Listening to audio when out and about used to be quite cumbersome because of the size of the equipment involved. Either that or it was a solitary experience if you opted for the more manageable headphones option. When MP3s freed music from the confines of cassette tapes and CDs it suddenly meant that it was possible to take way more audio with you wherever you went. Unfortunately, the devices to play these files such as phones and tablets are hardly known for the quality of their audio output. Recently there has been a surge in portable speakers that connect to your audio devices via Bluetooth and actually offer decent quality playback. These speakers allow you to listen to your music, along with friends without getting tangled up in wires or lugging around heavy equipment with you.
There are quite a few options to choose from when it comes to portable Bluetooth speakers, but some factors have to be taken into consideration before making your purchase. The intended use of the speaker will obviously play a big role, for example, do you lead an active lifestyle and want to take the speaker with you on extreme sporting events or do you like chilling in the park with friends and just want something funky to provide some background tunes. You will also want to ensure that the speaker you buy has the right design, battery life, range, audio quality and durability that you desire if you want to avoid disappointment. Let’s take a look at these factors to aid you in your purchasing decisions.
Portable Bluetooth Speakers are available in a variety of design with some like the products from Boombotix favoring bright, eye-catching casings that often look more like toys than speakers. On the other side of the spectrum you have products that look like plain, ordinary speakers which are unlikely to draw any attention. Just compare the look of the Boombotix Boombot1 to that of the Philips SB365/37 to see what a difference there can be when it comes to designs.
With competition mounting many brands seek to distinguish themselves through the designs of their speakers so you can expect to see some pretty outlandish products on the market. If you are young at heart or love to draw attention then some of the more funky designs should suite your needs. Anyone that is a little bit more conservative or who would feel uncomfortable when using something that looks like a toy in public can opt for some of the more plain designs. It all comes down to a matter of personal taste and with so many options to choose from this is one category where you probably won’t have to compromise.
No matter how careful you are when using your portable Bluetooth speaker outdoors accidents will inevitably happen. Durability should be an important consideration for all portable speakers, but the more active your lifestyle the biggest the influence this factor will be for you. For the occasional hike or hanging out with friends at the beach you might still be able to get away with a speaker that is only water and maybe dust resistant, but for the more adventurous souls it’s a different matter. Advantages such as being weather proof and shock resistant becomes essential if you spend a lot of time outdoors in bad weather or wet conditions. Sometimes the extra durability comes with an inflated price tag, but you also get products like the Pyle PWPBT60 Sound Box Splash that can take a few knocks without your wallet having to get involved in the beating as well.
Size & Weight
Even in the portable Bluetooth speaker market you will find that there are marketable size differences between different brands. Obviously you want something that is small enough to carry around and ideally fit in your pocket, but not at the cost of inferior audio quality.
If you absolutely cannot live without thumping bass then you had better be prepared to lug around a bit more weight with you as the smaller speakers tend to be a bit lacking when it comes to the low end of the audio spectrum. Lightweight speakers can offer good sound quality as the Boombotix REX have demonstrated, but compare it to something like the Big Jambox by Jawbone and you will hear the difference. If you don’t mind sacrificing a bit of audio quality for the convenience of carrying a lighter load you’ll find plenty of speakers, like those from Boombotix to choose from.
About the only thing worse than carrying around a heavy portable speaker that doesn’t sound that great is carrying around a heavy portable speaker with a flat battery. If all you ever do is go for a walk in the park or lounge around in the backyard by the pool you can still get away with a portable speaker that has a shorter battery life. Anything that takes you further from home, and more importantly the battery charger is going to require a portable speaker that can keep going for a while. The companies that try and sell you these speakers often have very optimistic estimates in their product descriptions and these don’t always match what you will get in real-life. Be prepared to get a much shorter battery life than the product description if you are prone to using your portable speaker at the top volume all of the time. If extended camping trips in the wilderness are your thing something like the Eton Rugged Rukus All-Terrain Portable Solar Wireless Sound System which can be recharged with solar power might be the only solution for you. Just bear in mind portable speakers are not of much use if your actual audio playback device, be it a smartphone, tablet or laptop runs out of juice so make sure you have something that can keep up with your speaker.
Depending on how much of an audiophile you are, sound quality should be at the top of your list when it comes to portable Bluetooth speakers. Let’s face it; you are going to find speakers that sound like an AM radio station playing in mono. This is why it is so important to test the speakers yourself or listen to the good advice from reputable websites. Product reviews from other consumers should also give you a good pretty good indication about the audio quality, but bear in mind that tastes differ and something that sounds horrible to one person might sound like a heavenly symphony to someone else. Many portable speakers inevitable sacrifice some audio quality in order to pack all those components into a portable casing, but this doesn’t mean you have to settle for something that sounds like a payphone during playback. For the best sound quality, especially when it comes to bass you might have to dig a little deeper into your wallet and prepare yourself for some extra weight, but in the end it is worth it.
If all you want is a piece of plastic that plays music and don’t really care for much else you can probably overlook the extras. More discerning buyers on the other hand will want to get as much value for money when it comes to their portable Bluetooth speakers. If you are the outdoors type that prefers to move around by means other than your own two legs you might want a speaker that can be clipped to the handlebars of your bike or backpack. Some speakers offer this feature as standard while others require a separate purchase for accessories. For example, the Pyle PWPBT60 Sound Box Splash has an integrated metal loop to hang it off anything while if customization is your thing you might like the Boombotix Boombots with their “custom eyes able” accessories or something from Jawbone that can be upgraded with new features or apps. The types of ports and jacks included on the speaker are also quite important unless you plan on sticking exclusively to Bluetooth usage. Some portable speakers include microphones so you can answer your phone via the speaker while others forego this option. Don’t pay through your nose for extras that you will never use, but don’t compromise on a speaker that can’t offer you everything you want either.
The final thing to consider when it comes to portable Bluetooth speakers is the range. Obviously you are not going to leave your expensive speaker in the middle of nowhere and go wandering around, but neither do you want something that has to be tethered to your phone in order to work correctly. The ideal portable speaker will give you some breathing room to move about without losing the connection. The further the range of the speaker the better, but there’s no need to go overboard and pay extra for a speaker that can continue playing even when you are too far away to hear it.
Consumers really are spoiled for choice when it comes to portable Bluetooth speakers so you can afford to be picky when it comes to picking yours. Remember it is something that you will be using in public so the more comfortable you are with what you by the better. It is easy to be swayed by some of the funky designs that are available, but remember that there is more to a good speaker than just a pretty box so take the time to examine all the factors that I mentioned in this guide and then make your decision. Making a list of features and factors that are important to you when it comes to portable audio will allow you to narrow down your list and make an informed purchasing decision.