Best Bluetooth speaker: we put music and sound quality to the test
Give the gift of holiday music on a Bluetooth speaker
Picking out the best Bluetooth speaker is both harder and easier than ever, thanks to what has become a surprisingly varied space in 2022. From RGB-laden party speakers to tiny clip-on personal speakers to luxury listening in the portable space, it’s a great time to buy one, especially with holiday sales now in full force. Whether your picking one out just for you or getting a speaker for a special someone, these are some of the best Bluetooth speakers you can get today.
How to pick the best Bluetooth speaker
🤔 Think about your need: indoor/outdoor, microphone, etc
💸 Decide your budget (there are plenty of choices under $100)
✅ Rank features – does it need to be waterproof, or do you need lots of ports?
🔮 Future-proofing is a thing – look for multi-speaker audio, AirPlay support, etc
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1. JBL Clip 4
Best overall Bluetooth speaker
✅ Durable as heck
❌ Waterproofing limits features: no 3.5mm input jack or microphone
Battery life: up to 10 hrs | Connectivity: Bluetooth 5.1 | Dimensions: 3.4in x 5.3in x 1.8in | Weight: 0.52lbs | IPX rating: IP67 (waterproof and dustproof)
The JBL Clip 4 has been my best friend since I bought it earlier this year. Like the others before it, it has a carabiner-style clip (hence the name) that lets you attach it to belt loops, tree branches, bike racks – you name it. Its sound is surprisingly loud and thumpy considering its small size, and because it’s waterproof you can take it wherever you want (mine’s always in the shower when I’m not riding my bike with it).
The Clip 4 has easy-to use, raised controls in the form of volume up/down buttons and a play/pause button, and it turns on and pairs quickly thanks to its Bluetooth 5.1 support. However, its IPX rating of IP67, while great for outdoor activities, does seem to limit other features, as JBL decided not to spring for a microphone or 3.5mm audio input jack. Still, with a price tag that hangs out in the $45 - $49 range despite its official $79 MSRP, the Clip 4 is a more than worthy speaker pal.
2. Samsung Sound Tower MX-T50
Best wired party speaker
✅ Multiple input methods
✅ Big, big sound
❌ Expensive when it’s not on sale
Battery life: N/A (wired only) | Connectivity: Bluetooth | Dimensions: 25.6in x 13.8in x 12.7in | Weight: 25.6lbs | IPX rating: None given (Samsung says splash resistant)
The biggest, cleanest sound of the speakers I tested came from the Samsung Sound Tower MX-T50. This 500-watt free-standing wired speaker isn’t the flashiest-looking party speaker on the market – even its RGB lights are somehow subdued – but it’s house-rumblingly loud, and its design offers more stereo separation than most speakers of its ilk. Sound quality is well-designed for outdoor use, with the speaker pushing lush bass without piercing highs, but its midrange can come across as boxy if you’re critically listening.
You can connect to the Sound Tower six ways: Bluetooth, a 3.5mm audio jack, a quarter-inch microphone jack, and two USB ports that can be used with thumb drives, hard drives, and the like. The controls are placed in a big rubber panel on top, with a small basic LCD telling you what you’ve picked.
I’ve managed to use the speaker for backyard parties and a 24-hour bike race event, and it performed fantastically. The Samsung Sound Tower app mostly just gets the job done, but won’t win any awards. The Sound Tower has recently been replaced by a new lineup of Sound Tower speakers, so you can find this one on sale most places, ranging from $235 to $350 – which beats the heck out of its $499 list price.
3. JBL Partybox Encore Essential
Best wireless party speaker
✅ Sturdy handle
✅ Fun RGB light show
❌ A little pricey for the size
Battery life: up to 6 hrs | Connectivity: Bluetooth | Dimensions: 10.87in x 12.87in x 11.54in | Weight: 13lbs | IPX rating: IPX4 (splash proof)
The best wireless party speaker is the JBL Partybox Encore Essential. I love this speaker for much the same reason as the JBL Clip 4 – more than any other company whose speakers I’ve tested, JBL has nailed portability while preserving good audio. This lightweight speaker feels well-built and its thick handle makes it easy to haul around, and although it doesn’t get as loud as the Samsung Sound Tower, it sounds great and its portability more than makes up for it.
Surrounding its 5.25-inch woofer is a fun, evenly-lit ring of RGB LED that can put on a customizable light show that you can configure with the JBL PartyBox app, while two small tweeters flank the larger speaker to even out the sound. Overall, the 100-watt sound isn’t going to be as big as the Samsung speaker, but its miniscule size and portability give it a leg up. The only real compromise is its 6-hour battery life, which would make it less than ideal for something like an all-day tailgate party.
At $299, it is on the pricey side, especially for the size, but it has started to see discounts lately, the deepest of which put it at $249 at the beginning of December. You can find it now for $279, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see it jump back up after the holidays are over.
Why you should trust me
I’ve been big on Bluetooth speakers ever since the original Jawbone Jambox took the place of the missing stereo in my old 1999 Honda Civic a decade ago. Although it was a little too quiet to be that useful in that noisy car, the Jambox was an incredible device for the time, and the category has only gotten more compelling since.
Not only has the sound improved, they’ve packed more of it into smaller packages, improved Bluetooth range with newer, better versions of the wireless standard, and the speakers are more capable than ever, with some able to connect to up to 99 others for massive synchronized music. What I’m saying is, I’m nerdier about Bluetooth speakers than anyone should be.
I can help with that
If you’re still not sure what Bluetooth speaker to pick up, hit us up on Twitter. I’d be glad to help you pick the right speaker for home, outdoors, parties, or to use in lieu of a stereo in your busted old Civic.