Buying a portable speaker and buying a party speaker are two completely different tasks.
In a speaker dedicated to mobile use you should prioritize size and battery life as much as sound quality. You don’t want to bring two or three speakers with you on your hike to a mountaintop picnic, and you really don’t want to lug a massive brick around either. Portable and wireless speakers for the home afford different kinds of flexibility.
For a speaker that lives in the house, feel free to get a monster that’s always plugged into power, or a five-pound Bluetooth speaker meant to hop between countertops. These are the speakers you want to look at when planning a holiday party. You want a speaker that can fill the room with pleasing ambient music to liven up the space between conversations, or be cranked up to full blast if sing-alongs are your jam.
We’ve rounded up several options to consider. All of them will be loud enough to fill a medium to large room without needing to crank the volume all the way up. From premium standalone models to portable Bluetooth speakers that can pair with other speakers, we have several options to fit any budget.
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Sonos is at the top of this list for two reasons. Its top of the line Five speaker is one of the best standalone wireless speakers you can find with exceptional dynamic range and bass response, not to mention how loud it gets without any distortion. The other reason is that Sonos’ multiroom audio platform is unmatched. Bluetooth just won’t cut it for a house you want to fill with music. The Five is both great by itself and a great starting point for a complete home system.
The Soundlink Flex is my favorite portable speaker for many reasons. It has incredible bass response for a speaker this size, and Bose’s “PositionIQ” tech also means it’ll fill a room just fine on its own sitting flat in the middle or standing up at the edge. Bose only supports pairing with one additional Bose Bluetooth speaker however, so only count on it filling one room or sharing music between two areas of your home.
The 13-pound Ultimate Ears Hyperboom is a party speaker reminiscent of the days of boomboxes and cassettes. Not only is this beast of a speaker waterproof, making it perfect for parties indoors and out, it even has microphones that are only for adjusting its EQ to its environment (no always-listening assistant functionality to be found). It even has a USB-A port for topping up your phone in a pinch and 24 hours of playtime to boot. Of course, you can pair it with other UE speakers, but the real question is “should you” with something this loud.
The more powerful of JBL’s portable speakers that you can actually hold in one hand has a lot of party appeal. The iconic grille that flank its sides are sure to delight anyone who wants to feel the bass vibrate, and the USB-A port on the back makes each speaker you have in your array a mobile charging station for guests’ phones that are in the red. JBL’s PartyBoost system has support for up to 100 speakers, so there really is no limit to how many you can add as long as you keep the restraints of Bluetooth in mind.
We love Google’s Nest Audio for its mind-blowing sound quality and broad range of music service support. It doesn’t hurt that for the price of one high-end Bluetooth speaker you can cover your whole home with three or four of these speakers, or put them all in the same room if you want. These are speakers that won’t just keep your party going but blend into your home decor after the guests have left the party.
This is Bose’s top-of-the-line Bluetooth speaker and is most geared towards home use. It’s heavier and louder than the Soundlink Flex, but adds on Wi-Fi streaming for higher quality audio with less compression while maintaining Bluetooth audio as a fallback. Its 360-audio design means you can plop it in the middle of a room to make sure everyone can hear your winter playlist, while 12-hour battery life lets you have confidence the party will go all night. And, because it’s Wi-Fi based, you can grab multiple and sync music around your home.
Apple’s HomePod mini is another great pick if you want to go the smart speaker route, although it does bring a level of ecosystem lock-in that Google’s slightly more open smart speakers don’t. While HomePod mini does work with third-party music services, it really is meant for Apple Music subscribers who have other Apple devices in their lives. But, if you can live within Apple’s walls, this smart speaker will fit right into any multi-room audio setup you have in mind.