The Best Bluetooth Speaker for Travel 2018


Over our years travelling the world, we’ve always made room in our extremely minimalist packing scheme for a portable Bluetooth speaker.

So we think it’s pretty vital to travel with good sound.

We’ve tried out dozens of different Bluetooth speakers for this site, and we continue to read every speaker review from top consumer test organizations, tech sites, and bloggers around the world. UE Boom 2It’s not easy to pick one from the heap, but if we had to do it, here’s the winner we’d take on any trip.

The Best Travel Speaker of 2018: UE Boom 2

This is the loudest, smoothest-sounding speaker we’ve heard at this portable size: just a bit narrower and slightly taller than a soda can. The battery lasts for 15 hours, and if you buy two you can pair them for stereo-on-the-go. If you buy it from Amazon be sure to check the prices of various colors as they can vary quite a bit.

Check on Amazon

Update History of This Article

Our first Bluetooth speaker article was published in 2015. It has since been updated every few months with additions, changed recommendations, and new products, and also had a few major overhauls. On April 14, 2017, we started logging these changes here; we added the UE Wonderboom to the recommended cheaper speakers. On May 3, 2017 we made a few changes and added the Etekcity RoverBeats T3. On May 8, 2017 we added the CRDC Life. On May June 2, 2017 we added a discussion of the JBL Flip 4 and made a few other updates. On June 21, 2017 we updated the discussion of the CRDC Life. On August 11, 2017, we updated the information on the Fugoo and Bose Soundlink Revolve speakers. On August 15-16, 2017, we removed speakers that were no longer available, updated the descriptions of our main pick, added some great alternate recommendations that have been recently released. We also rewrote the dumb parts. On Nov. 2, 2017, we added the AOSM speaker. On Nov. 3, we added the Bose Soundlink Micro. On Nov. 7, 2017, we added the supercheap tiniest speaker. On July 18-20, 2017, we did a major overhaul of the whole article with some updated recommendations concerning new speakers and eliminating those that are no longer available. On July 22. 2018: removed the no-longer-available the AOSM Portable TWS Bluetooth speaker, CRDC Life and Etekcity RoverBeats T3.

Why the UE Boom 2 is Our Favorite Travel Speaker (and We’re Far From Alone on This)

The UE Boom 2 is, as the name suggests, the sequel to its hit UE Boom. We’ll discuss what we and other critics think of its sound, and the key other factors that make this indestructible little marvel a joy to travel with.

How the UE Boom 2 Sounds

The first criterion for any speaker, even an ultra-portable one, is that it sound good and be worth the trouble of throwing in your bag, purse, or suitcase.

And the UE Boom 2 sounds fantastic. Its 1.75 inch drivers and 1.75-by-3-inch passive radiators punch out powerful sound and relatively deep bass for such a small unit with little risk of distortion. It’s an impressive feat of engineering and it doesn’t — like certain competitors, hike up the bass end to try to cover sloppy performance. The sound is balanced and rich, and it goes quite loud (up to 90 dBA).

Lots of others (audiophile critics, tech sites, and bloggers) love how it sounds too. It was an initial hit with reviewers when released and remains at or near the top of lists for 2018’s top portable Bluetooth speakers. The  British and French independent consumer organizations gave it high rankings in their tests, but the Americans did not like it so much — though they were comparing it to much larger and more expensive home Bluetooth speaker units.

Since speaker tastes are subjective, we love to look for an overall consensus in this way rather than taking just our ears or any other one critic’s tastes as gospel. A few other Bluetooth speakers are also quite celebrated, but are too large (we cover the bigger, less portable Bluetooth speakers here). The UE Boom 2 is to most ears the best-sounding speaker with the features and the size that a traveller wants.

The accolades from critics: it’s “surefooted” in the mids and trebles, and the bass is “well-timed”, and strong but “not overpowering” and overall the “best I’ve heard from a speaker of this size”. The sound gets described as “lush”, “clean”, “pure”, and “detailed”.

Loudness is a huge factor for most travellers, especially those venturing out into the wild — what’s the point of having such a rugged waterproof speaker if you can’t hear it well when you’re in the great outdoors? Here, the UE Boom 2 excels past its competition, particularly compared to speakers of the same size. With the latest update, the UE Boom 2 now blasts out up to 90 decibels. Some critics do feel that it now distorts somewhat at the highest volumes (above 85 decibels) — though there is a mix of experiences with others saying it still sounds pristine at the highest volume. In any case, it goes loud, and is the best-sounding small speaker that is capable of reaching these levels.

Ultimate Ears BOOM 2 Phantom Wireless Mobile Bluetooth Speaker (Waterproof and Shockproof) Also crucial for making this work in practical outdoor settings or larger rooms is the UE Boom 2’s 360-degree output. No matter which side of the speaker you’re on, it sounds the same. The speaker is designed to be placed in the center of the action, and be equally enjoyable from any side. This means you can take a party to go and place the speaker in the center of the action, and it will sound great to everyone.

The UE Boom 2’s Battery

While this was not our top priority, it’s nice to know that the UE Boom 2’s battery life was excellent; it can last through several days of normal use (or one really extreme day-and-night beach party). UE claims a battery life of 15 hours, and in practice Which? found it to last for 19 hours when played at a comfortable volume.

All batteries eventually reach the end of their lives; UE Boom 2 offers to replace the battery for a fee (by calling support) if the two-year warranty period is has already ended. This option extends the potential life of your speaker. That said, anecdotally, we have one older-model UE speaker that still works fine after five years of pretty-constant use on the road.

Ruggedness and Waterproof Certification of the UE Boom 2

Frankly, we think that Bluetooth speaker manufacturers’ obsession with waterproofing is a bit over-the-top; it’s great if your speaker can survive the odd splash or spill but who is listening to their speakers underwater?

Nevertheless, for travellers it’s a nice plus that the UE Boom 2 is tough enough to easily survive drops and and water that sloshes its way.

The speaker is IPX7 rated, which means that it can be immersed under a meter of water for up to 30 minutes with no damage. This is a specific and meaningful claim (with legal implications) under the conditions of the International Electrotechnical Commission’s standards.

UE’s marketing for the speaker touts it as a rugged beast that can take hits, bumps, and shocks. There’s no specific certification for this, but the Amazon reviewers who used the word “dropped” do indeed say that it survives this sort of abuse just fine.

Other Features of the UE Boom 2

  • The UE Boom 2 works as a speakerphone. Chances are you won’t use this — there’s already a speakerphone function on your smartphone — but if you want it, know that various reviewers found that it worked well for phone calls.
  • The speaker has a D-hook, so with a carabiner it can be hung from a messenger bag, bicycle, shower hook, or off the edge of a picnic table. We’ve discussed how important it is for travellers to be able to hang their toiletry kits; it’s nice to have a convenient way to hang our tunes as well.
  • The UE Boom 2 charges via a standard (included) mini-USB cable, which means that it’s very easy to borrow a charging cable if you’re out with it and didn’t bring your own. If the 15-hour battery isn’t enough, you can also easily charge it from a portable battery (which most travellers use to recharge phones, computers and other devices on the go).
  • The top hook unscrews to reveal a standard tripod mount, meaning that the speaker can be placed on a tripod in your yard, or — for attachment anywhere — be used with a flexible claw-grip portable tripod.
  • If you buy two UE Boom 2 speakers you can create a portable stereo with great separation and soundstage by using them simultaneously. You do this pairing via UE’s Android or iOS apps, which offer the choice of either stereo sound or just doubling up the volume in mono mode — great for a larger outdoor party.
  • The UE smartphone app also has an equalizer, battery meter, and alarm.
  • The oversized volume buttons allow you to adjust the volume directly on the speaker (you can also of course just do this from whatever phone or tablet is providing the music).
  • If you don’t want to fiddle with your phone, you can pick up the speaker and tap its top to pause your music, and double-tap to skip a track. The speaker senses when it’s been picked up and will only respond to taps if you have grabbed it, so as to avoid responding to accidental bumps.
  • The UE Boom 2 supports touch-pairing via NFC, which can make the initial pairing process slightly faster and more intuitive.
  • The speaker has wide compatibility with any modern Bluetooth-enabled Android, Apple, or Windows smartphone, tablet or computer.
  • A mini analog input allows you to connect older non-Bluetooth devices.
  • A wide range of colors are available.
  • You can control the unit by voice command, just as you would with an Amazon Echo, Apple HomePod, or Google Home; ask the Boom 2 to play your favorite artist, for example. An update has now brought Amazon Alexa to the UE Boom 2; it already had Siri and Google Now integration. If that appeals to you, great, though we remain rather unconvinced about smart speakers in general — you already have one of these same voice assistants in your smartphone, which is just as easy to access. See also our coverage of UE’s fully smart speaker the UE MegaBlast or the smaller UE Blast — but note that these don’t have smart features if you’re on the road away from the WiFi you’ve configured them on.
  • The UE Boom 2 measures 2.75 inches in diameter by 7.125 inches tall (6.7 x 18 cm) and weighs 1.2 pounds (.548 kg). It’s small and light enough that we can always toss it into our bag for a short trip or long-term travel.

Criticisms of the UE Boom 2 (But Not Enough to Hold Us Back)

  • There is always a trade-off between a speaker’s size and its ability to deliver convincing bass and volume. While most reviewers felt that the UE Boom 2 offers the best overall sound-to-size tradeoff, the very similar UE Megaboom can be a better choice for bigger sound and more bass — if you don’t mind carrying a bigger speaker in your luggage.
  • To some critics’ ears, the bass overtakes the midrange a bit a top volumes. If you feel the same, this can be fixed by taking the bass down a bit on the app’s equalizer function.

Buying Options for the UE Boom 2

At last check, prices for the UE Boom 2 were similar whether you purchased from Amazon, Best Buy, or Ebay. Some retailers do have different prices depending on the color you buy, so you may want to click around to different colors if you’re flexible and see what each costs.

Note that we wouldn’t recommend buying a used Boom 2 —or any other battery-containing electronic device — as there is no telling how many cycles the battery has already been through at the time of purchase. You may end up having to replace the battery too soon after purchase.

Accessory for the UE Boom 2: Carrying Case

We’re not the types to bother with a case (this is a hardy, washable speaker), but lots of our readers do so.

Aside from protecting the speaker, a travel case can keep your UE Boom 2’s cable and wall charger handy and protected.

Here are the top three UE Boom 2 cases, in order by popularity with our presumably savvy and stylish readership.

Other Top Travel Bluetooth Speaker Options

Depending on your preferences and travel style, the following speakers may be more suitable.

The Bose Soundlink Mini II would be the perfect choice for the audiophile who wants a tiny Bluetooth speaker for mainly inside use on the road (hotel rooms, etc.).

The Mini II sounds just as great as its beloved predecessor (the Soundlink Mini), according to a number of reviewers and consumer organizations; they call the Mini II the top option for “booming bass in as small a form factor as possible” and say instruments and vocals in the mid-range have “space to breathe” and impressive warmth. It can “competently handle the full spectrum of use.”

You can’t pair two of them together for stereo, unlike our main pick. The Bose Soundlink Mini II measures 7.1 x 2.3 x 2 inches (18 x 5.8 x 5.1 cm). The major drawback is that it’s a heavy little guy (1.5 pounds/.68 kg) and not as rugged and suitable for rough travel as our main pick. Its battery life has been tested at 8-10 hours by reviewers.

The Most Rugged Travel Bluetooth Speaker (and Longest Battery Life): Fugoo Tough

The  Fugoo Tough which is designed to withstand snow, mud, shocks, and submersion underwater. It has a 7 rating in waterproofing just like the UE Boom 2, but is also dustproof, giving it an IP67 rating.

It’s also the speaker we’d recommend with the most battery life: 40 hours.

Overall it doesn’t get near as many accolades for sound as our main pick, but it’s not too bad either.  Several reviewers quite like how it handles music, while another faults it for lack of bass and volume.

Fugoo sells basically the same speaker in Sport, Style S, and Fugoo Style versions, but the Tough version is the only one that might make sense for some travellers as it is the most indestructible of the lot, and that’s what Fugoo has going for it in comparison to other options. We have done a full analysis of the differences between these Fugoo speakers. And we have a more complete comparison of the Fugoo, UE, and Bose lines of speakers.

At about half the size and weight of the UE Boom 2, the Bose has introduced a clippable, pocketable marvel that still somehow manages to deliver signature Bose evenness and clarity, and even enough loudness to fill a room or work for outdoor listening.

The Bose Soundlink Micro measures 3.87 inches (9.8 cm) square and is 1.37 inches (3.5 cm) thick; it weighs 0.64 pounds (.29 kg), making it one of the lightest speakers we’ve ever recommended. It’s fully IPX7 waterproof and has a very durable rubberized chassis.

The tech critics and audiophiles who have reviewed it tend to agree that its clarity is great and there is even somewhat of a soundstage and a solid bass end; it’s widely held to be the best-sounding small speaker of its size.

The main complaint is its price; this little sucker costs about the same as the UE Boom 2. And the battery life of six hours may deter some (though if you’re carrying your own spare USB battery in your pack you don’t have to worry).

See also our comparison of the Micro with the Bose Soundlink Color II.

Budget Travel Bluetooth Speakers

Our top pick is louder and sounds a bit better than the options in this section; we think it’s worth it as we travel constantly.

But there are other, cheaper options that are similarly lovely if you don’t need that extra oomph, or want to spend a bit less.

You might also especially consider the first option and buying two of them for a portable stereo pair.

A Great-Sounding, Light-Weight Disk Speaker: The UE Roll 2

This comes from the same designers as our top pick and shares a similar vision, if in a quite different form: the UE Roll 2. It is a 5.3-inch disk that is designed to be placed in the center of the action and also deliver 360-degree sound. It is IPX7 waterproof and comes with pool float, for those who like to lounge out in the water with their tunes floating next to them.

The UE Roll 2 is cheaper than our main pick, and it’s not as powerful, but it still delivers quite impressive loudness and bass. Reviewers have generally loved its sound; they say that “little details…sizzle”, that it is “clear” and “natural”, and that the low end is “solid”.

It has an integrated bungee cable on the back that allows you to hang or attach the speaker anywhere (such as the back of your backpack). As with the other UE options, if you buy two you can set them up as completely wireless stereo speakers via dedicated iOS or Android apps. In various reviewers’ tests, its battery life comes to 9 to 11.5 hours.

Reviewers noted little difference in sound quality between this speaker and the previous version, and the UK consumer organization actually preferred the original UE Roll to its successor. Given all this, you might see if you can snag the original UE Roll, which has sometimes been cheaper on Amazon (click through to check current prices). The main improvements to the new version are a couple of hours of battery life and that it can kick out a few more decibels. For most listeners, the older version is just as great.

A Cheap Speaker that Can Survive Rough Handling: The UE Wonderboom

The UE Wonderboom is similar in price and features to the UE Roll 2, but is built to deliver 360-degree sound and go just a bit louder. It’s also dustproof, and according to reviewers’ tests, it survives drops well. It’s a bit shorter and squatter than the UE Boom 2.

Your can check our full summary of UE Wonderboom reviews, but the main takeaway is that this would be a great, cheap choice for camping.  However, most prefer the UE Boom 2. But if at the time of your purchase the UE Wonderboom is going for much cheaper, it’s absolutely worth considering instead. It’s a tad bit lighter and slightly squatter and fatter than our main pick.

Top Ultra-Cheap Option: The OontZ Curve

The Cambridge Soundworks Oontz Curve is a favorite of the few audio reviewers who deign to try out under-$50 portable bluetooth speakers, saying for example that “the sound is amazingly full for such a small speaker” and “there was no audible distortion”.

It doesn’t play as loud or deliver as much bass as larger and more expensive speakers, but it’s the best option at this price range and relatively well-liked by its Amazon reviewers as well. It measures 2.6 inches (6.6 cm) tall and has a diameter of 2.9 inches (7.4 cm); it weighs .56 pounds (.254 kg).

Another Good Ultra-Cheap Option: The DKnight MagicBox II

While most commentators preferred the Oontz Curve above, some really liked the DKnight MagicBox II, and it generally positive reviews from customers.

The battery can run it for up to 12 hours, and the dimensions are similar to the UE Boom 2.

The Absolute Cheapest and Tiniest Bluetooth Speaker Worth Buying: Dodocool

Dodocool’s speaker, the smallest Bluetooth speaker we’ve tried, sounds better than any cell phone’s internal speaker.

This tiny little speaker is dirt cheap, easily fits in any pocket or even on a keychain, and will sound better (slightly) and louder than your mobile phone. The Dodocool Bluetooth Speaker‘s connectivity is not great — the Bluetooth signal is prone to drop, especially if you’re trying to listen while the speaker is charging (not recommended).

And the Dodocool certainly didn’t sound as good as any of the other, larger speakers we recommend. But it’s loud enough to be heard in the shower and provides more clarity and oomph than your mobile phone’s built-in speaker. Don’t expect bass, of course. We know one extreme light traveller who only takes what fits in a shoulder bag; this is the kind of travel bluetooth speaker that he should consider.

Want a Bigger, Louder Speaker for Your Travels?

We’re all about travelling light so we’ve limited this article to speakers that are about the size and weight of the UE Boom 2.

If you think you can carry more, you’ll also be able to get more volume and better sound — this is a basic law of speaker tech.

We have a separate meta-review featuring the larger, louder Bluetooth speakers that sound best.

Our main recommendation there is the Marshall Kilburn, but heavy travellers may prefer our discussion further down that same page of the more rugged UE Megaboom (which of course is the more massive, louder sibling to the UE Boom 2).

Other Options (But Not Our Top Picks)

The Bose Soundlink Color II is the small-to-mid-sized Bluetooth speaker to get if you want a decent soundstage and the smooth mids and trebles that the Bose universe tends to provide.

The Color II not as loud, and doesn’t kick out as much powerful bass as some of the other options, but the critics and consumer organizations report that holds it own and is excellent for filling a room with clean, detailed sound. We offer a full comparison of the Soundlink Color II with the other Bose speakers.

The Color II is directional, meaning that it sounds best when you’re right in front of it, and it’s spash-resistant (but not waterproof) and has a rubberized body so is expected to survive drops well. Overall, that makes it a nice-enough speaker to travel with, but the UE Boom 2 seems like a better deal to us.

The Bose Soundlink Color II measures 2.2 x 5.0 x 5.2 inches (5.6 x 12.7 x 13.2 cm) and weighs 1.2 pounds (.544 kg).

Generally Well-Liked: JBL Flip 4, JBL Charge 3, JBL Charge 2+, JBL Charge 2, JBL Pulse

All three of the main offerings from JBL got above-average ratings from various commentators, but the praise was not universal, and they did not beat the ratings given to our main picks above.

The JBL Pulse 2 has the same cylindrical shape as the UE Boom 2 and is bulkier and heavier (7.65 x 3.31 in. or 19.4 x 84.2 cm; 1.71 lb or .775 kg). Reviewers and consumer organizations generally like it in terms of sound, though not nearly as much as our main picks. Its main selling point is that it features an exterior of flashing, programmable LED lights, so you can not just DJ but also bring disco lighting anywhere you go, if that’s your thing. Please, let that not be your thing.

We think that the JBL Flip 4 doesn’t measure up to the UE Boom 2, but it is a very good speaker. Critics across the board liked its crispness and convincing bass, but also complained that it distorts a bit at the highest volumes and over-emphasizes the treble. It’s fully waterproof (IPX7) and has a 12-hour battery life, but at this price point, you’re better off with the budget picks above.

We mainly dismissed the JBL Charge 3 because it is larger and much heavier than the UE Boom 2, and had mixed reviews for sound. Some critics think the Charge 3 sounds better, but most think it sounds worse — audiophiles complain that it is uneven and that it lacks clarity on the high end. Many even felt that it was a step down from its previous version, the JBL Charge 2+ (see next paragraph). They did appreciate the JBL Charge 3’s thumping bass and that it goes a bit louder than the UE Boom 2. It has the ability to charge your phone from the speaker battery, which is a nice extra. And with a 20-hour battery life and an IPX7 fully waterproof rating, the JBL Charge 3 could be a good choice for those who want long, loud parties on the beach and don’t mind the bigger size/weight.

If you’re eyeing the Charge 3 but you’re on a budget, you may want to click through to check the latest prices on the previous versions, the JBL Charge 2, and in particular the JBL Charge 2+, which some critics felt had better sound compared even than its successor Charge 3. It can charge your phone, and it is water resistant, but not waterproof.

Cheap Waterproof Bluetooth Speakers: The Polk Audio BOOM Swimmer, Boom Swimmer Duo, and Boom Swimmer Junior

These speakers don’t deliver the best sound quality according to reviewers, nor even the best audio for their price range.

But if you want a very cheap speaker that sounds decent and is waterproof and can be strapped to anything, the Boom Swimmer is your guy.

You can also remove the funky tail and use the suction cup to stick it to a wet wall or a glass window, which can help deliver more resonant bass. The battery life is excellent for the price range; eight hours at full volume, and up to 16 at half.

The Polk Audio Boom Swimmer Duo allows you to link two of them for stereo; the Polk Audio Boom Swimmer Junior is smaller but delivers nearly as much sound.

Other Speakers that We Considered

The Amazon Tap is a silly gimmick; it’s a bluetooth speaker that also serves as a “digital assistant”. It doesn’t do either all that well. Reviewers complain that the sound performance isn’t as good as similarly priced bluetooth speakers, and we can’t see any point to a digital assistant in the form of a speaker (rather than the Siri or Google Now functions in your smartphone or tablet). Also, the assistant feature (“Alexa”) only works when you’re within range of your wifi.

The AYL Portable Mini Capsule Speaker System is not actually a bluetooth speaker, but connects via a mini cable. It’s really small and really cheap, and considering that sounds decent according to some. If you have a modern smartphone or tablet, though, your sound may already be better directly from that.

The B&O Play, a.k.a. Bang & Olufson Beoplay A2 is an expensive audiophile brand’s entry into the portable bluetooth speaker market; reviewers liked its sound OK, but also expressed quite a bit of disappointment in this famous brand’s shortcomings with this entry. The upper bass end doesn’t have much punch, there is a lack of warmth and clarity falls short depending on where you are positioned (it is nominally omnidirectional). Like our main pick at the top, it can be paired with another for stereo sound, but you’d be wasting a lot of money for not much effect.

The Bliiq Infinite X Portable Bluetooth Speaker could be OK for someone who appreciates a micro-SD card slot, but most will prefer to just play music from their phones or tablets. It has decent water-resistance (IPX4) but is not fully waterproof. We have yet to come into quality reviews of these speaker’s sound, but there are a number of customer complaints at Amazon about its low volume. We’d recommend instead any of the budget options (above).

Reviewing the Blitzwolf BW-AS1. Good volume, good looks, not much bass.

We’ve listened to the Blitzwolf BW-AS1 recently and enjoyed the detail in the mids, but they were overemphasized and we missed a lot of bass that can be present on other speakers of this size and weight.

It’s a stereo speaker with dual 45mm 10W speakers, and the battery lasts for 7-11 hours. It’s about the same size as our main pick but surprisingly heavy — we think too much so for taking on trips: 1.7 lbs (.75 kg).

We recently completed a comparative meta-review of the differences between the Bose Soundlink Revolve and Bose Soundlink Revolve+, which we think are both quite fine Bluetooth speakers but perhaps not what we’d want to take on the road.

In our comparison with the UE Boom 2, we note that critics think the Revolves sounded warm and detailed in the mids and high end, but that the bass was more convincing on the UE Boom 2. There were also some complaints that they struggled more at high volumes. The Revolves are more expensive, at $199 for the Revolve and $299 for the Revolve+.

The Braven BRV-1 is very rugged and sounds pretty good, but not as good as the UE Boom 2 according to CNET and Digital Trends.

The Cambridge Audio Minx Go v2 delivers good sound, but was not as universally admired as our main picks.

The Cambridge Audio G2 is a Bose Soundlink Mini II competitor that had mixed responses from critics, calling it “muffled” and “too heavy in the mid-lows”.

The Jawbone Mini Jambox sounds great but doesn’t play very loud.

The Jawbone Big Jambox is admired by some critics, but they generally prefer the main picks above.

The Monster Superstar‘s bass is quite limited.

As of this writing there are a couple of reviews out there of the Oontz Angle 3, but no serious comparisons to other speakers by anyone who is an expert in audio. This speaker is quite popular on Amazon, and most reviewers there seem to be enjoying their purchase as a functional and loud-enough option for “rocking out in the shower” or listening to audio books. We can’t recommend this over the other cheap options (above) until we see more written about it or try it out ourselves, but it may be another good option at the lowest price point.

The Photive HYDRA is durable, rather waterproof, and is reported to deliver enough sound for the shower, for example, but doesn’t have much bass and don’t expect great volume.

The Polk Audio BITR-A Boom Bit is one of the smallest Bluetooth speakers and is designed to be clipped to your shirt collar — it’s more of a personal, open headphone alternative than something you would use to fill a room with sound, much less party outside. Reviewers say that it packs impressive punch and reasonable sound, but only for its size. One says it sounds like a transistor radio. Really this is mainly for runners and bikers who want an alternative to headphones, which can be dangerous in that they block out other noise.

Demanding tech critics really loved the clean, even, authentic sound produced by the Riva S (sometimes more than the UE Boom 2) — but it’s now often out of stock and possibly being discontinued. Also, it doesn’t have the 360-degree delivery and it doesn’t go quite as loud as the UE Boom 2. The other downsides are that it is only IPX4 (i.e., water-resistant, can survive the odd splash) instead of waterproof, and so not as rugged for travel. We’d prefer to take the UE Boom 2 out into the real, messy outdoors, and not worry about dirt, water, and being able to hear it well in a noisy place. The Riva S has a 13-hour battery life and you can charge your phone or tablet off of the Riva’s battery — a feature that’s rather likely to come in handy at some point. If you buy two of them, you can pair them together for stereo sound. It comes with a carrying case and international plugs, which is a classy touch for travellers — though you can also just get a universal adapter. The unit measures 7.5 x 2.6 x 2.5 inches (19 x 6.6 x 6.4 cm) and weighs 1.5 pounds (.68 kg). It may also still be available on Ebay.

The Samsung Level Box Mini has gotten a mix of customer reviews but most are positive, if undemanding in terms of audio expectations. Likewise for blogger reviews. The price has dropped some 70 percent on Amazon as of this writing, but we think our cheap options above are a surer bet.

The Skullcandy Barricade Bluetooth Speaker floats and is fully waterproof. Its few reviewers liked its even, faithful mix, but said that it distorted on the low end at high volumes. It also comes in Skullcandy Shrapnel Drop-Proof Barricade, Skullcandy Barricade Mini, and Skullcandy XL versions. If you’re looking for a great sounding waterproof speaker at under a hundred bucks, the UE Roll 2 (above) is a safer bet.

The SOL Republic Deck was pretty well-liked by some reviewers, though they weren’t in completely in love with it or anything. It is long and thin, and its price has dropped significantly, so it could now be considered a decent cheap option, but still not as good as our other cheap picks above.

The Sony SRS-X11 is a tiny cube that was the most well-liked extremely small speaker over at Which?, but other reviewers say that it is overpriced and that its sound is only decent. Most think that the Oontz Z Curve described above is better.

The Sony H.ear Go (SRSHG1) is a uniquely small (8.25 x 3.75 x 2.5 in. or 21 x 9.5 x 6.4 cm) solution offering Wi-Fi as well as Bluetooth, thus supposedly enabling a higher fidelity connection for those listening to uncompressed audio files on the go. This doesn’t actually apply to many people; you’re likely using compressed files (MP3s or a streaming service) on your phone on the go anyway. Some reviewers really liked how it sounded and some didn’t. Our top pick above is a surer bet for your aural enjoyment at this price range.

The Soundboks‘ claim to fame is that it’s the loudest bluetooth speaker on the market. Reviewers say that this is true, but that the sound is terrible. It is also huge; if you want to annoy your neighbors there are cheaper and better ways to do so — like running an extension cord to a powered setup in your yard.

Several SoundBot Bluetooth speakers get decent if unexceptional ratings over at Amazon; we have not tried them out ourselves nor encountered serious reviews or testing of any of these at this point, however.

Wrap-Up: And the Best Speaker for Your Travels Is…

For UE speakers, it’s very worth clicking over to Amazon and checking out prices for various colors, as they vary widely at times.

UE Boom 2
The right combination of strong bass, smooth 360-degree delivery, loudness, musical detail, ruggedness, and small size in a speaker that we'd throw in any backpack or suitcase; can pair two of them for stereo

Bose Soundlink Mini II
Not as rugged, more for inside use; the Bose sound profile is quite pleasing and delivers warmth and a decent soundstage for such a small piece

UE Roll 2
A great cheaper option for impressive 360-degree sound in an easy-to-pack disk; if you buy two you can pair them for stereo

22 Comments

  1. Lookasso
    August 2, 2018
    Reply

    Nice job.
    You say that some critics say the Charge 2+ sounds better than the 3, and you give a link. 3 links indeed.
    Well, in none of them there is such a statement. The Charge 3 isn’t mentioned at all.
    Wrong links?

    • August 8, 2018
      Reply

      You’ll want to look at the links reviewing the Charge 3 in the paragraph above that; several reviewers made that comment though it was a mixed sentiment. Thanks for your careful reading, hope you find the right speaker for you!

  2. Jon
    July 9, 2018
    Reply

    How can it be voice controlled with google home?

    • August 8, 2018
      Reply

      You can link the UE Boom 2 up to to call on Google for limited voice commands via your phone. Be sure to download the UE app and follow its setup instructions. If you want full voice control search in the box at top for UE Blast which has Alexa.

  3. Ayaskant
    January 28, 2018
    Reply

    What a fantastic review!

  4. Akshat
    August 21, 2017
    Reply

    Which bluetooth speaker has the smallest form factor because portability is my main requirement. Thanks

  5. Shashank Jain
    July 26, 2017
    Reply

    I was wondering. Would two UE Roll 2’s in stereo be better than one UE Boom 2?

    • July 27, 2017
      Reply

      In a word, yes. The two UE Roll 2s can provide stereo separation or simply more sound. On the other hand, it’s more to carry around than if you get a single UE Boom 2. The best speaker is the one that you have with you; you may be more likely to carry a single UE Boom 2 more often than if you have two UE Roll 2s.

  6. CJ
    July 26, 2017
    Reply

    Attention Aussie customers …

    The Fugoo Style is available on the Official US site for $89US
    The same item in the AU site is $289AU

    You do the math… (not great value for money for the Aussies)

  7. Goe
    December 28, 2016
    Reply

    What about JBL Flip 3? No mention of that?

    • Goe
      December 29, 2016
      Reply

      I realisre the article must have been written before Flip3 was released. So if you could give an opinion now?

      • December 29, 2016
        Reply

        Frankly, an oversight from our last update. We’ve now updated our coverage from the JBL Flip 2 to JBL Flip 3. As we describe in our update (above), it’s pretty well liked by critics and not a bad option, but most people will frankly prefer our other budget picks. It’s a decent speaker though. Thanks for commenting.

  8. graham
    December 14, 2016
    Reply

    I purchased the phk brick sounds really good its punchy and clear !

  9. James M.
    October 14, 2016
    Reply

    Awesome article. I love your thorough, meta style.
    Q: any word on the UE Megaboom? Given the fine coverage you give of the Boom 2, surely the Megaboom deserves some discussion, and a comparison of its sound with the Boom 2. Thx!

  10. September 14, 2016
    Reply

    No mini rig?

  11. Sturla
    May 23, 2016
    Reply

    ? How can you not have JBL Extream and Fugoo XL in this list?

    • May 24, 2016
      Reply

      We certainly considered them; both the JBL Xtreme and the Fugoo XL are quality speakers, but far too bulky (I’ve added them just now to that list).

      In this analysis, we focus on options that are small enough that you are always tempted to throw them in your bag, and yet they still deliver on great audio. Our bigger, chunkier recommendation would be the Bowers & Wilkens T7, which we think is a bit of a step up from those two…

  12. April 18, 2016
    Reply

    Our recommendations are very much focused on portable options. It sounds like the Bowers & Wilkens T7 would be the best option for you, however.

  13. David
    April 14, 2016
    Reply

    This article is fantastic — thank you!

    I’m looking for something self-powered that gets produces good sound and gets loud — that’s my main requirement. Cost, portability etc are less important. Do you have any recommendations? The only really loud option I could find is the Soundboks, but review sites indicate that the sound quality isn’t very good. What’s the next loudest option out there that has good sound quality?

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