If you’re reading this, it’s a fair assumption that you have, at some point in your life, owned or interacted with a portable Bluetooth speaker. In other words, you’re not going into a new purchase blindly, and you probably have assumptions about this category of gadgets and how much you’re willing to spend on one. Unlike, say, a smartwatch or a home security camera, portable speakers are devices that almost anyone can benefit from, so long as you have a smartphone and access to any kind of digital music. You’ve seen them at parties, probably used them at the beach or park, and chances are you’ve owned one before and will want to continue owning one for the foreseeable future.
It’d be too extreme to call them a necessity of modern life, but portable speakers are almost like headphones now: a thing you can live without, but you will always wish you had them on you when the need arises. So the questions now are: what are you going to use this speaker for, and how much are you willing to spend on a new one?
After going through last year’s roundup, updating our product list, and including the latest and greatest models from UE, JBL, and others, we’re now even better equipped to help you understand all the benefits and trade-offs involved with purchasing the right Bluetooth speaker. A good thing to remember: if you just want something that works, there are models out there on Amazon for well under $50, and they’re surprisingly capable. What you should be asking yourself is how much design and color choice, sound quality, and water resistance matters to you since those are the factors that push the price higher.
This article will be continually updated as new devices are released, so be sure to check back if you’re not buying a Bluetooth speaker right now. Older devices may have pros, cons, and scores adjusted to reflect new information.
The best Bluetooth speaker right now: UE Megaboom 3
Extra large Bluetooth speakers used to be a bit of a silly luxury. Similar to the first plus-sized smartphones, these “mega” speakers existed somewhere between legitimate upgrade and unnecessary extravagance. They were usually gaudy, heavy, and extra loud, typically costing a few hundred dollars. But these days, as prices have come down and technical design continues to move forward, we’re seeing a shift toward larger, louder, and more fully featured speakers at a reasonable cost.
And no product exemplifies this shift better than the UE Megaboom 3. It’s colorful and well-designed, and it is very loud. But what’s shocking about it is just how great it sounds in a modestly sized package. Plus, it weighs less than it looks, at just over 2 pounds, and it’s IP67-rated waterproof. (It also floats when it falls into a body of water.) The device retains the same cylindrical shape and design UE popularized with its initial Boom line, with a few twists.
The volume buttons are now extra large and designed more to make an aesthetic statement than serve a functional purpose, while the charging port has been moved to the side so the speaker can be played and charged simultaneously. Syncing is still super simple, and there’s also a mobile app with a built-in equalizer and UE’s PartyUp feature for syncing numerous speakers together.
But where the Megaboom 3 shines is in how superior it is to UE’s standard Boom 3. A couple of years ago, the standard Boom felt like UE’s marquee product. Now, with the Megaboom 3 costing just about $50 more than the standard model, it’s a no-brainer to pick the larger model. It comes with five extra hours of battery life, for 20 hours total, and the richness and bass response in its sound makes it easily the best-sounding, best-looking, and most well-rounded portable speaker you can buy.
There are two minor downsides, though: the Megaboom 3 has no voice assistant support; that’s a feature of UE’s Blast and Megablast Wi-Fi speakers, which cost more and come with inferior battery life. UE is also still using Micro USB instead of USB-C. But neither of those drawbacks are enough to push the Megaboom 3 out of the No. 1 spot.
A second option: JBL Charge 3
Our top pick from last year has been outshined by UE’s Megaboom 3, but the JBL Charge 3 is still a fantastic, well-rounded speaker that’s made even better by its affordable price. For significantly less than the Megaboom 3, you get an IP67-rated waterproof speaker that sounds incredible, lasts 20 hours on a single charge, and could probably survive a fall from a two-story balcony if it had to. It doesn’t excel in the visual department, and consumers looking for something a little more eye-popping and flashy will likely gravitate more toward UE’s color schemes and industrial design. But the Charge 3 is far more about function than form, and it functions great in pretty much every situation. If you’re looking to spend a little less and get something that sounds almost as good as the Megaboom 3, the Charge 3 is the way to go.
However, there is one important element to note about this particular speaker: late last month, JBL announced an update to the Charge 3, aptly named the Charge 4, but it’s not going to be available until later this fall. We haven’t been able to try the speaker — we plan on doing so as soon as we can and updating this guide accordingly — but from its specs, the Charge 4 sounds like a solid upgrade to the existing model. It will have improved battery life, slightly better sound, and a USB-C port, according to JBL. The device will be slightly more expensive than the Charge 3, so if you’re interested in the company’s best waterproof Bluetooth speaker, it’s better to wait a couple of months for this upgrade to hit the market. If you’re in the market for a Bluetooth speaker right now and you’re a fan of JBL, the Charge 3 is a solid deal, but it will likely drop in price when the Charge 4 hits the market.
The good thing about Bluetooth speakers is that there are quite literally thousands of options out there, all of which pretty much do the same thing. Sure, most aren’t anywhere near as well-rounded as a JBL or UE product, but there are a lot of factors to consider with this particular gadget category.
There’s design; some speakers light up or come in truly eye-popping colors. There’s also durability, portability, and water resistance to consider, as well as companion apps and whether the speakers can pair with others. And then there’s price, probably the most important factor next to how good it actually sounds. While these speakers may not be the best of the bunch, there are benefits to getting something cheaper, or pricer, up and down the spectrum.
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