As speakers have changed and evolved, even the word itself has grown to include many types of products. To understand what we’re looking at in terms of a “speaker”, Bluetooth speakers, soundbars, smart speakers, and traditional bookshelf speakers are all represented in our roundup below.
The first thing you should keep in mind when thinking about a speaker purchase is the use case and form factor. If you’re thinking about indoor use, are you looking for a single smart speaker or a pair of bookshelf speakers? Will a soundbar cover your music needs?
You’ll also need to consider whether you need a powered speaker or speakers. Soundbars, smart speakers, and Bluetooth speakers are all self-powered, meaning you don’t need an external amplifier. That said, bookshelf speakers often require an amplifier or A/V receiver to power them.
Also, just because a speaker is wireless and has a battery built-in, that doesn’t mean it’s ready for use outdoors. One thing to check is the IP rating, a two-number rating for dust and water resistance that we include when it’s relevant. Outdoor sound modes and long battery life are also important for a speaker you’ll be taking everywhere.
When it comes to wired speakers, you’ll also need to keep connectivity in mind. Bookshelf speakers use traditional speaker wire, but if you’re looking at more audiophile-oriented speakers, you may find that you’ll need more specialized cables like XLR or 1/4-inch TRS cable.
When a speaker we’re recommending requires any sort of unusual cable, we’ll be sure to point it out. If speakers require an amplifier to work, we’ll mention that as well.
Finally, the vast majority of speakers we’re looking at here use some sort of wireless connectivity. Bluetooth is the most common form of wireless connectivity, but a few of our recommendations include alternative wireless connections like Wi-Fi.
This is a lot to keep in mind, but when you’ve figured out what you need, one of our recommendations will serve that function perfectly.
- ✓ Trueplay does a great job tuning the speaker to the room
- ✓ Dolby Atmos makes for convincing 3D sound
- ✓ Better sound for music than most soundbars
- ✗ You’ll need extra speakers to make the most out of the Beam
The Sonos Beam is a soundbar, but it’s far from just any other soundbar. While most soundbars work fine for watching TV and not much else, the Sonos Beam sounds great for music, podcasts, or any other form of audio entertainment you can think of.
Even without a subwoofer, the Sonos Beam manages a well-balanced sound signature, with powerful lows and clear highs. This works equally well for music, movies, and TV shows, with support for Dolby Atmos and Dolby Atmos Music built-in.
Setting up the Sonos Beam is a breeze. You only need two cables—one for power, and one for the HDMI connection. Using the Trueplay feature of the Sonos iPhone app (Trueplay is not currently supported on Android devices), the speaker can use your iPhone as a microphone to examine your room and tune the Beam to sound its best.
When using the Sonos Beam as a soundbar, it works much as you’d expect any other soundbar to work. Turn off the TV, however, and it becomes a Wi-Fi streaming smart speaker, similar to other Sonos speakers. It will also work with other speakers from Sonos for whole-home audio when you’re listening to music.
The Sonos Beam can also function as the core of multi-speaker home theater systems. You can add a Sonos Sub as a subwoofer and other speakers as satellites to complete your system.
- ✓ Bigger sounding than the size suggests
- ✓ Built-in straps for mounting to bike or backpack
- ✓ Pair two for stereo sound
- ✗ Straps can be cumbersome for everyday use
Whether you prefer not to spend too much on a speaker or you’re looking for a spare, there are more quality budget models available now than ever. That said, the Tribit StormBox Micro has a few tricks up its sleeve that we think gives it the edge over its budget-minded competition.
Buying a budget speaker used to mean that it wasn’t going to be very tough. Fortunately, that is no longer the case, as the Tribit StormBox Micro is IP67-rated water and dust resistant. That’s handy, as it’s clear that this is a speaker meant for people on the move.
On the company’s Amazon listing, the Tribit StormBox Micro is listed as a bike speaker, and indeed it has built-in silicone straps to attach it to bicycle handlebars. If you’re not a cyclist, you can use those same straps to attach the speaker to your backpack and take it with you anywhere.
While the Tribit StormBox Micro is on the smaller side, as the name implies, it doesn’t sound as small as it is. On the Amazon page, Tribit credits this to its XBass tuning digital signal processing (DSP), which makes for much more bass than you’d expect from a speaker this small.
If you’re looking for even more volume and a wider soundstage, you can even add another StormBox Micro to make a stereo pair.
Best Budget Speaker
Tribit StormBox Micro
If you’re looking for an affordable speaker to bring everywhere, the Tribit StormBox Micro is a tough but easygoing companion.
- ✓ Great volume, even with one speaker
- ✓ Built-in power bank functionality is useful
- ✓ Pair one or more speakers for stereo or more volume
- ✗ Buying another speaker for PartyBoost isn’t cheap
If you’re looking for a speaker that works well anywhere you’re looking for music, the JBL Charge 5 is ready to handle it. Whether you’re inside or outside, listening alone or providing the soundtrack for a party, the Charge 5 has the volume and the sound quality for the job.
The JBL Charge 5 uses a separate tweeter and dual bass radiators to provide a big-sounding speaker without making it weigh a ton. The enclosure is tough too, with a solid build and IP67 rating meaning it’s dust and water-resistant, so long as you don’t drop it at the bottom of a pool.
While the JBL Charge 5 is loud on its own, it gets even louder when you pair two of them together. Even better, thanks to JBL’s PartyBoost feature, you don’t have to stop at two. This is great if you’re looking for wide-ranging sound without springing for a permanent whole-home audio setup.
Due to the heftier size of the JBL Charge 5, it’s able to fit a sizable battery. This gives the speaker a maximum playback time of up to 20 hours, though as always, this will depend on the playback volume.
If you don’t need all that playback time but want to take advantage of the size of the battery, the JBL Charge 5 also doubles as a power bank. Simply plug a USB cable into the port, and you can use the speaker to recharge your devices.
Best Bluetooth Speaker
JBL Charge 5
The JBL Charge 5 is loud and versatile, but adding in the ability to charge your other devices makes this a speaker you’ll want to keep with you at all times.
- ✓ Water-resistant and it even floats
- ✓ 360-degree sound means big sound from just one speaker
- ✓ Ability to pair another for stereo is useful
- ✓ Outdoor sound mode makes outdoor listening more enjoyable
- ✗ Battery life isn’t great at highest volumes
If you’re looking for a speaker to bring everywhere with you, it doesn’t get better than the Ultimate Ears WONDERBOOM 2. The speaker is light enough to carry anywhere, and it’s packed with the volume and features to play your music as loud as you want.
Like the other portable Bluetooth speakers we’re looking at in this article, the WONDERBOOM 2 has an IP67 rating. That said, the rating is far from the only reason we’re suggesting this as an outdoor speaker. The build quality is solid, and it even floats in case you happen to drop it in the pool or on a canoeing trip.
The WONDERBOOM 2 features a 360-degree design, meaning you’ll hear the same audio, regardless of which side of the speaker you’re standing on. It also features an outdoor boost button that tweaks the sound specifically for outdoor use.
If one speaker isn’t enough, you can always add another. When you connect two WONDERBOOM 2 models together, you can use them for louder mono playback or in paired stereo mode.
While the battery life isn’t quite as impressive as the JBL Charge 5, the WONDERBOOM 2 still boasts up to 13 hours of battery life, depending on playback volume.
Best Outdoor Speaker
- ✓ Modular nature means you can expand your setup one speaker at a time
- ✓ Voice control is great for smart homes
- ✓ Stereo pairing makes setup easy
- ✗ No Bluetooth connectivity
If music is a constant part of your day, you’ve probably already considered whole-home audio. That said, if you’re thinking of dipping a toe in the water, one or two Sonos One speakers are a great way to start.
If you’re just using one, the Sonos One is like an upgraded, Wi-Fi-powered version of a Bluetooth speaker. Pair two together, and you’ve got a wireless stereo set up. Add more and the sky is the limit, though it’s perfectly fine to stop at one if that’s all you need.
The Sonos One features Amazon Alexa built-in. This makes playing your music with just your voice as easy as thinking about it, but it also makes for great integration with any smart devices you may have. If you can’t bear the sound of an Amazon Echo but want that functionality in a better speaker, this is a fantastic option.
One thing to keep in mind with Sonos devices is that only the company’s portable speakers like the Sonos Move feature Bluetooth. For more home-focused speakers like the Sonos One, you’re using Wi-Fi for playback. This makes for better sound quality, but can be less convenient at times.
That said, if you’re an Apple fan, you’re in luck, as the Sonos One and many other Sonos speakers feature full AirPlay 2 support.
Best Smart Speaker
The Sonos One takes the best aspects of smart speakers and brings them into the Sonos ecosystem, making this a great way to enhance your smart home’s sound.
- ✓ Speakers work great in hi-fi or home theater setups
- ✓ Front-firing ports make the speakers easy to place in your room
- ✓ Detailed, accurate sound reproduction
- ✗ Center channel speaker is sold separately
If you’re looking for a set of classic-style bookshelf speakers, the ELAC Debut 2.0 B6.2 needs to be on your shortlist. These speakers will work wonderfully with your turntable setup or hi-fi stereo system, but they’re just as comfortable in a home theater surround-sound setting.
The ELAC Debut 2.0 B6.2 features an aramid fiber woofer for the bass and midrange, while a 1-inch soft-dome tweeter ranges up as high as 35,000 Hz. The speakers use front-firing ports, which means you don’t need to be as careful with where you’re placing them in your room.
These are standard bookshelf speakers, so they’ll need an amplifier to work. The speakers handle up to 120 watts of power at 6 ohms. These speakers will work with most A/V receivers, including 5.1 channel and up-home theater receivers.
The speakers are internally braced to dampen vibrations, meaning you won’t encounter any degradation of sound quality as the volume increases. If you’re looking for speakers that present an accurate representation of what you’re playing through them, but don’t want to go quite as far as studio monitors, this is a great middle ground.
If you’re buying these as part of building a home theater system, don’t forget to check out the matching ELAC Debut 2.0 C6.2 center channel speaker.
Best Bookshelf Speaker
ELAC Debut 2.0 B6.2
The ELAC Debut 2.0 B6.2 can handle playing back your vinyl collection or serve as the centerpiece of your home theater system. It’s all up to you and how you want to use them.
- ✓ Boundary EQ makes these work in spaces other speakers won’t
- ✓ Plenty of connectivity options
- ✓ Improved low-end quality compared to the original
- ✗ You’ll need an audio interface to make the most of these
If you take your music listening seriously, or you’re an audio or video professional, standard speakers aren’t going to be ideal. Instead, you’ll want a pair of monitor speakers meant for critical listening like the Kali Audio LP-6 V2.
The LP-6 uses a 6.5-inch woofer and a 1-inch soft-dome tweeter for clear highs that aren’t overly strident and a low end that carries surprising weight. In the V2 version of this speaker, the woofer is lower mass than the original, making for improved low-end clarity.
Also improved in this latest iteration of the Kali Audio LP-6 are the Boundary EQ settings. These are a series of switches on the back of each speaker letting you set whether the speakers are close to a wall or sitting on a desktop and shape the sound accordingly to better fit your setup.
The Kali Audio LP-6 V2 offers a few different connectivity options, but since these are powered monitors, they may not be what you expect. For balanced connections, you get 1/4-inch TRS and XLR connectors, while for unbalanced connections you get RCA connectors.
To make the most of these speakers, you’ll need an audio interface. If all you’re doing is listening to music on the speakers, a simple interface like the Focusrite Scarlett Solo will work perfectly with the RCA inputs on the speakers.