Bluetooth speakers can play music via the bluetooth connection on your phone without the need for wires. Whilst it may not be the highest quality when it comes to speakers, it offers a great option for travelling, as they are often portable and sometimes even waterproof.
Shops With Bluetooth Speaker Offers
Bluetooth Speaker Buying Guide
Elsewhere on this site you can read about smart speakers, with this page looking more closely at Bluetooth speakers specifically. These speakers are ideal to be taken with you wherever you want to go, allowing you to hook them up to Bluetooth compatible devices and streaming your music without needing to connect them via cables. In fact, the power of Bluetooth is such that the speaker and the device that it is playing the sound from don’t even need to be all that close to each other, giving you the freedom to roam around without having to worry about losing your connection.
In terms of inventions, Bluetooth is one of the most incredible but under-appreciated of modern times. It is worth noting that it has become so important that there is barely a technological device created nowadays that isn’t Bluetooth compatible, meaning that numerous different things can communicate with one another relatively easily. You can even use Bluetooth to bring your old LPs back to life, streaming them to speaker systems that you’ve got installed around your house, as an example. The question is, which Bluetooth speaker is right for you?
Before we take a deeper dive into what you should be looking for when you go to buy a Bluetooth speaker, it is worth offering a quick explanation of what Bluetooth is and how it works. After all, there’s no point in buying a speaker if you’re not really sure how to get the most out of it. In essence, Bluetooth is a short-range technology that allows for the wireless transmission of data from one device to another. The important word there is ‘data’, with the technology capable of sending the likes of images, videos and location information between devices, not just sound.
It was invented in the latter part of the 1990s, with audio manufacturers quickly turning to it on a regularly basis thanks to the fact that it is wireless and easy to use. In the years since those first Bluetooth-capable devices were released, the technology itself has improved, allowing it to extend further and become of better quality. Devices using Bluetooth set up Personal Area Networks, which tend to have a range of about 33 foot, using UHF radio waves that sit between 2.402 GHz and 2.48 GHz on the ISM bands. It can stretch as far as 880 foot the latest version of Bluetooth is being used.
It Isn’t the Highest Sound Quality
One of the most important things you need to know about Bluetooth is that it isn’t the highest possible sound quality that you’re going to be able to get. Whilst this will be fine for the vast majority of people, audiophiles need to know that they will be making do with reduced audio quality than if they were to put a cable between the playing device and a speaker. Such ‘lossless’ transfer lacks convenience, but it is what you will need to try to do if the quality of what you’re listening to is more important to you than the ability to get devices communicating without wires.
This is especially true if you’re using BLE, or Bluetooth Low Energy, which is the standard for the majority of low-power devices. When Bluetooth was first created, devices streamed music at 328 Kb/s, which is just shy of Mp3 quality. Nowadays, the quality is much closer to 16-bit/44.1kHz quality, which is a level that even audiophiles will be pleased by. If you can find Bluetooth speakers that operate over aptX HD then you’re going to be streaming at 24-bit/48 kHz quality, which most people will find all but indistinguishable from wired sound; the problem being you’ll have to pay for it.
One of the best things about Bluetooth is its convenience, allowing people to stream music, podcasts and who knows what else from their phone to their device. With this in mind, the way to get the best out of your music is to look for speakers that are portable. Of course, once portability becomes one of the major selling points of your device, you are in a situation where compromises start to be made. In order to make something conveniently portable, you need to make it relatively small. As a result, you tend to sacrifice the likes of the audio quality of the speaker itself.
Finding a speaker that strikes the balance between portability and sound quality could be key. Of course, only you will know how important the ability to fit the speaker into a handbag is and whether that matters more than the quality of the sound the speaker then produces. You can use the rule of the thumb that the larger a speaker is, the more beefy the sound is likely to be, but that isn’t always the case. There are certainly some speakers out there that are small but pack a punch in the sound department, so they’re worth looking out for if that is something that matters to you.
The entire point of a portable speaker is that you can take it anywhere, which means that it will need to have a built-in battery. On most models, you can expect the battery to last between six and 12 hours, with some even managing to last as long as 24 hours. How long you’ll need the battery to last will depend on what you’re going to be using it for, but it is worth bearing in mind. As with the sound quality, the longer a battery lasts for, the larger it is likely to be and that will have an impact on the size of the speaker itself. Do you want it to last for hours or be small and ultra-portable?
Does Waterproof Matter?
There are many things you’ll have to decide for yourself in terms of their importance, with one of them being whether or not the speaker needs to be waterproof. You will want to look out for the IP rating of the speaker if you need it to be water or dustproof, given the fact that that is the rating that lets you know how much water or dust it can handle. In simple terms, IP ratings usually have those letters followed by numbers, with the first number indicating how dustproof it is and the second one being about the waterproof nature of the device in question. IP67 should be considered the minimum standard you’re looking for.
A speaker that has a rating of IP67 would be able to survive in water of up to one metre for 30 minutes, as well as a decent amount of dust. If you’re liable to work on a building site, say, where the speaker might get caught in the rain on a fairly regular basis, both things might be important. If the speaker is rated as IPX7, as an example, then that means that it is waterproof to one metre for 30 minutes but it hasn’t been given a dustproof rating. This is obviously fine if dust isn’t a concern, but it is important to know if you are a carpenter, for example, and require both things.
Whilst the entire point of buying a Bluetooth speaker is that you will be able to use it in an entirely wireless manner, there are certain occasions in which it would be helpful to be able to connect it via a wire anyway. There are some Bluetooth speakers that offer users a line-in socket, which will allow you to connect to it via wires. This could be really useful if you’re hoping to connect an old CD player, for example, or a record player that doesn’t have Bluetooth capability. It might seem silly to talk about connecting wires to a wireless device, but to some people it might help.
Nowadays, MicroUSB is out as the technology of choice for charging Bluetooth speakers, with USB-C tending to be the typical replacement. This is good for numerous reasons, not the least of which is the fact that USB-C technology will often allow users to both charge their device with the cable as well as use it as an audio-in line. USB-C is become the go-to port for devices, also allowing you to charge other devices using your Bluetooth speaker if you have something that is running out of battery. Most people won’t want a line-in, but if you do you know what to look for.
What Type of Bluetooth Is It?
The latest technology used in Bluetooth is Bluetooth 5, which was released in 2016. Bluetooth 5.3 came out in July of 2021, promising greater energy efficiency and a more stable connection between devices over a longer distance. Of course, the fact that it is the latest iteration of the technology means that it is fair from ubiquitous and you might need to shop around to find devices that offer it. Knowing what the Bluetooth level is that your speaker offers will let you know what you can expect to achieve with it, including both speed of transfer and distance it will work at.
Whilst this might change over time, as things currently stand the oldest version of Bluetooth that you’ll be able to buy in a speaker is Bluetooth 4.2, which dates back to 2014. In spite of its age, there are still some decent speakers that use it. If you’re looking at a Bluetooth speaker and notice that it is using Bluetooth 4.2, that doesn’t mean that you should abandon all considerations around buying it and look for something else. Instead, it is simply important to know that there will be certain limitations in place in terms of what you’ll be able to do with the speaker as a result.
Thinking About Codecs
Bluetooth codecs are the things that determine how the media is transmitted from a device to the speaker. The higher the quality of codec, the greater the streaming rates that the speaker will manage. The SBC codec is the lowest common denominator of Bluetooth audio, so all Bluetooth speakers support it, but others will support different codecs and have different levels of quality as a result. aptX HD is one of the highest quality Bluetooth codecs available, so it is worth looking out for a speaker that supports it if you’ve got a device that can offer it, given the improvement it will offer.
To an extent, thinking about codecs is a little bit ‘inside baseball’ and it will be irrelevant to a lot of people. Just as the quality of the streaming will matter to some, however, the codecs offered by your Bluetooth speaker will matter to others. aptX HD is the best quality codec there is, offering audio quality that is about the same level as a CD, but it is worth bearing in mind that not all sources offer it. Apple, for example, has chosen not to so there is no need to worry about it if you’re mostly going to be using the likes of an iPhone in order to stream your music to your new speaker.
What It Sounds Like
Ultimately, one of the things that will matter the most is what your music or other audio actually sounds like when you play it through your speaker. The one thing you won’t want to do is shed out a load of money buying the latest Bluetooth speaker from Sonos, Utlimate Ears or JBL and discover that it sounds tinny or unimpressive. As a result, you will want to make sure that you’re buying a speaker that sounds great when you listen to stuff through it, making sure to buy the right sort of Bluetooth speaker for what you’re going to be using it for, which only you will know.
You can do plenty of research looking at the subwoofer, how many tweeters the speaker has got and so on, but if you can get some experience listening to the speaker in the likes of a high street shop or because your friend already has one, you’ll be better-placed to get the speaker that is right for you. Doing your research ahead of sales periods such as Black Friday will then allow you to take advantage of any discounts that you find. Getting a speaker that allows the sound to travel and maintain its quality will give you plenty of options of how you’ll be able to use it.