College Dorm Speakers: The Best Sound for Small Rooms, for Large Parties, and for a Shoestring Budget

Out of the hundreds of speakers we’ve reviewed there are a few that are perfect fits for those going off to college.

The university experience is about studying, nominally, but there will also be a fair dose of dancing, partying, and experimenting with things/people/substances to the beat of some excellent, newly discovered sounds.

You’re not staying in your university’s dorm or apartment-style housing forever; most people move at the very least from year to year. So it’s important to have a speaker that’s portable enough not to be a burden, but still sound great at any volume and fill a space with immersive sound.

We’ve got a top pick for truly wonderful indoor sound, a party speaker that’s more suitable for outdoor environments, a cheaper and more portable option, and finally a budget option. All of them sound great — if you’re on a budget or don’t care about being able to fill a larger space with immersive sound, don’t hesitate to go for the cheap one.

Update History of This Article

This article was first published on August 13, 2019. Updated a recommendation from the Pulse 3 to 4 on Oct. 7, 2019.

The Overall Best-Sounding, Most Immersive Speaker for Campus Life

Part of college is about discovering and turning others on to good music, and having a great, space filling speaker to lose yourself in makes the experience all that much better.

A bit ironically for our college recommendation, the Marshall Kilburn II has the styling and branding that today’s granddaddies will recognize. Marshall has long been known for its guitar amps, but in the last few years has licensed the brand and design out to for a few models of high end portable and home speakers.

All of that would be meaningless if the Kilburn II didn’t sound great. And it does; we are far from the only reviewers to think that this is the best or one of the best of its class. An overview of the commentary:

  • The Kilburn II goes incredibly loud and doesn’t distort when doing so; it can produce more than enough sound to fill a dorm room or common area, and also blast excellent sound over a large outdoor space if taken on a picnic, for example.
  • The base end is full and rich, and if placed on a hard surface and near a wall can start to approach the sound from a full bookshelf stereo system.
  • The mids and highs are sweet and detailed, and quite even across all frequencies.
  • Syncing with video is not problematic in tests, thanks to Bluetooth 5.0. In a dorm room you may well get stuck watching movies or TV shows on your laptop’s screen, you can at least have great sound while doing so.
The cute and convenient analog knobs on the Kilburn II.

Other features of note:

  • You can connect to two Bluetooth devices at the same time. For example if you and a dormmate or friend want to alternate control of the music, nobody has to disconnect.
  • The analog knobs are a pleasant throwback, and much more convenient and tactile than using a phone app to change the EQ and volume settings.
  • The Bluetooth 5.0 AptX supposedly delivers CD-quality audio; most listeners are unlikely to hear a difference. The Bluetooth range is excellent.
  • The carry strap and corner caps make it convenient and rugged enough to take on trips.
  • There’s also a 3.5 mm input for connecting your ancestors’ iPods, WalkMans, or what have you.

The downsides to the Marshall Kilburn II (yes there are a few to be aware of):

  • It’s only water resistant (IPX2) and not fully waterproof like many of its competitors (such as the others we suggest on this page). The Kilburn II can handle a the odd drips of water with no problem, but it’s not a pool/beach toy.
  • It’s a bit bigger and heavier than some options below.
  • It’s not the cheapest option; there are cheaper high quality options below that can also sound great in a small room.

The Kilburn II is small enough to be portable and squeeze into a bookshelf in a crowded dorm room; it measures 9.57 x 6.42 x 5.51 inches (24.3 x 16.2 x 14.0 cm) and weighs 5.5 lbs. (2.5 kg.).

We’ve written more about the Marshall Kilburn II here; it was our favorite of the larger, louder Bluetooth speakers overall.

The Best College Speaker for Tailgating, Barbecues, Frisbee, and Other Outdoor Campus Use

While certainly overkill for a dorm room speaker, the JBL Boombox 2 is hands-down the best-sounding outdoor party monster; it goes louder, offers excellent bass and a groovy steadiness while doing so.

The JBL Boombox 2 is roughly twice as big and heavy as the Marshall Kilburn II and has a solid integrated handle. But while not exactly as portable, it is more rugged and better suited to the outdoors. It’s completely waterproof (the IPX7 rating means it can withstand a dunking under a meter of water for up to 30 minutes), and its sound can carry well enough to animate a large gathering.

We’ve written much more about the JBL Boombox 2 and its somewhat smaller cousin, the JBL Xtreme 2. Either one of those would be more recommendable than our top pick for extensive use outside.

The Coolest, Lava-Lamp-Like College Speaker for Dorm Life

The JBL Pulse 4 is for getting freaky with an integrated, customizable light show that bops along to the music.

It’s a conversation starter, romantic mood lighting, decoration, and a way to make your parents suspect reefer use — this is so much more than just a speaker.

But we wouldn’t bother recommending it if it also didn’t sound great. It’s designed to be placed in the middle of a room and to fill the space with quality, even sound and strong bass. It’s more portable than the speakers above at just over 8 inches (20 cm) tall and weighing 2.78 lbs (1.26 kg.).

Also at this size but without the light show is the great-sounding JBL Charge 4 or Charge 5 and going done a bit smaller and cheaper you’ll find the JBL Flip 5 or Flip 6.

The Best Cheaper and Super Portable College Speaker

The Ultimate Ears Boom 3 is our favorite of the more portable Bluetooth speakers; we think it’s the best speaker out there for travel, but also great for use in small rooms where you don’t want your sound system to have a big profile.

It measures just 2.9-in. (7.3 cm.) diameter and is 7.2 in. (18.4 cm.) tall, making it about the size of a water bottle. In fact, I sometimes carry my Boom 3 speaker in the water bottle pocket of my Osprey daypack:

That makes the Boom 3 incredibly convenient if you need to carry good quality sound around campus on a regular basis, for example for:

The Ultimate Ears Boom 3 is not going to weigh you down at just 1.34 lbs. (608 g.).

It nevertheless can pelt out more than enough sound to fill small dorm rooms or mid-sized common areas, and is just fine for animating a picnic or other outdoor gathering.

The Boom 3 is fully IP67 waterproof, and is extremely rugged, having no problems in drop tests. And, it’s the only speaker on this page to also have that 6 rating for dustproofing; it can get dirty and be hosed off with no problem.

While it sounds spectacular it’s not going to go quite as loud or as deep as the larger speakers above, of course, but I’ve found the Boom 3 to have more than enough punchy bass and smooth sweetness across all frequencies. It’s satisfying enough to use as one’s main speaker in small to mid-sized rooms.

You can read more on my and others’ thoughts about how the Boom 3 sounds here.

Wrap up: The Best Speaker for University Life, and How to Get the Cheapest Prices

Quality Bluetooth speakers always come down to a size/sound tradeoff; the bigger ones sound better but are less convenient to carry around campus or move.

In the case of our recommendations, the bigger ones are also generally more expensive. The prices below from Amazon are updated daily, but you can often get a good deal on certain brands by clicking through and browsing through different color options, some of which are sometimes discounted.

We don’t recommend the refurbished or used speaker options if you want to be sure of a long battery life, as there is no telling how many cycles such a speaker has already been put through.

Marshall Kilburn II
Our favorite portable speaker overall for excellent bass, big volume, and a warm, rich soundstage in a small to mid-sized space like a dorm room
JBL Boombox 2
The best outdoor portable speaker for huge sound, great for barbeques, house or pool parties, Greek campus life, and athletics
JBL Pulse 4
For a romantic/trippy/moody light show that classes up a dorm room, excellent 360-degree delivery, immersive sound
Ultimate Ears Boom 3
The most portable and budget friendly speaker of any we’ve covered that still delivers punchy bass and even, gorgeous detail; extremely rugged

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