There's a seemingly endless supply of portable Bluetooth speakers that work just fine for hotel-based travel. But what if you want something to take on your next camping excursion or trip to the beach? Here's what to look for, as well as the top models we've tested.
JBL Charge 5
Best Sound for the Size and Price
- Powerful, bass-forward, bright sound signature
- Gets loud for its relatively compact size
- Fully waterproof design
- USB-A port for charging mobile devices
- App lacks EQ
- No speakerphone
|Amazon||$139.95||See It (Opens in a new window)|
|JBL||$179.95||See It (Opens in a new window)|
Best for Mega Bass
- Powerful output with bass-forward sound signature
- Fully waterproof and dustproof
- App has custom EQ, battery, and LED controls
|Amazon||$198.00||See It (Opens in a new window)|
JBL Boombox 3
Most Powerful JBL Speaker
- Good bass depth and crisp highs
- Gets extremely loud
- App includes adjustable EQ
- Waterproof and dustproof build
- Only supports SBC codec
|Amazon||$449.00||See It (Opens in a new window)|
Anker Soundcore Mini 3
Best Small Speaker
- Quality audio performance for the size
- Adjustable EQ
- Waterproof build
- Clear mics
- Not for those seeking booming bass
|Amazon||$40.99||See It (Opens in a new window)|
Anker Soundcore Motion Boom
Best Affordable Boombox
- Powerful audio for the size, with rich lows and crisp definition
- Adjustable EQ
- Waterproof design
- Floats in water
- Not for audio purists or those seeking massive bass
|Amazon||$99.99||See It (Opens in a new window)|
Anker Soundcore Rave Neo
Best Budget-Friendly Speaker With LEDs
- Strong audio performance with rich bass depth and crisp highs
- Speakerphone functionality
- Colorful LED lights
- App requires login to save custom EQ presets
|Walmart||$84.99||See It (Opens in a new window)|
JBL Flip 6
Best for Big Bass in a Small Frame
- Powerful audio performance with robust bass
- App features adjustable EQ
- Fully waterproof and dust-tight build
- No speakerphone
- Lacks an aux input
|Amazon||$99.95||See It (Opens in a new window)|
|JBL||$129.95||See It (Opens in a new window)|
Best for Retro Style Lovers
- Powerful audio performance for the size
- Cool, compact design
- No speakerphone functionality
- No aux input
|Amazon||$116.60||See It (Opens in a new window)|
|Best Buy||$127.99||See It (Opens in a new window)|
Best Portable Sonos Speaker
- Powerful audio with rich bass depth and bright highs
- Portable, dust- and water-resistant build
- Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant voice control
- Sculpted, mono sound signature not for everyone
|Amazon||$425.79||See It (Opens in a new window)|
|Best Buy||$399.99||See It (Opens in a new window)|
Can You Submerge Outdoor Speakers Underwater?
Manufacturers often claim a speaker is water-resistant or waterproof, but the only true measure of protection from liquid and other potential hazards is its IP rating. But these ratings can be confusing as well.
Every proper IP rating consists of either a two-digit score or an X (that acts as a placeholder) and a single digit. The first digit refers to a product's protection against solids (such as dust) and the second refers to protection against liquids. The number range for solids spans from zero (no protection) to six (dustproof), and, for liquids, it's zero to eight (waterproof and submersible beyond depths of a meter for extended periods). When you see ratings with an X, it usually means the manufacturer didn't officially test for protection but believes the rating would be higher than zero. Most portable wireless speakers fall somewhere in the IPX5 to IPX7 range.
If a manufacturer neglects to list a speaker's IP rating but makes a claim of a water-resistant design, you can probably assume that it can handle rain, sweat, and minor splashes, as well as a quick rinse in the sink now and then. But submerging it in a pool or tub is not a wise idea without knowing the IP rating.
One quick note: Bluetooth audio doesn't translate particularly well underwater. The benefit of a waterproof design is mostly that it can survive rough conditions.
What Size Speaker Do You Need?
Not all portable speakers are small enough to stash in your backpack. In fact, plenty of the ones we test are relatively large and heavy; they are portable in the sense that you can carry them from your car to the campfire but we wouldn't advise hiking with them.
Obviously, one role size plays in the equation is how much bass response and volume a speaker can project. Don't expect a pocket-sized speaker to have much, if any, bass depth. Of course, the bass frequencies don't matter nearly as much as a powerful high-mid and high-frequency response outdoors; there aren't any walls to shake and resonate powerful bass vibrations, so sound can carry only directly through the air (which is much more the treble's forte).
How Do Speakers Sound Outside?
Portable Bluetooth speakers have come a long way in the last half-decade. Today, small speakers can pack some fairly impressive firepower. This is mostly because of the near-ubiquitous inclusion of passive radiators.
Passive bass radiators use a rubber-like material that vibrates sympathetically with the output of a powered driver—like when you place a speaker on a long wooden table and you notice the table vibrating (in effect, seemingly increasing the bass response). The vibrations often create a sense of stronger bass depth, even though these radiators don't get any power. It sounds like a gimmick that shouldn't be effective, but some manufacturers have managed to create small speakers that pump out rich bass.
Some outdoor speakers also feature outdoor listening modes. These modes tend to dial up the treble to make up for the lack of reflective surfaces when you're in the middle of a field or forest. The walls in your kitchen or office do, indeed, perform a function in transmitting audio to your ears, and without them in the picture, high frequencies, in particular, can sound dull, especially if you're not close to the speaker.
One more thing to note is whether a speaker is mono or stereo. Plenty of the Bluetooth speakers we test, especially the smaller ones, have only a single driver. Or they may have multiple drivers, but the drivers handle different frequency ranges and not left and right channels—in other words, the manufacturer decided that pumping out some stronger bass matters more than stereo separation. That's not necessarily a bad approach. After all, if your left and right drivers aren't farther apart than your ears, you're not likely to hear much stereo separation. And even if you do have enough space between the drivers for stereo separation, you must still be a decent distance away from the speaker to get the full effect.
What's the Battery Life of Portable Speakers?
Many of these extra features, along with drivers that pump out big bass at high volumes, come at the cost of battery life. Just about every speaker we test uses a lithium-ion battery that you charge via a USB port or an AC power adapter.
Typical battery life for portable speakers ranges anywhere between 10 and 20 hours, depending on size and features. But keep in mind that these are estimates. Manufacturers often list a higher battery life based on the assumption that you listen at modest volume levels. As you might expect, blasting a speaker at top volume drains the battery more quickly.
If the speaker you're considering delivers less than 10 hours of battery life, it might be worth investing in a portable battery pack to keep the party going.
Don't Pay For Extras You Won't Use
You can argue that, beyond a strong IP rating and solid audio performance, a quality outdoor speaker doesn't need a bunch of extra features. But where's the fun in that? Some speakers let you charge other devices with their battery, provide light shows, or even function as flashlights.
Voice assistance, in the form of Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant, is also starting to make its way into the portable market. You can treat these outdoor-friendly models like any other smart speaker. Speakerphone functionality is always a nice perk as well.
Just keep in mind that extra features (should) drive up the price to an extent—you are wise to be skeptical when they don't. Yes, some features cost very little to include and are often exceedingly useful. Plenty of outdoor speakers have a threaded screw mount for tripods or action camera gear, for instance. Just don't feel pressure to pay extra for features that don't affect the sound experience if that's your top priority.
How Much Should You Spend on an Outdoor Speaker?
Plenty of solid outdoor-friendly speakers are available for $150 or less. The top end of this price range gets you a reasonably good bass response, and typically, stereo audio. At the lower end, you are likely to find smaller, mono speakers that struggle a bit with lower frequencies.
Below, say, $50, you're flirting with options that may not sound markedly (or at all) better than your phone. And if you're willing to reach above $150, plenty of alluring options pack far more power.
If you don't necessarily need something rugged, head to our list of the best wireless speakers overall. For budget-friendly options, check out our top picks under $100. And for more outdoor-friendly tech, see the best outdoor smart home devices we've tested.