Winter, spring, summer, or fall—there's never a bad time for music! If you're too social for constant headphones but love music too much to settle for your smartphone's crappy speakers, a portable Bluetooth speaker is one excellent solution to that problem.
Fortunately, you can get them for really cheap. Unfortunately, a cursory search on Amazon will yield up thousands of results, and if you're keeping to a strict budget, it can be a challenge to get something that works properly, let alone sounds good and is durable enough to last for a while.
Take it from me: I just checked out over 20 of these things, and finding a great one at an affordable price point is no easy task. But lucky for you, we did. If you just want to know our favorite, check out the Anker Soundcore(available at Amazon for $27.99). Otherwise, scroll on to discover the best inexpensive speakers—and some you should avoid.
Aomais Sport II
Tribit XSound Go
Oontz Angle solo
Recommendations are independently chosen by Reviewed’s editors. Purchases you make through our links may earn us a commission.
How We Tested
What's a Portable Bluetooth Speaker?
How Loud Are Bluetooth Speakers?
What’s the Difference between Splash and Waterproof?
There's not much reason not to pick the Anker SoundCore if you're just looking for something simple and reliable. One of the most popular Bluetooth speakers of all time, this affordable product may not have any overt quirks, gimmicks, or standout features, but it checks off all the basic boxes for a price that's hard to argue with.
Available in black, blue, and red, the original SoundCore boasts 24 hours of battery life, a sturdy rectangular design, and big, easy-to-press buttons (although they can be a little hard to make out given that they're identically colored with the rest of the chassis). The sound quality is solid, with good bass and treble presence and plenty of volume.
Like the SoundCore 2, the original SoundCore has USB charging and an input for a 3.5mm jack. Unlike the upgraded SoundCore 2, however, the ports are uncovered, which is potentially problematic. Considering the widespread popularity of the SoundCore, I doubt it's a major issue, but if you plan on taking your portable speaker on a lot of dusty or drippy outings, you may want to find one that's sealed up a little better.
Howdy, I'm Lee Neikirk, Home Theater Editor for Reviewed and casual video/audiophile. I've been elbows-deep in professional reviews of video and audio products for the last 7 years, but before that, I was earning a degree in music performance, so it's safe to say that audio quality and presentation are passions of mine. At home, I utilize guitar amplifiers, studio monitors for music mastering, and a sound "plate" for my TV. But nothing is more delightful than a compact, rugged, or waterproof speaker that can fill space with music; it's like magic!
Testing for these 20 odd portable Bluetooth speakers was a fairly simple process. I took a big box of them home and over a few weeks, sampled and used them in different locations in my home. I didn't do any objective testing for audio quality, but I did listen to them closely, comparing them to a range of other speaker sources, as well as headphones.
But perhaps just as important (if not more important) than checking out each speaker's audio quality was simply using it like the average person would: connecting over Bluetooth, setting it up on a desk or table, and listening to music. I'd crank the speakers up to max to check for distortion or buzzing, and cycle through each speaker's various functions.
Sometimes speakers sounded great at every volume, connected immediately, had responsive buttons and stylized Bluetooth feedback, and so on. Sometimes they presented a chintzy or questionable experience. The final ranking represents a rough approximation of those traits alongside the cost/value of the speaker.
What's a Portable Bluetooth Speaker?
Technically, a portable Bluetooth speaker is any speaker that doesn’t need to be plugged into power on and play music, that you can connect to, wirelessly, via Bluetooth connection, and are small/light enough to be carried with you or stowed in a bag.
While this can include a pretty wide range of sizes and price points, generally portable Bluetooth speakers fall between $30 and $100 in price and include a suite of key features like Bluetooth connectivity (duh), volume adjustment, 3.5mm aux input, and micro USB charging.
Features like splash or waterproofing, rugged exteriors, LED indicators, and bass boosting vary depending on the model—those kinds of things are usually what you’re paying more (or less) for. But you can always safely assume any portable Bluetooth speaker you buy will be wireless and work with whatever type of phone you have.
How Loud Are Bluetooth Speakers?
Another key thing to understand about portable Bluetooth speakers is that they’re more of a replacement for your smartphone than for traditional bookshelf speakers or even soundbars.
Although you can get really big, boombox style portable speakers that might be able to blow the roof off a house party, most of the speakers we tested aren’t amazingly loud. They’re loud enough to provide music for a small gathering or a modest backyard get together, but if you’re in the raucous throes of a party, most of these will be drowned out.
Where this starts to matter more is when you’re using one of these speakers in an on-the-go situation. Because of the relatively low wattage power of most of the speakers here, using them outside on a windy beach or hanging from your handlebars as you pedal through the woods may not always yield crystal clear audio. But you’ll know music is playing, and that’s probably as good as you’re going to get without using headphones.
As for audio quality, one reason these speakers don’t get mega loud is that if they did, it would introduce distortion. Instead, engineers have capped the relative output to maintain clarity, which is a smart move both for your listening enjoyment and for the life of the soldered wires inside.
What’s the Difference between Splash and Waterproof?
Many portable Bluetooth speakers are splash and/or waterproof on top of being extra rugged or capped with rubber components to help protect them from falls.
But it can be a little hard to know if it’s safe to “accidentally” boot your little speaker into the pool when a song you hate comes on, so check this guide to the ranking system if you’re really curious.
Other Portable Bluetooth Speakers We Tested
Aomais Sport II
The Aomais Sport II is a surprisingly good choice where affordable, waterproof Bluetooth speakers go. Available in somewhat tropical colors (orange, green, etc.), the Sport II is a mid-sized speaker that's hugely popular on Amazon—and for good reason.
For being so affordable, the Sport II has a more robust control scheme than the average Bluetooth speaker. In fact, it's similar to a lot of wireless Bluetooth headphones: short presses of the volume keys will raise and lower volume, while a long press works to scrub between tracks. RGB indicators on the front of the speaker show whether it's powered on, ready for Bluetooth pairing, or running low on battery.
The Tribit XSound Go is definitely a step up from the average portable Bluetooth speaker. The XSound Go isn't the biggest nor the loudest option in the lineup, but considering it's been recently replaced by the newer "MaxSound Go," you can find it on sale pretty readily.
Despite being a bit older, the XSound Go is still worth checking out. Its small form factor feels very sturdy thanks to the metal chassis. The buttons along the top are simple and clearly labeled. Like most Bluetooth speakers, you can't skip tracks using the volume buttons, but there is a big "play" (pause) button. The XSound Go is cool to the touch and features a braided wrist strap that I'm not super sure would hold its weight if you got rambunctious with it.
As for the sound, despite its little size, the Go has a good amount of power, but you kind of have to turn it up a lot. It's firm build means it won't vibrate or distort easily, but it also only articulates sound in one direction, meaning it's probably better for a stationary activity than hanging off of someone's bike during a trail ride. It's available in basic black and a darker blue color.
You've probably never heard of Oontz, but the "Angle" line (actually by Cambridge Soundworks) is a big hit on Amazon. The Angle solo is a small, very affordable Bluetooth speaker that gets its name from the triangular shape of the speaker.
This one's inexpensive, but it feels sturdy/not cheap and features rounded black plastic and a logo-emblazoned speaker grill. Something about it looks really perfect on my desk: the way it sits, angling its speaker upwards towards a listener who is seated at a table. Because it's one of the smaller speakers in the roundup, the Angle solo isn't particularly loud or robust, but it's built well enough to deliver clean, distortion-free sound even at higher volumes.
The Angle solo isn't big enough to fill a space with music (in fact, it's small enough to have slots for attaching it to a keychain), but it's a good choice for a desktop or picnic table situation. Maybe not party-ready, but it could bring the funk to a more intimate gathering.
The Doss Touch is a decent choice, especially if you're on a budget. It's a larger speaker with very robust sound for the price: not the highest quality, but at least pretty loud.
The Touch's big rectangular black plastic chassis isn't going to win any design awards, but it does sound good. In fact, it's one of the louder, clearer, and better-sounding devices in this price range (that we tested). You can adjust the volume by running your finger clockwise or counter-clockwise around the blue circle on top of the Touch, and skip forward/backward through tracks with the arrow keys. It's a simple enough system, and the light-up buttons look a bit chintzy, but it works.
If I was going to spend more money, I'd go for a slightly nicer speaker with a better design, waterproofing, or whatever. But if you want to shave down costs, the Doss Touch sounds bigger than it is for the price.
One of the cheapest Bluetooth speakers on the list, the tiny Xleader A8 nevertheless enjoys considerable popularity—at least on Amazon, which is probably the only place you can buy it. It's not that hard to guess why the A8 has thousands of reviews, as it's one of the most affordable portable Bluetooth speakers around.
That cheapness does make itself known in various ways, not the least of which is the general audio quality. The A8's small speaker design fires into the surface upon which it sits, which of course is by design, with the small space allowing a higher, tinnier speaker to actually sound more middling/bassy as it bounces off of the floor. It's a smart choice as far as the design goes, however, the A8 also can't be used in any other fashion except to bounce off of a surface, so depending on where you place it, your audio quality mileage may vary.
The touch-response buttons light up a bright blue (it's a bit much) and we received a "gold" A8 instead of a "rose gold" A8. The "you're connected" and "power off" voices sound very bizarre, too, and the presence of a TransFlash card slot is kind of baffling. However, if you can stomach the array of strange design choices and general cheapness, getting this little speaker isn't a bad move.
When I first booted up the Zosam V5, a robotic voice from the PlayStation era informed that "The device is ready for connection." Once I'd synced up my phone it announced "Connected," and I knew I was in for a good time.
Silliness of presentation aside, the Zosam V5 isn't a bad choice, though it has some serious eccentricities. On top of the weird announcer voice, its textured, hard plastic chassis makes it feel more like an 80s action figure than a modern recreation product, and the matte black on gray aesthetic really hammers that home. In fact, on Amazon, the available colors are "black" and "black2." Point made.
However, while the V5 might look weird, it sounds fine, though at times elements of the frequency seem "further away" than they do in headphones. Likewise, at higher volumes, the front-facing speaker (which seems to handle treble/mids) seems to outpace the rear speaker a bit in terms of volume. The plastic also feels a bit cheap. The V5 isn't overpriced, but you can probably do better in this price range.
Another mega affordable option that's very popular on Amazon, the ZoeeTree S1 is right in line with thousands of pop-up, shovelware-ish portable Bluetooth speakers: cheap-feeling plastic, weird font, a nonsense brand name, and so on.
While most of the (many) popular or best-selling portable Bluetooth speakers I checked out for this roundup deserved a spot, some of them were just too quirky, cheap, or bereft of quality assurance to recommend, and the ZoeeTree S1 is, unfortunately, one of those. While the model we got worked fine and the audio quality was average, I have to imagine most people would rather spend a bit more to get something less chintzy.
Even if you get one that works, the chance that it will have a defect seems high. There are many Amazon reviewers who are complaining about a litany of issues, and the company's overview of the product features has typos. You get what you pay for, and you should pay a little more.
Lee has been Reviewed's point person for most television and home theater products since 2012. Lee received Level II certification in TV calibration from the Imaging Science Foundation in 2013. As Editor of the Home Theater vertical, Lee oversees reviews of TVs, monitors, soundbars, and Bluetooth speakers. He also reviews headphones, and has a background in music performance.
We use standardized and scientific testing methods to scrutinize every product and provide you with objectively accurate results. If you’ve found different results in your own research, email us and we’ll compare notes. If it looks substantial, we’ll gladly re-test a product to try and reproduce these results. After all, peer reviews are a critical part of any scientific process.