Little Big Sound
Beats Without Borders: Best Portable Bluetooth Speakers
Listening to music surely isn’t seasonal — but listening outside is. Now that the warmer, more relaxing months are upon us, it’s time to invest in a Bluetooth speaker that will just as easily perform backyard barbecue DJ duties as it will rainy day basement dance offs. Gone are the days of guarding against every fatal spill or doggy dry-off shake; even better, you can bring your music just about anywhere it’s worth listening to. A new crop of portable boomboxes presents rugged, well-designed and, yes, decent-sounding speakers. We size up five (plus one) of our favorites across the spectrum.
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Best for the Man On the Go: The Charge could be mistaken for a tall, expensive beer can; just like our favorite container for suds, it’s easy to carry. The rubber feet running along the base keep it stationary, and a rubber gasket on one end keeps it vertical when stood on end. A 12-hour battery life is indicated by three blue LEDs, giving you prior notice before it dies while you’re solo jamming out to “Purple Rain” (people don’t forget).
Two five-watt full-range drivers and a built-in bass port provide respectable sound, but don’t expect to rattle the kitchen cabinets with the bass — there’s some distortion at higher volumes. For most everyday usage, however, the Charge performs well. True to its name, it sports a handy USB port at one end to keep your other tech running while you’re on the go. Just don’t use it as a substitute after your buddy accidentally hurls the Nerf football into the lake.
Bose Soundlink II
Best Speaker for the Style Conscious: The Soundlink II is the runway model of the bunch (but not in the gross, anorexic way). Its simple, angled rectangular design is protected by a magnetic bifold cover that also acts as a base and shuts the unit off when closed. Nor is it just a beauty. Upgraded from its predecessor with new neodymium transducers and an updated digital signal processing algorithm and also boasting a memory capacity of six Bluetooth devices and an auxiliary jack if you want to go wired, the Soundlink II is a beast in the tech department.
The sound itself is pretty impressive for a three-pound device that’s less than two inches thick, with little distortion at higher volumes and a crisp, clean sound with good base. A battery life of eight hours hangs in with all partyers save Frank the Tank. Unfortunately, like the JBL Charge, the Soundlink II doesn’t have speakerphone capability. But who cares? It’s gorgeous — and if you’re the guy who dons the custom selvedge denim jeans regularly, the price tag should be right in your ballpark.
Logitech UE Mobile Boombox
Best All Around Speaker : The Logitech UE Boombox is everything the Bose isn’t. For less than a hundred smackers, you get great portability, speakerphone capability, 10 hours of battery life and impressive sound quality (two one-inch full-range drivers), along with a straightforward look in a rubberized case that reduces vibration when your bassy rap playlist takes center stage. It won’t rock an audiophile’s world, but your buddies will be entirely impressed.
Eton Rukus Solar
Best for the Tailgater: It may look like a ghetto blaster from Minority Report, but that means the Eton Ruckus Solar has a downright futuristic style, right? Twin 2.5-inch speakers are great for outdoor parties, as long as it doesn’t get too noisy. Mid-range is especially crisp, and it belts out a decent bass, though the “bass boost” function doesn’t seem to be very pronounced. The real gem here is the top mounted solar panel, which does a solid job of not just charging the Rukus Solar but also boosting your smartphone in a pinch with its USB port. A carrying handle and a built-in elastic pocket for your phone are just groovy, baby.
Geneva Sound Model XS
Best Speaker for the Well-Traveled: The Model XS goes toe to toe with the mighty Bose in the looks department. The Swiss-made speaker is as clean looking as it gets while still providing that old school clock-radio aesthetic, albeit in an up-to-date fashion. The XS folds into its own hard case and is activated when it’s propped up by its two somewhat fragile plastic teeth (play nice, please). Unique to this market are its FM clock radio feature and retro telescoping antenna, boons for those who enjoy a nice bout of atavism. Like nearly all devices this size, there isn’t much stereo separation, but the XS delivers good sound for such a tight package. What you get for $225 is traveling convenience, FM capability, and design that makes you look positively European.
Bonus: Ultimate Ears UE Boom
Best Beach Speaker: The Ultimate Ears UE Boom is a new arrival with plenty of standout qualities, including an “acoustic skin with plasma coating” that makes the Boom more than capable of surviving a heavy splash of pool water or BBQ sauce. Users can also pair two Booms together to stream songs in true left and right stereo mode or simply pump up the volume by having each speaker play the same tune simultaneously via a handy iOS app (or through a push of a few buttons on each speaker). The small cylinder is easily portable and designed to project “360-degree sound” from its two 1.5-inch drivers and two 2-inch passive bass radiators. A rechargeable battery capable of 15 hours of surprisingly good sound quality top things off — making the UE Boom a refreshing addition to the category.