- Buyer's Guide
The Best Portable Bluetooth Speakers for Travel, Tested
I love music. Can’t live without it. It doesn’t matter where I am: office, in transit or home. I’ve always got sweet grooves washing through my headphones. So when I travel, be it weekends away or international voyages, I need not only great tunes, but great sound quality. It’s super important to me.
And sure, in most traveling scenarios headphones work well for solo music appreciation, but sometimes I want to fill a room or a poolside with waves of sound. Invite people over. Get a ‘vibe’ going. Cut loose a little, you know? And that’s when a portable bluetooth speaker comes into play. Something small and compact (and hopefully waterproof) that’s easy to pack, but can push out one heck of a jam at ample levels, cleanly and crisply, for a good stretch of time.
So, in the search for the best portable bluetooth speakers for travel, I’ve sourced the very best, to pit them against each other, in the hope of finding… well, the best option for most people.
Here’s my shortlist.
Tough, waterproof, and compact, the JBL Clip 3 is designed to offer a lot in a little package. It includes a carabiner to attach it to clothing or a bag, with lots of colorways to suit your own style. In addition to its IPX7 waterproof rating you get 10 hours of playtime, plus an inbuilt noise and echo-cancelling speakerphone. And it’s not too pricey either, coming in at US$59.95.
The JBL Flip 4 costs a little more than the Clip 3, with a price tag of $79.95. But you get up to 12 hours of battery life and can wirelessly connect up to two smartphones or tablets to take turns as DJ. The Flip 4 has an IPX7 waterproof build and provides a noise and echo-cancelling speakerphone for clear calls. And if you feel the desire (unlikely, but who knows where a party might lead), you can wirelessly link over 100 JBL Connect+ enabled speakers for one heck of an amplified tune session. And the Flip 4 also allows button activation for Siri or Google Now.
An understated design, 360-degree sound, a waterproof IPX7 rating (and it floats), a respectable 10 hours of battery life, and all for $45.99? The Anker Motion Q is firmly set on showcasing that you don’t need to break the bank in order to enjoy functional, versatile design.
The Ultimate Ears Wonderboom has plenty of great features in a burly design that lets you showcase your personality a little, with a wide range of colorways to choose from (because sometimes you want something a little different to black, ya know?). It’s got an IPX7 waterproof rating, it floats, and aims to deliver 360 degrees of sweet tunes for up to 10 hours. All yours for the cost of $99.99.
Small but mighty, the SoundLink Micro aims for quality sounds in a rugged, waterproof and easily portable form. It comes with an IPX7 waterproof rating, speakerphone capabilities, and Siri and Google Assistant voice command. For portability it also includes a tear-resistant silicone strap that can secure to bikes, bags and more. Price-wise the SoundLink Micro will set you back $99.95.
Again, if you’re looking for more volume, and don’t mind the size / weight penalty, an upgrade to their Revolve is certainly recommended.
At $179.95 the Beats by Dre Pill+ is the most expensive speaker on the list. So what do you get for the money? A sleek and durable style that adapts to diverse environments and adds a little suave to your music setup. Up to 12 hours of battery life. And the ability to charge your phone or similar devices, as the speaker doubles as a battery pack. The music can be controlled from two separate Bluetooth sources and you can tag-team with a second Pill+ to play simultaneously from both speakers. Worth noting though is that unlike the others on the list, it’s not waterproof.
First, I pinpointed the key elements of what makes an excellent travel speaker and ordered them in a table from highest to lowest priority as below (granted, your criteria may look a little different from mine, but this should act as a solid base). And then measured, weighed, listened, dunked and dropped my way to a result.
Sound quality / strength
This is my number one. Not only am I looking for quality of sound across the entire spectrum, from lows to mids to highs, but also strength of sound. Sound that can fill a room (and not crackle or distort when pushed to its limits). So I locked myself and a few friends in a room, blindfolded ourselves, and scored each speaker on its ability to nail this playlist – filled with Classic Rock (mids), Soul (mids and highs), RnB (highs) and Hip-hop and Dance (lows) – and here are the averaged scores.
Size and weight
When traveling anywhere, the space in your bag is at a premium. And when lumping your bag onto a plane, be it carry-on or checked, its weight (or lack thereof) is also a defining factor. So speakers that swallow as little space and tip the scales as little as possible get big points here, no doubt.
Space it’ll take up in your bag
Nothing hurts more than a speaker running out of juice mid-playlist. Sure, if you’re hotel-bound and near an outlet then you can simply plug it in and carry on. But if you’re on a boat or around a campsite, then it’s the pits. So a long battery life goes a long way (quite literally) in certain circumstances.
Durability / Protection against the elements
Can my speaker of choice survive dust or dirt swirling about? Can it survive a drop from a tabletop? Can it survive a dive into the pool or ocean… and will it float so I can retrieve it? All questions most of us will ask ourselves before or after we elbow our speaker of choice off of the tiki bar.
Murphy’s law. This. Will. Happen. Be prepared.
Personally, all I want is a compact speaker that chucks out great sound that will last me a long time, period. But I’m a simple man with simple needs. Other folks care a whole lot about features like speaker phone adaptability or voice activation or being able to pair your speaker with another sister speaker or one hundred other sister speakers like the below JBL Flip 4 (for the record, I think the latter is kinda cool but totally impractical).
Sure, a speaker can be small and light, but is it easy to carry? This doesn’t matter so much if you’re looking for something strictly for your Airbnb or poolside, but if you’re thinking trail or bike, then a speaker that can latch on for the ride, hands-free, is a plus.
Not a huge deal for me because most of the speakers here have ample range but certainly something worth considering if you’re likely to be a good distance away from your speaker.
The best portable bluetooth speaker?
The SoundLink Micro scores our Editor’s Pick with a well-rounded design and feature set. It feels ultra-premium in the hand, with Bose’s signature world-class sound quality offering very minimal distortion even when the volume is maxed out. It’s the perfect size and weight for travel use, with added portability for extra points. And importantly, it’s well protected against drops (you won’t even cringe when you drop it) and water.
Granted, if I wanted to throw a big party I’d upgrade to the SoundLink Revolve or pair two Micros. It’s lovely sound and bursts forth volume that’s totally ample for traveling or chilling, but you’ll want something with more grunt if you want to throw a real shindig.
Scoring the Best Budget Option nod is the Anker Motion Q. The design is very subdued and good for professionals, with a durable build. The IPX7 waterproof rating is a definite benefit too, enabling full submersion up to 1 metre for up to 30 minutes. Plus it floats in water, so you’ve got ample opportunity and time to retrieve it if disaster strikes. The speaker’s buttons are also easy to press and the X2 pairing is handy. In terms of sound quality it offers a bright mid-range and vocals are clear and distinct, though the low end could be better. In addition it’s very loud and very reasonably priced at US$45.99.
Well-deserved High Commendations go to the Ultimate Ears Wonderboom and the JBL Flip 4. Both worthy additions to your packing list. They’re incredibly loud. And both benefit from a good low end that offers deeper base and full-bodied sound.
Both offer an IPX7 waterproof build, with the Ultimate Ears Wonderboom’s added ability to float making it a savvy pick for travels involving water-based activities. Though the Flip 4 gets its nose ahead in the battery life department and might appeal to outdoor enthusiasts looking for added playtime.
Durability is on point with both, though the Ultimate Ears Wonderboom’s drop test win from the height of 5 metres gets bonus points. And if you like a little color pop they’re both good picks too, in particular the Ultimate Ears Wonderboom with its fun color choices and patterns.