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Wireless Bluetooth speakers have become an indispensable tool everywhere. Each has its place and use cases vary from person to person. Maybe you use speakers around the house or as a shower soundtrack. Maybe you’ll take it to the park or the beach. And then there are the people who carry their portable speakers almost everywhere they go—sharing their music from their bike or backpack with everyone nearby.
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I know a lot of people who have old Bluetooth speakers growing up, and if your speakers are still working for you, there’s no immediate need to upgrade to something newer. But Bluetooth speakers have
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Well in recent years. Sound quality continues to improve, battery life reaches new records, and it’s more rugged and durable than ever.
If you’re shopping for new speakers, first consider what size you want. In this guide, I mainly use portable Bluetooth speakers and do not include anything impractical to take on the go. Next, you need to evaluate other criteria such as audio quality, ease of use, durability and additional features such as speakerphone functionality. Some speakers allow you to pair two of them in stereo, and some companies include a “party mode” option that allows you to connect multiple speakers. If you don’t care, you can pick up a small Bluetooth speaker for just $25. But all the options here are a bit further in terms of features and style.
The Bose SoundLink Flex is tougher and more durable than it looks. Photo: Chris Welch / The Verge
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I don’t know what kind of engineering wizardry goes into Bose Bluetooth speakers; I just know that starting with the SoundLink Mini II they just sound clearer and
— at least to my ears — than any competitor in the same size range. The $149 SoundLink Flex is Bose’s latest portable speaker, and it continues to build on that reputation.
Despite only having mono drivers (which is unusual for Bluetooth speakers), the SoundLink Flex delivers a spacious sound with a truly amazing amount of bass. And the main thing is that the bottom is not muddy or foamy. Everything about this speaker is rich and clear. This is even more surprising when you consider that it only supports the SBC Bluetooth codec, not the more modern AAC or LDAC. However, these speakers sound great.
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Bose’s latest Bluetooth speaker, the SoundLink Flex, offers clean, detailed sound quality with an amazing amount of bass for its size, all in a durable design you can take anywhere.
You can expect around 12 hours of battery life, and like many of the other speakers in this guide, the SoundLink Flex has an IP67 dust and water resistance rating. Bose is very confident that it can withstand diving and swimming. Whether you place the speaker flat or standing vertically, Flex will automatically optimize the EQ for either orientation. And it also works better than most as a speakerphone with the help of a built-in microphone. Not everything about the SoundLink Flex is perfect: the buttons themselves aren’t easy to use, and it’s odd that Bose chose to use Bluetooth 4.2 instead of a newer spec version. But if that’s my biggest gripe, it’s fair to say the SoundLink Flex is a winner.
The UE Boom 3 is still a popular Bluetooth speaker years after its release. Photo: Vjeran Pavic / The Verge
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Honestly, it’s a little confusing that I’m still writing about the UE Boom 3 in 2022. This speaker was released in 2018 and Ultimate Ears has followed suit ever since. Maybe that says something about how shaky the Bluetooth speaker market is, or maybe UE hasn’t produced anything that meaningfully beats the $149.99 Boom 3. Or maybe it’s just a testament to how great the portable Boom 3 is .
Few portable speakers have achieved the same level of popularity as the Ultimate Ears Boom 3. With 360-degree sound, waterproof construction, and easy controls, it’s no wonder this Bluetooth speaker has lasted this long.
The company says it’s “perfect” for the 360-degree cylindrical speaker design it introduced with previous Booms. And with 15 hours of battery life, a fully waterproof exterior that floats in a pool, and those handy giant volume buttons, the UE Boom 3 still holds up. Its standout feature over the older model is the Magic Button, which lets you quickly play certain playlists by pressing and holding the top button. But the Boom 3 has simplicity, sturdy construction and satisfying sound. Driving drivers firing in all directions provides a wide soundscape, although the Boom 3 lacks the detail and sharpness of some of its rivals. But as an all-rounder, there’s a lot to like.
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If you’re looking to buy Sonos Roam, it’s important to keep your expectations reasonable. Speakers from bigger companies often deliver audio performance that sounds bigger and wider than you’d expect, but that’s not always the case with the little Roam. Don’t get me wrong: while it won’t fill a room with music, it’s more than capable of producing clear, dynamic sound if you’re sitting nearby or using it as a shower speaker.
The Sonos Roam is a small, highly portable Bluetooth speaker that integrates with the company’s popular whole-home audio platform. It also supports hands-free voice commands with Alexa or Google Assistant.
Roaming’s real selling point is its cleverness and tight integration with the Sonos whole-home audio platform. At home, Roam streams music over Wi-Fi for better accuracy than Bluetooth. You can seamlessly switch playback from the Roam to other nearby Sonos speakers with the push of a button, and it’s an inexpensive way to connect a player to your Sonos system—as long as your player supports Bluetooth. You can also easily group them with other Sonos speakers for multi-room playback. If you want to use Roam as a smart speaker, choose Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant for hands-free voice commands.
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Sonos recently released the slightly cheaper Roam SL, which does away with the built-in microphone. But unless you’re adamant about using a microphone on your gadget, I’d steer clear of the Roam SL. That only saves you $20, but you lose a lot of features like Trueplay’s automatic sound quality adjustment, the aforementioned Change Sound feature, and (obviously) all voice interactions. For $99 or $129, I can totally see it. But $159 is too much to ask for the Roam SL.
If you’re looking for something more powerful, the JBL Charge 5 is more powerful than the UE Boom in terms of size and audio reproduction. I’m not a fan of JBL putting a super-sized logo on their latest speakers; so much for subtlety. But if you don’t mind that aesthetic decision, the Charge 5 ticks a lot of functionality boxes.
It’s an endurance champion with up to 20 hours of continuous playback. Speaking of batteries, a unique trick the Charge 5 offers is its ability to charge external devices: there’s a USB-A port to top up your or a friend’s phone while you listen to music.
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The JBL Charge 5 is a powerful Bluetooth speaker with a marathon battery life of up to 20 hours. It also allows you to charge your phone using the built-in USB-A port.
My main gripe with the Charge 5 is its mono drive, which has to mix stereo content. If you’re dealing with portable mono speakers, the parts of some songs or instruments may not be as prevalent as with stereo speakers. And since the Charge 5 doesn’t sound as clean and detailed as the Bose SoundLink Flex, it’s even more noticeable here.
The Sony SRS-XB43 delivers powerful stereo sound with deep, resonant bass. Plus, you get a light show that goes along with the music. This speaker is more than capable of handling the soundtrack for an outdoor party — especially if you enable its extra bass mode.
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The Sony SRS-XB43 is a large Bluetooth speaker that’s perfect for indoor and outdoor parties. The powerful stereo drivers sound great with plenty of bass, and you also get a customizable light show.
It also has an auxiliary jack (rare around here), so anyone can plug in and play audio if you don’t want to deal with Bluetooth. But if you do, the XB43 also supports Sony’s LDAC codec, and like the JBL Charge 5, there’s a USB-A jack on the back to streamline your gear.
Headphone jacks are disappearing from most phones these days, and unfortunately, aux inputs are also disappearing from many Bluetooth speakers. But this one gives you the best of everything. It weighs six and a half pounds, so this isn’t a speaker you’re going to use
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