Whether you need a quick sonic fix for a vibe-less garden gathering or a movie night at a friend’s house, the best Bluetooth speakers can’t be beaten for impromptu audio.
It wasn’t so long ago that Bluetooth audio was truly dreadful and something of a joke in ‘proper’ audio circles. These days, ‘real’ hi-fi brands have joined the Bluetooth party, and have created Bluetooth speakers in every size, shape, and color you could possibly want or need. Some of them offer ultimate portability, while others are powerful enough to fill all but the largest rooms.
But which of these wireless speakers are worthy of your hard-earned and which are to be avoided at all costs? Well, we’ve done that upfront work for you and tried the best Bluetooth speakers on the market. All that remains is for you to drink in our round-up and decide whether your priority is budget, ultra-portability, audio ability, or durability. Check our 5 tips for buying a Bluetooth speaker at the bottom of this guide.
The best Bluetooth speakers in 2023:
- JBL Charge 5 – best overall
- Dali Katch 2 – brilliant battery life
- Marshall Middleton – best retro design
- Amazon Echo Dot (5th Gen) – cheap, smart option
- Ultimate Ears Boom 3 – epic waterproofing
- Sony SRS-XB100 – most portable option
1. JBL Charge 5
Best Bluetooth speaker for most people.
JBL Charge 5 specs:
|Max speaker output||40 watts|
|Dynamic frequency response range (Hz)||60 Hz – 20k Hz|
|Battery life||20 hours|
|Size||8.7 x 3.76 x 3.67in (22 x 9.6 x 9.3cm)|
- Brilliant, bass-forward sound
- Class-leading battery life
- Bags of room-filling power
- Takes an age to charge
- Relatively heavy
JBL’s Charge 5 marries rugged durability with an upgraded IP67 rating adding full dust-proofing to the robust IPX7 rating of its predecessor. Its utilitarian design spares little thought for style, but that’s not to say it’s an ugly device, just one that knows its purpose.
The Charge 5 features a 10W tweeter and a chunky 30W long excursion driver with its boombox form factor, giving both units plenty of room to shift air within their chassis. That means this chunky Bluetooth device produces impressive sound with bags of low-end power, a full-throated mid-range, and sprightly, crisp trebles. JBL’s PartyBoost adds the ability to connect multiple other compatible JBL devices to boost power output.
Inside lies a battery that’s good for 20 hours of playback and also serves as a power bank to charge your devices via a shrouded USB-A connector when you’re away from mains power. Bear in mind that the 7500mAh battery isn’t the quickest from flat to full charge, so it’s worth topping it off occasionally.
JBL’s Charge range has been quietly improving, update-by-update and is now one of the most capable Bluetooth speakers on the market. With very little to fault in any department, the Charge 5 comes highly recommended.
2. Dali Katch G2
Best for battery life and power.
Dali Katch G2 specs:
|Max speaker output||2 x 25 watts|
|Dynamic frequency response range (Hz)||49 Hz – 23kHz|
|Battery life||30 hours|
|Size||5.43 x 10.6 x 1.85in (13.8 × 26.9 × 4.7cm)|
- Stunning looks
- Brilliant, high-fidelity sound
- Plenty of power
- Very expensive
- Bass is a little disappointing
- No option to link up multiple G2s
Dali is a relative newcomer to portable Bluetooth speakers. The high-end Danish hi-fi brand’s fans may have turned their noses up at Bluetooth speakers before the Katch, but the original model won hearts and minds back in 2016. The Katch G2 builds on the sonic excellence of the original, but loses none of its aesthetic charm – the Katch G2 is a great-looking speaker.
It’s not all about looks, however. This is a speaker for those who demand sonic excellence, those who want to pick out a single hi-hat in a cacophony of drums, or who want to enjoy a string section buried deep in the mix of a guitar-laden rock track.
Crisp highs, robust mid-range frequencies, and a sizable helping of bass that doesn’t overwhelm the good work done elsewhere in the frequency range. As you’d expect from a brand that makes high-end hi-fi speakers, the G2 is as near-faultless as a device this size could hope to be.
And there’ll be plenty of time to enjoy that audiophile excellence since the Katch G2 sports a 30-hour battery life so it’ll outlast all comers at any gathering it’s providing the soundtrack for.
3. Marshall Middleton
Stylish portable design and loud, punchy sound.
Marshall Middleton specs:
|Max speaker output||60 watts|
|Dynamic frequency response range (Hz)||50 Hz-20,000 Hz|
|Protection||IP67 dust- and water-resistant|
|Battery life||20 hours|
|Size||4.29 x 9.06 x 3.74 in (10.9 x 23 x 9.5 cm)|
4 lb (1.8 kg)
- Great output volume
- Retro design
- 360 degree sound
- An expensive option
Marshall is well-known for quality sound and has a rich history of making amplifiers for musicians. Today, the company also makes portable speakers like the Middleton, which combines excellent sound quality, design, and controls.
Having tested the Middleton speaker firsthand, we think it’s worth the premium price over others on this list. Buy it if you want a gorgeous speaker that can go from the living room – playing your favorite movies and tunes – to a garden party, thanks to its high levels of protection against moisture and dirt.
In terms of power, the max 60-watt output was enough to fill our small garden, but if you want more you can stack Middleton speakers on top of each other. There are bass and treble buttons on the speaker itself to tweak the sound to your tastes, and the sound is 360 degrees, unlike some speakers which project from the front.
As a portable speaker, the Middleton can last around 20 hours on a full charge. It takes around 4 hours to reach full charge (via the included USB-C cable), but 20 minutes of charge gives you 2 hours of playtime.
4. Amazon Echo Dot (5th Generation)
Best smart Bluetooth speaker.
Amazon Echo Dot 5th Generation Dot specs:
|Max speaker output||20 watts|
|Dynamic frequency response range (Hz)||N/A|
|Protection||IP20 (no protection against liquids)|
|Size||3.94 x 3.94 x 3.5in (10 x 10 x 8.9cm)|
- Impressive, upgraded sound
- Understated looks
- Brilliant value
- No 3.5mm jack
- Limited sonic range
- Can sound shrill at high volumes
At the opposite end of the spectrum comes the near-ubiquitous Amazon Echo Dot. This 5th-generation model has been redesigned to deliver vastly improved sound and is one of the best smart speakers on the market right now. With previous iterations struggling to produce extreme ends of the frequency spectrum, this new model’s domed design gives the larger 44mm front-firing speaker more room to breathe than the last generation’s hockey puck aesthetic with instant improvements in bass response and crisper treble to boot.
There’s no battery, so this is a speaker that’s destined to remain tethered to the nearest wall socket, but it also offers more functionality than its more portable counterparts. What it does offer is a great user interface and an easy way to have Bluetooth music on tap in any room you’ve installed one in. Keen pricing means you’ll likely have the budget to add a few of these to your home or office setup to create a basic multi-room setup.
With Alexa on tap, you get all the benefits of a smart assistant alongside surprisingly capable sonic performance. It may not challenge its more expensive rivals for portability or out-and-out audio performance, but for always-on convenience, it’s difficult to beat.
5. Ultimate Ears BOOM 3
Best for outdoor listening.
Ultimate Ears Boom 3 specs:
|Max speaker output||20 watts|
|Dynamic frequency response range (Hz)||90 Hz – 20kHz|
|Battery life||15 hours|
|Size||2.9 dia x 7.25in (7.4 dia x 18.4cm)|
- IP67 waterproof and dustproof
- Powerful sound
- Portable, light, and it floats!
- Battery life is no longer best-in-class
- Sound is good, but competition has improved
- Not as loud as some rivals
The UE Boom 3 is a waterproof portable speaker with an IP67 dust and water ingress rating that, handily, also floats. The Boom range has a serious heritage in Bluetooth speaker circles, having raised the game over the past decade.
The Boom 3 retains the cylindrical shape of its predecessors, designed to offer ‘360’ sound to fill larger rooms and social gatherings. In fairness, it does a cracking job of that and, considering its compact dimensions, goes remarkably loud. The Boom 3 is that rarest of things, a Bluetooth speaker that’s both supremely portable and incredibly capable from an audio perspective.
It looks the part, too, clad in a two-tone iridescent fabric speaker grille cloth around its circumference with giant ‘+’ and ‘-’ volume buttons mounted on the front. The Boom 3 comes in a range of different colors to suit all tastes.
Inside are dual 2-inch drivers accompanied by a pair of 4-inch speakers that deliver a peak volume of 90 decibels. The UE Megaboom app provides EQ tweaking via four presets and the ability to create a custom profile and also allows you to pair two Boom 3s together for true stereo sound. Out of the box, the sound is spacious, and crisp, with a large helping of low-end grunt for good measure.
6. Sony SRS-XB100
The most portable Sony Bluetooth speaker.
Sony SRS-XB100 specs:
|Max speaker output||2.5 watts|
|Dynamic frequency response range (Hz)||20 Hz – 20k Hz|
|Battery life||16 hours|
|Size||2.99 dia. x 3.74in (7.6 dia. x 9.5cm)|
- Solid sound for its size
- Fully water- and dust-proof
- Not hugely powerful
- Can distort at high volumes
- Measly, short charging cable
With up to 16 hours of battery life from a single charge, the XB100 has plenty of longevity for even the most enduring parties and is rugged enough for most situations with a rubber USB-C charging port and IP67 rating for dust and water. In practice, that means you can pour a drink over it, and it won’t break a sweat. Helping to avoid those kinds of incidents is the removable fabric strap that lets you suspend it out of the way of flying drinks, clumsy feet, and swinging arms.
Images can be deceiving, and it’s worth pointing out that the Sony is a particularly diminutive speaker. That said, its bass response is surprisingly powerful, and mids and highs are clear enough if lacking in a little separation. What it doesn’t do, is go hugely loud. Other, larger speakers, such as the JBL Charge 5 or Dali Katch G2 can hold court at all but the biggest garden gatherings, but the Sony is at its best in more intimate surroundings. At a push, you can pair two XB100s together as a stereo set for better sound distribution.
The EQ can’t be tweaked, so you’re stuck with Sony’s default audio profile. A speaker this size is never going to compete with a bigger (and likely much more expensive) unit, but for the price and the build quality, the little Sony comes highly recommended.
Five tips for buying the best Bluetooth speaker
What so many features and so much information available online – not to mention so many brilliant speakers on the market – it can be daunting to figure out which speaker to go for. Here are a few tips on finding the best Bluetooth speaker to point you in the right direction.
- Budget: if you’re after an ultra-portable speaker for some pool-side tunes, then you’ll be able to pick something up for under $100. Audio excellence will likely cost you $100 or more, and really high-end sound (and a big brand name) will run you $200 plus.
- Battery life: There’s not much point in having a portable speaker if you have to charge it every ten minutes. The best Bluetooth speakers can power around 20-30 hours of music on a single charge.
- IP rating: If you want to use your speaker outside, look out for the IP rating, which tells you how resistant it is to dust and water. The first number is the dust/particle resistance and the second is how resistant to water it is. IP67 is fully dust- and water-resistant, whereas IP20 offers limited particle resistance and no waterproofing.
- Sound quality: Cheap, low-end speakers often sound tinny and one-paced. It’ll make listening a chore in the long run, and you’ll probably stop using it. Bigger speakers naturally tend to have bigger sound as their larger chassis develop more low-end power. The trade-off is portability.
- Size and weight: Portability is a major issue. Can you sling the speaker in a bag that you can carry for a couple of miles without dislocating your shoulder? That doesn’t matter so much if it’s mainly going to be used around the home, so think long and hard about where you’re likely to use it.