Update: All of these models are now replaced by much newer, better options from the respective manufacturers. Head to our review of the best portable travel speaker for the latest recommendations from Ultimate Ears (formerly UE), JBL, and Bose.
In the current bluetooth speaker market deluge, three models consistently float to the top of reviewers’ lists.
These are all excellent speakers, and depending on your priorities, any one of the three might be the best for you. Our exhaustive bluetooth speaker meta-review suggests that the UE Boom 2 offers the best combination of sound quality, features and price for most people, but we wanted to offer a direct comparison for those who whose priorities might be different.
Update history of this article
Top Reviewed Mid-Range Bluetooth Speakers: Quick Take
Further on we’ll go into the details of which reviewers felt what about these speakers, but here’s a quick overview of the advantages of each speaker.
JBL Charge 3
• Bulkiest (9.1 x 3.4 x 3.5 inches / 21.3 x 8.7 x 8.85cm)
• Heaviest (1.8 lbs / 0.82 kg)
• Good sound quality — While this is near the top of reviewers’ lists, the reactions do vary a bit; most like its great bass, but think it’s not so smoothly balanced and that the higher end struggles in particular
• Loudest — comparisons of the three put this on top for loudness, and with little distortion
• Pair two of them for stereo sound — or just double the sound output in mono mode
• Fully waterproof (rated IPX7)
• 20-hour battery
• Other: can recharge your phone via USB, rubber base prevents rolling
UE Boom 2
• Portable (7 x 2.5 x 2.5 inches /17.8 x 6.4 x 6.4 cm)
• Lightest (1.2 lbs / 0.54 kg)
• Excellent sound quality — reviewers across the board noted powerful-but-balanced bass and overall clarity, and loved its 360-degree output
• Louder — one of the louder speakers on the market; excellent for outdoor use
• Pair two of them for stereo sound — or just double the sound output in mono mode
• Fully waterproof (rated IPX7) and reported to survive drops well
• 15-hour (replaceable!) battery
• Other: tap the speaker to skip songs, carabiner hook & tripod mount, can use voice command to start music (with Siri, Google Now, and Alexa integration)
Bose Soundlink Mini II
• Portable (7.1 x 2.3 x 2 inches / 18 x 5.8 x 5.1 cm)
• Heavier (1.5 lbs / 0.68 kg)
• Best sound quality — while the UE Boom 2 came close, nearly all reviewers prefer the Bose Soundlink Mini II’s sound for its evenness and warmth
• Not loud — this is a speaker for single-room indoor use
• Cannot pair two of them
• Not water-resistant and not as durable as the other two
• 10-hour battery
• Other: Charges via charging cradle or standard USB, not designed for extensive road use
Price Variance and Colors of These JBL/UE/Bose speakers
Prices for these three speakers had dropped down to $120-180 as of this writing, compared to mostly around $200 a few months ago. Note that some of the color options for the UE Boom 2 and JBL Charge 3 are deeply discounted at times. We’ve linked to the cheapest colors at the moment we checked, but click through to Amazon and you may find excellent deals on other colors.
The JBL Charge 3: For the Road Warrior Who Likes it LoudJBL Charge 3 over the other two speakers here are its longer battery life and a bit of extra volume. That said, a number of reviewers have complained that its sound is uneven and lacks clarity on the high end, subtlety in the mids, modulated bass at higher volumes and even that it is a step down from the JBL Charge 2+ (which had mixed reviews — some quite negative). That said, quite a few did like it, with one even claiming that it was actually more balanced than its predecessor.
Ultimately, tastes differ, but if you’re hunting for the very best sound it seems you’re more likely to be satisfied with one of the other two speakers. The JBL Charge 3 is rather for those who like to party outside and want a fully waterproof speaker that pumps out a lot of sound and especially bass. It also has the longest battery life of the three, and you can recharge your phone from it too.
Keep in mind that it is substantially heavier and bigger than the UE Boom 2 and the Bose Soundlink Mini II. There is a dedicated app (Apple/Android) that allows you to use two JBL Charge 3s at the same time for double sound or create stereo separation.
The UE Boom 2: An Optimum Combination of Great Sound/Volume/DurabilityUE Boom 2 listed as our main pick for portable bluetooth speaker. We think most users will appreciate something lighter than the JBL Charge 3 and more durable and with a longer-lasting battery than the Bose Soundlink Mini — the whole point of a bluetooth speaker is that it should want to leap into your bag and go anywhere, including outside.
Reviews of the sound quality for the UE Boom 2 are excellent across the board and it tends to be at (or in a few cases near) the top of the picks for speakers at its size and price range. It has been noted for getting about as much bass as one can expect from such a small package, and for having even, crisp performance across the mids and highs. It’s particularly suited for outside use due to its ability to get quite loud and its 360-degree sound output.
Like the JBL Charge 3, the UE Boom 2 is fully waterproof; you can dunk it, hose it off, whatever you want. Less careful users have reported that it stands up to a lot of physical abuse too.
Another factor that may significantly increase its longevity is the ability to have the battery replaced by Logitech for $49 by calling their support line. All speakers’ internal batteries will eventually stop holding their charge after a couple of years; being able to replace the battery makes this speaker a better long-term investment.
With the UE Boom 2 app (for Apple/Android) you can pair two speakers together for stereo, or just double your sound in mono mode. The app also has an equalizer and battery meter, so it’s worth downloading even if you just go for one speaker.
Another feature was added to this speaker via a firmware update: voice command. You can now order the speaker to start playing a particular artist for example, à la Amazon Echo. Then, in a more recent update, Alexa, Siri, and Google Now were all integrated — UE seems to want to take on the smart speakers but with better sound output. We think that’s fine, although we don’t really understand the point of smart speakers to begin with — why not just ask these questions or bark the commands directly into your phone?
The Bose Soundlink Mini II: Best for Hotel Rooms and Other Indoor UseBose Soundlink Mini II doesn’t go as loud as the UE Boom 2 and the JBL Charge 3, but critics almost universally rank it the best-sounding small portable speaker you can buy for less than $200. They love its even mix, warmth, and impressive bass for such a small size. If you’re not planning on using it outside and you just want a small speaker that can accompany you for more civilized travel, this would be the one to get.
Do consider that while the Bose Soundlink Mini II is a wee bit smaller than the UE Boom 2, it’s significantly heavier. It’s also not as durable and not waterproof or even water resistant. Its battery life is ten hours, which is less than the others but certainly enough for most uses, especially since it will mainly be used inside.
If you’re torn between the Bose Soundlink Mini II and the UE Boom 2, note that Bose recently released the Soundlink Revolve, which could be seen as halfway between the two. It offers Bose’s signature warmth and detail but in a speaker that delivers 360-degree sound. We have run comparisons between the various Bose speakers as well as of the UE Boom 2 vs the Bose Soundlink Revolve.
We continuously update articles based on the corrections, additions, tales of woe or triumph, etc. from our lovely readers and occasional internet crackpots. We obviously publish only respectful, relevant commentary.
This review needs to be RE REVIEWED. Just look at the latest reviews in 2018… most reviewers pick the charge 3 over the boom, boom 2 and the bose easily.
Plus the charge 3 HAS STEREO speakers… in ur review u mentioned u need 2 of them for STEREO sound… how can u make such a massive mistake like that? It beats the 360 sound of the boom as its not STEREO…also charge 3 has a noise canceling microphone which the others dont… u didn’t mention the 2 – 45 drivers on the charge 3.. there is SO MU H MISSING…. r u sure u researched this correct? This is the poorest review to come up unfortunatly
Hello Charge 3 fanboy! Fair enough, all of these speakers have multiple drivers and “do stereo”, but for real stereo separation you need to pair two of them together via the apps, which is possible with the UE Boom 2 and the Charge 3. On your request, I checked around a bit with other quality reviewers (and added a few links in the text to them) but basically the opinions haven’t changed on this speaker. Many love it, but not quite as much as you do… 😉
This review pretty obviously favors Boom 2 even though there are plenty of review which say in is not that good.
That’s correct! Most reviewers and consumer organizations favored the UE Boom 2 over the other two, but it was certainly not a universal preference. We outline some of the reasons above in the article. But for most tastes and uses, the UE Boom 2 will make people happiest, it seems.
I bought the jbl 3 about 2 months ago and sound is great for such a small speaker. But it is still subjective from person to person. The base gets really harsh when you turn the speaker up a bit, bit it’s still a great buy. Durability wise it definitely out performs most speakers in it’s price range… I’ve read a million reviews on it and everyone says the same, great quality. Another speaker that does not have a lot of reviews is the Sharkk boombox. This tiny speaker is one of the very few speakers that I have ever heard out perform the jbl.. It is cheaper but sound quality, and loudness is insane. Not that durable and rugged, but definitely something to check out
Had expereinced with all 3. I’d say the JBL Charge 3 is the best overall. Especially when you’re into trendy music. I love its sound among the 3, it’s the loudest, great bass, water proof. But yes the downside is its bulk. Exterior wise UE boom 2 looks the best, while the Bose sound link mini 2 looks boring IMO, and the weakest. But I like the size and the clarity.
So for me it’ll be JBL, UE, then Bose.
Hi – First time I’ve seen this site. Thanks, there’s really useful and thoughtful/in-depth review/analysis.
If I buy anything from Amazon, I’ll use your links. 🙂
Thanks for reading!
For sound quality I’ll go with bose sound link m2 but it lacks in features. Ue Boom2 is also good in sound quality, build quality, battery life and features wise but lack of bass compared to Bose n JBL.
It depends what type of music you love n listen, honestly I’ll go with JBL charge2/3 for features n sound
I am having UE boom2, JBL charge 2, HK one
JBL Charge 3 should be re-reviewed with latest firmware. Mine is v3.9 out of the box, and it sucks, even China made speaker sounded better.
Then I update firmware to v5.4, and wow.. It blow me out of my expectation. I love how responsive the bass is, soundstage is wider, mids and treble is open and balance.
Really a good buy indeed
I have the jbl charge 2+ and I think it is the best among the three speakers stated above. Much balance sound and the bass is awesome too without much distortion at full volume.
The TechRadar review explicitly says that the JBL Charge 3 has better sound than the UE Boom 2. The GadgetMac review implies the same, saying the Charge 3 “outperforms” the Boom 2, and that it “blows away” the MegaBoom. These were listed as reviewers who had complaints about the Charge 3. I wouldn’t assume that the UE has better sound, since there are plenty of reviews that say otherwise.
Hi Mike, you’re right that one of those links was misplaced and one could have been more accurately summarized; I made the fix. I do agree that there are a LOT of reviewers that really like the sound of the JBL Charge 3. Overall, we find that there are more high quality reviewers (people who carefully listen to everything) who like the UE Boom 2. But it’s close. Ultimately this is subjective, and reviewers (and listeners!) do differ.
Thanks for your comment and careful reading!
Can UE Boom 2 be paired with an (already owned) UE Mini Boom? (Granted sound quality is reduced, but coverage area increases.)
Firstly thank you for the review I found it very helpful.
You mention that the battery on the UE Boom 2 is replaceable but all info I can find seems to suggest that it is not designed by the manufacturer (Logitech) to be replaced. The battery can be replaced by disassembling the speaker and removing the battery and soldering a new one in (which is not a simple replacement) but this will void the manufacturers warranty? Is this correct? or is it actually designed to be replaced? If so does Logitech sell replacement batteries for this purpose? and will the warranty still apply?
UPDATE: It is in fact possible to have Logitech replace the UE Boom 2’s battery. In the United States, call +1 866 837 7734; the cost should be around $49. We have verified this directly with Logitech based on your comment (the information on their support site had changed), and updated the article above. Thanks for checking!
With the JBL app you are able to pair two Charge 3 and choose between party mode (mono) or stereo.
So stereo sound is available with two speakers.
You are correct, thanks for your comment. This is now possible with the JBL Connect app. The article has been updated to reflect this.
Just finished listening to all three speakers and I have to disagree. The new JBL Charge 3 is definitely better than UE BOOM 2 in terms of both sound quality and imaging. Also, I hear a lot of distortion from the BOOM 2, especially in the mid-treble region when listening to jazz, synth, techno and chamber orchestra compared to the Charge 3. Of course, the Soundlink Mini ii takes the crown for the most clear and accurate reproduction. But I wanted 15+hr batter life with rugged features and my money would go to the Charge 3 or even Charge 2+.
Thanks for sharing! Speaker experiences are quite subjective, which is why we try to average out the experiences from so many reviewers in order to determine what will sound best to most people. Only one reviewer in our selection complained of distortion with the UE Boom 2, and most (but not all, it’s true) preferred its sound to that of the JBL Charge 3. As you noted, for ultra-long battery life you’re better off with the JBL Charge 3.