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The Best Bluetooth Speakers: Features to Look for When Shopping

BY: EDITORIAL TEAM | 5.22.2017 |

High-quality headphones let you lose yourself in your music on your commute, and a full-fledged audio system brings your favorite movies to life, but what about when your audio needs fall somewhere in between? Enter Bluetooth speakers, the undisputed champs of the portable-audio world. Combining a frame that's usually small enough to stash in a backpack with audio that's noticeably stronger and clearer than that of a laptop or smartphone, they make it easy to bring high-quality, shareable sound with you wherever you go.

Yet depending on how you'll use them, finding the best Bluetooth speakers can be tricky. By breaking down the features to look for in a Bluetooth speaker depending on its day-to-day use—along with demystifying some of the tech jargon you'll see when shopping—this guide will help make your buying decision a little easier.

But first, let's start with the basics.

What Is Bluetooth?

Bluetooth, the essential technology of any portable speaker, acts like an invisible audio cable, connecting wirelessly to nearby smartphones, tablets, and computers to play their music libraries through the speaker.

The technology does have some limitations to keep in mind when it comes to speakers, though. Most Bluetooth speakers transmit by line of sight, so the connection between them and any synced devices might be hindered by walls or furniture. There's range to consider, too, as the maximum is usually around 30 feet.

Outdoor Bluetooth Speakers

Axess SPBT1033 Portable 2.1-Channel Bluetooth Speaker with Built-in Subwoofer ($27.99)

  • Durable housing: Look for a speaker with a material like rubber or silicone covering it; this will help protect it from bumps or drops when it's on the move. Many outdoor speakers even feature reinforcement on would-be fragile corners.

  • All-day battery life: Using an outdoor speaker means you'll likely be away from outlets, so get something that'll last longer than just a couple hours.

  • IP resistance: These ratings indicate a product's resistance against dust (the first number in the rating) and water (the second number). The higher the number, the better.

Indoor Speakers

Ion Block Rocker Bluetooth Portable Speaker System (from $119.99)

  • High watt output: A higher-than-average watt output helps your speaker fill larger spaces, like living rooms or basements, with sound that's still full and clear.

  • Multiple drivers: A speaker with more than one driver will maintain better sound quality as the volume is raised.

  • Handles: If you'll be moving your speaker from room to room, look for one with a built-in handle or carrying strap.

Bluetooth Shower Speakers

Aduro AQUA Sound Bluetooth Shower Speaker ($9.99)

  • Built-in suction cup: This will keep the speaker securely held against tiles or a glass shower door.

  • Automatic Bluetooth pairing: The last thing you'll want to do is hop out of the shower and dry yourself off just to connect your phone to your speaker and get back in the shower.

  • An especially high IP rating: Specifically, waterproof Bluetooth speakers should have a rating of IP66 or higher. This will ensure your speaker stands up to regular splashes

Speakers That Can Handle Phone Calls

Click here to shop speakers like the one pictured above.

  • Built-in mic: If you want your Bluetooth speaker to function like a speakerphone, it'll need a built-in microphone.

  • Integrated controls: These make it easy to pause music, answer a call, end the call, and go back to what you were listening to, all on the speaker itself.

  • Multipoint connectivity: This technology lets the speaker receive calls on multiple lines, making it ideal for conference calls.

A quick note: Bluetooth speakers come in multiple forms. Some resemble plastic eggs, while others are fashioned into functioning record turntables. In general, it's best to pick a smaller one if you want something more portable, and a larger one if you want more volume.

A Crash Course on Bluetooth-Speaker Tech

Now that you know what to look for in the best Bluetooth speakers, take a look at the below chart, which gives quick definitions on some tech jargon you're likely to see on packaging and in item descriptions online.

Tech Spec

What Is It?

aptX

A digital-audio technology designed to increase the quality of streamed music

Bluetooth + EDR

"EDR" stands for "enhanced data rate"; this means the speaker will transfer more data at once, which leads to better audio quality.

Decibels (dB)

A measure of volume where the higher the dB rating, the louder the speaker. For example, a normal conversation is usually 50–65 dB, while, conversely, a jet taking off can hit 140dB.

Frequency Response

A measure of the range of tones a speaker is capable of reproducing, where the larger the range, the more faithfully the speaker can reproduce audio

mAh

An abbreviation of milliampere hours, which is the measure of a speaker battery's maximum capacity, where the higher the number, the more robust the battery

NFC

Near-field communication. Think of it as Bluetooth's tech-savvy cousin: tapping an NFC-compatible phone with an NFC-equipped speaker immediately syncs them, eliminating the need to configure any Bluetooth settings in the devices.

Editorial Team
BY: Editorial Team Editorial Team