Bluetooth speakers are mighty convenient. There’s no need to put stylus to vinyl or insert a CD. Just press play on your phone, tablet or computer and you’re away. But how do you determine which the best Bluetooth speaker for you is?
The market is pretty wide, and while there are models to suit every taste, need and budget, how do you know that the stylish little number in the shop will sound as good as it looks?
UPDATE: The first ever Sonos portable speaker has a name: Sonos Move. The speaker has an internal battery that lasts up to 10 hours of playback and you can either connect devices via Bluetooth or it also works with Wi-Fi. It can also be charged via a charging base or through its USB-C port depending on whether you’re on the move or not. If that wasn't enough, it is also resistant to dust, water and sand so it should be able to actually handle the outdoors. It’ll cost you though, at £399, it’s not the cheapest Bluetooth speaker on the market.
Before we begin with the best Bluetooth speakers list, have a think about what you’re looking for. Do you need a solid mains-powered machine that works as your home’s music system or a portable device you can take with you anywhere?
Below you can read what we liked and disliked with all the Bluetooth speakers we tested but, for clarity, the best speakers for value we tested were the Bose SoundLink Revolve. The best speaker overall was the Naim Mu-so Qb
Best Bluetooth speaker: overall and best value
You can place the highly portable Bose SoundLink Revolve almost anywhere, thanks to its 360-degree sound, making it great for parties. The aluminium design looks good and is well built. Audio quality is terrific, with loud, controlled playback that is bright and appealing. It has a decent 16-hour battery life, too.
The Mu-so Qb distils much of Naim’s super-high-end audio expertise into a handsome and compact square with a pleasing statement design. It fills a room with music effortlessly, and has a bassy but detailed tone that does justice to every genre. Quite simply, it is a joy to hear.
Upvote of downvote your favourite, or least favourite, speakers in our shortlist below, or scroll down for the expert's view.
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The Shortlist: The best Bluetooth speaker for any budget
1. Bose SoundLink Revolve
The 360-degree sound from the Revolve is sprayed in every direction, so the speaker can sit in the middle of a room, for instance, and it’s designed to make the audio experience the same as you move around it. The speaker is made of anodised aluminium and has a rubber base that lets it stand in one spot, sturdy. Battery life is OK at around 12 hours, though the microUSB charging plug is slower than USB-C would be.
2. Bowers & Wilkins Zeppelin Wireless
A statement-design speaker, the Zeppelin is a big beast that has significant power, including a 50W subwoofer. It’s the latest in a series of similarly shaped speakers from B&W and has the same build quality as previous models. It is compatible with Apple AirPlay and Spotify Connect.
3. Ruark Audio MR1 Mk2
The British audio company Ruark designs classic speakers with cutting-edge sound quality. The MR1 Mk2 is made up of two separate speakers which can be placed wherever you like, for full stereo separation. It can also be used instead of a soundbar to improve the sound from your TV. The 20W amplifier works with a 75mm woofer and 20mm dome tweeter.
4. Bang & Olufsen Beolit 17
B&O’s design has an elegant aesthetic. The leather carry handle means the Beolit 17 is easily portable and has an advanced companion app. The audio is strong on bass, but not overpowering, and the unit is capable of significant volume. It has an aluminium case and rubber base. The battery can be used to charge other devices, too, and it’s big enough to run for 24 hours before it dies. Note that there’s no Wi-Fi connection in this speaker, it’s pure Bluetooth.
5. JBL Charge 4
Robust and water-resistant, the Charge 4 has a cylinder shape, boasts significant power and 20 hours’ playback. It has some useful features, too – you can charge a smartphone from it, for instance. Multiple JBL speakers can be connected together wirelessly (up to 100, since you ask) and it comes in a wide range of colours.
6. Apple HomePod
A smart speaker with strong audio credentials. The HomePod is capable and strikingly designed, pumping out sound that is not over-bassy. Pair two together for even better stereo quality. The Siri virtual personal assistant is not as efficient as some but is rigorously focussed on music, making it great for searching tracks and playing songs (over Wi-Fi).
7. Naim Mu-so Qb
Small but potent, the Mu-so Qb utilises audio smarts from very expensive high-end speakers, here delivered at a more affordable price. It’s still pricey, but the premium components may soften the financial blow. Multiple internal speakers are angled to create a wide soundstage. Despite its small size it delivers 300W of power. Replacement speaker grilles are available to buy in several colours.
The Expert's View
Extensive testing over two weeks means you can feel confident when we say that the best value Bluetooth speaker that will appeal to the most readers is the Bose SoundLink Revolve, thanks to its tremendous sound, classic design and room-filling sound that projects in every direction. If ultimate portability is less important, and you don’t mind paying more for amazing quality audio, the Naim Mu-so Qb is our best overall choice.
How we selected the best Bluetooth speakers to test
We set out to find products that would work in different environments. You might want your speaker to fill a room with rich sound or be portable enough to put it in your bag, ready to play music while you are at your desk or on the beach. And if you plan to travel with it – or perhaps listen in the bath – maybe water resistance is important too.
The outdoor Bluetooth speakers are battery-powered, so a long-lasting battery is important, as is how long it takes to recharge. After all, discovering your speaker needs to be plugged into the mains for at least another hour, just as your guests arrive, might take the shine off the evening.
We also chose speakers for their extra features. For example, are they compatible with the main music streaming services? Spotify has a feature called Spotify Connect which works over Wi-Fi, so we looked for speakers with Wi-Fi as well as Bluetooth. There are Bluetooth-only speakers on our list, and speakers with both forms of connectivity, but none with Wi-Fi alone.
Bluetooth speakers link to your computer, tablet and your mobile. This means, in many cases, they can double as speakerphones when calls come in. While we didn’t exclude speakers without this capability, when it was present, we tested how well they fared. Was the call quality decent, both for the listener at one end of the call and the speaker at the other? Was there a noticeable delay that made the call a less pleasant experience?
Price was an important consideration, too. After all, since you can buy an OK Bluetooth speaker for under £50, why should you spend more? But low price and good value are not the same thing, so we factored in design and build quality before deciding whether to include a product because it was pricey but brilliant, or to leave it out because it was affordable but terrible-sounding.
How we tested the best Bluetooth speakers
Above all, we looked for speakers with great sound quality, and began by playing the same tracks on each speaker, whether that was every tester’s essential listen (the Eagles’ live version of Hotel California) or for the punchy insistence of the title track from Broadway musical Dear Evan Hansen. For all tracks, we listened for clarity of the vocals, fidelity of the mid and upper tones, and the separation of the different audio elements. Where these were muddy or hazy, or when vocals sounded muffled, we marked the speaker down.
Additionally, we listened for how boomy the bass was, and whether it distorted at higher volumes. If so, we asked if this volume was one you would quickly reach at a dinner or a full-on party, for instance. How bright or dull was the tone? For classical music, we rated how distinct the orchestra’s instruments were, while for duets how separated the two singers sounded.
The tracks chosen ranged from light classical to heavy rock, musicals to spoken word, including audiobooks and podcasts.
Bluetooth speakers can sometimes be tiny, so in each case how wide was the soundstage? Did the music sound bigger than we’d expected from something so small?
Some speakers come with claims of water-resistance. We tested for this by placing them near and then in water, and checked that they worked again when they’d dried out, or even while wet.
Battery power was assessed by running the speaker at a reasonable volume until it conked out.
Set-up of gadgets with Bluetooth connectivity is much smoother than it once was, but isn’t always as simple as it should be. We checked how easy each model was to pair with several different music sources, how complicated it was to add more pairings and how quickly we could get the speaker to forget a phone or tablet.
Often speakers lack visual clues such as screens, so how intuitive were these to set up and use, and did the process involve long pauses for multiple button presses to achieve results?
Bluetooth is a wireless connection, so we tested just how far away we could walk from the speaker with a smartphone before the music faded out, and how solid the connection was when it had to pass through a wall or even a floor. On the whole, barriers were pretty effective at killing the sound, while clear air, even at a good distance, was no problem.
In some cases, as well as physical controls the speakers rely on dedicated apps to operate them. How intuitive is this app, how widely available is it and how often does it get updated?
Build quality and design is also important. With portable speakers especially, robustness is a consideration, especially if it has been designed to be chucked into a bag. That said, we checked that speakers not meant for carrying around were well made and would be long-lasting. So although great sound quality was vital, looks could not be ignored. A cheap-looking finish, even on keenly priced machines, was a no-no.
Best Bluetooth speaker reviews: The test results
For sheer audio quality, the best speaker on test is the mains-powered Naim Mu-so Qb. It delivers powerful sound from a reasonably-sized cube. It also has the most luxurious and elegant design. Of course, this excellence comes at a price.
The Bose SoundLink Revolve, while not the cheapest Bluetooth speaker around, is our best value choice for its clear, rich tone, strong bass and a design that emits true 360-degree audio that made it a consistently enjoyableexperience. It also looks good and has great portability, coupled with decent battery life.
The classy-looking Bang & Olufsen Beolit 17 has a quoted battery life of up to 24 hours, although our tests revealed it fell a little short of that. The sound isn’t as 360-degree as the Bose, but it still sounds and looks great from most angles.
The JBL Charge 4 has up to 20 hours of playback and is water resistant, so it can survive if it topples into the kitchen sink. It’s small and light enough to be carried anywhere, and rugged enough to be thrown into a bag. It’s also versatile, with decent features.
Almost as portable but with a bigger, bassier sound to match its larger design, the Ultimate Ears Megaboom 3 is a bit heftier than many portable speakers and comes in a range of colour options from gaudy to demure.
The Bowers & Wilkins Zeppelin Wireless is an expensive choice, but it’s a great-sounding speaker with impressive stereo separation and room-filling volume. Its looks are very striking, so much so that it may divide opinion, but at least it’s recognisable.
Apple’s smart speaker, the HomePod, is smaller though still capable of producing rich, subtle and delicate music, as well as making a decent amount of noise. This is a great speaker though there’s one caveat – it can’t be your first Apple device as it needs an Apple ID for set-up and works best if you have a subscription to Apple Music. Of course, you can always play music from other devices through the Bluetooth connection.
Ruark Audio is a leading British audio company, and its MR1 Mk2 has a retro look with two discrete speakers in pleasing wooden cabinets (choose from grey lacquer or walnut veneer) connected by a two-metre audio cable. This offers versatility of placement and, therefore, a wide soundstage. Crisp mid-range and solid bass typify the sound produced here.
If you want something that makes a statement, the Sony SRS-XB41 is an eye-catching speaker thanks to its flashing LEDs. You can also persuade it to emit sound effects by hitting the speaker in a curious but fun Party mode. Although the sound here isn’t as delicate as its rivals, it’s big on bass. It’s also extremely well-built and robust.
For those seeking a subtler design, the Denon Envaya DSB-250T is good looking but not attention-grabbing. It’s powerful and noisy when you want it to be and has the flexibility that comes with water-resistance and tough build quality. Although small, it’s capable of decent stereo separation.
Best Bluetooth speaker reviewed:
Naim Mu-so Qb review
Naim is a high-end brand that makes audio equipment often costing tens of thousands of pounds. But it also produces speakers like this which, while still expensive, are much more affordable.
The Naim Mu-so Qb is a brilliant Bluetooth speaker. It’s the smaller, more affordable sibling of the Naim Mu-so, but like the bigger version it looks stylish and sounds tremendous.
Its small and square design is cubey (Qb) – get it? – with a base that lights up and a solid, aluminium back that doubles as a heat sink to keep it cool. The speaker grille has a wavy shape and can be swapped from black to a distinctive orange finish (note that alternative grilles cost extra). A big volume dial sits on the top of the speaker that is solid and turns with a satisfying weight. In short, it looks good.
Set-up is straightforward but not as slick as with Sonos or Apple models, for example. Operation is also easy, using the Naim app on your smartphone to switch between music sources such as Bluetooth, Spotify and so on.
Inside are tweeters, drivers and a woofer, angled in different directions to create a wider sound than you’d expect from such a small machine – though not as wide as two separate speakers, of course. It supports Spotify Connect and Apple AirPlay, amongst others, so you can easily access a wide range of services.
So far, so good, but it’s when you start listening that the power becomes apparent, and it is genuinely impressive for something so small. There is plenty of bass but it doesn’t overpower the vocals or mid-notes. Voices stay consistently front-and-centre and are both clear and clean, making for an appealing and faithful sound.
It’s a mains speaker so you need to unplug it before you can move it to another room, but it’s light enough to be portable while still heavy enough to feel solid and reliable.
You can add more Naim Mu-so or Mu-so Qb speakers to create a multi-room system, though obviously this will cost serious money. But on its own, the Qb effortlessly fills a room with sound. It’s a very impressive speaker.
Best value Bluetooth speaker reviewed:
Bose SoundLink Revolve review
The Bose SoundLink Revolve has a quiet but striking design that allows it to work more or less wherever you put it. This is deliberate because the speaker is designed to deliver 360-degree audio – meaning that wherever you are in the room, you’ll get the same sound, even if you’re moving about. It’s a perfect mix of great audio and a reasonable price.
It’s nicely proportioned and offers a good balance between the size of the gadget and the size of the sound it produces. The aluminium body looks and feels very appealing and the buttons on the top are easy to use. It won’t slip, even on a smooth surface, thanks to a rubber ring underneath the base. In addition to the buttons there’s a microphone on top. You can take calls hands-free when your smartphone is connected. The microphone also works if you want to address your smartphone’s virtual personal assistant, such as Siri or Google Assistant.
The sound is exemplary, with real clarity to the vocals. Bass is decent wherever you put the Revolve, but it benefits from a wall nearby that it can bounce the audio off. It’s a rich, controlled sound that rarely distorts or loses precision, and the 360-degree feature means the soundstage is wide and expansive. The SoundLink Revolve serves up a sound that’s faithful to the original material, and is versatile enough that this is true whether you listen to intense classical music or light jazz.
There’s some water-resistance here but not full waterproofing – a splash won’t trouble it but a dunking might.
Battery life is between 12 and 16 hours, which is decent rather than exceptional, and it takes a long time to recharge fully.
Comparing the rest on test
Small but powerful is a trend amongst many of the speakers on test, like the Denon Envaya DSB-250T. It has a deceptively modest style that belies the power inside. Still, volume isn’t everything, and the Denon is capable of subtlety as well as oomph.
Sony’s SBS-XB41 is a great party machine. While it can’t match the advanced sonics of the Bose SoundLink Revolve, it is just as likely to be the centre of attention thanks to the disco light effects it can deliver. The sound is as noticeable, too, with lots of bass. It has some water resistance and can survive for half an hour in up to a metre of water – useful if the party gets out of hand.
Another portable speaker, but one that’s significantly heavier, is the Bang & OlufsenBeolit 17, which combines elegant and solid design with a lot of bass (more than you’d expect from the speaker’s size) and enough volume for an outdoor party.
If that outdoors involves a swimming pool, then you might want something as fully water-resistant as the Ultimate Ears Megaboom 3, which not only survives water but floats on it.
The JBL Charge 4 doesn’t float but it can cope with a ducking, and much else, as it’s very solidly made. Like the Megaboom, bright colours are part of the deal here, and the speaker comes with a regular cable input so you can connect wired MP3 and even portable CD players to it, as well as phones via Bluetooth.
Smart speakers like the Apple HomePod offer extra features like voice commands, but of all of those with virtual assistants hiding inside, it’s this one that really manages the task of sounding high-quality – one of very few smart speakers that can actually work as your home hi-fi. Two paired together sound amazing.
You get two speakers as standard when you purchase the Ruark MR1 Mk2, and the proper stereo performance they produce as a result sounds strong, detailed and exciting.
While Bowers & Wilkins’s Zeppelin Wireless lacks the stereo separation of the Ruark, it is so big and the audio elements inside so carefully arranged that the audio is full, sumptuous and almost as wide as the sound the Ruark delivers.
Any Bluetooth speakers to avoid?
Not all speakers are created equal. A low price usually means cheaper components and almost always translates into poor build quality, meaning they’re more likely to fail or take damage. There are speakers – not featured here but tested along the way – which are known for their build deficiencies, such as power buttons which don’t depress properly so you can only turn them on or off with difficulty.
If it’s a portable speaker, resilience is more important than ever, as throwing it into a backpack will be a frequent occurrence. Similarly, be wary of water-resistance claims – apart from the models here which boast IP (ingress protection) levels, it’s still worth taking a little care near water to avoid getting any speaker wet. Better safe than sorry.
Size isn’t everything either, as our overall choice proves, but on the whole the smaller the speaker the lower the audio power, so if you choose something because it’s the ultimate in light weight and tiny size, you are likely to be sacrificing sonic virtuosity.