Some years seem to develop themes and it turns out that for me, Bluetooth speakers were big this year. Between GeekDad and other outlets, I must have reviewed several dozen. Music and technology are two of my favorite things, so that works out… Given the popularity of wireless speakers as gifts, I thought it might be useful to look back at all the models I’ve reviewed over the past 12 months and pick a few standouts.
Best Sound Overall: RIVA Turbo X
When I reviewed the RIVA Turbo X for GeekDad in September, I felt the audio quality was excellent for a portable speaker. The Turbo X isn’t small, but that extra size compared to more compact models is put to good use housing three custom ADX full range drivers, four ADX custom dual piston bass radiators and a 45-Watt amp. The result is balanced sound offering a much more authoritative presence than smaller speakers, with plenty of bass and the option of boosting it into booming “Turbo mode.” Vinyl fans will appreciate the ability to plug in a turntable — a rarity in Bluetooth speakers. That size also houses a substantial battery good for 26+ hours of wireless music and the ability to recharge your mobile devices. You can buy the RIVA Turbo X on Amazon for $299.99.
The Do Everything Bluetooth Speaker: Creative Sound Blaster Roar 2
Looking for more than just Bluetooth streaming in a wireless speaker? When I reviewed the Creative Sound Blaster Roar 2, I called it the Swiss Army Knife of Bluetooth speakers. Two devices can connect simultaneously (and tap pair using NFC) and its Sound Blaster heritage shows in the ability to be connected to a Mac, PC or Playstation 4 by USB and used as an external speaker. It can be securely positioned vertically or horizontally, depending on whether you want to project sound or disperse it. There’s a microSD card slot with support for playback of MP3 or WMV files if you don’t want to go wireless. You can record audio with the Roar 2, including conversations when you use it in speakerphone mode. The included DC adapter makes for fast recharges, or you can plug it into USB for a slower charge.
The MSRP is $199, but the Roar 2 is currently available on Amazon for $145. and Creative is offering special holiday discount pricing on its website.
Rugged Performer: Fugoo Tough XL
There was no competition when it came to tough speakers that also offered great performance. The Fugoo Tough XL is a monster of a Bluetooth speaker, with eight drivers, a 38-Watt amp and a big battery concealed within a core speaker that’s itself housed within a removable aluminum and fiber-reinforced resin jacket. Sound is high quality with plenty of volume and the battery is rated for up to 35 hours of use at 50 percent volume — you can also use the Tough XL to recharge a mobile device. The best part of this speaker is the fact that you can lug this high quality audio anywhere. The Fugoo Tough XL is water proof, mud proof, snow proof and shock proof.
Best Inexpensive Speaker Choice for Kids: Monster SuperStar
At its retail price, the Monster SuperStar doesn’t really qualify as inexpensive, but with Amazon selling it for $59.99, that’s not an unreasonable price to pay for a portable speaker for kids. For that price, you get a very compact Bluetooth speaker that weighs just 8 ounces. It features two full-range drivers and two bass radiators for decent sound with stronger bass than typical ultra portables (Monster calls it the “world’s smallest audiophile speaker”). The Monster SuperStar also has a durable silicon shell that offers shock protection as well as IP4-X splash protection, while bright neon-colored trim adds visual appeal. The only downside is a five-hour battery life. For more details, you can read my GeekDad review here.
Best Overall Value: Creative Sound Blaster Roar 2
I spent many hours testing wireless speakers in all sorts of conditions and I think the Creative Sound Blaster Roar 2 delivers the best overall value. Sound isn’t quite up to the more powerful RIVA Turbo X or Fugoo Tough XL, but the Roar 2 is capable of pumping out some pretty decent audio, especially with the ROAR boost on. Plus there’s all those extras. And it has a nicely premium look to it, with lots of metal, subtle LED indicators and premium machine-finished radiators. At that $145 price point on Amazon, the Creative Sound Blaster Roar 2’s value proposition is pretty tough to beat.