In the current bluetooth speaker market deluge, three models consistently float to the top of reviewers’ lists.
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These are all excellent speakers, and depending on your priorities, any one of the three might be the best for you. Our exhaustive bluetooth speaker meta-review suggests that the UE Boom 2 offers the best combination of sound quality, features and price for most people, but we wanted to offer a direct comparison for those who whose priorities might be different.
Originally published Aug. 5, 2016. Updated Dec. 29, 2016: Based on a reader comment, we have checked with Logitech and re-confirmed that the battery for the UE Boom 2 is replaceable. Updated Nov. 21, 2016: Prices have dropped and more reviews have come out since this article was originally written, although most takes agreed with the original assessments. We have added links and updated the text as appropriate, but the overall results remain the same. Updated Mar. 6, 2017: Price and other minor information updated. Updated May 30, 2017: Pricing and other minor updates. Updated Aug. 17: Removed old models that are no longer a good deal, added latest voice integration firmware updates concerning the UE Boom 2, other minor edits.
Top Reviewed Mid-Range Bluetooth Speakers: Quick Take
Further on we’ll go into the details of which reviewers felt what about these speakers, but here’s a quick overview of the advantages of each speaker.
JBL Charge 3
• Bulkiest (9.1 x 3.4 x 3.5 inches / 21.3 x 8.7 x 8.85cm)
• Heaviest (1.8 lbs / 0.82 kg)
• Good sound quality — While this is near the top of reviewers’ lists, the reactions do vary a bit; most like its great bass, but think it’s not so smoothly balanced and that the higher end struggles in particular
• Loudest — comparisons of the three put this on top for loudness, and with little distortion
• Pair two of them for stereo sound — or just double the sound output in mono mode
• Fully waterproof (rated IPX7)
• 20-hour battery
• Other: can recharge your phone via USB, rubber base prevents rolling
JBL Charge 3 Waterproof Portable Bluetooth Speaker…
UE Boom 2
• Portable (7 x 2.5 x 2.5 inches /17.8 x 6.4 x 6.4 cm)
• Lightest (1.2 lbs / 0.54 kg)
• Excellent sound quality — reviewers across the board noted powerful-but-balanced bass and overall clarity, and loved its 360-degree output
• Louder — one of the louder speakers on the market; excellent for outdoor use
• Pair two of them for stereo sound — or just double the sound output in mono mode
• Fully waterproof (rated IPX7) and reported to survive drops well
• 15-hour (replaceable!) battery
• Other: tap the speaker to skip songs, carabiner hook & tripod mount, can use voice command to start music (with Siri, Google Now, and Alexa integration)
Ultimate Ears BOOM 2 Portable Waterproof &…
Bose Soundlink Mini II
• Portable (7.1 x 2.3 x 2 inches / 18 x 5.8 x 5.1 cm)
• Heavier (1.5 lbs / 0.68 kg)
• Best sound quality — while the UE Boom 2 came close, nearly all reviewers prefer the Bose Soundlink Mini II’s sound for its evenness and warmth
• Not loud — this is a speaker for single-room indoor use
• Cannot pair two of them
• Not water-resistant and not as durable as the other two
• 10-hour battery
• Other: Charges via charging cradle or standard USB, not designed for extensive road use
Bose SoundLink Mini Bluetooth Speaker II (Carbon)
Price Variance and Colors of These JBL/UE/Bose speakersPrices for these three speakers had dropped down to $120-180 as of this writing, compared to mostly around $200 a few months ago. Note that some of the color options for the UE Boom 2 and JBL Charge 3 are deeply discounted at times. We’ve linked to the cheapest colors at the moment we checked, but click through to Amazon and you may find excellent deals on other colors.
The JBL Charge 3: For the Road Warrior Who Likes it Loud
The main advantages of the JBL Charge 3 over the other two speakers here are its longer battery life and a bit of extra volume. That said, a number of reviewers have complained that its sound is uneven and lacks clarity on the high end, subtlety in the mids, modulated bass at higher volumes and even that it is a step down from the JBL Charge 2+ (which had mixed reviews — some quite negative). That said, quite a few did like it, with one even claiming that it was actually more balanced than its predecessor.
Ultimately, tastes differ, but if you’re hunting for the very best sound it seems you’re more likely to be satisfied with one of the other two speakers. The JBL Charge 3 is rather for those who like to party outside and want a fully waterproof speaker that pumps out a lot of sound and especially bass. It also has the longest battery life of the three, and you can recharge your phone from it too.
Keep in mind that it is substantially heavier and bigger than the UE Boom 2 and the Bose Soundlink Mini II. There is a dedicated app (Apple/Android) that allows you to use two JBL Charge 3s at the same time for double sound or create stereo separation.
The UE Boom 2: An Optimum Combination of Great Sound/Volume/Durability
We currently have the UE Boom 2 listed as our main pick for portable bluetooth speaker. We think most users will appreciate something lighter than the JBL Charge 3 and more durable and with a longer-lasting battery than the Bose Soundlink Mini — the whole point of a bluetooth speaker is that it should want to leap into your bag and go anywhere, including outside.
Reviews of the sound quality for the UE Boom 2 are excellent across the board and it tends to be at (or in a few cases near) the top of the picks for speakers at its size and price range. It has been noted for getting about as much bass as one can expect from such a small package, and for having even, crisp performance across the mids and highs. It’s particularly suited for outside use due to its ability to get quite loud and its 360-degree sound output.
Like the JBL Charge 3, the UE Boom 2 is fully waterproof; you can dunk it, hose it off, whatever you want. Less careful users have reported that it stands up to a lot of physical abuse too.
Another factor that may significantly increase its longevity is the ability to have the battery replaced by Logitech for $49 by calling their support line. All speakers’ internal batteries will eventually stop holding their charge after a couple of years; being able to replace the battery makes this speaker a better long-term investment.
With the UE Boom 2 app (for Apple/Android) you can pair two speakers together for stereo, or just double your sound in mono mode. The app also has an equalizer and battery meter, so it’s worth downloading even if you just go for one speaker.
Another feature was added to this speaker via a firmware update: voice command. You can now order the speaker to start playing a particular artist for example, à la Amazon Echo. Then, in a more recent update, Alexa, Siri, and Google Now were all integrated — UE seems to want to take on the smart speakers but with better sound output. We think that’s fine, although we don’t really understand the point of smart speakers to begin with — why not just ask these questions or bark the commands directly into your phone?
The Bose Soundlink Mini II: Best for Hotel Rooms and Other Indoor Use
The Bose Soundlink Mini II doesn’t go as loud as the UE Boom 2 and the JBL Charge 3, but critics almost universally rank it the best-sounding small portable speaker you can buy for less than $200. They love its even mix, warmth, and impressive bass for such a small size. If you’re not planning on using it outside and you just want a small speaker that can accompany you for more civilized travel, this would be the one to get.
Do consider that while the Bose Soundlink Mini II is a wee bit smaller than the UE Boom 2, it’s significantly heavier. It’s also not as durable and not waterproof or even water resistant. Its battery life is ten hours, which is less than the others but certainly enough for most uses, especially since it will mainly be used inside.
If you’re torn between the Bose Soundlink Mini II and the UE Boom 2, note that Bose recently released the Soundlink Revolve, which could be seen as halfway between the two. It offers Bose’s signature warmth and detail but in a speaker that delivers 360-degree sound. We have run comparisons between the various Bose speakers as well as of the UE Boom 2 vs the Bose Soundlink Revolve.