You are using an older browser version. Please use a supported version for the best MSN experience.

Carry a tune: seven of the best portable Bluetooth speakers

The Guardian logo The Guardian 20-02-2017 Kit Buchan

Bose Soundlink Mini II© Provided by Guardian News Bose Soundlink Mini II Every reputable audio brand now offers portable Bluetooth speakers, alongside swaths of Amazon-fodder with names such as iClutch and The Broozr. The latter are very cheap and are certainly a good option for people who simply want a slightly louder phone. The seven speakers tested below represent a range of those with pretensions to superior fidelity.

Some of these have flashy extra features such as USB power output or aptX compression. The former is useful, but in most cases seemed like an afterthought, while the latter is almost worthless unless your device is equally well equipped and you only listen to swanky lossless audio. We’ve judged them, then, primarily on the quality of the sound they produce, plying them repeatedly with the same six tracks, in the hope of separating the room-fillers from the landfillers.

The test playlist

De La Soul: Pain (ft Snoop Dogg)

Ella & Louis: Stars Fell on Alabama

Neiked: Sexual (ft Dyo)

Kwabs: Perfect Ruin

Joanna Newsom: Waltz of the 101st Lightborne

Benjamin Britten: Sea Interludes

(from Peter Grimes)

Onkyo T3 £109

Dainty little trinket

250g, £109.99

Looks like a fatted iPhone and though it carries the branding of Onkyo, the Japanese hi-fi specialist, it’s produced by Hong Kong “music lifestyle” conglomerate Gibson. Snobbery aside, the T3 is small and remarkably lightweight with a nice, clean delivery. The sound reproduction favours the treble and high mids and the maximum volume isn’t going to trouble the neighbours. All the same, Ella and Louis’s harmonies came through in comforting detail and I think I improved the depth slightly by removing the ugly leatherette cover, allowing it to sit directly on the desk.

Beats Pill+

Loud, trendy must-have shaped like huge aspirin

745g, £189

The Beats brand is renowned for making headphones that are too bassy and too expensive. While the Pill+ isn’t cheap, it also isn’t overwhelmingly bottom heavy, which is a relief. It also has four drivers on board, enough to allow for a broad spectrum of sound.

Even so, there is something shallow about its sonic configuration: Joanna Newsom’s inimitable hooting seemed both shrill and distant when compared with, say, the same song played on the Kef Muo, and at higher volumes the Kwabs track lost some stability. More irritatingly, the Pill+ must be charged with an iPhone cable.

House Of Marley Get Together Mini

Chunky, half-wooden

1.5kg, £99.99

House of Marley Get Together Mini© Provided by Guardian News House of Marley Get Together Mini This is as big as a “portable” speaker can be: 1.5kg and a foot long. The argument for this size is that there’s room for four separate drivers – two for treble, two for bass – as well as a passive woofer at the back to amplify the low end. As a result, the Get Together Mini is loud and rich, with a bias towards bass, but perhaps a little muddier than some of its rivals. For most people, it would amply double as a bookshelf speaker.

Bob Marley’s descendants are not known for sharing his contempt for worldly goods – Californians can now buy a Marley-endorsed range of premium cannabis. Still, squeamish buyers will be relieved that, according to Bob’s son Rohan, the Marley audio range is “something our father would be proud of”.

JBL Charge 3

Inexplicably submersible speaker/charger

800g, £149.99

JBL Charge 3© Provided by Guardian News JBL Charge 3 Upstaging merely “splashproof” speakers, the Charge 3 can be completely submerged in water for half an hour and emerge unharmed. Since this cannot also be said of a human being, the advantages of this extravagant waterproofing are moot.

The passive woofers at either end, which flap about like little cheeks, provide lush, plosive bass even at low volume on the De La Soul track and the speaker is altogether very muscular, but there is a certain lack of definition at the top end, a side-effect, perhaps, of its impermeability. Among the several contenders that double as a battery pack, though, this is the only one that does so with any real gusto.

Libratone Too

Nifty Danish torpedo

588g, £109

Libratone Too© Provided by Guardian News Libratone Too  

Depending on how you perceive the parameters, this is either a very decent all-rounder or bit of a non-starter. Soundwise, there isn’t much brute clout and because it’s treble-heavy the sibilants of Louis Armstrong’s vocal came through spiky and garish at higher volume. On the other hand, it handled Britten, Neiked and De La Soul very well, even with its meagre bass capacity. The quality of the delivery is perhaps slightly inferior to the Charge 3, and it’s certainly less assertive, but it’s also £50 cheaper, much lighter and more discreet. In fact, it’s adorable: elegant, slightly woolly and with a very smart interface. Aside from the Onkyo T3, it’s the only one that could reasonably claim to be pocket-size.

Kef Muo

Glossy, prismatic contender for highbrows

800g, £249.95

Kef Muo:© Provided by Guardian News Kef Muo: Everything about the Muo is costly and aristocratic, from the curvy aluminium that encases it to the slick jingle it utters when pairing with your phone. If we accept that £250 is too much for a rational person to spend on a Bluetooth speaker, and then push that fact aside, it isn’t unreasonable to say the Muo is outstanding. Not only is it beautifully built, it offers delicate, well-defined sound. Neiked’s Sexual, which offers the best spread of beeping treble and thudding bass, comes across with impeccable definition (I’m starting to think this song may be some kind of masterpiece), and the Britten too is reproduced with startling fidelity. Surely the Daisy Buchanan of speakers, the Kef Muo has a voice full of money. It even has a green light, winking seductively from its rear end.

Bose Soundlink Mini II

Thinking person’s desk-candy

670g, £169.95 

This speaker wears the Bose name with pride. It is trust-inspiringly dense and metallic and reminds me slightly of the speaker through which the fictional detective-agent Charlie dispensed orders to the Angels. It’s businesslike, even bureaucratic: it has a dedicated charging cradle.

Like most of the speakers on trial, the SoundLink has a passive woofer, or radiator, to amplify the bass from its drivers. The low-end is concordantly juicy, but playing the Kwabs song, what’s striking is how present and immediate the vocals are even during the bassiest moments. It is well balanced, sturdy and loud; the only drawback is the robotic onboard announcer, unnervingly barking my name when switched on.

ALSO SEE: Best smartphones you can buy

Best smartphones under £350 lead Smartphones: The best you can buy

More from The Guardian

image beaconimage beaconimage beacon