The best parties are big and loud and colourful, so you need a music system to match.
Party speakers (sometimes called party boxes) are Bluetooth speakers designed to deliver a lot of music for maximum party vibes. They tend to be big and bass-heavy – you buy these for sound quantity, not quality.
I love this technology because it’s fun, which is something that doesn’t happen a lot with consumer electronics. I’ve tried a few over the past couple of years, including the gigantic Sony Muteki – the 1.7m-tall pinnacle of party speakers – and I have loved them all.
For most of us, sadly, not every day is a party day. A basic Bluetooth speaker can put out a good amount of sound and then be easily hidden away afterwards. If you don’t need the booming sound of a party speaker you can find our test results for WiFi and Bluetooth speakers online.
Xennials and Millenials seem to be the demographics the companies are aiming at, and that makes sense. The speakers are large and many of them light up, meaning they don’t fit with more dignified home décor, and the sound they produce wouldn’t fit for a sophisticated soirée – though you can get understated versions (such as Panasonic’s range released last year).
If you’re not keen on the party aspects and are just looking for a large Bluetooth speaker, there are options that don’t come with lights and karaoke.
These speakers have uses beyond parties. For example, I own an older Sony model that I use as a PA system for MCing small events.
A lot of Bluetooth speakers, in general, require you to use an app from the manufacturer when setting up and, sometimes, when you’re using them. They tend to have features like equalisers to change the sound profile or ways to get your friends to add music.
You don’t need them for that. Most music apps, like Spotify, have a way to share and collaborate with playlists as well as adjustable equalisers.
What you might need the apps for is software updates. These updates can improve your speakers performance and fix and connection issues you might have.
The apps that come with party speakers offer a few other options. Some of them allow you to change the colours and patterns of the lights and few allow you to “DJ” with sound effects and mixing. Again, they aren’t necessary if you just want to play music and not fuss about with your phone during the party.
Shelling over hundreds of dollars for a giant party speaker may not fall within your budget. Not to worry. For a lot less you can grab yourself a smaller speaker, such as the popular UE Blast (which scored 85% overall in our test).
By itself it won’t fill a room, but you can connect it to other speakers from the same brand to make a larger stereo system.
A lot of brands offer this option for their speakers, meaning you can borrow a couple from friends, set them up, and have a huge sound system for a much smaller price.
The downside is playing time. The smaller speakers have smaller batteries and connecting to other speakers will also drain the battery.
JBL’s PartyBox embraces the vibe of 80s boomboxes. It’s small but solid with physical knobs and buttons to change the sound. To complete the “new retro” vibe, it comes with a shoulder strap for easy carrying and has a bottle opener for easy partying.
When compared to the UE and the Sony, the PartyBox, in a lot of ways, is the best of both worlds (and for less money).
It lights up, not in an overly gaudy way, but enough to give a party vibe. It’s small enough to carry around and feels like something you’d be comfortable taking to the beach without worrying about sand or water. It has a karaoke function, guitar input and comes with two wireless microphones but doesn’t have DJ controls or other music effects.
Its simplicity makes the ease of use aspects come to the fore. Unlike the other speakers the PartyBox doesn’t force you to download an app to connect to your phone. This makes set up fast and easy.
The PartyBox feels like the type of music player that would be at home in a teenager’s bedroom or sitting in the corner of your lounge waiting for the next big rumpus.
Dimensions: 489 x 245 x 224 mm
Inputs: Bluetooth, USB, aux
Outputs: USB (power)
The Hyperboom is a black box with a carry strap that’s easily luggable and is essentially a bigger version of their other Bluetooth speakers. It doesn’t light up or have many inputs, and it runs on batteries.
In some ways its lack of extra functions means you might want to use it in more situations. It’s the type of speaker you could take with you almost anywhere, though at just under 6kg you may not want to carry it on a tramp. It connects to other UE speakers, like Booms and Megabooms, so expanding the sound is easy.
The sound, though, is the biggest let-down. While it’s loud enough, the bass makes the sound muddy. The effect gets worse the higher you crank the volume. I know I said you don’t buy these for quality, but a physical button to toggle the bass impact would be good.
You can alter the bass in the app, which comes with a bunch of special EQ settings, but you want to be partying, not faffing about with an app all night.
Given the $700 price tag, you could instead buy two or three UE Megabooms and link them together, giving you a lot more sound options.
Dimensions: 364 x 190 x 190mm
Inputs: Bluetooth, optical, aux
Outputs: USB (power)
Sony goes all in on party speakers, and this is no exception. The MHC-V73D is a Dalek-shaped, DVD-playing, karaoke-enabled, bass-laden, disco-lit party beast.
Just under a metre tall and quite rotund, the V73D takes up a lot of space but, when it’s running, it’s a centrepiece. The massive 30cm woofer is visually unavoidable, and the music inevitably tips towards deeper tones. However, the balance is better than expected, with its six other speakers (4 tweeters and 2 mid-range) smoothing the rest of the sound.
The V73D is also packed to the gunwales with extras. Its karaoke function is excellent, simply allowing you to accompany anything playing through the system. What I initially thought were cupholders turned out to be holders for microphones. One of the two microphone ports can be used for an electric guitar for extra “rockability”.
I used it by connecting my Apple TV via Bluetooth, then playing karaoke clips from YouTube. The lyrics and the video played on my TV and the sound came through the speaker.
The V73D also has some extras you might not expect. It has a built-in DVD/CD player and you can connect it, via HDMI, to your TV to watch DVDs (but not Blu-rays). It even has an FM radio, which seems odd for a Bluetooth device until you realise this is more of an all-in-one stereo system than a stand-alone speaker.
Perhaps one of the oddest additions is a “Taiko mode”. Taiko is a Japanese drum, and enabling this mode changes the touchpads on the top of the speaker into a type of electric version. You can use this mode to play a simple colour-match type game. It’s goofy fun, which is a good way to describe the V73D overall.
The biggest downside is the software. The speaker requires you to use Sony’s Music Centre and Feistable apps. Both have terrible interfaces and offer a poor user experience. You use the apps to change the EQ, change light sequences and to add other users, but you also need them to connect new devices to the speaker.
The other downside is that you need to plug it in. It’s not exactly a portable speaker, but some flexibility for placement would be nice.
Dimensions: 428 x 921 x 370mm
Inputs: Bluetooth, DVD, CD, USB, FM radio
First Looks are trials of new and interesting products from the perspective of our product experts. Our lab-based tests offer truly objective product comparisons.
These speakers were loaned to the writer by Sony, JBL and Logitech