It's going to be a good year for portable speakers
Yes, there are still plenty of crap Bluetooth speakers on the market. We saw plenty of them at CES this year—and walked right past on our quest to find the good stuff. And we found plenty.
Our top picks of the show aren’t just sexy and durable, they also boasted such features as separate woofer, tweeter, and midrange drivers; omnidirectional sound; and ridiculously long battery life. We found speakers to fit every lifestyle, whether you’re a surfer, a beer-guzzling partier, or an eco-conscious fashionista. Check ‘em out.
Hercules WAE Outdoor Rush
Hercules’ WAE (Wireless Audio Experience) Outdoor Rush is not your average rugged Bluetooth speaker. Aimed at surfers, this brightly-colored IP67-certified (that means it’s completely dust-proof, as well as waterproof up to 1 meter for 30 minutes) speaker is also ‘ocean-proof’—its metallic grilles are nickel electro-plated to prevent saltwater corrosion.
The Rush is packed with useful features that will appeal to outdoor adventurers, including a built-in FM radio tuner so it can be used sans smartphone—perfect for those times your speaker is rugged but your smartphone isn’t. This compact speaker weighs less than one pound, gets 12-plus hours of battery life, and can be mounted to any standard camera mount, such as a GoPro mount. The Rush hits shelves April 2016 and will cost $130.
In a world where Bluetooth speakers are either sleek and compact or bulky but heavily ruggedized, Marshall’s vintage-style Kilburn seems out of place. But this hefty Bluetooth speaker is retro-sexy—it looks like a miniature version of Marshall’s flagship guitar amp, complete with a metal power switch and three dials that can be used to control volume, bass, and treble (independently of your audio device’s equalizer settings).
The Kilburn isn’t ultra-portable—it’s almost 10 inches long and it weighs 6.6 pounds—but it does feature a guitar strap handle for when you want to take it with you. This speaker looks and sounds fabulous, though it is missing a built-in microphone for speakerphone capabilities. The Kilburn is available now for a retail price of $300.
Kube describes its powerful, high-definition Bluetooth speaker—also called Kube—as ‘ultra-sleek’ and ‘portable,’ but those terms are clearly relative. This 50-pound monster of a speaker is only portable if you have a truck, and while it’s not overly bulky, it does house an insulated, lighted ‘storage compartment,’ also known as a cooler.
Okay, so the Kube is more of a tricked-out cooler than anything, but it does offer up impressively loud sound, maxing out at a (painful) 125 decibels. As a piece of technology, the Kube is similarly impressive: Bluetooth range upwards of 400 feet, 400-watt omni-directional speakers, and 20 hours of battery life (though not nearly that long if you crank the volume all the way up). The Kube is also weather- and waterproof, which makes it pretty much the perfect pool-party companion. There’s no price yet—but expect more than four figures when it starts shipping later this year.
JBL Pulse 2
Do you need a speaker that also doubles as a mesmerizing lightshow? Probably not, but if you want one anyway, JBL’s Pulse 2 has all the extra features that make this somewhat gimmicky concept pretty darn awesome. The Pulse 2 offers great sound, thanks to dual 45mm drivers and two passive radiators located on either end of the device. It also offers an awesome lightshow, with JBL’s JBL Connect app, which lets you choose from several different preset light modes, including ‘fire,’ ‘rain,’ and ‘traffic.’
New for the Pulse 2 is a built-in color sensor lens -- just press the color picker button on the top of the speaker, point the lens (located opposite the color picker button) at any object, and the speaker will pick up that color and display it in lights. Do this a few times and you can create your own custom blend of colors that pulsate with the music or ambient noise in the room. The Pulse 2 is available now for $200.
iHome Color Changing iBT682
If you like the idea of a color-changing speaker, but you’re not completely sold on JBL’s $200 model, iHome’s Color Changing iBT682 speakers may be for you. These speakers—which will be sold as either individual units ($29) or as a pair ($59)—have fewer color modes than the Pulse 2, but are just as pretty.
The iBT682s are housed in a plastic faceted case that looks sexy even when they’re not changing color. If you end up purchasing the pair, you’ll be able to take advantage of their true wireless sync—they can sync both music and lights. They can also be used alone, but if you purchase them as individual units, they won’t have this sync capability. The iBT682s will get about 8 to 10 hours of battery life, depending on whether the lights are turned on, and will start shipping in the first or second quarter of this year.
Monster Backfloat 24k
Several waterproof Bluetooth speakers also happen to float—or rather, they won’t sink in the event that you’re surfing or white-water rafting and your speaker gets tossed overboard. But Monster’s Backfloat 24K (which is the same as its original Backfloat, just with a shiny gold grille) is actually designed to play music while it floats on the surface of water.
Unlike other floating speakers, the Backfloat 24k floats with its speaker grille facing up, so you’ll be able to hear your music while the speaker is in the water. Sure, a floating speaker is a little gimmicky, but this speaker also has a non-slip protective cover, 10 hours of battery life, and a built-in mic so you can use it as a speakerphone. The Backfloat 24k is available now for $200.
Edifier’s MP700 Bluetooth speaker is jaw-droppingly gorgeous. This large rectangular speaker features an intricate metal grille, a brushed metal handle, and 2.75-inch midrange drivers, a 19mm tweeter, and three passive radiators. The MP700, which is available now for $230, has Bluetooth 4.0 and NFC for quick reconnection, as well as an auxiliary input on the side and a USB charging port for when your phone needs juice.
Although the MP700 may not be the loudest in its class, Edifier says that it has the highest hardware (acoustic) configuration on the market, which means sound is excellent. But really, you’re going to want to buy this because it looks so ridiculously good. Clear mids and enhanced base line are just bonuses.
JBL Charge 3
There are several Bluetooth speakers that can charge your device, but the JBL Charge 3 is still one of the better options. The Charge 3 has 15 hours of battery life, plus a 6000mAh power bank for charging up your smartphone. This speaker is also completely waterproof (IPX7, which means you can dunk it in up to 1 meter of water for 30 minutes), and it has a semi-rugged design with a rubberized casing and ‘lifestyle’materials.
Like the Pulse 2, the Charge 3 has dual 45mm drivers and two passive radiators on either end of its tubular form. The Charge 3 won’t available until April of this year, but it will be priced very competitively at just $150.
Altec Lansing Super LifeJacket
Altec Lansing is really taking rugged Bluetooth speakers to the max with its $300 Super LifeJacket speaker, which is IP68-certified. That’s the highest IP rating of any speaker we saw at CES this year. The Super LifeJacket is dust-, drop-, and shock-proof, as well as waterproof up to three meters for an extended time (but it also floats, so it’s unlikely that you’ll ever need to test that feature out).
The Super LifeJacket also has excellent battery life—50 hours—and six speakers (dual neodymium woofers, dual tweeters, and dual subwoofers, as well as dual 3.0-inch passive radiators) for omnidirectional sound. There’s a built-in microphone for speakerphone functionality, as well as spoken caller ID and voice-activated acceptance (yes/no) for taking calls. This impressively rugged speaker will start shipping in the second quarter of this year.
If you’re looking for a powerful, portable Bluetooth speaker that’s not necessarily ultra-rugged, Monster’s Blaster has a bass beat loud and deep enough to send ominous vibrations through your water glass. The Blaster, which will hit shelves in March and cost $350, features dual stereo speakers on both sides and a 5-inch powered subwoofer.
This speaker isn’t ultra-portable (it weighs approximately 18 pounds), but later this year Monster will debut the same speaker with a large flashlight attachment that can be used for, well, seeing in the dark or sending emergency SOS signals. The Blaster only gets eight hours of battery life, but it does have enough juice to charge your device via a USB charging port.
House of Marley Chant Mini
House of Marley’s Chant Mini makes sure you don’t have to compromise your sense of style—or conscience—while you listen to your tunes. The Chant Mini is a small, cup-shaped Bluetooth speaker designed with eco-friendly materials (including House of Marley’s signature REWIND fabric, which consists of 40 percent plastic water bottles, 30 percent hemp, and 30 percent cotton) and an attached carabiner clip for convenience.
The Chant Mini isn’t brand-new, but House of Marley is introducing several new colors at this year’s show, including an attractive ombre pink. The Mini sports six-hour battery life, an IPX4 rating (water-resistant), and a built-in microphone for speakerphone functionality. You’ll be able to connect to the Mini via Bluetooth 4.1 or through an aux input, which is located on the side of the device. The Chant Mini is available now for a retail price of $50.
Skullcandy’s new line of rugged Bluetooth speakers, which includes the Barricade (pictured), the Barricade Mini, and the Barricade XL, has all the extra oomph you need from a portable BT speaker. The reason: The Barricade line features the loudest sound in its price range, and that price range is pretty darn affordable. The Barricade will go for just $60 when it hits shelves sometime this year. The Barricade Mini will cost $30, while the Barricade XL will cost $100.
The Barricade may not look as rugged as some of the other rugged speakers we’ve seen, but it’s drop-resistant and IPX7-certified, which means you can dunk it in up to one meter of water for up to 30 minutes with no ill effects. The Barricade also has 8 hours of battery life and can be connected to other Barricade speakers to create a full surround-sound setup.