Think of the party person in your group of friends, the one who brings that fiesta spirit wherever they go and has the uncanny ability to pull a memorable night seemingly out of thin air. Can’t think of anyone? Congratulations: it could be you!
But if that prospect makes you a bit nervous, don’t worry, because we’re here to recommend the best bits of kit to make sure no impromptu party/pre-drinks/trip to the park/trip to the beach (delete as appropriate) goes off without a bang. Behold: the power of the portable speaker.
While they’ve brought us a lot of joy over the years, these mini music-makers have come a long way since the early 2000s. Now, bang up to date and raring to go, the best of the best have been rounded up in our handy list. But first, a little guidance on what to shop for.
Think about what connection works best with your lifestyle and existing kit. We’re all familiar with Bluetooth, and most of us have a 3.5mm jack (or auxiliary) cable hanging around, but NFC is a nice additional feature to look for. Standing for ‘near-field communication’, it allows the speaker to work with your phone in close proximity using the same tech that drives Apple Pay.
If you’re prone to bouts of decreased spatial awareness (or of one-too-many-itis), look for models that can keep up with the party: waterproof, splash-proof, shockproof, and with a good long battery life. Of course, as the number of features go up, so, typically, does the price. But for the on-the-hoof music lover or frequent host, the extra bits and bobs can prove a worthwhile investment.
Sounds fantastic, looks fantastic, and is rugged enough to withstand life on the go: Ultimate Ears’ BOOM 2 is our all-round winner in the portable speaker stakes. It gives rich, 360 degree surround sound, and has the ability to pair with up to eight Bluetooth devices at once, as well as offering hands-free control with Amazon’s Alexa. It’s also properly waterproof — i.e. ‘can be immersed to a metre for up to 30 minutes’ waterproof — making it perfect for poolside or taking to the beach.
A thoroughly good-looking speaker, especially for a portable model. The geometric grille at the front, plus the super on-trend metallic colourways, makes for a gorgeous bit of kit, and functional, too. The Dali Katch offers a superior 24 hours of battery life, and an EQ button which lets you choose between two sound profiles for tabletop or on-shelf play.
Pocket-friendly in both size and price, this mini portable speaker is perfect for impromptu pre-drinks in student digs. The battery life is the shortest of any of the speakers on our list, but for a relatively small outlay of just under £40, we really can’t complain. The small price also makes the prospect of grouping speakers for stereo sound — these clever little speakers pair wirelessly when presented with each other — far from galling.
The SoundLink Mini, from seasoned veterans of sound Bose, is just as comfortable slotting into a home stereo system as it is on the road. Voice prompts talk you through the Bluetooth pairing process for easy stereo set-up, and it boasts NFC capabilities for twinning with a single tap. It comes with a charging cradle for in-situ juicing at home, and USB cable for powering up on the go. Its combo of aluminium and soft-touch silicone construction feels considerable, and looks good too.
Dustproof, waterproof, shockproof, and foolproof, the Anker SoundCore Sport XL is the ultimate portable speaker for the adventurous (and the clumsy). It plays very nicely with others — you can charge your mobile device with the built-in charging port, and the noise-cancelling onboard mic makes for easy hands-free calling. And, as well as being built like the proverbial brick outhouse, it packs some impressive bass with dual passive subwoofers.
When it comes to finding a portable speaker that reflects your rock ‘n’ roll sensibilities, there’s none better. The Marshall Kilburn Bluetooth Speaker looks stunning, styled on the classic Marshall amplifier, with high-quality hardware that allows you to fine-tune your sound using old-school dials. The sound remains warm and full, and doesn’t distort at high volume — the only downside is that it doesn’t go up to 11.
The B&O PLAY Portable Bluetooth Speaker is a dainty-looking thing packing a surprising amount of that signature Bang & Olufsen power. It fits in the palm of your hand and slips into your pocket for easy transportation, and the built-in microphone lets you make and receive calls hands-free, perfect for rounding up guests who are running late. Then, when everybody’s arrived, you can give voice commands using the Beoplay App.
You can choose to pair the Charge 3 with another speaker for stereo sound, but the quality is perfectly good alone — this waterproof portable speaker benefits from an onboard JBL Bass radiator, which delivers rich and rounded low-frequency sounds for a party-ready set-up. And with a 20-hour battery life, it can go for as long as you can. Best of all, its Play & Charge feature means you can charge your phone or tablet while simultaneously streaming music.
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