Beats on the Go: How to Choose a Portable Speaker

How to choose a portable speaker
In the market for a portable speaker? Here’s a rundown of features to think about to ensure that your purchase sounds good. IK Multimedia

Shopping for a new portable speaker for home or on the go? Well, I’ve got some good news and some bad news.

First the good news. There are plenty of choices for you to pick from.

The bad news? There are plenty of choices for you to pick from.

Yes, it’s great to have a varied selection of speakers to peruse through but it also means that making that final choice becomes much harder. Unless you have a certain brand preference, narrowing your choices means prioritizing which features you value most.

To help make your choice a bit easier, here’s a rundown of things you’ll want to think about when picking that portable speaker.

Sound Quality

You can’t start any discussion surrounding speakers without mentioning audio quality. Common sense dictates that buyers want the speaker that sounds best. Then again, it always isn’t that simple. For starters, audio preferences vary from person to person. What sounds like heaven to a bass head when listening to the iNuke Boom, for example, might seem like a head-splitting, low end-heavy fiasco to someone who prefers cleaner sound. Others also may prefer the processed sound of a speaker such as the Edifier Prisma while some hardcore audiophiles prefer a flatter response. Just how much of a stickler you are for audio quality can also impact your options in terms of size and price as the best-sounding speakers usually are bigger and more expensive, though there always are exceptions.

Wired or Wireless

Folks who place a premium on sound quality often will be best served by a speaker with a wired connection. Even with all the advancements in wireless technology, it’s just hard to beat the stability and quality of a wired connection. Then again, a wireless connection comes with benefits as well.

At the top of the list is the freedom and convenience that comes with not having to deal with cumbersome, tangle-prone wires. A wireless connection also provides more options for placement and portability. Then there’s the question as to the kind of wireless connection you want. Bluetooth is a more widely available standard that’s compatible with many devices but doesn’t have the best sound quality. Other devices, meanwhile, allow a better-sounding wireless connection via Wi-Fi or Apple’s AirPlay. Do note that these are not necessarily “either-or” propositions. The Cambridge Audio Minx 100, for example, not only is capable of a wired connection but also includes both Bluetooth and AirPlay capability.

Size Matters

Size isn’t necessarily a determining factor for audio quality — I’ve tested big speakers that sounded bad and small speakers that sounded good. Then again, it’s often true that if you want a speaker with more oomph, you’ll want to go bigger. Just how big should you go depends on what you plan to use the speaker for. If you’re looking for a home stereo system that can be paired with other speakers around the house, for example, then you can go with a larger speaker like the Sonos S5/Play 5 or the Wren V5AP.

If you want something that you can take around with you on the go, you’ll want to go for a smaller speaker such as the Divoom Voombox, which may not be as powerful but still pumps out solid sound. Otherwise, if you really want to go smaller and value portability, you can opt for the Divoom Bluetune Bean or the even smaller iFrogz Tadpole micro-speaker, but it won’t sound as dynamic as larger speakers. For folks who want the option to listen to music via a speaker while doing activities such as mountain biking, the Outdoor Tech Buckshot can be strapped to your bicycle’s handlebars while hitting the trails.

Still looking for pointers to help you pick the perfect portable speaker for you? Hey, we’re just getting started. Do you value ruggedness? Smartphone compatibility? Maybe you prefer battery smarts. For even more tips check out Part 2 of the Portable Speaker Buying Guide, where we talk about features such as ruggedness, price, battery life and compatibility with guitars and music apps.