Though the market for a bigger portable speaker isn’t as big as it was in the 80s, and certainly doesn’t rival the demand for purse or backpack-friendly audio products, the Oontz XL stands out as a great option for bringing a bit of music to the park or beach. It puts out plenty of volume for such purposes, noticeably more than the Flip or BTV-1, and more bass as well; if size isn't a determining factor in your choice, it’s an easy pick over others in this list. It’s nowhere near regular speakers at this price, of course, but considering its size and features, the sound is very good. The one really nifty feature on the Oontz XL that most speakers of its ilk haven’t even thought of is its ability to act as a portable charger. While the Oontz XL itself charges using an AC adapter, which isn't quite as convenient as USB charging, its own USB port can be used with other devices’ charging cords to provide power. Given its 10-hour battery life, this is an extremely handy feature that I’m sure many owners will find themselves taking advantage of.The Oontz XL isn't really the best looking of the pack, with a pretty industrial design compared to the JBL Flip’s neutral good looks and the BTV-1’s professional-chique angles. Thankfully it makes up for it with solid sound for the price, very respectable battery life, and power bank functionality that puts it at the top of the list for sub-$100 bluetooth speakers. If size is more important, go with the Flip; otherwise, the Oontz XL is superior in every way.
JBL is always a safe bet for quality speakers, and they have delivered yet another solid product in the Flip. It is very well-built, and both looks and feels like a very high quality product. It puts out substantially more volume than most competitors, and has a healthy bass punch for its size, in part due to the faux-woofer it sports on the side. It isn't very deep or extended bass, but it has enough punch to do justice to electronic music and hip hop, and it remains audible over moderate wind noise at the beach. The midrange is very clear, and instrument separation isn't half bad for a speaker of its size at any price. There is some emphasis in the lower treble to make up for the lack of extension inherent to its form factor, but it sounds clear enough, and has no trouble portraying any instruments acceptably, albeit without exceptional realism.The real high point for the Flip is volume: it can easily fill a small room with music without distorting terribly, retaining some level of control with vocals and instruments even when the volume is maxed out. It even has a decently dynamic sound for the size (and price), although the sense of realism decays as the volume is increased. It also has a very usable microphone that is of noticeably higher quality than cheaper competitors like the BTV-1 and Jam Plus.
The JBL’s biggest pitfall compared to competitors, especially more expensive products like the UE Boom and Beats Pill, is battery life. The Flip only lasts about 3-5 hours playing music, which is plenty for a single outing, but it will probably need to be charged every time you use it, a bit like charging your smartphone every night; the Jam Plus, on the other hand, will last for ages, and has close to flip-phone-life battery life compared to the JBL. The other downfall is lack of USB charging; while the Jam Plus and UE Boom have the now-standard micro USB port for charging, the JBL uses a generic charger that, while easily replaced through JBL or at Radio Shack or any standard electronics retailer, isn’t something that everyone (probably) already has in the car or by the bedside.
That being said, looking at its price, audio quality, and build, the Flip is an outstanding choice if you want to keep it under $100; the UE Boom is its strongest competitor, considering the noticeably better sound and much better battery life, but if the extra hundred bucks just isn’t in your budget, the Flip will not disappoint.
The BTV-1 is a serious steal compared to comparable units like the JBL Flip and Jawbone Jambox, offering similar quality sound for noticeably less money. While the BTV-1 doesn't have quite as much bass as its similarly priced competitors, it produces similar overall sound quality with a very usable microphone and elegant design that one might not expect from a budget-oriented product, especially considering the appearance of similarly priced units. Bass performance does improve when the bass radiator on the back of the unit has something to reflect against.
The BTV-1 actually looks rather classy, and I would not feel at all ashamed of using it for a business conference call. The sound is fairly full despite having lesser bass compared to the JBL Flip, with a bit of emphasis in the lower midrange and very respectable levels of detail. The grain and occasional midrange harshness of the HDMX Jam Plus is totally absent here, and its larger size seems to lend a hand in instrument separation which is much better than the Jam. It also plays considerably louder than the Jam. Its not quite as compact, and is double the price, but if $30 and ultra a portability don't mean the world to you, the BTV-1 trumps the HDMX in terms of sound quality and is much better looking. Amazon Basics has another winner here!
Pyle doesn't release many products targeted at mainstream consumers, but when they do, they get it right. The Surf Sound sports a great combination of sound, size, and durability that help any user take full advantage of its waterproofing: its ideal for use in the shower for taking calls on a busy morning, or perhaps just hearing a few tunes, and I’m sure it will see quite a bit of poolside use as well. The Surf Sound thankfully avoids the radio-like sounds of so many similar speakers: it has a healthy dose of bass, albeit not quite as much as the Oontz XL, and can play louder than I think anyone would need in the shower.
The one big downside to the Surf Sound is that it is powered only by batteries. Personally I find this an odd choice for a waterproof product, but it seems to work. Unfortunately it chews through batteries like nobody’s business, and you will wind up spending quite a bit more this way than on non-waterproof options that sport AC or USB charging. Despite this one shortcoming, the Surf Sound is still the best option for anyone looking for a fully waterproof speaker. It isn’t designed to play fully underwater, but it can handle full submersion, and overall it sounds decent and plays fairly loud. If it gets splashed or dropped in the pool, no big deal; just pull it out and dry it off, and it will keep providing you with tunes...until the batteries die!
The HDMX Jam Plus is a great option for those looking for a portable speaker to take with them for casual, every-day applications. It doesn't offer enough volume to be used outdoors for a group, but it can provide background music for a small picnic or relaxing on the beach with a friend or two. It works very well indoors and the mic is powerful enough to host a conference call around a small table. It doesn't put out gobs of bass, but it has enough punch to show bass tones in electronic music and give some resonant fullness to instruments if the surrounding environment isn't too noisy. The midrange and treble are prominent and detailed enough to do justice to most music, but the Jam Plus isn't exceptionally enjoyable for careful or critical listening. The form factor is a big win for the Jam: it is small enough to fit in even a small purse or handbag, and won't take up much space at all in a suitcase or backpack. Bluetooth connectivity is solid at 15 feet but loses some resolution as the source gets further away and cuts out at time over 20 feet. This little guy is a decent option on a budget and will work well enough for most intended uses of a bluetooth speaker. If you're on a tight budget and need portable audio with a mic, the Jam will serve you well.
While the Peachtree Audio Deepblue is easily the market's best offering for a smaller speaker befitting an office or kitchen, some folks want a bit more power. The Marshall Audio Stanmore is built to pump out sound for larger rooms or even outdoors, and easily outperforms the Deepblue in terms of overall audio quality. It's definitely bigger, so those looking for something to fit on their desk, or perhaps next to the microwave, should consider the Peachtree unit instead, but if you've got plenty of open shelf or table space, the Stanmore will give you better sound for the same price.
Designed after Marshall's own guitar amps, and styled in according retro fashion, the Stanmore stands out from the get-go. Its classy, timeless looks will fit in well in all but the most modern settings, and it has the sound to back it up. The Stanmore sounds great will with just about any kind of music: it has the bass to carry hip hop, pop, and electronic tunes, but enough treble definition and midrange clarity to do justice to old school rock n roll, blues, and even jazz or classical for those who aren't extremely picky.
Bass response on the Stanmore is full and deep; it doesn't reach into subbass territory, but nothing this size does without the assistance of an additional woofer. The overall sound is pleasantly full without becoming overly warm; the midrange is never overshadowed, and has more detail than one should dare expect of any Bluetooth speaker. Treble is smooth and, surprisingly, neither noticeably peaky nor under-emphasized or dark. If there was ever a Bluetooth speaker for audiophiles, the Stanmore is it; lovers of Wilson and Focal speakers, or high-end headphones from the likes of Audeze and Stax, might not be thoroughly impressed, but the Stanmore is certainly a breath of fresh air next to the legions of comparably thin, under-detailed Bluetooth offerings on the market. If you want the absolute best audio quality from a standalone native Bluetooth speaker, the Stanmore should be at the top of your list.
Harmon Kardon always produces a competitive product, and, with enough sub-brands to do just about whatever they want, the parent brand typically only releases products of the highest quality. The Soundsticks aren't top of the line, but they do offer the best sound out of any Bluetooth-compatible 2.1 system this side of $500, not to mention a space-age design that will impress even the choosiest buyers.
The Harmon Kardon Soundsticks have won critical acclaim left and right since their release, offering great sound not just for a Bluetooth setup, but besting many comparably priced wired 2.1 systems. While there really aren't many competing products to date, the Soundsticks both sound and look better than any of them, and in fact sound better than my own Klipsch Promedia 2.1 setup, which is fully wired; an impressive feat, to say the least, considering that the Klipsch is one of the more popular units at its price point, which hovers around the same dollar amount.
The Soundsticks offer a similar signature to the Promedia, with a very full bass response and the kind of warm sound that characterizes most speakers in this price range. The Soundsticks actually do a bit better in the bass department; despite the quoted LF limit of 44hz, the Soundsticks actually sound better controlled and tighter than the Promedia, and don't distort as easily, while retaining the fullness and impact of bass. Its woofer also isn't quite as boomy as the Klipsch, lending itself to a more musical presentation and a better-behaved system for those with neighbors close by.
Vocals are fairly clear coming from the Soundsticks' satellites, and the treble is reasonably well-defined while avoiding harshness or sibilance. Like most 2.1 systems, vocals can be slightly obscured by the bass at times, but again not as badly as with the Klipsch system.
The Soundsticks certainly look better than most 2.1 systems, too: their clear, space-agey looks and LED lighting make them a treat to look at, compared to the standard black boxes of most 2.1s. Unfortunately the LED lights can't be turned off while the speakers are playing, which can be distracting if your speakers are placed next to your screen. However, given the sound quality, Bluetooth functionality, and overall design, it's not much to complain about, and the Soundsticks are a great option for anyone in need of a sub-$200 2.1 system.
While those familiar with the Great Cable Debate and thousand-dollar DACs will be more familiar with the Peachtree name than any casual audio customer, don't let that stop you from taking a look: the Deepblue is a fantastic product that outperforms similar offerings from better-known brands like Bose. In fact, if it weren't for its minor hiccoughs in user-friendliness, I'd say that the Deepblue would obsolesce Bose's Soundlink line altogether; it certainly sounds better.
The Deepblue packs a serious whallop for such a small speaker: its bass reaches surprisingly deep, and even manages not to get out of control or overshadow the midrange. The resulting sound is full and lively, making competing products sound thin or shouty by comparison when attempting to achieve the same volume and dynamism. While those looking for real fidelity or any kind of stereo imaging will be disappointed, that's not the Deepblue's market; if you want computer or TV speakers, you can do better for less. But if you're looking for something small and wireless (not portable, though) with great sound, perhaps for playing music in a kitchen or workshop, the Deepblue is tough to beat, even at $400.
The UE Boom is one of the more recent entries in the market of ultra-portable rechargeable bluetooth speakers, and I have to say, it trumps all of its pre-existing competition. Its most impressive feature is its bass response: it has noticeably more thump than the JBL Flip or Jawbone Jambox, and doesn't sound muddy and smeared like the Beats Pill (or most anything with the Beats name on it, for that matter). It's still not very full or extended, and won't please an audiophile, but it's at least more dynamic and realistic than the competition.
The rest of the sound is actually reasonably well-separated and has acceptable detail for its size; even most wired speakers of this size yield to the Boom in terms of detail and realism. It distorts at high volumes, but the treble and midrange aren't unacceptably harsh, and never really sound downright bad; the JBL Flip, by comparison, can sound a bit shrill or tinny at higher volumes, and the Boom can play louder without distorting. Actually it just plays louder, period.
The Boom has easily the best battery life of any comparable speaker, squeezing about 15 hours out of a single charge; that's nearly triple what the JBL Flip gets. It also charges via micro USB, a huge plus considering that most smartphone users will be able to use the same cable that charges their phone. It even sports a water and stain resistant coating, along with easily the best build quality of any product in its class. The only even potentially useful feature that the Boom lacks is the ability to charge other devices, something rarely seen on these smaller speakers, and not much of a big deal anyway; the batteries on these speakers are roughly half the size of top-of-the-line smartphones, meaning it's really only useful for that one last call before your phone dies.
All in all, there's really nothing not to like about the UE Boom; if $200 is within your price range, and you're looking for something with all the bells and whistles and the best sound quality in an ultra-portable package, the UE Boom is it.
The BRV-1 is an underdog in the current war between major manufacturers for the best portable bluetooth speaker; Incipio, the parent company behind Braven, is better known for smartphone cases and simpler accessories, but the BRV-1 is a solid foray into audio products. Its bass has a respectable punch, and the midrange and treble are both clear, albeit not as well-separated as the UE Boom; it's not quite as full-sounding, either.
Nonetheless, it does better than most in its class, beating out the similarly-named BTV-1 from Amazon Basics in terms of sound and features. Its speakerphone isn't quite as nice as the BTV-1, but still very usable.
The BRV-1 can charge another device with its included USB port, which is a nice thought, but its small 1400 milliamp battery won't charge most smartphones to capacity, despite powering the BRV-1 for 10+ hours. The fact that it requires a mini USB, rather than micro to charge itself means that you need a separate cable for speaker and phone, which isn't exactly convenient, and an odd choice from a company that is more than familiar with smartphones and their accessories.
Despite these few shortcomings, the BRV-1 is a quality product that is built to last and sounds good for the price. Between water-proofing, emergency phone charging capabilities, and very decent sound, it's a more affordable alternative to the UE Boom for those looking for a bit more protection from the elements.
Bang and Olufsen Beolab WiSA Speakers
The Beolab 17, 18, and 19 are Bang and Olufsen’s first foray into wireless audio with the new WiSA wireless standard. They represent the industry’s first truly high-end wireless surround sound setup, sporting a full, lush sound most music fans should enjoy. They are warmer and slightly bassier than most audiophile setups, which is typically the target audience in this price range, but B&O are directing the Beolabs more at casual listeners who want the best of the best.
The Beolab 18s certainly don’t skimp on the details. Their midrange is extremely full and warm enough to make the sound a tad more enveloping. The coloration detracts slightly from the sense of crystalline clarity sought by audiophiles, but isn’t offensive and doesn’t seriously hamper detail retrieval. The 17s on their own are not quite as refined or spacious sounding as the 18s. They yield to the flagship in bass extension and definition, but their tonality matches the 18s and they blend together quite well as a system.
Resolution across the spectrum is impressive. A system of two 18s for standing speakers, two 17s for surrounds, and the 19 combine to create a powerful, immersive experience which remains well-timed and coherent despite the limitations of wireless transmission of any kind. Their level of detail and coherence compares well to many wired systems in the same price range. However, when it comes to dynamic presence they don’t match up to comparable wired models from well-regarded brands like Bowers and Wilkins, Klipsch, or JTR.
The Beolab WiSA speakers (Not all other speakers from the Beolab series are wireless) are an important first step into the world of truly high-fidelity wireless speakers. As the first consumer-oriented full sound system with built-in 24/96k wireless capability, they are setting the bar high for systems to come. With the B&O brand backing and an engaging sound signature geared towards enjoying movies and a wide variety of musical genres, they’re a landmark product in the audio industry and an easy recommendation for the audio enthusiast (If not the audiophile) for a versatile in-home wireless system.
The name Focal commands the utmost respect throughout the audio industry for many good reasons. For one, they manufacture the Utopia, widely regarded as the industry’s most accurate, technically capable speakers and the standard the rest of the industry is constantly attempting to live up to.
The Easya is another speaker everyone will be scrambling to match. Its signature is one of pure and unadulterated musicality with Focal’s trademark accuracy.
While the Beolab 18 showcases superior transmission tech, with the new WiSA standard supporting up to 24/96k (Kleer comes up a bit short at 16/44k), and sports better microdetailing as a result, the tonality of the Easya is more neutral and will probably please audiophile ears compared to the richer response of the Bang and Olufsen offerings.
The Easya also includes support for the higher-resolution APT-X Bluetooth codec, ensuring the highest quality transmission from compatible mobile devices including the Samsung Galaxy and HTC One lines of Android smartphones. Unfortunately Apple has left users with standard Bluetooth, but they can still connect to the Easya albeit with lower fidelity transmission which won’t quite do justice to the Focal’s audio chops.
High-end products targeted at consumers tend to come and go, but Focal always prioritizes sound quality and accuracy above all. Since they’ve taken the first step in targeting audiophiles with wireless tech, the rest of the industry will be close behind. Despite transmission limitations, the Easya is no slouch and I’m sure it will find a happy audience as a more casual setup for audiophiles in the office or bedroom.
Dynaudio Xeo 3 and 5 Wireless Speakers
Dynaudio is a home-grown audio firm which unlike many of the big names in audio, manufactures all of its own components and generates all of its designs in-house. This means no other speaker out there can sound like a Dynaudio. They don’t source drivers or designs from other companies and they don’t sell their own. Every speaker in their line is unique, all the way up to the Evidence Series, regarded by many as some of the finest loudspeakers in the world alongside the likes of Focal, Wilson and Calyx. The Xeos are not Dynaudio’s finest speakers, but they are a crucial early development in high-end audio and like the competing speakers listed here from Bang & Olufsen and Focal, help set the bar for the world of wireless audio brewing just beneath the surface of widespread commercial distribution.
The Xeo 3 and Xeo 5 are definite HiFi-worthy speakers in their own right, combining to create a seamless, well-timed system which will serve most listeners’ purposes for both music and movies by delivering a wide soundstage with a pleasantly full sound. Dynaudio doesn’t have a subwoofer to match its speakers yet, meaning a wireless sub will have to be acquired elsewhere in order to complete a true surround sound setup, but there are plenty of excellent options to round out the setup (See my review of "Best Wireless Wireless Subwoofers") The Xeo 5 has a noticeably full sound, with a bit of emphasis in the midbass region to give extra impact and body to the sound. Those who don’t demand a more physical bass response might be happy without a subwoofer. This extra emphasis thankfully comes without the all-too-common veiling of the midrange or sacrifices in clarity, and becomes tight and punchy with proper burn-in. They aren’t the most energetic sounding speakers, with just a touch of veiling in the upper midrange, but overall clarity and detail are both excellent.
The Xeo 5 image very well, and have a wide, very dynamic, full sound when properly placed (A foot or two from walls is optimal for minimizing emphasis from the midbass). The Xeo 3 are comparably equipped and while they don’t offer the tactile bass of the 5s, the overall sound matches the 5s well. Their sense of timing and ability to convey detail and depth in the soundstage is simply excellent.
Personally, I’d still go for an extra subwoofer just for the added realism of proper bass extension to ~20hz, but the Xeos do fine without as they sound full on their own (Individuals who use their speakers primarily for music likely won’t feel the need for one.) All in all Dynaudio has an excellent package in the Xeos, which deliver a full, clear sonic image, and excellent dynamic presence which will do justice to any and all musical styles.
Sonos Multi-Room System
Sonos is a Los Angeles-based firm which has exploded onto the market making full-home audio a very achievable, even simple luxury. Using your home wifi network and room controllers to connect any combination of speakers you choose, Sonos accomplishes this feat with the press of a few simple buttons versus a process which once involved knocking down walls and rewiring an entire home.
A full-home Sonos system can get pretty pricey, especially if you go in for at least one full 5.1 setup; the Sub and Playbar alone will put you back $700 apiece. But between the seamless multi-room connectivity, compatibility with Android and iOS devices with a wide range of options for streaming, and a rich, extremely pleasing sound, it’s hard to complain about price. After all, this is cutting edge audio technology we’re dealing with.
Speaking of the sound, I’m sure many hobbyists and audiophiles will be wary of any system being marketed primarily on its wireless virtues, or anything other than sound quality alone. Fear not, while Sonos can’t play in the same ballpark as summit-fi manufacturers like Focal or Bowers and Wilkins, a room full of Sonos speakers will do justice to your music. While it won’t reveal the most minute details full-blooded audiophiles spend tens of thousands to hear, it actually sounds on-par with most wired systems in the same price range.
I wouldn’t say it’s a bargain on sound alone but it’s definitely better than any other product in its class and there are no really noticeable flaws. It might be a bit thumpy for the electrostat crowd but average listeners and enthusiasts alike will be able to appreciate the Sonos Sub’s tight bass response and the speakers’ full, thick note presentation. The ‘5.1’ system (Sub, Playbar, and two Play 3 speakers) even produces a rather immersive soundscape when configured properly, and it takes a discerning ear to hear the real differences in comparison to a similarly priced traditional 5.1.
Sonos has designed a truly revolutionary product with their full-home audio concept, and I’m sure many more competing products will surface in the coming years. For now, Sonos sits comfortably atop the market it created, producing bar none the best sounding fully wireless home audio system.
The LSP 500 Pro is the definitive wireless PA system. It’s the perfect companion for traveling performers, motivational speakers, politicians, you name it. Basically anyone who does frequent public speaking and needs to set-up and take down their venue with ease should have a set of LSP 500s.
Perhaps the best thing about the LSP 500, apart from the sound, is the fact that it can be controlled entirely via iOS app. Volume levels, EQ bands, delay, effects, input sources; you name it, the app can handle it. You can even check levels on the dual replaceable batteries which, by the way, can be swapped out even while using the speakers in order to accommodate continuous charging (If that’s even necessary as a speaker can squeeze up to 8 hours out of each battery, and it holds two at a time).
Yes, these speakers are TRULY wireless. A single system of LSP 500s can consist of anywhere from 2 to 20 speakers, with a total of 3 wireless mic connections per system. It also features Bluetooth connectivity to accommodate the app controls, as well as wireless streaming from any Bluetooth enabled device.
The sound quality from the LSP 500 Pros is not HiFi quality, but it reproduces vocals well enough to be audible and clear. Performance will obviously vary depending on room size, acoustics, and the number of speakers used, but overall the quality is what we’ve come to expect from Sennheiser. Bass extension isn’t exactly top notch, but they do have some punch to them and the treble is smooth and detailed enough. Midrange clarity is good, and although detail is lacking enough to prevent these from replacing a real sound system, it should surpass the expectations of most users who intend the LSP 500s for use in conferences, talks, and lectures.
Keep in mind this isn’t a stereo system. Every speaker is reproducing the same sound which means no imaging or real soundstage making it less than ideal for musical enjoyment although its fine for a bit of background music for a presentation or intermission.
Overall there is little not to like about the LSP 500. It’s definitely a landmark product in the world of transportable audio and I’m sure it will make life easier for many an A/V guy on tour with public speakers. If you need a system for public venues or lecture halls and have to keep setup hassle to a minimum, the LSP 500 Pro is the way to go.