Best Bluetooth Speaker 2017: Portable, indoor waterproof and budget Bluetooth speakers

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Stop playing music through your smartphone or tablet speaker and pair up with a Bluetooth speaker for a better listening experience.

While your smartphone or tablet might have a built-in speaker, these should really only be reserved for the occasional YouTube video or hands-free call. You don’t want to listen to music through them if you want to do your tunes justice. Bluetooth speakers are a much better alternative, and the great news is there are plenty of options to suit different budgets or needs.

What is Bluetooth?

Bluetooth is a wireless technology standard that allows communication over short distances. You might remember it from slightly unreliable handsfree headsets from years gone by. Nowadays, Bluetooth technology has gone through a number of revisions and is more reliable than ever and is capable of carrying enough data for high-quality music. As such, Bluetooth speakers have risen in popularity.

Every smartphone and tablet will have support for Bluetooth, as will most laptops. Otherwise, an inexpensive USB Bluetooth dongle can add support. These will let you connect your music source of choice to your Bluetooth speaker. Whether it’s a CD in your laptop’s drive, to a locally stored MP3 file or streamed music from the internet – such as BBC Radio via iPlayer or the latest songs on Spotify.

When it comes to different kinds of Bluetooth and codecs, it’s worth keeping an eye out for Bluetooth aptX support. The aptX codec is usually only supported on more expensive Bluetooth speakers due to the licensing cost, but it allows for a higher quality transmission, resulting in CD quality songs to be played without any loss of detail.

Pairing a Bluetooth device is straightforward. You’ll just need to put the speaker into pairing mode (the method will differ based on manufacturer, but it’s usually obvious how) and then search for the speaker on your device. Otherwise, NFC (near field communication) can let you pair your device to an NFC-compatible speaker simply by touching the two together, automating the entire process.

Fixed or portable

If you’re looking for a Bluetooth speaker you can carry around with you, you’ll want one with a built-in battery. Any Bluetooth speaker worth its salt will usually last upwards of at least 8 hours and some will go into double figures. Most speakers will charge over a Micro USB cable, which is handy as you can often get by only carrying one charger for your smartphone, tablet and Bluetooth speaker (unless you’re an ‘iDevice’ owner). Some Bluetooth speakers aren’t designed for moving around, so don’t have a battery and will instead need to be plugged into your mains. What these lack in portability they should make up with fuller and richer sound.

Ruggedised and waterproof

Bluetooth speakers make great holiday or outdoor companions, too. You can find waterproof and ruggedised models that are ideal to take beside the pool, or on outdoor adventures, without worrying about them getting damaged. The ruggedised models will have shock-proofing, so they can handle occasionally being thrown around or dropped. Where it comes to water resistance, be sure to check what the IPX rating is as that will tell you to what extent it can survive exposure to water. Some waterproof models will have IPX7, meaning they can survive being submerged in up to 1m of water for at least 30 minutes. Less waterproof models might only be IPX4 rated, meaning they can only handle a splash of water.

Ruggedised and waterproof

Bluetooth speakers make great holiday or outdoor companions, too. You can find waterproof and ruggedised models that are ideal to take beside the pool, or on outdoor adventures, without worrying about them getting damaged. The ruggedised models will have shock-proofing, so they can handle occasionally being thrown around or dropped. Where it comes to water resistance, be sure to check what the IPX rating is as that will tell you to what extent it can survive exposure to water. Some waterproof models will have IPX7, meaning they can survive being submerged in up to 1m of water for at least 30 minutes. Less waterproof models might only be IPX4 rated, meaning they can only handle a splash of water.

Speaker Drivers

As Bluetooth speakers vary widely in size, they can have vastly differing numbers of drivers inside. The smaller speakers might only have two drivers but the larger ones can have significantly more. Different sized drivers will handle different frequency ranges. A woofer will handle the lower frequencies, so if you favour bass response look out for a speaker with a dedicated woofer. Mid-range and tweeters will handle the mid and higher frequencies, respectively. In terms of sound quality, it’s typically better to have a dedicated driver for each frequency range, rather than fewer drivers performing double duties.

Hands-free calling

Lots of Bluetooth speakers will also have a built-in microphone, which means you can use them for convenient hands-free calls. This means they can serve a useful dual purpose and are usually a better option than using your smartphone on speaker.

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