Rock out, dance, or just nod along with the best Bluetooth speakers  08/10/2019 16:18:40  7
Riva Turbo X best Bluetooth speakers

There are currently 100 billion Bluetooth speakers on the market. OK, fine, it only seems like there’s 100 billion, but there are a lot of them. All that competition has certainly inspired innovation, but it’s also made finding the best Bluetooth speakers more complicated than ever. The fact is, you simply can’t listen to all of the available options to see which are worthy of your dollars. Lucky for you, we’ve listened to more than our fair share.

Frankly, some brands do Bluetooth speakers better than others. For example, you may notice that Riva products dominate our list. That’s because, pound for pound, Riva makes some of the best-sounding wireless speakers out there, and since we’re kind of obsessive about sound quality, we have to give credit where it’s due. Honorable mentions go to JLab’s Block Party and Creative’s iRoar as very close runners-up that would also be a great sound solution to fit your needs. No matter which you choose, you’ll be thrilled with the sound, performance, and convenience afforded by any of the selections on our list.

At a glance

Product Category
Riva Turbo X Best Bluetooth speaker overall
Riva Festival  Best high-end Bluetooth speaker
Bose SoundLink Mini II Best compact Bluetooth speaker
JBL Charge 3 Best rugged Bluetooth Speaker
Ultimate Ears Roll 2 Best budget-friendly Bluetooth speaker
Riva Arena Best multiroom-capable Bluetooth speaker

Riva Turbo X

The best

Riva Turbo X Bluetooth Speaker
Bill Roberson/Digital Trends

Why should you buy this? It offers gorgeous design, a slew of features, and best-in-class performance.

Who’s it for? Everyone (except, perhaps, outdoorsy types).

How much will it cost? $160

Why we picked the Riva Turbo X:

It’s rare that a company comes out of nowhere and blows our minds by upending the market, but that’s basically what happened when we heard the Riva Turbo X. While the competition has made strides to catch up since the speaker was released in 2015, the Turbo X still just does it for us — and now for a lot less dough.

It’s got the burst of power you want from a brick-sized speaker, punching well above its weight to put out impressive volume and a lot more bass than you’d expect. But, like any great audio device, it isn’t only about the power this speaker can muster — it’s also about the delicate touch it takes with more subtle tracks and instrumentation. Whether it’s acoustic mandolin, electric guitar, or an intimate vocal line, the Turbo X is a master.

But hey, it’s not just about performance. With a ton of features — including DSP sound effects, USB charging for your smartphone, and even motion-activated controls — the Riva Turbo X checks boxes in virtually every category in the Bluetooth manual. Most importantly, a good portable speaker needs to handle itself well on the road, and the Riva is also at the head of the class with up to 26 hours of battery life. If you’re looking for a gorgeous, feature-packed speaker both inside and out, the Riva Turbo X is the choice for you.

Read our full Riva turbo review

Riva Festival

The best high-end Bluetooth speaker

Riva Festival Bluetooth speaker

Why should you buy this? It offers excellent stereophonic sound, multiroom functionality, and support for high-resolution audio playback.

Who’s it for? Those willing to shell out a little extra dough for exquisite performance.

How much will it cost? $499

Why we picked the Riva Festival:

Hey, we told you Riva would be in pole position. In June 2017, the company debuted its WAND (Wireless Audio Network Design) line of speakers, comprising the $250 Arena — more on that later — and the $500 Festival. WAND is a wireless protocol which connects multiple speakers across large spaces or in separate rooms, similar to Sonos’ proprietary system or JBL’s Connect Plus.

The Festival boasts just about every connectivity feature under the sun. Along with Bluetooth, the speaker can connect over Wi-Fi, including AirPlay, DLNA, and DDMS. The Festival supports several direct streaming options as well, including Spotify Connect, plus it’s Google Cast-ready for instant streaming from multiple apps.

All that aside, the real reason you’ll want to consider the Riva Festival is its audio performance. Packed with seven ADX drivers powered by 200 watts, six-channel amplification with advanced digital signal processing (DSP), and a total of four passive radiators, it produces sound as clear, crisp, and powerful as you’ll hear from a wireless speaker in this price range. Riva’s ADX Trillium stereophonic DSP system manages to project music across a wide soundstage with effortless clarity, and the Festival is built to handle pretty much any audio codec you can think of — even hi-res codecs like FLAC and AAC.

When it comes to design, the Festival is a bit on the boring side (especially considering its name), but that’s a minor complaint, and a trait that many will appreciate. We’ll give a shout-out to Bowers & Wilkins’ T7 and the Mass Fidelity Core, but they just can’t beat the Festival.

Bose SoundLink Mini II

The best compact Bluetooth speaker

Bose SoundLink Mini II best bluetooth speakers

Why should you buy this? It’s extremely portable, with great sound performance and elegant design.

Who’s it for? Those in need of a speaker that won’t take up much space.

How much will it cost? $180-$200

Why we picked the Bose SoundLink Mini II:

OK, sure, the SoundLink Mini II came out way back in 2015. It’s lacking many trappings that come standard on Bluetooth speakers today — namely, waterproofing and NFC support — and its battery lasts for just 10 hours before going kaput. So why would you want it?

Because it sounds awesome, for one. Despite its diminutive stature (it measures just 2 by 7.1 by 2.3 inches), the Mini II pumps out bass at a more than respectable clip without distorting or creating an imbalance in the overall soundstage. Higher frequencies are reproduced faithfully and evenly, and the mids — often a sore spot for smaller speakers — are warm, creating a nicely tuned sound signature.

Even when listening at lower volumes, the SoundLink doesn’t lose its luster, and happily eschews digital signal processing so there’s no annoying hiss to speak of. The price might seem a bit high, but if you can splurge on a smaller speaker, the Mini II will reward you.

Compact speakers are no longer a rarity — in fact, they’ve become the norm — but you’ll be hard-pressed to find a pocket-sized speaker that sounds as good as the SoundLink Mini II. The Riva S is worth a look, but it’s sorely lacking low-end power, and few other speakers even live in the same ZIP code.

JBL Charge 3

The best rugged Bluetooth speaker


Why should you buy this?  It offers power, utility, and durability at a nice price.

Who’s it for? Those who want versatility and serious durability on a budget.

How much will it cost? $120-$149

Why we picked the JBL Charge 3:

When it comes to wireless audio, durability is a big factor for those always on the move; after all, taking your sound everywhere is kind of the big seller for Bluetooth. JBL’s Charge 3 fits that bill, and it’s more than just another run-of-the-mill waterproof option. It’s got enough mettle to be put it in the conversation with any speaker on our list, and at an excellent price to boot.

As the name implies, the Charge will juice up your smartphone (or any USB-powered device) while it plays. It’s also made of extremely hard plastic for durability and, like the Ultimate Ears speaker (the next item on our list), it’s waterproofed with an IPX7 rating, meaning you can submerge the speaker in a meter of water for up to 30 minutes. Battery life is also impressive, lasting as long as 20 hours per charge, so long as you’re not routing its life force into another gadget.

As for performance, it’s a little shouty at the top of the frequency spectrum, and it doesn’t offer the detail exposed by pricier choices on our list. However, it does offer warm and punchy bass, courtesy of the passive radiators on each end, alongside plenty of power and clarity to get you rocking. It also gets extremely loud (great for outdoors) while keeping distortion to a minimum. All of that for far under $200 makes the Charge 3 a very solid choice. If you can still find them, you can also look at the previous JBL Charge 2+ or Charge 2 for even better value. The JBL Flip 4 is another great option here.

Read our full JBL Charge 3 review

Ultimate Ears Roll 2

The best budget-friendly Bluetooth speaker

Ultimate Ears UE Roll 2 best bluetooth speakers

Why should you buy this? It’s fun, rugged, affordable, and ready to … well, roll.

Who’s it for? Those looking for a speaker that’s easy to buy, and even easier to haul.

How much will it cost? $68-$90

Why we picked the Ultimate Ears Roll 2:

Durability and dunkability are the first words that come to mind when discussing UE’s Roll 2, the subtly updated follow-up to the company’s disc-shaped sound machine. That’s right, this tough-as-nails speaker can double as a water toy. It can be submerged in up to 3 feet of water for up to 30 minutes, like the Charge 3, without missing a beat — literally.

But you don’t just want a speaker that can survive a fall into the deep end, you want one that sounds good doing it, and the Roll 2 has you covered there as well. No, this isn’t a bass bumper, and it won’t sound nearly as full as some of the more accomplished (and pricier) speakers on our list. What it does offer is respectable sound, especially in the midrange and treble, on a serious budget. The only real downside about the speaker is its 9 hours of battery life and long charging time of as much as 5.5 hours, so you’ll want to make sure it’s juiced up before you head out.

Ultimate Ears has also rolled in (sorry, we can’t seem to resist) some other cool features here via the UE app, including the ability to link up a pair of Roll 2s for stereo sound, add basic equalization, use the speaker as an alarm, adjust volume, or power the speaker on or off — a cool feature we’ve not seen in a Bluetooth speaker outside the Roll line. The Roll’s second coming also improves the sound slightly and offers a longer wireless range of up to 100 feet so you can step away without stopping the sound.

Ultimate Ears’ Wonderboom does float, but it’s more expensive than the Roll, without sounding any better. Meanwhile, the UE Megaboom is awesome, but also pricey.

Read our full review of the original UE Roll

Riva Arena

The best multiroom-capable Bluetooth speaker

Riva Arena Bluetooth speaker

Why should you buy this? It performs incredibly well for its size (and price), and boasts Riva’s excellent WAND multiroom technology.

Who’s it for? Those who want to connect speakers throughout the house.

How much will it cost? $249

Why we picked the Riva Arena:

Finding a proper solution for multiroom audio is tough. There are dozens of options available, multiple technologies at play, and many of them aren’t even available to take on the go. Riva’s Arena takes on the challenge brilliantly, and it does so while offering some of the best sound in the entire multiroom genre — Bluetooth-enabled or otherwise.

Riva’s WAND technology — which we mentioned earlier in regard to the Festival — works like Sonos, linking up with any compatible speakers on the same network. But unlike Sonos, the Riva also allows you to connect in multiple ways, including Bluetooth, meaning you can play anything and everything from your phone or tablet. And if all that isn’t enough reason to lean Riva’s way, the Arena also sounds better too.

The Arena is equipped with three 2.5-inch drivers (one in front and one on each side), each of which boasts its own passive radiator for full, even bass response. Like the Festival, the Arena exhibits exquisite balance in its sound signature, with crisp highs and surprisingly strong midrange performance to boot. The Arena isn’t really sizable enough to fill large spaces, though, so if you’re setting up a big outdoor banquet or something, you might need to move up to the Festival. However, like Sonos’ Play 1, you can easily pair two Arenas together for true stereo sound or spread them throughout the house using a Wi-Fi connection.

Since WAND is powered by Google Home, you can use the Home app to pair speakers together, and Chromecast streaming offers access to a wide selection of apps you already have. Like the JBL speaker up above, the Arena will charge your other devices via USB, and you can also add on a 20-hour battery to make it 100 percent wireless, though that tacks on another $100. For serious listeners who want a versatile system, Riva just can’t be topped.

How we test

We test Bluetooth speakers the way normal people live.

We run every speaker through a rigorous process over the course of several days. That includes playing them in all sorts of scenarios, be it in the park or at the beach (for portables), in the listening room, or at the office, and playing back from our device library and streaming services like Spotify. We also test range, connection stability, and interference in areas with a lot of radio frequency interference (i.e. the Digital Trends offices).

Finally, we compare each speaker to some of our go-to models, both in their class and price point, as well as a level or two above to find out if they can punch above their weight.

How to decipher Bluetooth speaker terms

  • NFC — Shorthand for Near Field Communication, this oft-touted feature is actually quite limited when it comes to Bluetooth speakers, allowing select phones (i.e. those not made by Apple), to pair with a speaker with a quick touch. Since pairing is often as simple as pressing a button, and speakers will be remembered by your device once paired, it’s not seen as a must-have feature.
  • AptX — Another feature limited to phones and devices outside of Apple’s periphery, AptX is a codec (or group of codecs) said to allow Bluetooth streaming at “near CD quality” resolution. Apple products do not use AptX, but Android users may find it improves performance when paired with high-quality tracks and high-performance speakers.
  • Passive radiator  A passive radiator is a type of driver used to enhance bass in a speaker. In a sealed speaker enclosure (no portholes) a passive radiator responds to fluctuations in air pressure within the enclosure, creating sound. Since a passive radiator doesn’t have to be powered by an amp, it has no magnet or voice coil, and is therefore lighter and smaller than a traditional driver. This saves space and cost while increasing the speaker’s performance.
  • Pairing (or Bluetooth pairing) — In the case of Bluetooth speakers, pairing is the act of making a wireless connection from a speaker to your wireless device via Bluetooth.
  • Sonos — Sonos is an audio manufacturer best known for its line of smart Wi-Fi speakers, which create a peer-to-peer mesh network that allows speakers to connect with each other and synchronize playback. Unlike choices from our list, though, they do not incorporate Bluetooth.

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