Most of the bluetooth speakers that tech sites were raving about a few years ago are still available, and you can expect to pay about half price for them.
This market is a chaotic war — there are hundreds of models, and lots of them are excellent. We have thus been constantly updating our meta-review of the latest portable bluetooth speaker models.
While manufacturers tend to update these models and offer new ones at least every year, the changes are typically small. From year to year on the same model, you can often expect:
- Battery life increases of around 10-20%
- Better bluetooth range (although this was rarely a problem to begin with)
- Some minor changes in its sound (usually for the better); sometimes more volume
The fact is, for most uses, you’d probably not even notice a difference between a top-rated 1-3-year-old model and its newest iteration.
We thus thought it would be worth devoting an entire post to the top-reviewed models from the recent past that are still available on Amazon.
Used Bluetooth Speakers and the Risk of Battery Life Cycles
While good used speakers are generally an excellent purchase, the risk with portable bluetooth speakers is that you don’t know how much abuse the battery has already suffered (cycles of use, temperature swings). Also, if bluetooth speakers are working well and sound good, people tend to hang on to them, since there’s not much difference with the latest models. And the prices on the new units of just-outdated models are generally so good, we’d almost always recommend those over used.
All that said, you can find some used speakers offered for cheap enough that they’re worth the risk. (You can browse all used bluetooth speakers on Amazon, but we’d rather more recommend checking used offers for the specific models below at their links.) You may well end up with a speaker whose battery will last for years, and if the battery does give out, you can always keep it plugged in and use it as a dedicated bathroom or kitchen speaker, for example.
Getting the Best Deals on Bluetooth Speakers: Be Color-Agnostic
Pricing tends to fluctuate by color — sometimes widely. We include Amazon links that allow you to get an idea of pricing, and we always link to the lowest-priced color at the time of our writing, but another color of your chosen speaker might be cheaper by the time you see this. So don’t take the prices that show up on this page as the last word — you may find cheaper prices for other colors once you click over to Amazon or wherever you’re purchasing from.
The First-Generation UE Boom: A Rugged, Omni-Directional Speaker
This is the previous version of the UE Boom 2, which is our main pick for top portable bluetooth speaker. The main differences are that the original UE Boom is water resistant rather than fully waterproof, the battery doesn’t last quite as long, and it can’t get quite as loud. That said, it is a small, hardy, excellent-sounding speaker.
As for how it sounds, the reviews from tech sites and audiophiles were extremely enthusiastic about the original UE Boom, and many had it as their top pick at the time. The Verge called the UE Boom “essentially flawless” and the “best you can buy; (…) it’s a tall, water-resistant cylindrical speaker that fires sound in every direction”. CNET said that it was “one of those products that grows on you the more that you use it” and the Wirecutter previously named it the best rugged Bluetooth speaker. In its review, PCWorld cites the UE Boom’s “great battery life, surprisingly full, rich, and clear sound, and a smart, modern and simple design.” “The Ultimate Ears Boom has gotten a lot of press since it launched a year ago,” noted Gizomodo, “and that’s because it’s simply fantastic.”
As with the UE Boom 2, you can double the sound output by linking two UE Booms with the smartphone app. The waterproofing and overall ruggedness of the UE Boom were universally admired by reviewers, beating out all other top-sounding options. “You can dunk it with no ill effects,” boasted PCWorld. “When we took it and kicked it around in the dust (just a little), the simplest solution was to just wash it off under the tap.” The Wirecutter reported that the UE Boom’s rubberized coating successfully protected it in a drop test (five times from table height).
JBL Charge 2+
Used-Only Option: The Discontinued UE Mini Boom
This is a very small, fantastic speaker by the same designers as our top pick, and you can often find it for around $25 used at Amazon. New, however, the UE Mini Boom approaches the pricing for the improved UE Roll 2 (see our review here), and wouldn’t be a good buy. “If you define portable as ‘fits in my pocket’, the UE Mini Boom is the best speaker you can buy,” the Verge once reported. They meant a larger coat pocket — the speaker measures 4.4 x 2.6 x 2.4 inches (11.1 x 7.6 x 6.1 cm) and weighs 0.7 pounds(.301 kg), but it’s certainly portable, cheaper than the Bose Soundlink Color, and delivers great unidirectional sound. It was once the Wirecutter’s top portable Bluetooth pick, partly due to its price, and partly because its listening panel was “shocked by how good it sounded and how loud it could play”, sounding nearly as good as the UE Boom. PCWorld agreed that for its size it produces “sound at astounding volumes” but said that “tiny perversions detract from the experience” including a “cluttered soundstage” when listening up close.
The battery tested at 9-10 hours1Which?, behind a paywall and 7 hours2PCWorld. As with the UE Boom 2, two UE Mini Booms can be linked via a smartphone app (iOS or Android) to create a completely wireless stereo. The UE Mini Boom has a metal and rubber exterior which is quite solid, but it is not waterproof.
You can check current used offers for the UE Mini Boom at Amazon here.
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