After listening to a total of more than 200 portable Bluetooth speakers over the past two years, we think the UE Roll 2 is the best choice for most listeners. It sounds good and plays loud enough to fill a hotel room, plus its slim, waterproof, rugged design makes it an ideal companion for anything from a luxury hotel stay to a weeklong hiking trip.
UE Roll 2 – The portable speaker with almost everything
Like its predecessor, the Roll 2 offers an irresistible combination of sound quality, ruggedness, water resistance, portability, cool features, and a reasonable price.
Two and a half years after the introduction of the original (and barely different) UE Roll, the UE Roll 2 remains the Bluetooth speaker we use more than any other, and the one we’d buy if we could own only one. The Roll 2 sounds full, with smooth reproduction of everything from bass notes to cymbals, and it plays loud enough to fill a hotel room or a spot at the beach with sound. It’s so watertight it will survive being dunked 1 meter underwater for 30 minutes. The 10½-hour tested battery life and 60-foot range are remarkable for a speaker of this size. More than two years of worldwide traveling with the Roll 2 and the original Roll have only confirmed our love for this design. The only real downside is that it lacks a speakerphone function.
Sony SRS-XB30 Less portable, bigger sound
The Sony SRS-XB30 delivers a big, full, satisfying sound in a rugged water-resistant design.
If our main pick sells out, or if you want more powerful sound and don’t mind sacrificing a bit of portability, the Sony SRS-XB30 is a nice alternative at only a slightly higher price. It’s a completely different design from the UE Roll 2: rectangular rather than round, and about three times as heavy at 2.2 pounds. It’s too big to fit into many laptop bags, but it’s easy to toss into a beach bag or carry around the house. The SRS-XB30 delivers much more bass than the Roll 2, so it’s much better for hip-hop, R&B, and rock, and it has enough power to fill an average room with sound. Its IPX5 water-resistance rating means it can survive rainstorms and poolside splashes, but not long soaks like the Roll 2.
Riva Turbo X Riva Turbo X For the best sound
The Turbo X is easily one of the best-sounding portable Bluetooth speakers we’ve heard.
tf portability isn’t your primary concern and you just want the best possible performance, we think the Riva Turbo X is one of the best portable Bluetooth speakers you can buy. Its sound is clearer, livelier, more spacious, and more natural than its competitors’. It gets you closer to the sound of a real stereo speaker system than any other Bluetooth portable we’ve tried, and it delivers enough volume to be heard over loud party conversation. It’s also more refined and elegant looking than most Bluetooth speakers. Note, however, that even though the Turbo X is splash-proof when its rear jacks are protected by its included rubber cover, it’s heavy for its size and not as rugged as the other speakers we’ve picked, so it’s best suited to places like offices, bedrooms, and living rooms.
Tribit XSound Go Tribit XSound Go – Very good sound in a rugged, compact chassis
The Tribit XSound Go is the best speaker we’ve heard in its price range, and it’s compact and waterproof to boot.
If you want a good all-around portable Bluetooth speaker and want to spend the bare minimum, the Tribit XSound Go is a great choice. The sound is a notch above that of our previous budget pick (which was itself an obvious standout), with clearer voices and more tuneful and realistic bass. It’s also small enough to slip into a laptop bag or an already-stuffed suitcase. Plus it’s IPX7-rated, which means it’s sufficiently waterproof to survive a half-hour dunking in 1 meter of water.
EcoXGear GDI-EXBLD810 EcoBoulder+ For pool parties and tailgating
The EcoXGear GDI-EXBLD810 EcoBoulder+ is a completely different kind of portable Bluetooth speaker than our other picks, intended to pump out maximum volume for pool parties, picnics, and tailgating. Yet although it can blast, it can also soothe … not just with its full, natural sound, but also with a built-in bottle opener and cupholders. Weighing 29 pounds and sized like a roll-aboard suitcase, it’s not something you’ll take on business trips, but a retractable handle and wheels make it easy to lug around. It also has a built-in AM/FM radio.
In addition to our picks, many of the other models we tested are quite competent and may be good alternatives if you can find them at a good price. If you’re curious about whether a particular model you’ve seen or heard about is worth considering, check out the competition section near the end of this guide, where we include our comments about the more than 100 models we’ve tested over the years.
Why you should trust us
New portable Bluetooth speakers come out so quickly that no one could possibly test them all, but there are few major models we haven’t heard. And most Bluetooth speakers stand little chance of making their way to the top of this guide, because getting good sound generally takes careful design and the willingness to spend lots of time and money on product development.
To help us determine what we should focus on, we had to come up with some criteria to figure out what matters to our readers and what doesn’t. So we asked readers, through a survey that received more than 1,000 responses.
- About 82 percent of the respondents ranked good sound highest on their list of concerns when buying a Bluetooth speaker.
- This desire was followed by long battery life at 65 percent. Although six hours might be enough for a short beach trip or picnic, we think 10 hours is ideal if you’re planning an all-day picnic or camping trip.
- People in our survey also said they wanted something that plays loudly enough to fill a room, with the “lots of volume” option getting 35 percent of the vote.
- About 73 percent of survey participants told us they were looking to keep the cost between $50 and $150.
- Seventy-three percent also said they wanted “something I can throw in a backpack or purse.”
- About 15 percent told us they expected to use it in the park, for camping, or at the beach, which implied that some degree of water resistance would be helpful.
- And although we didn’t ask about this topic in the survey, we also think most people would prefer speakers that can charge via USB cords they already have instead of relying on proprietary connectors.
We also made note of, but didn’t put too much weight into, a number of lesser features:
- Some people need speakerphone functionality, but we didn’t exclude any contenders for lacking it. Furthermore, many of the speakerphones built into these devices are of low quality; they often mangle the sound of voices and add echo.
- NFC support can make the pairing function slightly easier if you have an NFC-equipped smartphone, but the added convenience is fleeting, because you use it only the first time you mate the products.
- Almost all Bluetooth speakers (including all of our picks) have a 3.5 mm stereo analog input that lets you connect non-Bluetooth devices such as an iPod Classic.
- Some offer the ability to pair with another Bluetooth speaker, usually of the same model. Generally, you can use the two as separate left and right speakers in a stereo pair or run the same mono signal to both and split them up between two rooms.
After considering all of the criteria, we ended up evaluating 30 new models for the most recent update, including recent releases from 808, Aukey, Bose, Dodocool, Doss, EcoXGear, Edifier, Fender, iClever, iHome, JBL, JS, Kicker, Lifeproof, Monoprice, Philips, RBH, Sony, and Tribit.
How we tested
Our top picks, sitting together so you can gauge their relative sizes. Clockwise from top left: Tribit XSound Go, UE Roll 2, Riva Turbo X, EcoXGear EcoBoulder+, and Sony SRS-XB30. Photo: Kyle Fitzgerald
As has become my standard practice for updates of this guide, I started by giving all the new models a long listen, connecting them via Bluetooth through my Samsung Galaxy S8 phone and playing the same four test tracks: pop, heavy metal, hip-hop, and jazz. I compared the speakers not only with each other but also with some of our previous picks. I measured the maximum output of each speaker using an NTi Minilyzer audio analyzer and a calibrated NTi MiniSPL test microphone.
I narrowed the contestants to the models I thought had a real chance to impress our listening panel, and I included a couple of past picks. I then set up blind tests for Lauren Dragan and John Higgins—one test for larger models, a separate test for smaller models. I played whatever tunes they requested from Spotify at a moderate volume (about 75 decibels on average) then ran the volume for each speaker up to maximum. (Normally I would take pains to level-match the speakers for all tests, but considering the widely varying performance of these speakers, this wasn’t practical and wouldn’t have given a full portrayal of each speaker’s performance.) After the listener gave me their opinions of the sound, I unveiled the speakers and got their comments about the designs and features. I then ran all the top picks and key competitors past Geoff Morrison to get a third opinion.
I checked battery life of our top picks by repeating Steely Dan’s “Aja” at an average level of 75 decibels (measured at 1 meter) over and over until the power ran out. Note that our results may not agree with the manufacturers’, likely because their testing methodology—which they almost never publish—varies from ours.
For models that offer speakerphone functionality, I tried placing a call with each model to Lauren, who has helped me evaluate speakerphone quality for years. I speak to her from the same place in my living room, starting with my mouth 2 feet from the speaker; then I note how she sounds to me, and she tells me how my voice sounds.
Other features weren’t a major consideration in this test, but we evaluated them where applicable. Many of these speakers don’t have a lot of features, and don’t need them—volume and power controls are often all that’s necessary or even desired. Forward/reverse track-skip controls, for example, can come in handy if you use your speaker in the shower.
In addition, many models offer the ability to pair with two Bluetooth devices at once. The speaker can’t play sound from both devices at once, but if you press play on phone B while phone A is playing, the speaker will switch automatically to what’s playing on phone B. We’ve tried this feature, but in our experience, it’s rarely useful and sometimes annoying.
The UE Roll 2 and its predecessor, the UE Roll, have remained our main picks in this article for about 2½ years. The Roll 2 isn’t the cheapest or the best-sounding portable Bluetooth speaker, and it lacks a speakerphone function. Yet we think it’s still the most appealing portable Bluetooth speaker available, the one we’d buy if we could get only one. Consider it the Toyota Camry of portable Bluetooth speakers—if the Camry were styled like a Corvette, that is.
The Roll 2’s design might seem radical, but the radical aspects enhance its functionality. Its flat, saucer shape makes it easier to slip into a laptop bag or suitcase and also creates an omnidirectional sound pattern that fills a room nicely. The integrated bungee strap on the back provides a secure, simple way to attach the Roll 2 to all sorts of things, such as a shower head, a bicycle handlebar stem, or a beach chair. Plus, the strap keeps the speaker from scooting or vibrating along a tabletop when it’s playing deep bass notes.
Not to be discounted is the simple joy of owning something that’s designed and built with originality, thought, style, and sheer nerve.
With the Roll 2 we got an average of 11½ hours running time in our tests, which is enough running time to last through a typical weekend getaway. We measured a roughly 60-foot range with the Roll 2, which makes the Roll 2’s Bluetooth reception among the most reliable of any speaker on the market.
The UE Roll 2’s integrated bungee cord lets you easily hang the speaker from a shower faucet and lots of other places, too. Photo: Kyle Fitzgerald
Because the Roll 2 is IPX7 rated, it can tolerate being submerged to a depth of 1 meter, so it’s safe for outdoor adventures. The bungee also attaches the Roll 2 to an included inflatable pool float, eliminating the need to buy a dedicated floating speaker. Not to be discounted is the simple joy of owning something that’s designed and built with originality, thought, style, and sheer nerve.
None of that would matter if the Roll 2’s sound quality weren’t good—but it is. The speaker plays about as loud as a typical smaller TV set (say, in the 32-inch range), enough to fill a bedroom or hotel room or to provide background music for small parties. It doesn’t have much bass, but the sound isn’t thin or harsh as it is with many Bluetooth speakers. Voices sound especially clear, and the little details such as the sizzle of cymbals are easy to hear.
Here’s how the Bluetooth pairing process for the Roll 2 looks and sounds.
That’s using the factory-default sound settings. UE also offers a free iOS and Android app that provides a Bass Jump setting plus a custom setting with a five-band audio equalizer that allowed me to get the Roll 2 sounding even better. The app also has an alarm function that turns the unit on at a preset time and plays the tune of your choice from your phone or tablet. Plus it allows you to pair two Rolls so that they both play from the same source.
Our assessment is shared by CNET’s David Carnoy, who calls the Roll 2 “clearly one of the top mini Bluetooth speakers on the market.”
The Roll 2 is offered in many colors and patterns, including the charcoal-and-orange Volcano color scheme shown here, as well as a purple/cyan/yellow Sugarplum color scheme. I’ve found the Roll 2 rugged enough to just toss into whatever luggage I’m using, but you can also find purpose-built Roll carrying cases.
Flaws but not dealbreakers
The only glaring flaw of the UE Roll 2 might be its lack of a speakerphone function. The lack of a speakerphone does mean that, unlike other UE Bluetooth speakers, the UE Roll 2 doesn’t allow you to use Siri or Google Now directly from the speaker (although you can still use either virtual assistant from your phone). It also lacks playback controls that would let you start, stop, and skip tracks while in the shower.
We don’t think the Roll 2 sounds quite as pleasing as the some of its larger competitors, but it’s close. Those larger speakers have more bass, so they don’t make singers sound as sibilant as the Roll 2 sometimes can (although only to a minor degree).
The Roll 2 plays loud enough to serve up background music, but half a dozen people talking will mostly drown it out. If you want something similarly portable, rugged, and waterproof but with more volume, check out the JBL Charge 3 or the UE Boom 2 (both discussed in The competition).
Those who want louder, fuller sound and can sacrifice a bit of portability will probably like the Sony SRS-XB30. It’s a beefy—yet still packable—speaker that delivers the most room-filling sound we’ve heard from a model in the just-barely-under-three-figures price range. If you’re looking for a portable Bluetooth speaker that can easily fill a room without sounding strained or shrill, it’s a great choice.
The advantage of the SRS-XB30 over so many competitors in its price and size range is the fullness of its sound. Many, perhaps most, Bluetooth speakers tend to blare when turned up. The SRS-XB30 never does, and its sound is full and satisfying even when it’s playing hip-hop or heavy metal. It plays about 2 decibels louder than the UE Roll 2, which is roughly the change you get when you turn your car stereo up a notch or two, and enough to fill a typical bedroom or small den with sound. Voices and most instruments sound clear and fairly natural for an inexpensive speaker. An Extra Bass button gives you exactly what it promises without making the SRS-XB30 sound as boomy as a bad car stereo. We found that for some music Extra Bass was perfect (and sometimes necessary), but other music didn’t need it. “It still sounds like a Bluetooth speaker,” John noted, “but it’s far ahead of most of the others we’ve tested.”
A looping video of the LED lighting on the Sony SRS-XB30. The light flashes and strobes in different colors in a ring around the edge of the speaker.
The SRS-XB30 has a variable-color LED light ring around the edge, augmented with a flashing strobe at each end. The Extra Bass button turns the lighting on and off; Sony’s SongPal app controls the lighting scheme and color. None of us would use this feature, but many new Bluetooth speakers have it, so someone must like it. Advantage or disadvantage? Your call.
One downside is that the SRS-XB30 comes with a separate charger and charges only through a coaxial power jack; it does not recharge through its USB jack. Manufacturers usually do this because the unit requires more power for fast charging and adequate performance when plugged in than a standard USB (not USB-C) connection can deliver.
A close up of the buttons on our runner-up pick for best portable bluetooth speaker.
Battery life is rated at “up to 24 hours,” but in our tests (done with the lighting off), the SRS-XB30 automatically brought its volume down after about 12 hours to increase battery life. It was a huge drop in volume—the sound went from room-filling to barely desk-filling—but 12 hours is an acceptable effective battery life for a product like this. A speakerphone function is included, but it produced a weird digital garbling of the voices on both ends, almost as if we were in a sci-fi movie and attacking aliens were trying to jam our transmission. We measured Bluetooth range at about 40 feet going through one wall, good enough that the SRS-XB30 probably won’t cut out when you go into the next room.
Two SRS-XB30s can be paired for stereo, and Sony’s Wireless Party Chain allows as many as 10 Bluetooth speakers to play the same music simultaneously. However, we had only one SBS-XB30 sample so we couldn’t try this feature. It also incorporates Sony’s LDAC technology, which is said to deliver three times as much data (and presumably better sound) from Bluetooth, but at present it works only if you use a Sony phone or portable music player.
The SRS-XB30 isn’t waterproof enough to submerge, but its IPX5 rating means it can withstand splashes and some jets of water, and it should survive being left in a rainstorm or even use in the shower. It’s also reasonably rugged, with a rubbery exterior, so it should tolerate being tossed in the trunk for a camping trip.
Ryan at Technically Well ranked the SRS-XB30 9.4 out of 10 stars, saying, “Sony’s new SRS-XB30 speaker features great sound, a multi-color LED light ring and easy pairing for NFC-equipped phones.” TechGuru at Nerd Techy agreed, saying, “The speaker sounds precise, controlled, and (most importantly) loud.”
Audiophiles often deride Bluetooth speakers as plastic junk, but the Riva Turbo X has shown it can please even picky listeners, judging from the reaction we’ve seen to the Turbo X at high-end audio shows where $5,000-a-pair speakers are considered “affordable.”
It’s obvious when you listen to the Turbo X that it’s playing a whole different game than most competitors. Voices and instruments sound clear and natural, much as they would if you were listening to a good small stereo system. For such a compact speaker, it has plenty of bass, enough that you can crank up bass-heavy music such as EDM or hip-hop and it won’t sound strained or distorted.
The Turbo X also offers lots of useful features. On the bottom is a rubber cover that you can place over the rear audio and charging jacks to make the Turbo X splash-proof. Riva offers an iOS and Android app that lets you control volume, switch from voice prompts to tones, and activate Turbo and Surround modes. It includes a speakerphone function, and the Turbo mode boosts the volume (at the possible expense of slight distortion and shorter battery life). The battery lasted a whopping 24 hours in our test, so you could probably take it on a long weekend and leave the charger behind. It’s available in black or white. In our tests, Bluetooth range (going through one wall) was about 25 feet, which is quite adequate, even if it isn’t impressive compared with that of some of our other picks.
The main downside of the Turbo X is that it’s not particularly rugged. The top is made from glossy plastic that scratches easily (a travel bag is available for $30 at the time of this writing). Charging this speaker requires the use of a dedicated charger (you can’t charge it via USB), and if you forget to push the BATT button on the back, the battery won’t charge even if the charger is plugged in. Also, the speakerphone, though functional, didn’t impress us: Geoff said he could hear a lot of noise whenever he talked, which he speculated was the Turbo X picking up the sound of his voice after it echoed around my room.
If you need something that’s much more rugged and sounds good (although not quite as good as the Turbo X), and also offers a limited but useful multiroom-audio feature, check out the UE Megaboom (discussed in The competition).
CNET’s David Carnoy gave the Turbo X 3.5 stars (out of five), subtracting points mainly for its high original price but concluding “the Riva Audio Turbo X is one of the loudest and best sounding compact Bluetooth speakers available.”
Even high-end audio writers, such as The Absolute Sound’s Robert Harley, tend to rave about the Turbo X: “It brings audiophile values to a product that fits the way in which many non-audiophiles listen to music,” Harley writes.
On Amazon, the Turbo X currently has an overall rating of 4.1 stars (out of five) across more than 470 reviews.
If you want a great all-around portable Bluetooth speaker for about the cost of a tank of gas, the Tribit XSound Go is a terrific choice. Sonically, it’s a step up from anything else we’ve heard in this price range, with clearer sound and more bass than most competitors can muster. It’s easy to travel with, too: small enough to slip into a laptop bag or any suitcase. Plus, it’s IPX7-rated, which means it’s sufficiently waterproof to survive a half-hour dunking in 1 meter of water.
When the XSound Go recently accompanied me through four weeks of travel, I continued to be surprised by how clear and full its sound is. Voices sound natural and distinct, never bloated or hoarse as they can through most inexpensive Bluetooth speakers. Despite its size, the XSound Go delivers ample bass for its size and a clean sound that could compete with the very best compact Bluetooth speakers of just two years ago. All of the panelists picked it as one of their favorites, even though they had no idea what it cost. Although its measured maximum volume is about average for a Bluetooth speaker in the mid-two-figures price range, it’s only about 2 decibels quieter than the UE Roll 2, and it can actually seem about as loud because the sound is so full and even.
There’s nothing flashy about the XSound Go, but it doesn’t have that cheap, plasticky look many budget Bluetooth speakers do. Though it has a play/pause button on the top, it doesn’t have track-skip buttons, which would come in handy if you shower with the XSound Go. The battery is rated for 24 hours of life; we got only about 10 hours 30 minutes, but for a cheap Bluetooth speaker that’s fine.
The XSound Go’s speakerphone function is good, especially for the price; I could hear Lauren very clearly, although she complained that my voice sounded slightly muffled. In our tests, Bluetooth range was about 25 feet through one wall, which is good for a speaker of this size.
Why buy our top pick, the UE Roll 2, instead of the XSound Go, which typically costs less than half as much? If you’re just using the speaker around the house and don’t plan on traveling much with it, the XSound Go is probably a more sensible choice. But the UE Roll 2’s slimmer, slightly lighter design and its integral bungee make it much more appealing for frequent travelers, and it does play a bit louder.
We could find only one credible professional review of the XSound Go as of this writing, but it’s a rave: “You will not find a better speaker for the price,” MacSources’s Jon Walters writes. Sadly, Amazon reviews of the XSound Go provide no reliable information; Fakespot gives the reviews an F grade, and the reviews, which average a nearly unheard-of 4.9 stars (out of five) across 200-plus Amazon reviews, are almost all one- or two-liners in broken English.
About a year ago, the “pool blaster” Bluetooth speaker category emerged—large models boasting high volume levels and waterproof design. Many people would love having a product like this for pool parties or tailgating, but the EcoXGear GDI-EXBLD810 EcoBoulder+ is the first we’ve found that delivers the combination of volume and sound quality we’ve been hoping for—at a price that’s typically $100 to $150 less than many competing models.
This is easily the best-sounding pool blaster we’ve heard to date, with an even balance of bass, midrange, and treble that presents all instruments and vocalists naturally without calling attention to (or mangling) any one element of the music. The EcoBoulder+ is built much like a good home stereo speaker, with an 8-inch woofer below a 3-inch tweeter, and an 8-inch passive radiator in the back to reinforce the bass. The big speaker drivers and the built-in amp rated at 100 watts allowed the EcoBoulder+ to hit 103.7 decibels in our tests, nearly 9 decibels louder than the Riva Turbo X and about 15 decibels louder than a typical Bluetooth speaker. That’s loud enough to cover a typical suburban backyard. If the sound isn’t quite to your liking, bass and treble controls let you fine-tune, but we never felt the need.
The EcoBoulder+ is also easy to cart around. With a retractable handle and built-in wheels, it scoots around just like a roll-aboard suitcase. Sturdy handles on top allow two-handed lifting. It’s IP67-rated, which means it’s waterproof and dustproof, and it also has a waterproof pocket on the side for a smartphone. A bottle opener on the side and two cupholders on top facilitate consumption of beer or a bottle of Mexican Coca-Cola. It also has a built-in AM/FM radio, so tailgaters can listen to the game. A ¼-inch jack on the side lets you connect a microphone (not included), so you can use the EcoBoulder+ as a little PA system. In the unlikely event you need more volume, you can pair two EcoBoulder+ speakers for stereo sound.Surprisingly, it even has a speakerphone function, so if you ever need to do a conference call with 30 people sitting poolside at a Florida resort, you’re good to go. Even more surprisingly, the speakerphone function is one of the best we’ve tested, with excellent voice quality at both ends.
A power socket lets you connect a standard AC cord for charging. Battery life is rated at 10 hours at full volume. Considering that few will buy the EcoBoulder+ to play music at normal indoor levels, we ran our battery life test with the volume set 6 decibels louder than we did with the other models we tested, which in a normal living room sounds pretty loud. Even at this higher volume, the EcoBoulder+ ran for 24 hours on a charge. Bluetooth range in our tests was about 43 feet through one wall, enough that you could probably leave your phone indoors while the EcoBoulder+ plays out by the pool.
Geoff summed up the EcoBoulder+ nicely when he said, “They obviously took a hard look at what a person wanting a speaker like this would need, and they put it all in there. And it sounds way better than anything similar we’ve tested.”
We couldn’t find any professional reviews of the EcoBoulder+, but we found two for the original EcoBoulder, which seems to vary only slightly from the new model. Philip Chung at Digital Trends lauds the EcoBoulder as a “fantastic value,” and Rad Bennett of SoundStage! Xperience (which I also write for, but I wasn’t consulted on his review) calls it, “beautifully designed and solidly built.” As of this writing it had only four user reviews on Amazon, but all ranked the EcoBoulder+ five out of five stars.