We Tested 18 Bluetooth Speakers, You Can’t Go Wrong With These 4

We Tested 18 Bluetooth Speakers, You Can’t Go Wrong With These 4

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CNN —  

A great portable speaker is more than just roadworthy — it needs to sound pretty damn good wherever you go. Whether you’re listening quietly while catching up on summer reading or getting the party started, it needs to put out clear and crisp audio, with enough battery life to make it through the day.

To make your path to purchasing easier, we’ve spent the past month testing 18 speakers to find the best for your needs and budget. After countless tests and many hours spent rocking out to a lot of great music, we’ve found four speakers that rose to the top.

Best all around portable speaker

The UE Boom 3 gives you robust, 360-degree sound in a waterproof, dustproof canister that you can take everywhere. It’s pretty much everything you could want in a Bluetooth speaker for $149.99.

Best travel pick

Sony’s XB13 is the first piece of tech we’d throw in our bag this summer. This compact speaker pushes out sound much larger than its size, and the built-in cloth strap lets you securely attach it to a backpack, bike handlebars, or anywhere you want music.

Upgrade pick

The Sonos Roam is both a super-portable Bluetooth speaker and a full-featured Sonos satellite, so it fits into your home multi-speaker setup and lets you bring your music on the go. As you’d expect from Sonos, it delivers strong sound quality and plenty of adjustability.

Budget pick

The Tribit Stormbox Micro is a near-perfect speaker for its $50 price. It’s unassuming square build features a strong rubber strap on that back for easy attachment anywhere and the battery gives you eight hours of playback. Sound quality is surprisingly good for the small size.

Jacob Krol/CNN

UE Boom 3

From strong sound to long battery life, the UE Boom 3 checks off all the boxes. Housed in a cylindrical canister just over 7 inches tall, it’s small enough to take with you (about the size of a water bottle) but puts out enough high-quality sound for almost any situation.

You can customize the Boom 3 in hundreds of color and design combinations. From hot pink with purple accents to a muted lavender (like the Boom 3 we’ve been testing) you’re sure to be able to match your tastes. A small cloth hook on the rear lets you hang the Boom 3 on a hook or clip a carabiner in. The bottom has a standard tripod thread if you want to mount the Boom 3. And on the rear, under a waterproof rubber door, is a Micro USB port for charging. This is outdated at this point, and one of the Boom 3’s few downsides. A wireless charging dock is available separately, but we’d prefer an up-to-date connector here too. Please, Ultimate Ears, switch it to USB-C.

The Boom 3 has an IP67 rating, meaning it’s dustproof and can handle being immersed in water up to 1 meter deep for 30 minutes. You wouldn’t want to take it snorkeling, but it can withstand splashes, make it through any hike or camping trip and take a dip in the pool.

Using the Boom 3 is as simple as its visual design. Two large, easy-to-press volume controls are on the front, with all other controls accessed via two buttons at the top. The smaller button at the top turns the Boom 3 on or off — and we love the quick bongo beat when you turn it on. It’s a taste of the sound quality to come. The more prominent button (UE calls it the “Magic” button) controls all other functions. A single push will play or pause. A triple tap skips and long-press resumes playback to a preset playlist. Via the Boom & Megaboom app for Android or iOS, you can choose that playlist from Amazon Music, Apple Music or Deezer. It’s a fun feature, but not a necessary one.

Jacob Krol/CNN

Connecting the Boom 3 to Bluetooth took a matter of seconds with an Android or iPhone. After that we hit play on “Good 4 U” by Olivia Rodrigo to hear the smooth opening bass line; her vocals were clear before the instrumental track built into a loud clash of a climax. Boom 3 offers clear separation between instruments and we only heard any distortion with a lower-quality track at super-high volumes. It’s impressively clear sound from a speaker this small. And the Boom 3 gets quite loud — at 50% we could easily fill a small room in an apartment and 100% let’s us hear it throughout the space. It pushes sounds out in a 360-degree format, so you can put it anywhere and still get good sound. And it’s not just good for pop-punk; a track like “Fire” by Bruce Springsteen displays how the Boom 3 can tackle a more subtle mix — we could easily distinguish the opening bass and guitar tones before Springsteen’s vocal, drums and piano enter. If you want a stronger sound you can easily pair or group the Boom 3 with any other UE speaker.

For moments when you want to increase the bass or any aspect of the mix, the Boom & Megaboom app will be your best friend. And it’s an aspect that lets the Boom 3 stand out from the plethora of speakers we tested. You get a full equalizer to play with and customize on the fly. UE offers a few presets like “cramped spaces” or “voices” and leaves you with one “custom” mode that will save your selections. We just wish you could save multiple EQ mixes.

It’s disappointing that the Boom 3 charges with Micro USB, but you won’t need to grab the included cord that often. In our testing, the Boom 3 lasted for a substantial 14 hours at 60% volume. Quite impressive for a speaker of this size. The UE Boom 3 lasted longer than other speakers that were closer to the $200 price point.

At $149.99 the Boom 3 gives us what we’re looking for in a Bluetooth portable speaker and we have no doubt it will be blasting tunes for a long, long time.

Jacob Krol/CNN

Sony XB13

If we could pick one piece of tech to bring with us on the road this summer, without question it would be the Sony XB13. This fist-size speaker punches far above its weight with rich and crisp sound in a package that wants to go with you.

The Sony XB13 is really compact at just over 4 inches tall and weighs in at half a pound, lighter than some phones. A cloth strap lets you attach the speaker to a backpack, tote bag or suitcase, and makes it easy to carry on its own all day, which we did repeatedly on train and car trips. A rubber grip on the bottom ensures the XB13 won’t move or topple over with bass-heavy tracks, and it’s IPX7 rated, meaning it can survive for as long as 30 minutes in up to a meter of water. (Sony doesn’t give a dust protection rating, so your mileage may vary for desert camping.)

You get your pick of black, taupe, navy blue, pinkish orange and powder blue finishes. The speaker is mounted facing the top of the unit, while a passive radiator dispenses bass tones from the bottom of the case. Despite the XB13’s small size, it can fill smaller rooms — like a bathroom — with relative ease. In fact, if you’re looking for a speaker to accompany your singing in the shower the XB13 certainly made our vocals sound better. The XB13 offers clear and rich sound that lets you hear all aspects of a song. “Good 4 U” by Olivia Rodrigo sounded full, “Fire” by Bruce Springsteen offered a precise mix and “What’s Going On” by Marvin Gaye reassured us that the XB13 could handle a range of tones at varying volumes without apparent distortion. Even at 100% volume, low, mid and high tones came across clearly with no added crackling. For bigger sound, you can sync multiple XB13s in party mode.

The XB13 is a seriously long-lasting speaker, lasting a full 15 hours in our battery test. That’s just 30 minutes of Sony’s promised 16 hours and means the XB13 is the longest-lasting speaker out of any of our top picks. That also doubles down on the fact that it is perfect for traveling.

You can enable Bluetooth pairing by turning the XB13 on and then holding in the Bluetooth button for a second or two. After that, connect to it from your device and you’re set. All of the on-device controls are housed in a rubber strip. It’s a very tactile experience and makes it easy to find the buttons without looking. Behind a rubber door, you’ll find the USB-C port. Lastly, the XB13 has built-in microphones that let you use it for speakerphone. It’s louder than an iPhone, Google Pixel or Samsung Galaxy and lets those on with us hear us clearly on cellular or VoIP calls.

For $59.99, the Sony XB13 is a great ultra-portable Bluetooth speaker. It might not get as loud as our other picks, but it offers rich sound and extremely long battery life in a super-portable size.

Jacob Krol/CNN

Here’s the best thing about the Sonos Roam — it’s not just your average portable speaker with Bluetooth connectivity; it’s a full-featured Sonos speaker that integrates with the broader Sonos ecosystem and can be used with all of the other Sonos devices in your home setup. And rest assured, it does indeed sound like a Sonos.

It resembles the UE Boom 3, our overall pick, standing about 7 inches tall, though a bit more of a triangular prism in profile. Roam is available in Shadow White or Lunar Black. Like the UE Boom 3 and Sony XB13, the Roam is an IP67-rated speaker, so it can survive a dip in the pool. A UV coating means you can leave it out in the sun without the finish cracking.

Unlike the Boom, its drivers face front, so it doesn’t feature 360-degree sound coverage, but you can use it vertically or horizontally. Four foot-like bumps in the body on one side make it easy to rest securely in landscape mode.

Core controls — microphone, volume down, play/pause, volume up — live on the top, while a power button and USB-C port for charging live on the back. You can also charge the Roam by placing it on any Qi wireless charger. Sonos also sells a charger that doubles as a stand for $49.99. In our testing, the Sonos Roam lasted for 10 hours and can stretch over multiple days with standby. It’s refreshing, especially at this price point with this many features.

To set up the Roam, you’ll need to download the Sonos app and sign in with an account or create one (the account is free, though some of the services require paid subscriptions). Turn the Roam on, and you’ll get a prompt in the app to set up the Roam. You’ll either scan it via NFC on your phone or have it listen for a tone. That will complete the pairing and you’ll be ready to go. Like any other Sonos speaker, when you’re at home, it will primarily use Wi-Fi, or you can use AirPlay if you’re streaming from an Apple device. You can use the Sonos app to pick music from hundreds of services (Spotify, Apple Music, Sirius XM, Pandora and Sonos Radio included) or can even use an assistant to ask for music. The Roam features microphones that let you use Amazon Alexa or the Google Assistant.

You can only use the Sonos app’s nifty features like universal search across different platforms while you are connected to your home Wi-Fi network. On the go, the Roam functions like any other Bluetooth speaker (or via AirPlay if you are connecting from an iPhone or iPad). You can still stream content from a variety of services, but you’ll be using the individual apps for each over LTE or 5G.

That said, Bluetooth pairing is simple (you enable it by holding in the power button). We had no connectivity issues with Bluetooth and, similarly, none when using Wi-Fi. We’d also call out that Roam had a wide range of Wi-Fi connectivity. It worked deep into our backyard and out on a patio.

Jacob Krol/CNN

We have no doubt you will be impressed by the Roam’s rich sound, which helped make it our upgrade pick, wide range of services aside. Roam can bring any track to life while also getting seriously loud. At 60% volume, it could fill several rooms in our apartment and at 100%, it could be heard outside in the hallway with the door closed. Audio doesn’t distort either — “Born to Run” by Bruce Springsteen with its wall-of-sound effect held up strong, letting us hear drums, saxophone, guitar, piano and vocals all without swirling together. Similarly, “Good 4 U” by Olivia Rodrigo came through with forceful sound from the electronic beats to Rodrigo’s vocals.

You can also use the Sonos app to customize the mix via an equalizer, or you can depend on TruePlay, which uses the onboard microphones to adjust EQ to compensate for your listening environment.

For $169.99, the Sonos Roam packs some serious value and stretches farther with functionality than other speakers we tested. It can be a sm

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We tested 18 Bluetooth speakers, you can’t go wrong with these 4

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