The future is cordless
Who had control of the aux cord used to be an ongoing argument at every house party or in every taxi; but as Bluetooth wireless speakers become ever more popular – the current question is: who’s connected to the speaker?
Wireless listening is easy, convenient and now it can sound bloody good. Gone are the days when you need a massive Hi-Fi setup to properly hear the bass – and now you can get everything you need in a portable (and sometimes waterproof) speaker.
NME has tested the best Bluetooth wireless speakers on the market, and picked our favourite products. Whether you want something that’ll float in the pool, or need to ensure you get exactly the right amount of bass – there’s a speaker for you.
THE ABSOLUTE BEST BLUETOOTH SPEAKER – UE MegaBoom, from £170.00
Sound Quality: 10/10
Ridiculously loud, an incredible depth of sound and a stylish look, all at a fantastic price – the UE Megaboom is the absolute best Bluetooth speaker on the market.
Look: Super cool – elegant, well designed and easy to use; and there’s a huge range of colours (the bright Plum and subtle Obsidian are particular favourites in the NME office).
Controls: The volume couldn’t be more obvious, as is the on and off and Bluetooth connection. There’s an accompanying app which you have to download if you want to use tap controls (this means you can tap the top of the speaker once to play or pause your tunes, and twice to skip the track) – which is surprisingly very intuitive and works really well – but it is a bit of a faff downloading the app.
Sound quality: The best: huge, rich sound. The mids are fantastic, great treble, and as you expect from UE product – huge booming bass.
Battery life: 20 hours from one charge.
Portability: A bit bigger than it’s younger siblings – but you can still just about chuck it in a rucksack when you’re on the go.
Waterproof? It’s IPX7 waterproof – which means you can submerge it for 30 minutes submerged at 1 metre – and the Megaboom is just small enough that you’ll be happy to pop in your bag and take it to the beach.
Connectivity: It connects in a matter of moments, and no dropouts.
Best Bit: The sound – for a truly portable Bluetooth speaker – this is as good as you’re going to get. Also it’s ab absolute steal at the moment at £170 – which is 32% off RRP (and a saving of £79.99!)
Worst Bit: It’s a bit pricier than other options – but well worth the money.
Bottom line: UE have created a fantastic product in the Megaboom – and when you bring in the value for money, look and sound – you really can’t do much better for a Bluetooth speaker.
THE BEST ON A BUDGET – JBL CLIP 2, from £35
Sound Quality: 7/10
Super lightweight, super portable – this is a brill budget option, and one you can easily travel with.
Look: Fairly small and robust, but the bright colours tend to wear, and then can look a bit cheaper.
Controls: The basics are easy; but it gets slightly more complicated when you want to skip tracks – as buttons double up (but once you get your head around that – it’s dead easy to use).
Sound quality: For something so small – the JBL Clip packs quite a punch. Yes, the bass could resonate a bit more and at it does struggle when the volume is cranked up – but at the price – you can’t really knock it!
Battery life: 8 hours – impressive for such a small product.
Portability: Incredibly lightweight, and comes with a carabineer so you can clip it onto the outside of your rucksack (if you so choose).
Waterproof? Yes – IPX7, so you can immerse the speaker up to a meter for 30 minutes: but it is a speaker that floats – so you’re going to be hard pressed to drown it and reach that limit!
Connectivity: Dead easy to connect, and no dropouts – even when submerged in water; and there’s also an integrated 3.5mm Audio Cable, for any products you have that may not have Bluetooth.
Best bit: The price and practicality!
Worst bit: It’s a budget product – and whilst it’s a very good budget product – the sound quality doesn’t compare to higher end speakers.
Bottom line: Want to impulse buy a decent speaker and not break the bank? You can’t get wrong with the JBL Clip 2.
THE BEST FOR POOLSIDE LISTENING – UE Wonderboom, from £79.00
Sound quality: 8/10
Another triumph from UE, the Wonderboom is a pocket powerhouse – with booming bass and rich sound.
Look: The simple design means that in “Phantom Black” the speaker look smart and svelte; but if you want to spice things up, try one of the funkier shades like Fireball Red or Subzero Blue.
Controls: As with all UE designs – the volume couldn’t be more obvious, as are on and off; but it gets a bit more complicated when you try to skip and pause songs – meaning you may stick to doing that bit on whatever you’re playing music from.
Sound quality: Incredibly good: the circular size means you get 360 sound, and even when in water the sounds is all right. Because of its crashing bass, it’s particularly good for hip-hop and house (Run the Jewels has never sounded better); but the subtle twangs of Joni Mitchell still sound pretty good.
Battery life: 10 hours from a single charge
Waterproof? IPX7 waterproof – which means you can submerge it in water up to a meter deep for 30 minutes (enough for a shower) – but the speaker floats – so don’t worry about dropping it and it sinking too far away.
Portability: The size of a grapefruit – this is one you can easily pop in your rucksack when you’re heading out to a picnic.
Connectivity: It doesn’t span as far as the 30 meters of connectivity they boast, but no there were no dropout issues once connected.
Best bit: Its practicality – it’s lightweight, great for outside with it’s 360 sound and robust build (we don’t recommend dropping your gadgets – but UE claim this one’s drop proof for 5 meters!) and if you get it dirty – it’s waterproof so you can wash it off: it’s basically the perfect holiday speaker.
Worst bit: If you have a bright shade – the colour can fade after excessive water use.
Bottom Line: This is a bit of a steal, for such a durable and fantastic sounding speaker; if you’re on a budget you can’t go wrong here.
THE BEST FOR TAKING ON ADVENTURES – BOSE SOUNDLINK MICRO, £99.95
The pocket sized SoundLink Micro is a pint-sized prodigy. We’re not quite sure how something so small produces such a massive sound – but we’re not complaining.
Look: Neat and simple, and small enough to fit in the palm of your hand. If you like your speakers bright go for the orange, if not, the black and navy are incredibly subtle.
Controls: Dead easy and self explanatory.
Sound Quality: The SoundLink Micro is tiny, and on the cheaper end of the market for a portable Bluetooth speaker; but somehow they manage to sound huge, with the amount of sound the tiny gadget gives off being frankly unbelievable. It doesn’t quite have the rich depth of sound some of the other Bose options do, but it does boast a massive bass and crisp sound.
Battery life: 6 hours from one charge.
Waterproof? IPX7 – which is 30 mins submerged at 1 metre; but Bose told us they submerged a speaker for 3 weeks, and it was still working when they took it out! It doesn’t float though – so be careful if you drop it in the sea.
Portability: The most portable speaker we tested – it’s crazy lightweight, with a clip so you can attach it to your rucksack (if you so wished).
Connectivity: Dead easy to connect, and within a close range there are no dropouts. When we tested it over a slightly further distance it began to glitch – so make sure your phone is within a couple of metres for optimum sound.
Best bit: It’s portability – it’s lightweight, waterproof and incredibly robust, so there’s no need to worry about dropping it (within reason).
Worst bit: The connectivity glitches.
Bottom line: If you’re somebody who is out and about a lot and wants to take their speaker with them, this is the ideal option. It’s great for clipping onto your bike or rucksack, and incredibly durable – so perfect for taking on your next adventures.
THE BEST FOR DESIGN – LIBRATONE TOO, £106.28
Sound Quality: 8/10
Look: The Danish brand has smashed the design – with the funky capsule shape and practical carry hook.
Controls: They’re easy and straightforward. The little Libratone logo is a neat touch-sensitive plate, so you can control the volume, play and pause, and skip tracks at the sweep of a finger.
Sound quality: Strong – but the bass can sound a bit tinny louder volumes; it isn’t quite as good as the UE equivalent, but is a good contender.
Battery life: 12 hours from one charge.
Portability: Very portable – super lightweight and durable.
Waterproof? Only splash proof (IPX4) – so don’t drop it in the pool.
Connectivity: Dead easy to connect
Best Bit: The touch-sensitive panel for controlling the music.
Worst Bit: The bass could be a bit more refined.
Bottom line: Fantastic looking with a strong sound – this is a speaker to get if you want to show it off – because it’ll fit with any elegant aesthetic.
THE BEST FOR TRAVELLING – UE Boom 2, from £116.00
Sound Quality: 9/10
UE have proven themselves the top dogs of wireless speakers. Whereas the Wonderboom is small and vibrant and fun, the Boom 2 is a bit more sophisticated in sound and look: but without sacrificing that killer bass.
Look: Elegantly made, with a host of different colours to pick from.
Controls: The volume, connectivity and on/off are super simple – it’s when you bring in the tap controls it gets a bit complex. You have to download the app to enable them – and then they’re a bit tricky to wrap you head around – but once you have they’re surprisingly nuanced.
Sound quality: Crisper than it’s Wonderboom younger brother, the Boom 2 is the sophisticated older sibling; with massive sound and their trademark bass. The accompanying app offers full control of the audio setting – allowing you to boost the bass and treble if needed – which is a neat touch.
Battery life: 15 hours from one charge.
Portability: Fairly lightweight and durable, this is another one you can chuck in your bag and go
Waterproof? It’s IPX7-equipped – meaning it can be dunked in water (up to a meter deep) for 30 minutes at a time – so there’s no problem if you want o listen in the shower or leave it outside in the rain.
Connectivity: Connects at a press of a button, and no dropouts at all.
Best bit: The sound – UE are the champions at getting a huge sound out of something tiny.
Worst bit: The tap controls can take getting used too (but they do mean you can skip songs you don’t want to listen to – something that lots of their rivals don’t offer!)
Bottom line: Another brilliant option from UE – the Boom 2 is the perfect travelling companion. Lightweight, durable but without sacrificing the sound.
THE BEST FOR BASS – JBL FLIP 4, £119.99
Sound Quality: 8/10
The JBL Flip 4 is waterproof and lightweight, with some surprisingly huge bass – perfect for any bassline junkies who just want to chuck it in your bag and have your tunes on the go.
Look: The black and grey versions are fairly innocuous, but in the bright aqua blue it does look a bit cheaper.
Controls: Fairly self-explanatory – like lots of JBL products the keys double up, so they take some getting used to.
Sound quality: They boast mega bass and punchy treble, and although at times could be more vibrant, they’re brill for the price. If you want to boost the volume you can used the JBL Connect app to pair several Flip 4s together, and have them either as the left and right channel, or just have them both playing the song.
Battery life: Up to 12 hours from a 3.5-hour charge.
Portability: Super lightweight – so you barely notice it’s in your bag if you’re taking it out and about.
Waterproof? The standard: IPX-7 waterproof – so you can immerse it up to a meter for 30 minutes – meaning you can blast your show tunes in the shower with no problems.
Connectivity: Press the Bluetooth button and it’ll appear in your Bluetooth devices imminently – you don’t even need to read the instructions to work this one out; but we had a few problems with connectivity over distance – trying to use it in the shower with the phone in a room six meters away caused glitching and drop outs, so this is one you have to keep the phone close to the speaker for.
Best bit: The excellent bass.
Worst bit: The connectivity glitches over long distances.
Bottom line: A great value speaker – which is perfect if you want to travel with it.
THE BEST FOR 360 SOUND – BOSE SOUNDLINK REVOLVE, £189.95
Sound Quality: 9/10
A lot of Bluetooth speakers now boast 360 sound – but none manage it quite as well as the Bose SoundLink.
Look: In silver (“Lux grey”) it does look a bit like a budget dalek; but if you plump for the “triple black” option it’s far more subtle piece of design.
Controls: Self explanatory and simple to use; and the speaker can easily take calls if you wanted to use it for that.
Sound quality: Excellent – this is Bose at their best. The speaker can handle getting loud, with brilliant buoyant detail, and no scrimping on the mids; and the 360-sound is some of the best on the market.
Battery life: 12 hours from a single charge.
Portability: You wouldn’t want to chuck it about as much as an UE product – but bung it in a case and this is a speaker you can easily carry about.
Waterproof? Water resistant (IPX4) – so it’ll survive the odd splash, but it’s not a speaker you can take to the beach.
Connectivity: It took us a few tries to connect; but once it is connected, it stays connected.
Best Bit: The brilliant 360 sound.
Worst Bit: It’s not fully waterproof.
Bottom line: For great sound that fills the room – you can’t beat it.
THE BEST LUXURY BUY – BEOPLAY A1, £199.99
Sound quality: 9/10
All elegance– this is the speaker you want in your swanky office. Looks class – still sounds badass
Look: Incredibly attractive design – the A1 is all svelte and elegance – you’ll be hard pressed to find a more beautiful speaker on the market.
Controls: A bit fiddly – in keeping with the A1’s elegant design the buttons are all fairly subtle (integrated around the speaker’s polymer bass, it’s not entirely obvious that they are buttons) – but you do quickly get used to them; and the accompanying Beoplay app is one of the best.
Sound quality: Full and detailed, the A1 isn’t just good looking, it’s good sounding too. Put on Justice and the electronic whirs and funky bass are crisp and detailed; swap to Stevie Wonder and it sounds as soulful as ever. And if you want to customize your sound to your mood – the Beoplay app is surprisingly nuanced, giving you the option to have your music sounding ‘warm’, ‘excited’, ‘relaxed’ and ‘bright’.
Battery life: 3 hour charge for 24 hours of play.
Portability: It’s not too heavy – and fairly small – but it’s the kind of speaker you may want to pop in a case before you chuck it in a rucksack with your keys.
Waterproof? No. It’s advertised as splash and dust resistant – but it’s better not to try it.
Connectivity: Excellent – simple to connect and no glitches, even a bit of a distance.
Best Bit: It’s great for taking calls: you can use this as a conference speaker for your phone (when connected via Bluetooth) or your computer (via a USB), and there’s an inbuilt microphone.
Worst Bit: It’s very expensive – and not something that you’d just to throw in your bag without a case.
Bottom line: A truly gorgeous product, and if you’re looking for a speaker that you can also use for work calls – you’re not going to find anything better than the A1.
THE BEST FOR LOOKING COOL – Marshall Stanmore II Voice, £349.99
Sound Quality: 8/10
Want a speaker that sounds good, but also looks bloody ace? Then this striking offering from Marshall is for you!
Look: Mimicking the look of Marshall’s classic guitar amp, this is one for all the rockers out there. A speaker and a design piece.
Controls: All built into the speaker, they’re clearly labelled and easy to use. And there’s the added benefit of the Marshall app with inbuilt Alexa, for those of you who like your speakers to be smart!
Sound quality: Crisp with good detail, Marshall have upped the sound quality on their latest range of speakers. With a booming bass and detailed mids, this speaker isn’t just about the look.
Battery life: None existent – this one needs to be plugged into the mains.
Portability: Not portable – sorry! This one needs mains power.
Waterproof? Not at all – so don’t go spilling your drinks on it at a house party.
Connectivity: It takes a little while to get used to connecting, but with a thorough read of the instructions it’ll become fairly straightforward. And the best thing is there’s several ways you can connect (Bluetooth, Wifi, and if you wanna get old school – aux!)
Best Bit: The look, it’s effortlessly stylish, and a real talking point.
Worst Bit: The lack of portability – if you want a speaker you can chuck in your bag on the go, this isn’t the one for you.
Bottom line: Marshall have really pulled it out of the bag for their new range of speakers, and the Stanmore II Voice is an excellent example of the company putting equal focus on style and substance. With first-rate sound quality and the wickedly cool look, this is a stellar speaker option.
THE BEST FOR INDULGING, Bowers & Wilkins T7, £299.00
With it’s elegant honeycomb design, and bright and vibrant sound, the T7 is a timeless looking and sound speaker.
Look: A classy design which will fit with your tastefully chosen shabby chic aesthetic – but some may think the gold option is just a bit too bling.
Controls: Dead simple to use, and seamlessly integrated into the speakers design. The play/pause button doubles up as the track skipper – but is the easiest to use of all the buttons of its kind that we tested.
Sound quality: Ridiculously good – but that’s what you expect from Bowers and Wilkins. The subtle details in Joe Goddard’s ‘Gabriel’ sound gorgeous, whereas Jamie T’s anthemic ‘The Mans Machine’ sounds epically huge; but the best thing is probably the massive bass – which never takes away from the detail in the mids and treble.
Battery life: 18 hours from a single 4 hour charge
Portability: Definitely portable; but you’ll want to buy a case if you’re going to be chucking it in your suitcase.
Connectivity: Self-explanatory connection, and remains connected with no issues
Best Bit: The trademark brilliant Bowers & Wilkins sound – these sound brilliant.
Worst Bit: The price – it is expensive.
Bottom line: Another practically perfect product from Bowers & Wilkins.
THE BEST FOR BIG SPENDERS, Ruark Audio MR1 MKII, £329.00
Sound Quality: 10/10
Look: Small and simple – the only set of double speakers on our list. The “soft grey” pair are a bit clinical, but the rich “walnut” version are all class and elegance.
Controls: There’s a remote control – but disappointingly that only allows you to swap between the inputs, turn them on and off, and control the volume, and to pair – there’s no scope for pausing or playing the music.
Sound quality: Practically perfect. The closest you’re going to get to proper Hi-Fi speakers from a Bluetooth option – from the rich musical landscapes of Bombay Bicycle Club, to the blistering, bass heavy Run the Jewels, these speakers make everything sound good.
Battery life: NA – these plug into mains.
Portability: Not portable at all, given that they plug into the mains. They certainly can’t just be chucked in your bag, and they’re just too big to fit in a suitcase for anything that isn’t a long term trip to once place.
Waterproof? Not at all.
Connectivity: It’s a simple connection, and no dropouts. There’s also the option to connect up an aux – and you can switch to that playout using the control
Best Bit: The amazing sound.
Worst Bit: The price – it’s a hefty sum of money.
Bottom line: If you want a brilliant pair of desk speakers, and can afford to splash the cash, then absolutely go for these.
So now you’re sorted: the best speakers for every occasion.