Continuing a tradition I started last year, I’m putting together a collection of some of the best Bluetooth speakers I had the opportunity to test in 2016. Between GeekDad and other publications I write for, I reviewed 30-odd Bluetooth speakers this year. There were some pretty craptastic models, but also some that were outstanding—this post focuses on the ones that really stood out.
Best Sound Overall: Fluance F170
I’m just starting this exercise and I’m already breaking the rules. The Fluance F170 is a Bluetooth speaker, but it’s not portable. Far from it. In fact, fully assembled this thing is three feet tall and weighs 81 pounds. It’s shipping weight was closer to 100 pounds, and nearly broke the poor UPS guy who had to lug it up to my front door.
It’s also fairly pricey. But the combination gets you a pretty tremendous Bluetooth speaker—and a kind of cool piece of furniture.
The F170 is divided into two separate speaker chambers, each with a 1-inch silk dome Neodymium tweeter, 5-inch glass composite midrange driver, and an 8-inch polymer woofer. Power is a provided by a 280-watt amplifier. With this Bluetooth speaker in your living room, you won’t need to bother with any other stereo equipment and the music streamed from your smartphone will never sound better—or louder.
The Fluance F170 goes for $499.99 and is available in three finishes, including Bamboo.
The Do Everything Bluetooth Speaker: Creative SoundBlaster iRoar
Last year, the SoundBlaster Roar 2 took this category. This year it’s the follow-up iRoar. You can read my full review here, but you are basically looking at a premium Bluetooth speaker with minimalist design that delivers excellent audio performance, along with a seemingly never-ending list of features. Playback from microSD cards, PC connectivity, the ability to run apps that control its LED display or music playback, voice augmentation (via its app), and optional add-ons like a Bluetooth Microphone or docking subwoofer.
Excellent sound, premium look, compact form factor, and huge potential for tinkering. The Creative SoundBlaster iRoar goes for $369.99 on Amazon.
Rugged Performer: NYNE Rock
Of the speakers I tested in 2016, the NYNE Rock stands out for being a rugged performer.
It’s pretty tough, huge (21-inches wide and 12.3 pounds) and dominated by a massive subwoofer that’s visible beneath the metal speaker grill. It’s pretty easy to lug around thanks to a built in handle and battery life is good for 8 hours. It’s basically a boombox with a rechargeable battery instead of having to carry around a dozen D-Cells…
With a 65-watt amp powering that aforementioned active subwoofer, plus two active drivers and two tweeters, it gets plenty loud, but the sound gets pretty boomy if you crank it up too high. The NYNE Rock is IPX-3 water/dust/shock resistant, so it does well outside, although the tester did take a direct hit from a basketball that slightly dented the metal speaker grill.
However, at $219, there’s not much to complain about in the performance or durability departments and this has been the go-to portable speaker for my 14-year-old twins.
Best General Purpose Speaker: Libratone ONE CLICK
I’ve spending a lot of time exploring Libratone gear in the past few months. The Libratone ONE CLICK is currently the speaker I’d recommend for anyone looking for a general purpose Bluetooth speaker.
It’s reasonably priced, attractive, flexible (it comes equipped with interchangeable straps and hooks for hanging or can be set upright), splash proof, the battery is good for 12 hours, and the 360-degree audio is excellent for a speaker in its price range. You can also pair it with a second Libratone speaker for stereo sound.
The Libratone ONE CLICK currently goes for $149 on Amazon.
Best Inexpensive Speaker Choice for Kids: Turcom AcoustoShock
This speaker has been a hit with my kids. It sounds decent, it’s big enough to have a little presence, and its pop-up handle makes it easy to carry. Despite my prediction of it being a weak point, that handle has survived intact. The speaker is also ruggedized, IPX-5 water resistant (it can take being left out in the rain), and has eight hour battery life.
Coolest Novelty Speaker: Mars by Crazybaby
This is a new category I’m adding to reflect the fact that every other Bluetooth speaker that arrived at my door this year had a gimmick. There were ones with LED lights that pulsed with the music, one that fit in a wine bottle, and one that was clad in Woolrich plaid wool.
But the speaker that gets all the attention when people come over is the Mars by Crazybaby. The audio is reasonably okay (at least when both components are playing), but what you’re paying for when you shell out your $329 isn’t the sound.
It’s the show.
The Mars is a two-piece system. The base houses a subwoofer and an LED-lit “flying saucer” houses the higher end driver. Power the Mars up and the saucer rises into the air and hovers several inches above the base station (it uses electro-magentic levitation), lights pulsing. When it runs out of battery, it automatically lowers and docks until it recharges.
You’d think the effect would get old, but it doesn’t…