Hands-On: Bluetooth Speakers

If you’re in the market for a portable speaker that you can easily toss in your bag on a daily basis, you’ve got quite a few options. The portable Bluetooth speaker market is blowing up right now, and you can get a solid music-blaster for a reasonable amount of cash. We gathered a bunch of different speakers, tested them all out here at the Cool Material offices, and found out which ones are actually worth your money.



Jawbone Jambox

The Jambox from Jawbone is probably the best-known Bluetooth speaker on the market, and it gets a lot right. It basically set the standard for design – one that others have tried duplicating with little success – and it is still on the smaller side (a plus for portability). The ability to customize settings and sounds with Jawbone’s MyTalk is a nice plus that many others don’t have. On the downside, the bass leaves a lot to be desired, the audio isn’t quite as full as you’d hope, and the volume is just on par with most other speakers. Still, for $129, you could do a lot worse than the stylish Jambox. $129 Amazon Jawbone’s Website




Lowdi

This French offering displayed a nice range of highs and lows that outperformed most others we tested, and, while not perfect, it offered decent bass. So, you could say the sound overall was above average outside of overall volume and when being used as a speakerphone. Our issues mainly reside in the design. It felt cheap. The directions were printed right on the bottom which, while we guess useful, really felt a bit tacky, and the adhesive holding the rubber bumper on was poor at best. $130 Amazon Lowdi’s Website




Native Union SWITCH

The bigger size of SWITCH from Native Union does mean this speaker offers more hours of music on one charge than most others we tested. Of course, this comes at the cost of portability. SWITCH was easily the biggest of the speakers we tested, and while we hoped that would mean it would provide the best sound, that wasn’t the case. The audio came off slightly tinny at times and could never get loud enough for our liking. The nice thing about SWITCH is that it also acts as a portable power bank so you can charge your devices off of it in a pinch, and it was solid as a speakerphone. Still, overall, we were hoping for more from the largest of the speakers. $150 Amazon Native Union’s Website




Outdoor Tech Turtle Shell

The Turtle Shell from Outdoor Tech provides something that no other speaker on this list does, legit outdoor portability. It can be mounted on a bike, golf cart, or other ride with the Turtle Claw (not included) and it has threading to put it on a tripod as well. The bass is pretty good thanks to the hollow bottom, the sound was decently full, and obviously it is pretty sweet looking. For a ride on your fixie, it’s a far better option than duct taping a Jambox to your handlebar. That said, it isn’t perfect. Once again, the volume left a lot to be desired (fine for a ride, but not for filling a good sized space) and it isn’t a great option as a speakerphone. $150 Amazon Outdoor Tech’s Website




Logitech UE

The compact and affordable UE Mobile Boombox from Logitech was a delightful little surprise. Not only was it the cheapest and smallest Bluetooth speaker we tested, but it was also the best. It offers good sound range, respectable bass, and can pump out a bit more oomph than most others. Taking into consideration the price and the fact that it’s super tiny (a good thing when it comes to a portable speaker), you won’t find a better value. $100 Amazon Logitech’s Website




Braven 625s

The Braven 625s is nice, but is it a hundred and eighty dollars nice? From a pure speaker point-of-view, the Logitech UE outperforms it for 80 bucks less. That said, there are a lot of niceties in the rugged looking Bluetooth speaker. First of all, it does offer 16 hours of playtime which just about tops all the speakers on this list. It also, like the Native Union SWITCH, can charge your phone thanks to the built-in power bank. Unlike SWITCH, it also comes with an LED flashlight that it can power via USB. It’s ideal for taking on an adventure or camping trip. Unfortunately, for everyday use, it is just okay. The volume leaves a bit to be desired, and when you really pump it, the audio distorted a bit too much for our liking. If you happen to be looking for a speaker to toss in your camping bag, it’s perfect (or even look at their other BRV-1 model), and the speakerphone was super clear. If you’re looking to plop a speaker in your office, however, there are other options. $180 Amazon Braven’s Website




Jabra Solemate

We like that the Jabra Solemate looks different. We respect that. Its shoe-like design is unique and the tread on the bottom actually holds a 3.5mm cord which is a nice little feature. The sound is fairly crisp and overall just a bit better than most of the speakers tested (probably since it has three front facing speakers). It’s good, not spectacular, but good. $150 Amazon Jabra’s Website




By Related Items: Features, Speakers.


Shop+Sponsors

  • Hondo

    Of the ones listed in this article, I have only tried the Jawbone and the Jabra. For my money the JBL Flip has the best price/performance ratio. It costs about $110, is just slightly larger than the Jawbone but sounds a lot cleaner and will play louder. The Flip plays LOUD and the fidelity is excellent (relative to the Jawbone & Jabra). The real high end option is the Soundmatters foxL. I bought one and ended up returning it because it just won’t play loud enough. It is very small, but sounds great musically. The volume will not allow for anything more than close listening. It tries to crank out the base and will actually vibrate itself off of the table if you are not careful. It comes with a vibration pad, but even that doesn’t work. I ended putting it on 2 Vibropods (audio geeks know what I’m talking about). It runs closer to $240 and for the money I was expecting a little more. At that point you might as well go for the Bose Soundlink at $299, but it is much much bigger and you aren’t going to carry it around.

  • John M

    soundfreaq”s excellent sound kick should surely be considered here, and bests most if not all of these in both sound quality, and value (99$)

  • jwinstonc

    Nice comparison. But, no JBL Flip? Seems to be the reigning king of this product category. I checked out the Flip vs. the UE at a Best Buy recently and it was no comparison. The sound quality of the Flip was much better at the same price.

  • cheese

    Bose Soundlink is outstanding

  • Miles

    Exogear’s water proof speaker is sick for the shower.

  • Miles

    Ecoxgear, sorry

  • Ted Rosner

    The Native Union SWITCH looks the best be far!!!

  • Fred Mann

    A review on portable speakers and no mention on battery life?? What’s the reviewer thinking??!!! I know for a fact that the Logitech battery is awful compared to some of the others – maybe with battery life included the result would have been different!! From the sound of it the switch comes off best in that category…. Any one know where we can go and check one out??

  • Fred Mann

    I agree!!

  • Tim Robinson

    Ummmm – not sure what planet this reviewers from – as far as I know (according to the Sales Rep at CES in Jan) the Switch is the only one with an Active-Bass, all the others have passive bass meaning they aren’t powered – how then can the Switch have the lowest bass score?! I know for a fact it is noticeably better than the Jambox (also at CES) – not sure how it compares to the others….

  • esc

    I’m with you John. The SoundKick hits the sweet spot, best sound, good battery life, the only negative for me is the size, but even that is not a show stopper.

  • Rasmus

    So you guys decided not to review the beats pill?

  • PAUL

    Boombot Rex all day.

  • http://theunpublished.tumblr.com Joey Nowak

    Thanks for doing this. I’ll be in the market for speakers soon, and it helps to have this to reference.

  • razz

    I agree. I own a logitech UE boombox, which according to this review bests all the others at bass output. far from it. when compared with a jabra solemate, the jabra had clearly a better bass performance, even though the overall sound was a bit muddier. never tested the native union switch, but it’s on my list.