The boom on your old speakers is not what it used to be? Upgrading on your speakers can do wonders and you don’t need to spend a fortune to play your tunes with the full, rich sound they deserve. With a quantum leap forward in terms of technology, portable speakers are slowly replacing bulky home …
The boom on your old speakers is not what it used to be? Upgrading on your speakers can do wonders and you don’t need to spend a fortune to play your tunes with the full, rich sound they deserve. With a quantum leap forward in terms of technology, portable speakers are slowly replacing bulky home theatre systems.
Whether you want to rock the house at a party or relax to some music in the evening, portable speaker systems can keep you listening for hours. Over the last few years, audio output and Bluetooth connectivity have significantly improved alongside battery life and design features. But this diverse selection of portable speakers makes it difficult to find the right one that ticks all your audio boxes. Follow our top tips below to ensure you make the most of your music and money.
Find the right type of speakers
Before you venture into the world of portable speakers, you need to know what to look for first. The term “portable” can be quite broad as it generally refers to any kind of speakers that can be easily moved and connected to various devices.
Which type of portable speaker is best for you depends on where and how many people will be listening. Are you planning to use your speaker outdoors while you are having a picnic or barbecue with friends? Then you’ll want a speaker with enough oomph to carry over competing noise.
If you are looking for speakers to connect with your laptop and portable gadgets, make sure the system features multiple inputs to connect it to a variety of devices. The latest Harman Kardon line of desktop speakers, the Nova, are designed to work with almost any audio source including PCs, laptops, MP3 players and phones.
2.1 speaker systems consist of two or more speakers and often include a subwoofer – ideal for discerning audiophiles. These speaker systems deliver deeper bass and better, full range sound. But they also come with a bulky construction which makes them less portable. PASCE’s Minirig 2.1 system has truly set a new standard in portable audio. The best choice if you are looking for the perfect mix of stylish design, portability and an audio quality that’ll knock the books off your shelf.
Speaker docking stations are a great option for portable devices. Once rooted, your smartphone, MP3 Player or tablet is transformed into a portable jukebox. Speaker docks also charge your device while playing, so you don’t have to worry about the battery running out. Their one-piece design also makes them smaller and more portable than 2.1 speaker systems.
The Denon DSD500 and Philips DS8500 are two of the most attractive and best-sounding speaker docks in their price range. Speaker docks can be quite specific, so before you buy one, make sure that it is compatible with your media device.
Most speaker docks are designed for Apple’s iPod and iPhone range, but most also include an auxiliary port that can be connected with a headphone jack on nearly any device. However, an audio input jack does not produce the same sound quality and you will also lose any on-speaker controls that require a dock connection. The Philips AS351 is a great sounding Android docking speaker for a decent price. You can also access a broad range of extra features with the Philips app.
Wireless vs wired
Sooner or later you will be faced with the question of whether to go wireless or not. If your smartphone and tablet are already wireless, why shouldn’t your speakers be too? Fans of wired systems, however, criticise the less than stellar sound quality of wireless systems. This is because wireless technology requires compression, which is even worse when you consider that the source of your music is a smartphone that plays compressed audio formats.
Even though compression does play a role in audio performance, the endless opportunities offered by wireless systems are an attractive option. Wireless playback units bring a whole new level of “easy” to your life: They can be placed anywhere and linked together to enjoy multi-room sound from a single source. Carry your smartphone, media player or tablet with you wherever you go, change the song from wherever you are in the house. Your music will know no boundaries.
Wireless speakers range from small, battery powered models to large and rather bulky designs with an array of on-board features. Their sound quality has significantly improved over the years and there are some incredible units out there that can blow you out of the water.
In terms of sales, the Bose SoundLink speakers are probable the most popular wireless speakers. The Bose SoundLink Mobile Speaker II delivers an extremely balanced and natural sound for its compact design. It has a built-in magnetic cover that folds back into a stand to enable versatile placement. You get an extremely practical design, but the only thing that is not practical is Bose’s price of £230. If you want slightly louder output and a prolonged battery life, opt for the latest Bose SoundLink Bluetooth Speaker III.
Another serious contender in the high-end wireless speaker market is Logitech’s Ultimate Ears (UE) range. Equipped with eight internal drivers, the Logitech UE Boombox delivers some serious low-end bass and mid-range boost. The Logitech UE Mobile Boombox promises an equally impressive audio performance but is much more portable than its bigger counterpart.
If you are looking for a crazy design, the Jawbone Big Jambox might just be right for you. It is as portable as a brick, but for £219 you get a great looking speaker with a crisp, clear sound. There is also a Mini Jambox that is more portable and park-friendly.
If you decide to opt for a wireless speaker, you need to choose between Bluetooth and Airplay-equipped devices to sync with your gadgets. Airplay, which uses your home Wi-Fi network, offers a much better range but only works with Macs and iOS devices. Bluetooth, however, works with any Bluetooth enabled phone, tablet or computer.
For more flexibility, you might want to invest in a speaker that can also be connected with a wire.
Try before you buy
Like headphones, the portable speaker market offers a wide range of price and audio quality. Unless you are an expert, the specifications listed by a speaker’s manufacturer mean little to nothing. Manufacturers love to throw in terms and numbers with no explanation as to what they actually mean. Some specifications may be exaggerated and you never know whether the tests were conducted in a normal room or special echo chamber. So don’t bother reading the spec sheet!
If you really want to judge a speaker’s sound quality, go and test it. After all, there is nothing more devastating than unpacking a box just to find out that the speaker doesn’t live up to your audio standards. Read trusted reviews and make sure you buy from a retailer with a good return policy.
Moreover, bigger isn’t necessarily better. Some models feature an ultra-portable design but still can fill an entire room with sound. Oontz Angle Ultra Portable Bluetooth Wireless Speaker is another innovative device made my Cambridge SoundWorks. If you want a powerful sound for a rock-bottom price, there is absolutely no comparison.
Another top pick for the low-price range category is Philips SoundShooter Portable Speaker. While its sound may not match the 360 degree sound field of the Carbon Audio pocket speaker or the audio depth of the Jabra Solemate, it will surely deliver more oomph than the speakers of your smartphone.
Want to add some extra features?
Some portable speakers roll out an array of on-board features. The GEAR4 HouseParty Speaker Dock works with an app that lets you sink your music for your alarms, so you’ll never be late for work.
If you don’t want to reconnect a device every time you use your speaker, choose a model with device memorisation. Some models like the Bose SoundLink Mini can memorise up to six Bluetooth sources, allowing you to switch through various playlists with ease.
If you are looking for high-end features, consider investing in the Boombot REX, one of the first speakers featuring full Siri integration. Like the JBL Flip it can also be used as a speaker phone to pick up or reject calls. But do you really want a phone call to interrupt your encounter with the latest Caribou mix?