While today's wireless speakers are loaded with cool features, the thing that matters most—in the long run—is how they sound.
Whether you listen to Harry Styles or The Style Council, you want a speaker that lets you hear every nuance on the original recording.
And so the trained testers in our dedicated audio lab weigh sound quality well above factors like ease of use and versatility, because that correlates strongly with long-term listener satisfaction.
(And, as always, we purchase our test samples through regular retail channels, just like you, so we hear what you hear.)
That’s why we selected the models below. While they vary in terms of size and specs, they all feature sound quality that puts them near the top of our wireless speaker ratings.
Superb Sonics for the Discerning Listener
The Edifier S1000MKII provides top-notch sound. The high frequencies are clear and smooth, and the extended bass remains musical, so you can tell the difference between, say, an upright bass and an electric Fender Jazz Bass.
And for a very reasonable price of about $350, you get a stereo pair of Edifiers, which allows the speakers to create a convincing illusion that the musicians are there in the room with you.
The S1000MKII is replacing the highly rated S1000DB, which is still available from some retailers. Our testers found that the MKII sounds almost identical to its predecessor. The major upgrade for the newer model is a much improved remote that makes the MKII easier to use.
Note that at some retailers the S1000DB is selling for the same price as the newer MKII, and at others the discount is quite small. If that changes and you can find a nice discount on the older speaker, it could be a solid choice. But if the price is the same or close, make sure you’re getting the newer model.
The Edifiers aren’t the most versatile speakers in CR’s ratings, but that’s not a huge shortcoming. They include a variety of connections—from robust Bluetooth pairing to RCA and digital jacks. They’re not designed to work as part of a multiroom system, though. They’re all about playing music in one place with truly impressive fidelity. And there’s nothing wrong with that.
Great Sound for the Great Outdoors
Music can sound better than ever outdoors, at least if you have the right speaker, which is where the Braven XXL/2 comes in.
Packing a robust rechargeable battery claimed to provide 18 hours of nonstop music, the Braven is ideal for al fresco listening. The claimed IPX5 water-resistance rating means it should be splashproof, and it even has a magnetic bottle opener. Weighing in at more than 17 pounds, the Braven isn’t a speaker to throw into your backpack, but it’s one to bring out to the deck or backyard and enjoy.
Like its predecessor, the highly rated XXL, the new XXL/2 also sounds great. It delivers substantial bass and can supply volume aplenty without distortion indoors or out. But unlike many speakers aimed at the outdoors, the Braven XXL/2 offers a refined midrange and extended top end, so it’s equally good at rocking out or mellowing out.
Despite those attributes, though, the model is in limited supply and there are signs to indicate that it’s not long for the market. So if you find one at a reasonable price, be prepared to jump on it. If you don’t have any luck finding one and want a boom-box-style speaker that delivers good sound (albeit not quite as good as the XXL/2), try the somewhat bass-heavy JBL Boombox 2.
Ultimate Ears Hyperboom
Portable and Versatile
The splashproof Hyperboom is a versatile beast. The optical input allows it to double as a TV sound bar or upgrade the sound of a game console, and our testers found its large controls easy to use. The Hyperboom’s vertical orientation doesn’t take up much space on a table or a shelf, and its subdued styling allows it to blend in better than most portable speakers.
And the Hyperboom delivers on sound. Our testers report that its bass is powerful, its midrange is clean, and it’s plenty loud indoors or out.
You’ll enjoy the bass and volume when you’re grooving to Jimi Hendrix's "Purple Haze." And when you’re in a mellower mood, it will deliver delicate and detailed midrange and high frequencies to help you savor the tone of Yo-Yo Ma's Stradivarius cello.
Bose SoundLink Color
Big Sound in a Small Package
The Bose SoundLink Color may be small but it packs plenty of sonic wallop. Our testers report that this inexpensive portable Bluetooth speaker (available in five colors) strikes an impressive balance of size and power.
At a trim 5.5x5x3.5 inches, it can be popped in a bag or placed on a corner of a desk or picnic table without yielding much real estate. And yet in our tests, it delivers a surprising amount of oomph. According to Bose, the SoundLink is splashproof but not waterproof, and it features an analog audio input for use with non-Bluetooth devices.