The Best Portable Bluetooth Speaker (2022) for Outdoor Gatherings
The Move can be used with a direct Bluetooth connection, but part of the appeal is that it’s a versatile voice-activated smart speaker that also connects to wifi and can be seamlessly integrated with existing Sonos speakers and soundbars, Google Assistant or Amazon Alexa, and it’s super simple to use with Apple Airplay 2. If you already have Sonos at home, this speaker is an awesome addition (Sonos speakers can be paired for stereo sound or multi-room listening). And if you don’t already have Sonos, the Move just might be your gateway Sonos speaker.
What we didn’t like about the Sonos Move
The Sonos Move is an amazing speaker, but it’s not as portable as the JBL Extreme 3 or the Wonderboom 2. I’d call it semi-portable, you can move it from your dining room to your patio, but you probably won. I don’t want to lug that thing to the park. And if you’re dragging it to the park, you’ll definitely want to keep it in one place. Instead of a strap or a hook, this speaker has an indentation for a handle, and while it can be charged with a compatible USB-C cord, it comes with a charging port, which makes it even less portable. It’s way too heavy (6.61 pounds) to hang on anything anyway, though Sonos does offer a special wall hook for its odd handle (you can also buy the $80 travel bag).
How we tested
When the speakers arrived, we charged them to capacity and used them casually, indoors and out, even occasionally taking them into the shower to listen to our favorite music and podcasts. We also let our speaker-obsessed toddler toss them around a bit (except for the less portable Sonos Move, which usually sat on a high shelf). When it came time to officially test and review each speaker, we settled into our oversized garage and connected each to my iPhone. We spent two nights playing through a playlist we curated to show us the full gamut of what each speaker can (and can’t) do. To test the limits of each speaker, we listened to each song while frequently adjusting the volume between 75% and maximum volume. While the speakers remained in a checkpoint, we moved around and outside the garage to get a real feel for how powerful they were. Although some of the speakers can be used with an equalizer in an app, we’ve left each at their default settings to keep things fair.
What we were looking for
First, we rated the speakers on audio quality. How does it sound when playing a variety of music genres? Do the highs become tinny or fuzzy at maximum volume? Can it handle deep, intense bass beats or does it sound distorted when the bass explodes? Does the speaker really present the layers in a full band arrangement? Are the voices clear? Is the music punchy when it’s supposed to be? Does the speaker perform better in a certain position?
Is the speaker loud enough to power an outdoor dinner party or a picnic in the park? Some of the smaller speakers we tested had impressive audio quality, but just weren’t very loud, and others were distorted when the volume was set above 85%.
Our main interest in portable speakers is for outdoor dining, but we also want something we can take to the park, pool, or beach, so we looked for durable, waterproof, or heavy-duty speakers. at the water. Most of the speakers we’ve tested have an IP67 rating, which means they’re completely sealed against dust, sand and water, although we’ve tested one (the Sonos Move) with an IP56 protection rating. We avoided IPX7 (waterproof but not necessarily dustproof) and IPX4 (splash resistant) rated speakers.
Is the speaker easy to move or is it heavy and bulky? Is there a carrying strap or loop included to make it more portable?
Bluetooth connectivity and range
Was it easy to pair the speaker with my iPhone? (Unfortunately, I didn’t have an Android to test.) What is the Bluetooth range? Did the speaker stay connected when I left with my phone?
When a brand promises this many hours of battery life, the marketing copy really needs to say “up to” because a number of factors can affect how long a speaker will run on a single charge. If you turn up the volume to maximum, it will consume more power. Connecting a speaker to multiple devices and pairing it with another speaker for surround sound can also drain the battery. We kept that in mind when testing the speakers, and even though we didn’t time them, we did notice that a speaker died much faster than it looked like it should.
What we didn’t look for
We’ve taken a look at the speakers for how we at Epicurious will use them. This means that we focused almost entirely on how a speaker sounded in real-world context rather than technical specs like watts, woofers, tweeters, and passive radiators. While these elements impact sound, we haven’t considered any of them in the abstract to improve or detract from a speaker’s rating.
Other speakers we tested
From the looks of it, the JBL 5 load is essentially a smaller version of our top pick, the JBL Xtreme 3, but it’s not small enough to be considered a compact portable Bluetooth speaker and it doesn’t have any type of hoop or handle for carrying easy. Although not as powerful as the larger JBL, it is still a powerful and great sounding speaker, especially when activated for hip hop, guitar and vocals. It was slightly less impressive when we were turning on symphonic music or playing anything with a full band at maximum volume, and as with the Xtreme 3, directionality really matters with this style of cabinet. Unfortunately, directivity is more evident with a smaller speaker. Considering the price ($150-$180 depending on retailer at time of posting), it’s better to buy two Wonderboom 2 speakers instead of a JBL Charge 5. That said, we were able to use the app to pair the Charge 5 with the Xtreme 3 for Party Boost and stereo pairing, so if you already have other JBL speakers, you’ve got a good reason to buy this one.