High fidelity and Bluetooth generally won’t be found in the same sentence. And it’s still the exception rather than the rule — but the advent of AptX, an audio codec for Bluetooth that lets listeners stream CD-quality lossless tracks to their speakers wirelessly, has meant that renowned audiophile brands — and a few upstarts — are at last getting into the post-dock portable speaker game. Most new phones and tablets, especially Android ones, are AptX enabled. iOS devices are not, but that’s what AirPlay, which works over wi-fi and can stream lossless audio anyway, is for (and for iOS or Mac devices only).
Hi-fi Bluetooth speakers still take a backseat to a bonafide stereo system — and even your stereo you can be made AptX-compatible with a simple Mass Fidelity Bluetooth DAC ($250) — but you no longer have to go with a dock-based “wired” system to get great results in a portable package. Using a variety of music genres in lossless format from Tidal HiFi, we tested out 10 different speakers, keeping in mind they needed to be portable enough to take from room to room, with a few portable enough for taking on trips. All of them are AptX enabled, with some able to handle Airplay, too. We narrowed it down to five speakers we liked best, for different types of scenarios and needs.
Peachtree Audio Deepblue2
Best Stereo Replacement: It’s lacking in mainstream brand recognition, but that’s about it. The Deepblue2 is a classy, understated affair, offering up a five-driver system with two one-inch soft-dome tweeters, a pair of three-inch midrange drivers, and a six-inch bass driver in a separate sealed enclosure. It also taps five separate Class D amplifiers for a total of 440 watts, ensuring that it’ll fill even the largest of rooms. Bluetooth 4.0 and AptX support are included, as is a full-function IR remote. At 13.5 pounds, it isn’t the most mobile of devices, but stereos rarely need to be relocated.
B&O BeoPlay A2
Best for Big Spaces: With a retro design and a leather carry strap reminiscent of a ’60s radio — seriously, this feels like it could have fallen of the set of an Ingmar Bergman domestic drama — the BeoPlay A2 from Danish speaker legend Bang & Olufsen looks stunning and distinctive. Its leather carrying strap makes it easy to tote around, but it also gives the speaker a bit of a handbag look, so it isn’t necessarily for all guys (but it might be okay for the whole family). Looks aside, the A2 provides surprisingly expansive sound in 360 degrees, thanks to speakers located on both the front and the back, making it ideal for camping or just a quiet soundtrack that fills your whole hotel room. Even at home, it can sometimes fool you into thinking it’s a bigger system, as on a recent listen to some Bach organ fugues during a nap — the sound was warm and cavernous, just like a concert hall or church (except it was my bedroom). It may look big from a distance, but the aluminum and polycarbonate body is surprisingly flat, making it easy to pack. Best of all, the A2 lasts up to 24 hours before needing to be recharged — though, in my experience, I’ve gone as long as two weeks of regular on-off use without recharging.
Bowers & Wilkins T7
Best for Travel: This is the little hi-fi speaker that could. About the size of a big kitchen sponge, the T7 can fit into any carry-on, but still punches way above its weight, audio-wise, offering full, warm sound in all ranges, with plenty of detail in the mid-range instrumentation and full-bodied vocals that don’t give up, even at the high end. You’ll get even better sound if you have a phone that’s compatible with Bluetooth aptX, but in our experience, streaming everything from organ and orchestral music to Sara Bareilles’ “I Choose You” delivered warm and detailed sound (we could hear plenty of detail on the high hat in the latter). Distinctively pristine audio quality is no surprise here, considering the T7 comes from British manufacturer Bowers & Wilkins, which has been making reference audiophile speakers for decades. B&W is also known for its design — it’s the same company that debuted the iconic Airplay- and dock-only Zeppelin in 2007 — and good looks aren’t lacking on the T7, either. The metallic speaker grille is slightly raised above a honeycomb-like surface, which is B&W’s proprietary material for minimizing speaker vibration and keeping the sound from distorting when the bass gets loud. Coupled with the rubber border on the sides of the speaker, the combo results in a speaker equally adept at blasting dance music or hip hop as listening to jazz or chamber music at more reasonable volumes — either way, the sound stays pure.
Riva Turbo X
Most Versatile: Considering it’s the size of a brick, the Riva Turbo X packs a lot of power and thoughtful features, which is to be expected from a company whose founder once worked as a sound engineer for groups like Rush, Led Zeppelin and Miles Davis. For one, it has seven drivers in it, which is unparalleled in a portable speaker, wireless or otherwise. This translates into full sound, powerful bass and plenty of detail, not only on music, but also while watching movies in its surround sound mode. Touch-sensitive controls on the top of the unit might feel like a bad idea if you’re traveling, but the unit has an old-school push-in physical battery power button on the back that prevents the controls from accidentally turning on. The button furthest to the right has a “T” on it, and yes, you guessed it, this stands for Turbo: Press it and you instantly get an extra 100db of audio (along with a cool/corny engine rev sound effect that you can turn off it you want). Despite weighing three pounds, the Turbo X is plenty portable. It comes with not just a splash-resistant cover and a heavy-duty, zip-up carry case with a handle, but also an industry-leading 26-hour battery life, making it perfect for a rooftop or poolside party, or just a few hours in the park when you need a soundtrack with your Ultimate Frisbee game.
Best Looking: Yeah, you need to dig the “that looks like something I’ve seen at an AC/DC show” vibe, but Marshall’s Acton is an eye-catching, conversation-starting piece. Engineered to look eerily like one of the brand’s classic guitar cabs, it offers up a unique trifecta of control knobs that allow you to fine-tune the output to your liking without a full-blown EQ. Bluetooth 4.0 and AptX are a given, but there’s also a 3.5mm input and a bundled cable that looks exactly like the coiled cabling used by your favorite hair band.