Your Guide to the Best Sound, Design, and Price
UE Phantom Wonderboom ($99.99) With the Wonderboom, Ultimate Ears has successfully engineered surprisingly strong bass and volume—not the tinny sound you'd expect from other mini Bluetooth speakers. Add to that its IPX7 waterproof rating, 10hour battery life, and 5-foot drop protection, and you've got yourself a solid holiday gift for your audiophile friends and family members. While you'll sacrifice some features of the $300 UE Megaboom, like the big sound and ability to connect up to 50 speakers (the Wonderboom lets you connect 2), you'll gain extra portability, a fresh set of colors, and a loop so you can tote it on your backpack or bike. Braven 1100 ($199.99–$249.99) The smallest of Braven's Premium Home series, the 1100 is a refined-looking wireless speaker that complements any home (I recommend buying the white and gray version). The 1100 is small enough to easily move from your bookshelf to your kitchen counter, but is large enough to deliver clear, room-filling sound that isn't too overpowering. It also packs a 28-hour battery life, thanks to its built-in 8,800 mAh battery, and it even has an extra USB port so you can use it to charge your iPhone or iPad (which comes in handy when you're traveling). The sound gets a little fuzzy at loud volumes compared to speakers at a similar price point, but if you can get it on sale and want something that looks sophisticated for your home or apartment, the Braven 1100 is a good choice. Amazon Echo ($179.99) I set up Amazon's smart speaker in my kitchen this summer, and so far I've been impressed with its sound quality and wide range of third-party voice apps called skills which allow me to do things like call an Uber, exercise with 7-Minute Workout, get my daily news briefing, or call other Echo owners. I love that, unlike Siri on my iPhone, Alexa can hear my commands even when it's playing loud music. It's also encouraged me to take advantage of Amazon's music library, which comes along with my Prime membership, since I can say things like “play Bob Marley,” and immediately hear top hits from the legend. However, if you have a Chromecast or are tied in to other Google services like Calendar or Maps, you might want to check out Google Home ($85–$129) instead. Apple HomePod ($349) We've got our eye on the HomePod, Apple's new spatially aware smart speaker that becomes available in December. While this Siri-enabled smart speaker will compete with the Alexa-powered Amazon Echo, Apple has been touting the HomePod's merits as a high-end speaker over its AI smarts. The HomePod is said to handle high volume levels with zero distortion and tailor its sound experience to fit the size and shape of the room it's in. While the HomePod may be able to deliver a full surround sound experience from one small speaker, it will likely be a while before it can compete with the over 10,000 skills the Amazon Echo has in its arsenal.
JBL Charge 3 ($117–$149.95) Thanks to the large feature set and low price, the JBL Charge 3 is my latest home favorite. While the treble and mid-tones aren't quite as clean as the more expensive ones from Fender or V-MODA, that's where my complaints end. The Charge 3's sound is just as powerful and doesn't distort at maximum volumes, boasts a 20-hour battery, is iPX7-rated waterproof, can connect to multiple units for surround sound, and comes with a built-in speakerphone so you can take calls without disconnecting. If you want an all-purpose Bluetooth speaker at a decent price, look no further than the JBL Charge 3. Fender Monterey ($349.99) Fender prides itself on its clear sound, and after playing with the Monterey for a week, I'm a believer. The hefty Monterey plays off Fender's long history in the industry with its old-school amplifier design and wood casing that lends a natural quality to the sound. I tried listening to Beyoncé at maximum volume and bass and playing Bob Marley with a more balanced audio mix and was amazed at how incredibly clear the sound remained at all volumes and settings. My favorite thing about the Fender is that you can adjust the treble and bass manually to create a floor-thumping, dance-party vibe or a relaxed dinner-party feel with a quick turn of the knob. ECOXGEAR EcoSlate ($95–$149.99) If you're looking for a rugged speaker that holds up against dirt, drops, and water, this speaker by ECOXGEAR is your safest bet. With an IP67 dust-proof and waterproof rating, you can confidently take the EcoSlate with you whether you're backpacking in the wilderness or river tubing with a group of rowdy friends. ECOXGEAR designed the EcoSlate with the outdoor enthusiast in mind. It makes a great camping companion, with a builtin lantern that can light up your tent and a 12-hour battery that doubles as a charger for your iDevices. Fugoo Style-S ($139.99) If you're looking for a durable yet classy wireless speaker to provide a soundtrack for your active life, the Style-S is hard to beat. Not only is the Style-S IP67-certified waterproof and shockproof, but it also includes an inset mounting socket so you can use a Fugoo mount to attach the speaker to your bike, tent, stroller, tree, or whatever else is in your vicinity. It comes with a big battery for such a lightweight speaker, so you can go up to 15 hours off grid without running out of power. My biggest criticism of the Style-S is that while it sounds great at moderate volumes, it distorts when you get really loud. You can always pair two together for stereo sound, but I still wouldn't recommend the Style-S if you're looking for big sound. BoomBotix Pro ($22–$60) If you're on a tight budget, a little money will go a long way with the BoomBotix Pro. Not only does it pack a punch for its size, but it also includes a surprising number of features, including an IPX7 waterproof rating, a built-in mic, a respectable six-hour battery, and a clip so you can attach it to your backpack. Our managing editor Rheanne Taylor has been using the Pro for years, and says it's filled her apartment with sound (and only minimal distortion) and has survived camping trips and even being dropped on rocky terrain. V-MODA Remix ($300) Audiophiles of all stripes have loved V-MODA's premium headphones for a long time, but it was only earlier this year that the company ventured into the Bluetooth speaker market. The Remix delivers vibrant audio quality, a 10-hour battery, and a built-in mic for speakerphone calls. Its sound is one-directional though, and can't quite fill a large room. As is the tradition of V-MODA, the Remix also comes with interesting customization options. While I like the base aluminum and vegan leather options, I personally find the 3D custom grills and shells a little gaudy and not worth paying extra for.