In the current bluetooth speaker market deluge, three models consistently float to the top of reviewers' lists.
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.
Update history of this article
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.
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.
• 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
• 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, round design makes it liable to roll off a table
• 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
Price Variance and Colors of These JBL/UE/Bose speakers
Prices 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, 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.
An amusing feature has been recently 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. But since your phone itself probably already has this feature, this should be of limited use.
One negative of the UE Boom 2 is that it's liable to roll if placed on a flat surface on its side. It's better to place it vertically, or else hook it to something with a carabiner — a picnic table, bike, bag, etc.
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.
Save Money on Previous Versions of These JBL/UE/Bose Speakers
All of the speakers above have previous versions that were extremely well liked by critics and they are still often available new on Amazon. (We would not recommend buying them used, as there is no telling how long the batteries will hold out — all of these older models lacked replaceable batteries.)
It' s true that now that prices have dropped so much lower for the UE Boom 2 and the JBL Charge 3 above, these older-model versions are less appealing. But if at the moment you're reading this the Amazon boxes to the left or right show them at a significant discount (under $100), they can be worth considering.
The JBL Charge 2+ is a bit quieter than the JBL Charge 3, but its sound was actually rated better by some critics.
We described critics reactions to the original UE Boom in detail in our main meta-review; in short, they loved its sound and it was the top pick for many a couple of years ago. The UE Boom 2's main improvements were increased waterproofing and a bit more volume.
The original Bose Soundlink Mini was admired by critics and in particular by consumer testing organizations for its clear, even sound; like its sequel it is not as loud or durable but excellent for indoor use.
If you don't see these speakers for under $100 and you want to go cheap, you're better off going with one of the budget recommendations section in our main article. The full bluetooth speaker meta-review covers many other options as well.
To recap, the loudest, heaviest, and bulkiest of the three is the JBL Charge 3. The best combination of pleasing (for most) sound in a small, indestructible package is the UE Boom 2. And the best small travel Bluetooth speaker for purely indoor use is the Bose Soundlink Mini II.