Bluetooth speakers

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Connect to your speakers through Bluetooth.

These speakers use Bluetooth to connect to your music-playing device, such as your smartphone or tablet. We tested budget options as well as pricier models, plus consider what to look for when buying.

From our test

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About our test

Our panel of expert listeners judged the quality of a variety of music, spoken word, and sounds on each device and scored them out of 10.

These scores were collated to get the overall sound score.

The tracks were:

  • Here to Stay, Pat Metheny Group
  • I, Frankie Goes to Hollywood
  • Your Song, Rita Ora
  • Galway Girl, Ed Sheeran
  • a radio play of Harry Potter.

The panel also listened to pink noise. Pink noise is like white noise but has equal energy per octave, so it’s noticeably deeper.

As with our other audio testing, we didn’t include R&B, hip-hop, soul or other bass-heavy music. Our tested tracks were assessed on how easily the bass could be discerned and how “muddy” it sounded.

Connecting Bluetooth speakers

Connecting via Bluetooth is simple and doesn’t require any WiFi network support – just pair and go.

While manufacturers usually claim range is limited to about 10m, our testers got ranges in excess of this (30m+), even through obstructions, such as doors or walls. Our testers got the best range when the speaker was placed on a flat surface, such as a table.

Bluetooth connections compresses audio files for transfer, which can affect audio quality, whereas WiFi does not.

Features

Here are some features to consider when choosing Bluetooth speakers.

  • Near Field Communication (NFC) allows you to skip the pairing stage of connecting to a Bluetooth speaker and simply tap your device to the speaker for them to communicate and for your music to start playing via Bluetooth.
  • 3.5mm AUX input – a port that allows any 3.5mm audio cable to be connected directly to the speaker. This “wired” connection uses less power than Bluetooth, but any device will need to be in close proximity to the speaker.
  • Speakerphone support recognises when your mobile phone is getting an incoming call, pauses the music and allows you to receive the call through the speaker, resuming the music once your call is finished.
  • Carry bag or handle makes them easier to carry.
  • Dust or water resistance is useful if you want to use your speaker outdoors. Some of the models tested have an IPX3 or IPX4 rating, which means they can cope with some splashing water, but not immersion.
  • Built-in battery – some wireless speakers don’t have a built-in battery, which means they aren’t portable.
  • Charging USB devices – some speakers with a built-in battery, can also charge a device, such as a phone, through USB. This does require a specific type of USB port, so not all wireless speakers will have this feature.

Bluetooth audio adapters

If you are happy with your current speakers – portable or wired – but you want Bluetooth connectivity, then there is an option. All you have to do is plug a Bluetooth audio adapter into your speakers’ 3.5mm auxiliary input and then connect your Bluetooth device to the audio adapter.

Waterproof

If you plan on taking your devices out and about with you, it’s important they can withstand the elements. Devices that are water and/or dust-proof have Ingress Protection (IP) ratings.

For example, the most common is IPX7. This means the device hasn’t been tested on dust particles, but is resistant to water up to a metre in depth. See here for more on IP ratings and the different levels of protection.

In real life

To see how this works outside a lab we took the UE Boom 2 and UE Wonderboom, both IPX7, and dropped them in a pool to see how they perform underwater and after a dunking.


If you’re worried about dropping one of these speakers in water, don’t be. The water didn’t damage the electronics, though it did soak the fabric parts. The water interrupted the Bluetooth signal, so when a speaker was immersed, the sound stopped, but it reconnected instantly when above water. The Boom 2 sank like a stone, but survived and reconnected when taken out again. The Wonderboom is designed to float so, after a quick dunk and loss of signal, it happily bobbed along playing music. The music was notably quieter than usual as only a third of the device is above the water (below the water the music was loud).

First Look reviews

First Looks are trials of new or interesting products. Here’s what our product experts thought of these Bluetooth speakers.

Bose is a Top Brand

The Top Brand award recognises brands that perform consistently well across product testing, reliability and customer satisfaction.

We have awarded the Top Brand award to Bose for sound bars, home theatre systems, wireless speakers and headphones. Bose sound products tested very well and returned exceptional owner satisfaction.

Reliability

Wireless speakers are a reliable product, with only 3% needing repair.

Bose and Sonos owners were most likely to be very satisfied (91% and 90%) and very likely to purchase the brand again (87% and 90%). Owners of less common wireless speakers, those with fewer than 30 models in our survey, were less likely to be very satisfied (64%), very likely to purchase again (63%) or think they got excellent value for money (62%).

For more on wireless speakers reliability, see our survey.

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