms and brew a cup of coffee. (Granted, the third one is exaggerating the point, but that doesn't mean someone hasn't though of it). However, if your needs just call for a dock, it doesn't get much simpler than Apple's offering that charges and syncs via a 30 pin cable (note that the 30 pin connector is only compatible with the original iPad, iPad 2 and iPad 3; iPad 4 and mini owners have no official Apple iPad dock). Also of note: Apple's dock is the cheapest on this list, which is something the company can't always say.

Marc Gottlieb
I'm a rabid sports-aholic who's been to Super Bowl XXI, the Indy 500 and witnessed Doug Flutie's hail mary pass to Gerard Phelan live in Miami. Sundays are sacred in my household and I'm a two-time back to back champion of my fantasy football league. I played a lot of sports in high school; football, soccer, tennis, lacrosse and I was on the school ski team. I even tried my hand at racquetball in college. I've jumped out of two perfectly good airplanes and bungee jumped off a construction crane. Since then I've worked for one of the top product placement companies in Hollywood, coordinating with most of the major sports apparel labels to get their products featured in films and TV. But it's a life-long obsession with music and film that has given me years of experience with the latest technologies and innovations in electronics. If they've built it, I've tried it and likely bought it. Laserdisc, DVD, Bluray players; I own multiple units that cater to all of these formats and more. A misspent youth immersing myself in pop culture meant I craved the hottest devices through which to enjoy it all, and at the highest possible quality. What I learned over time though, is that the most expensive items aren't always the best.
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