Summer is on the horizon. We’re emerging from our homes, blinking in the sunlight and taking our first tentative steps into the great outdoors. Bereft of anything to discuss, we sit in total silence with friends, unsure of what to do or say. Luckily, music can help fill the gaps in conversation, at least until we all learn how to socialise again. But how best to listen?
We’re not talking about music streaming services – that’s another kettle of fish entirely. Once you’ve made that decision, a more important question arises: which speaker will have the privilege of playing your suspect playlists and favourite throwbacks?
It’s the most important aspect, of course, but the best Bluetooth speakers aren’t just about sound. With audio technology so good now that sound quality differences are sometimes indiscernible to the layman, brands go the extra mile to make sure your entire listening experience is as good as possible. From clean, Scandi speakers to flashy light shows, the Bluetooth audio game has really gone up a notch.
Prices have also dropped as technology becomes more widespread, with some speakers available for surprisingly low prices.
High-quality speakers have also joined the Bluetooth race, to the extent that the term “Bluetooth speaker” now encapsulates much of the audio market. On that point, we’ve tried to give you as wide a range of offerings as possible, from super portable poolside devices to boombox party starters and luxury, desktop setups.
Ultimately, there’s now something for everyone’s tastes in the Bluetooth market. So, whether you’re looking for a backpack-friendly offering or are ready to invest in something for home; after hours of listening and testing, we have you covered.
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The best Bluetooth speakers 2021
- Best overall – Transparent small transparent speaker: £375, Transparent.rent
- Best for outdoors – Bang & Olufsen Beosound A1: £199, Johnlewis.com
- Best for clear sound – Naim Mu-so Qb 2nd gen: £749, Premiumsound.co.uk
- Best budget speaker – KitSound diggit 55: £49, Very.co.uk
- Best radio-first speaker – Ruark R1 Mk4 review: £229, Johnlewis.com
- Best for battery life – Marshall emberton: £119, Amazon.co.uk
- Best for home use – Sonos move: £399, Johnlewis.com
- Best poolside speaker – Sony SRS-XB33: £119, Johnlewis.com
- Best loudest speaker – Ultimate Ears hyperboom: £359, Currys.co.uk
- Best easy-to-use speaker – Audio Pro BT5: £199, Amazon.co.uk
- Best light and portable powerful speaker – Bose portable smart speaker: £289, Johnlewis.com
- Best waterproof speaker – JBL Charge 4: £97, Uk.jbl.com
- Best speaker with lights – Soundcore flare 2: £64.99, Amazon.co.uk
Transparent small transparent speaker
This is a beautiful speaker. Stockholm brand Transparent’s more sustainable, modular set up means you can continue to upgrade your purchase by replacing its constituent parts, instead of having to buy an entirely new speaker – there is, for example, space in the bottom casing for more wireless options alongside the built-in Bluetooth.
The speaker is designed to be fixed in place – its mains powered, and the speakers themselves are forward facing – and the clear glass design enhances any setting. Once in position (make sure to use the nifty white gloves provided with each speaker, as it’s a bind to clean grubby, overly-keen fingerprints off), the sound is incredibly clear, with a solid bass and impressively full general sound for a compact speaker. Transparent’s Swedish design and technology means you simply can’t go wrong with this, and modular upgrades will only make it better. Different, refreshing and packed with quality.
Bang & Olufsen beosound A1 2nd gen
Best: For outdoors
There aren’t many audio companies with a stronger design ethic than Bang & Olufsen. A visit to the brand’s headquarters in Struer, Denmark, is an architectural education, so it’s no surprise that the A1 second generation Bluetooth speaker is a stunner.
Available in five colours, it’s waterproof and dust and sand resistant, and is slimmer and sturdier than its much-lauded predecessor. Like other higher-end portable speakers, it has integrated voice assistant and speakerphone, too, with 18 hours of playtime. The sound comfortably outperforms the speaker’s size and provides strong bass and crystal clear treble, perfect for all the podcasts you’re missing without your morning commute.
Naim Audio mu-so Qb 2nd generation
Best: For clear sound
The Naim Qb has by far the clearest sound on this list. It’s a cliche, but the listening experience is almost as good as having the musicians in the room – a rarity for wireless speakers. It shouldn’t have come as a surprise, however, as this second-generation speaker features a multicore digital signal processor, providing over 13 times the power and accuracy of the previous version, and speaker drivers optimised for refined bass and distortion cancellation.
The controls on the top are intuitive and clean, with the volume dial doubling as a touchscreen for navigating favourite tracks and advanced settings. The Qb can also be linked to other non-Naim speakers through Apple home or chromecast – but that seems a bit like mixing champagne with Shloer.
KitSound diggit 55
Best: Budget speaker
This is the budget speaker for the socially distanced generation. Complete with bonus removable stake, this garden-ready model is solid and water-resistant enough to chuck into your bag along with a supermarket bottle of wine for an afternoon sitting two metres away from your friends in the park.
It’s a very capable speaker, especially for the price, with clear sound and good battery life. It perhaps doesn’t quite feature a consistent 360-degree sound, due to quiet points between the four speakers inside, but that’s a minor point and hardly noticeable. If you buy two, pairing is as easy as tapping them together, which is neat, straightforward and adds some more fun to proceedings.
Ruark R1 Mk4
Best: Radio-first speaker
Family-owned brand Ruark, based on the south coast of England, has been developing sound systems and radios since the Eighties, so the pedigree is clear to see. The R1 Mk4 radio is, as the name suggests, the fourth generation of Ruark’s flagship R1 radio – it looks like a classic radio, perfect for the bedside or a coffee table, with a pleasingly old-school look that hides some very modern, class-leading audio and visual tech.
The OLED display shows the time, station or song that’s playing, which is handy if you’re not permanently tied to your phone. This is certainly a radio first, rather than a dedicated speaker, but the sound quality is more than a match for many speakers at this price point, with the treble particularly impressive. It’s a charming product that upgrades the R1 series while retaining its unique spirit.
Best: For battery life
A must-have for any Marshall enthusiast, and not just for its looks. This little treasure packs a punch with its sound – a quality you’d expect from the British amp experts. With front- and back-facing speakers utilising Marshall’s true stereophonic system and a battery life of almost a full 24-hour day, it’s an impressively versatile product.
We found ourselves using the emberton the most regularly outside of our official reviewing (we haven’t damaged it, Marshall, we promise). It also plays a cool guitar lick every time you switch it on or off, which arguably merits a purchase by itself.
Best: Forhome use
One of the big players in the smart speaker revolution, Sonos continues to refine its products, and its “move” device is no exception. Having somewhat been left watching the boom in portable Bluetooth speakers from the sidelines, this is Sonos’s response. It’s a solid speaker – tall and sturdy – but, importantly, it’s portable. You’re not putting this in the back of the car, but, unlike other Sonos products, the move has an inbuilt battery and the all-important Bluetooth, making it perfect for taking into the garden or another room.
The luxury feel of the charging port is a positive design upgrade, and is markedly different to most chargers on the Bluetooth market. The speaker’s extra size enhances the audio, too, with a full sound compared to rest of the Sonos line, and the upgraded acoustic calibration means making it perform at its best is zero effort.
Best: Poolside speaker
The SRS stands for “sturdy, really sturdy”. Well, it doesn’t, but it might as well, as this strong, salt water-resistant bit of kit is ready to fill a flat – or beach – with party tunes. We liked the mini boombox vibe: the woofers on each side are a nice and productive touch, and while the treble isn’t the focus here, meaning the higher elements aren’t as crisp as with other speakers, the bass is impressively full for the product’s size. The in-built light system pulses and dances to the beat of any song, with the most variation of any of the speakers on this list.
Ultimate Ears hyperboom
Best: Loudest speaker
The hyperboom is as fun as its name. From the brilliant bongo sounds when switching the speaker on and off, to the visceral blast that hits you when any bass kicks in, this is a big boy for big celebrations, while not actually being that cumbersome to move.
The handy rubber handle turns the intimidating cuboid into a civilised boombox, and the buttons on top are as big as its sound. Speaking of which, adaptive EQ alters the sound until it’s perfect for any space you’re in, even when you’re transporting it from room to room. Simply put, it’s a ridiculous, brash and brilliant speaker.
Audio Pro BT5
Best: Easy-to-use speaker
The BT5 is the speaker that your tabletop yearns for. Its subtle design – choose between a driftwood, walnut or black finish – provides a sleek, confident look that holds its own in almost any surroundings. It’s also very simple to use, not overdoing it on the buttons, while the sound is strong and rich for its size, especially in the higher register, and there’s an option for wired listening, too. It’s understated, and that’s a good thing.
Bose portable smart speaker
Best: Light and portable powerful speaker
This is a smart speaker in more ways than one. Its size makes it perfectly portable without conceding any sound quality: clear sound is provided in all directions, it has a deep bass, and there is no distortion at the top end of its volume capacity. It might not sound as full as other, more expensive speakers on the market, but it makes up for it with a minimalist, sophisticated design and genuinely useful handle – it’s one of the easiest of these speakers to transport. Its warm audio is great for music and podcasts alike – and the sound of strings when you switch the speaker on and off are the most urbane and elegant on the market, which is somehow an important aspect to us.
JBL Charge 4
Best: Waterproof speaker
JBL has shot ahead in recent years, thanks to its considered range of high-performing mid-level speakers. The JBL charge 4 continues this trend, with a sound that easily outperforms its price tag. It’s basic, but does its job with aplomb – the treble is clear, and the bass, while more laid-back than others on this list, is very measured. Available in 12 colours, it’s water resistant for days to the beach, and its battery capacity is an upgrade on previous generations, allowing for 20 hours of playtime. A robust, yet sophisticated speaker.
Soundcore flare 2
Best: Speaker with lights
This is a real dark horse. You’d be forgiven for not expecting much from a speaker at this price – something decent enough that’ll last you a couple of years of being thrown about. The flare 2 is more than that. To start, it doesn’t feel like a budget option: it’s a good weight, the design is well-considered and ergonomic, and the beat-driven light show works admirably well. It’s waterproof, a bass button on the back is a nice touch to swap between heavy and lighter modes, and has the always-fun on and off noises. Apparently, you can link 100 flare 2 speakers and synchronise a sound and light show. I’m saving up.
The verdict: Bluetooth speakers
For a static speaker that has looks and sound all wrapped up in a neat package, Transparent’s small transparent speaker is the best product on the Bluetooth market. Based on pure sound alone, the Naim takes the title, while at the more portable end, the Beosound A1 2nd gen from Bang & Olufsen is a stylish accompaniment to any day out.
More audio recommendations:
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