Jennifer Jolly, Special for USA TODAY
Listening to music on a mobile device can be an easy way to jam while you’re on the move. But if the speakers on your smartphone, tablet or mp3 player don’t rock your world, there’s no reason to sing the blues. These little speakers now come in every shape, size and price range — and some are even solar powered and waterproof.
Here are the best portable Bluetooth speakers that I’ve put through the pitch-perfect paces of my busy household. From living room dance-offs to backyard birthday bash DJ duties — these 10 mobile boom boxes are fine-tuning the sound of mobile music.
Best for singing in the rain (or surviving a dip in the pool): Braven BRV-1, $179
This chunky, rugged, palm-sized speaker blasts great-sounding music for up to 12 hours. It’s also tough enough to get dropped, spilled on and tripped over. If that were all it did, it would still be one of my favorites for audio quality alone. But it’s also the source of the coolest gadget-related, awe-inspiring party trick I know. You dunk it in water (fish tanks are fun), watch it burble to the beat, then take it out and watch it spit water out in sync with the music — that it is still playing. It’s like having your own mini Las Vegas Dancing Fountain show. The company also shows video of it getting run over by a Hummer and says it can survive a shotgun blast. I haven’t tested the gun thing myself, but this is one sensational little speaker.
Best for those who think music is the best medicine: Beats Pill, $199
Here’s a pill that can play your pop music all night (and day) long. The Beats Pill weighs about a pound and fits in your hand like a can of Red Bull. It changes tracks easily and picks up a Bluetooth-enabled device from 30 feet away. It’s both portable and pairable with ultra-convenient one-tap NFC technology. The Beats Pill also comes in the largest variety of colors, from classic red, pink, black and gray, to a neon rainbow of colors that include green, orange and eye-popping blue. With this Bluetooth speaker, you will always be one that thinks out of the box.
Best when you need a Nerf Football stand-in: JBL Charge, $149
If a can of beer is more to your taste, here’s the perfect little “can” to toss back … and forth. Really, it looks a lot like what would happen if a Nerf football and green beer can got married and had a music prodigy for a child. Looks aside, the JBL Charge can stream stereo music from any Bluetooth-enabled device. Don’t go driving down the street thinking you’re going to blow the doors off the other low-riders though, sound gets a little distorted if you crank it up to high volume. But for the easy to moderate levels its produces a nice, smooth tone. Little rubber feet along its base keep it stationary when you set it down, so it wobbles, but doesn’t fall down. LED lights let you know just how much juice you’ve got before you let the music dies — it gets 12 hours on a full charge. Speaking of which, just like its name denotes, you can also use it to charge up other power-thirsty gadgets with a USB plug-in.
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Best for those who wish they were James Bond: Bose SoundLink II, $299
With the Bose name alone, you know a few things right up front; the audio is going to rock and you’re going to get what you pay for. The SoundLink II is arguably the best-sounding of all of the Bluetooth speakers in this column. This upgraded model leads the pack with new “neodymium transducers” and a newer digital signal-processing algorithm. What do all those big words mean? The sound is clear and crisp, with little distortion, no matter how high you crank it up. It also looks as rich as it sounds. A heavier portable at 3 pounds, its sleek black lines and thin frame give it the look and feel of the well-heeled. It also has a memory capacity of six Bluetooth devices. Like the JBL Charge, it also doesn’t double as a speakerphone. But really, who cares? If you can afford this model, you likely already have a pretty fancy speakerphone too.
Best for the little bit retro and little bit rock ‘n’ roll: Geneva Sound Model XS, $199
The Geneva Sound System Model XS is one of the best sounding and looking portable models on the market. The design was inspired by the classic travel alarm clock, so it’s small, sleek and swanky-looking and weighs about the same as a 20-ounce bottle of soda (or pop to you…). The actual speaker is mounted within a small leather case that could pass as a James Bond toiletry kit. Open it up, and the magic happens: The corrugated black (or red or white) old-school-looking FM clock radio appears — telescoping antennae and all. What’s not old school is the sound. Geneva SX delivers true hi-fi sound at every range. The digital amplifier and stereo speakers play mid and high frequencies better than most others, and the woofer is capable of producing robust bass response below 80Hz.
Best for those who think it’s hip to be square: Jambox, $129
Three years ago, this palm-sized red (or black or gray) rubber-ish brick was the absolute bomb. It was one of the first of its kind to gain ground in the Bluetooth wireless speaker market — and early on, the one to beat. Unfortunately, a lot of competitors are crushing the Jambox, but I still give it props for being among the first. I have one that I’ve had since they first debuted. It’s a bit dented; the wire grating easily tears away from the rubber siding when you drop it. But the sound still pours out of the compact device. Jambox also released a King Kong version of this same speaker that actually rates better overall — the Jawbone Big Jambox, $189 — delivers better, has good battery life, and plays loudly without distortion. It also has a built-in rechargeable battery, an auxiliary input, a rugged design, and business-grade speakerphone capabilities.
Best for taking the beat off-road: Eton Rugged Rukus, $99
This wedge-shaped, futuristic looking little ghetto blaster is perfect for anything outdoors — especially where there’s sun. A solar charging panel tops an impressive list of tech specs on this truly rugged rocker, which can soak up the sun, keep music pumping for eight hours and charge up your smart phone. With twin 2.5-inch stereo speakers and a “bass boost” function that belts out great mid-range thump, it’s hard to believe the Rukus weighs just a little more than a pound. It’s so durable and lightweight that it could actually double as a funky digital doorstop. But why leave it at home, when it’s so great on the go, even sporting a loop that attaches to a backpack or belt.
Best for desktop DJs and daisy chains: HMDX JAM Plus Bluetooth, $59
We can’t use the word “jam” and not mention the HMDX Jam Plus. This speaker is just 3 inches tall, and comes in a rainbow of bright colors, each creatively packaged in what looks like a hard-plastic jam jar. It picks up your mobile device from as far as 30 feet away, but it does not double as a speaker phone like a lot of the others on this list. What’s cool about the new “Plus” model is that you can buy a second one and daisy chain the two together wirelessly, to create true stereo sound via the flip of a switch. While an affordable way to jam on the go, don’t buy this is if you want to rock the house down because at loud volumes (higher than I ever really listen to music) it gets tinny and hollow-sounding.
Best for those with One Love: House of Marley Chant, $59
Grab the tie-die, fire up some incense and get ready to sway to the small, yet mighty, House of Marley Chant. The actual metal speaker is cylindrical, just over 3 inches across and 4 inches tall. It comes in a custom canvas case with a carabineer loop and storage pocket. You have to unzip the “lid” to really let the sound out, so it’s not as convenient as some of the others on this list. I’ve also noticed that it actually sounds better when you tip it on its side than when it’s standing up. While it seriously cranks up the volume, the audio quality leaves a lot on the table at anything but the four- to six- range listening level (on a scale of one being really quiet and 10 shaking the rafters). The overall sound skews tinny and distorts when you blast it. But, if you like your music at moderate levels, another plus for the Chant is that it’s made from recycled plastic, and Earth-friendly metal plating and fabric washes.
Best for those who want the most for their money: Logitech UE Mobile Boombox, $99
Oh, I just love saving one of the best for last. For less than a hundred bucks, this is a whole lot of hum (in a good way) for the money. This Ultimate Ears version is a metal speaker packed in a rubber case; square, with rounded edges — kind of like some people we know. It’s small, lightweight and easy to pack in a purse or backpack, can double as a speakerphone, belts out the tunes for 10 hours of battery life and delivers impressive sound quality (two 1-inch full-range drivers). While it won’t blow away a discerning audiophile, most of us mere musically savvy mortals will love to play … and listen … and totally get our groove on.
Seriously, we know we left a lot of Bluetooth players out, but as I mentioned up top, these are some of the best I’ve actually tried out myself. What are you listening to these days, and where are you taking your tunes? Be sure to let us know.
This originally appeared here.