2023 portable wireless Bluetooth speaker buying guide. 5 points to choose a Bluetooth speaker

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Bluetooth speakers are incredibly versatile. You can use them anywhere, so long as you have charge and are in range of a Bluetooth signal. They’re great for camping, impromptu karaoke sessions, and listening to music with your friends in a university dorm room.

In this portable Bluetooth buying guide, we review the current market trends before discussing how Bluetooth speakers differ from Wi-Fi speakers, their benefits, and the different types of Bluetooth speakers available. The guide concludes with some advice on how to choose the right Bluetooth portable speaker for your lifestyle.

Bluetooth speaker market trends

As with other electronics segments, the Bluetooth speaker market is expanding. The technology is becoming increasingly popular as people seek alternative ways to listen to music and podcasts on the go.

According to research, the Bluetooth speaker market will expand at a compound annual growth rate of 18.1 percent until 2026 as the technology becomes more affordable. Market growth will be particularly strong in China as new middle-class consumers come online.

According to data from Bluetooth.com, annual global Bluetooth device shipments are expected to reach 7 billion by 2026. North America will continue to dominate the Bluetooth speaker market, according to the research, but other regions will also see significant growth, including Southeast Asia and Oceania. However, Africa and the Middle East will not see an upsurge in demand.

It’s good news for consumers, though. The Bluetooth speaker market remains highly fragmented. There is no single dominant player. While big names top the list, there are many other bespoke manufacturers offering consumers more choice.

What is the difference between a Wi-Fi and Bluetooth wireless speaker?

Bluetooth speakers work using Bluetooth technology, a proprietary wireless communication protocol found on most modern smartphones, laptops, and PC motherboards. By contrast, Wi-Fi speakers use Wi-Fi signals, a different type of electromagnetic radiation capable of communication.

While they sound similar on paper, the difference between Bluetooth and Wi-Fi speakers is significant.

  • Portability:

    Wi-Fi speakers will work whenever they are in the range of a Wi-Fi network, usually at home, but also in public spaces, such as coffee shops, when available. By contrast, Bluetooth speakers work whenever they are in the range of a device with Bluetooth capability. Hence, you can use Bluetooth speakers wherever you can use your devices.

  • Compatibility:

    Wi-Fi speakers only work when you have access to Wi-Fi networks (i.e. you know the password and can sign in). Hence, your speaker might be in Wi-Fi range, but you may not be able to access it. By contrast, Bluetooth is always available if you have access to a compatible device.

  • Range:

    Wi-Fi and Bluetooth speakers have different ranges. In general, Wi-Fi can communicate over longer distances than Bluetooth.

  • Cost:

    Bluetooth speakers tend to be inexpensive compared to Wi-Fi-compatible ones. That’s not so much because Wi-Fi technology is expensive, but because manufacturers design Wi-Fi speakers specifically for the home.

  • Streaming:

    With Wi-Fi speakers, you can stream multiple speakers at the same time. With Bluetooth, you usually have to stream to a specific unit.

Interestingly, you can get speakers that have both Bluetooth and Wi-Fi technology. These are more versatile but they tend to be bigger and more expensive, too.

Features and benefits of wireless Bluetooth speaker

Due to the competitive nature of the Bluetooth market, manufacturers pack their devices with features designed to make them more enjoyable. Here are some examples:

Key components of a speaker driver

Whether you’re going caravanning, camping, or to the park in the evening, a Bluetooth speaker with party lights is a lot of fun. With bright LEDs and strobes, the device functions as an all-in-one disco, improving the mood.

Most portable wireless Bluetooth speakers with party lights sync to the music thanks to clever onboard software. And some let you program your own sequences as if you have your own PA desk.

AM/FM tuner

You’ll also want to check the speakers’ specifications for AM/FM tuners. With these, you can listen to the radio whenever you want. And you can continue entertaining yourself, even if Bluetooth is unavailable.

Charging

In the past, some Bluetooth speakers relied on alkaline, non-rechargeable batteries. But these days, most have rechargeable lithium cells, eliminating the need to constantly buy and dispose of batteries.

Designers do everything they can to make the charging experience as convenient as possible. Like smartphones, Bluetooth speakers come with USB charging cables which you can plug into a power bank, laptop, or car dashboard if you are on the move.

Waterproofing

Lastly, Bluetooth speaker manufacturers often waterproof their devices, letting you use them outside in all weather. The most advanced waterproofing methods use hydrophobic nanoparticles which coat all of the internal surfaces, causing water to just run off and not interact with any of the components. Other waterproofing technologies use rubber seals. These also work well, unless you damage your device.

Be careful when reading the specifications. If the manufacturer says “water-resistant,” then it usually means that the device can withstand drinks spills and gentle rain, but it doesn’t mean that you can leave it at the bottom of a swimming pool all day. If you’re looking for something that can survive being fully submerged for a long time, look for the word “waterproof.”

6 types of Bluetooth speaker

There are several types of Bluetooth speakers on the market which we list below:

Mono

Mono Bluetooth speaker units have a single speaker that produces all of the sounds that the device emits. These tend to be small and cheap but may not have the best sound quality.

Stereo

Stereo Bluetooth speakers have two separate speaker diaphragms, usually a treble and a bass. Because manufacturers can specialize the components, they sound better than conventional monos. However, they tend to be bigger and bulkier.

Surround sound

You can also get 3.1, 5.1, and 7.1 surround sound Bluetooth speakers. These have a subwoofer and then either three, five, or seven tweeters.

Manufacturers typically make surround sound Bluetooth speakers for the home. They can work anywhere but you’ll need to bring all the individual units with you which can be a hassle.

Long-Life

Some manufacturers market Bluetooth speakers as “long life.” These tend to have significantly larger batteries, allowing them to keep going all day. They’re popular among backpackers and adventurers.

Conference calling

Other Bluetooth speakers come with conference calling functionality. Unlike conventional speakers, they also contain a microphone that picks up your voice like a telephone. Several brands, including Bose, offer speakers with this option.

Companion software

Lastly, some Bluetooth speakers come with companion software, such as apps you can download onto your phone. These help you get the maximum use possible from your device. Most apps have different modes, options for switching party lights on and off, volume control, and more.

5 key points to consider when choosing portable wireless Bluetooth speakers

Knowing which Bluetooth speaker to buy isn’t always easy. Here are some points you may want to think about.

Consider where you’ll use your new speaker

If you’re going to be using your speaker mainly indoors, you don’t need to think too much about weatherproofing. Any design will do. Just make sure that the device is in range of a Bluetooth signal-emitted device. Walls, doors, and even people can all block the signal.

If you’re planning on using your Bluetooth speaker outdoors, though, you’ll want to choose a compact, weather-resistant model. Make sure you have something that can withstand the rigors of camping, hiking, and fishing trips. If you’re just using the speaker in the backyard while barbecuing or eating al fresco, look for water-resistant models.

Decide how much you want to spend

You get what you pay for when it comes to purchasing Bluetooth speakers. Skimping on your budget means you’re more likely to get something underpowered that doesn’t have the features you want. There may also be sound quality issues if you go too cheap.

At the other end of the spectrum, you can spend a lot of money on Bluetooth speakers but not get a great deal of value. The audio quality may not be detectably better than mid-range models.

Volume

Next, you’ll want to consider the audio power of your device. Will it be loud enough for your needs?

Generally speaking, a ten-watt speaker will be loud enough. However, if you want to blast music across an entire field, you’ll want something that offers a little more.

Size

When it comes to Bluetooth speakers, size also matters. If you choose a smaller speaker, it’ll be more portable, letting you take it with you wherever you go more easily. Choosing a bigger speaker usually yields better sound quality but you’ll find it harder to take with you.

Bluetooth version

Finally, consider the version of Bluetooth you need. Bluetooth version 1 came out many years ago, and there have been substantial revisions and improvements since then. Today, you’ll want to look for Bluetooth speakers that support versions 4 and 5 as these are the most recent.

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