Portable Bluetooth speakers are the best, most affordable way to spread the sound from your phone or tablet across an area, backyard, or beach blanket. Because Bluetooth speakers come in a variety of designs and sizes, it’s impossible to proclaim any one model perfect for every situation. But we think the UE Wonderboom 2 will appeal to almost everyone. Its full, clear sound and ultra-rugged, compact design make it a perfect travel companion. JBL Xtreme 2
The UE Wonderboom 2 Bluetooth speakers are as euphonious as Ariana Grande but as tough as Lara Croft. In our blind tests, our panelists picked this Bluetooth speaker as the all-around most versatile choice. With clear vocal reproduction and a decent amount of bass for its size, it offers satisfying sound for small areas. It has an IP67 rating and is one of the most rugged Bluetooth speakers we’ve tested, able to survive a 5-foot drop and a dunking in 1 meter of water—but because it floats, it’ll probably never dive that deep. The Wonderboom 2’s only downside is its battery life, which at 8 hours is adequate but not impressive. We like the Wonderboom 2’s compact design, even if the almost-spherical shape makes this model a little tougher to pack away in a suitcase pocket or laptop bag.
If you would like a portable Bluetooth speaker that approaches the sound of a decent small stereo yet is rugged enough to take almost anywhere, the JBL Xtreme 2 is a terrific choice. For its size, Xtreme 2 Bluetooth speaker is one among the best-sounding portable Bluetooth speakers we’ve tested. Our audiences praised its booming bass, highest volume, and overall clear, clean sound. It has an IPX7 rating, which means it can survive submersion in 1 meter of water, and it includes a handy, strong carrying strap. The Xtreme 2 also delivered 19 hours of battery life. But it’s much larger and pricier than the UE Wonderboom 2.
If you want to spend the bare minimum on an all-around good portable Bluetooth speaker, the Tribit XSound Go Bluetooth speakers are a great choice. Its sound is obviously clearer and louder than that of just about all other budget Bluetooth speakers. The XSound Go is small enough to slip into a laptop bag or an already stuffed suitcase, and it will run 10½ hours on a charge. Plus, it has an IPX7 rating, which means it’s sufficiently waterproof to survive a half-hour dunking in 1 meter of water, and it has a speakerphone function. Tribit recently upgraded the XSound Go with USB-C charging and stereo pairing.
If you need something that sounds a little louder and fuller than the UE Wonderboom 2, but that’s more portable and affordable than the JBL Xtreme 2, the Sony SRS-XB33 Bluetooth speaker finds a nice middle ground. The successor to our previous pick, the SRS-XB32, the new XB33 is a little bulkier and a little better, with deeper bass and a somewhat more detailed and natural sound. It’s powerful enough to fill a 15-by-20-foot room, and we got about 16 hours of battery life. It’s also built to take punishment, with an IP67 waterproof and dustproof rating. Like its predecessor, it has multicolor lights and strobes. However, it’s about 2½ times bigger and heavier than the Wonderboom 2, so it’s nowhere near as portable.
The UE Hyperboom Bluetooth speaker could be the closest thing we’ve found to a portable Bluetooth speaker that does everything well. It plays almost twice as loudly as the JBL Xtreme 2, so it’s ideal for pool parties and tailgating. It also sounds beautiful, with smooth and natural vocals, ample deep bass, and surprising ambiance for a one-piece speaker—so you’ll want to use it indoors too. At 14.3 inches high and 16.6 pounds, it’s impractical for airline travel, but it’s compact and light enough that most people can carry it easily. It also has an IPX4 rating, so it’ll survive all the splashing that goes on around a pool. In our tests, it played at a fairly loud volume for 27.5 hours on a single charge.
How we picked
I’d estimate that there are a few thousand models of Bluetooth speakers now available, many sold under obscure brands and sometimes only through Amazon. Considering that new ones seem to look each week, it might be impossible to search out and listen to all of them . But we’ve listened to most of the main models and are always on the lookout for promising new models to check .
We use the following criteria to assist us decide which speakers to call in for testing:
- Portability and battery life: Although any Bluetooth speaker may be lugged around, we focused on models that have rechargeable batteries and are designed to take a visit to the beach or the park with no hassle. For our top pick, we prioritized speakers that are compact and simple to toss into a backpack, beach bag, or suitcase—yet still, produce great sound.
- Ruggedness and waterproof design: We gave priority to speakers that are built to survive the knocks and bumps of travel. Although we didn’t limit our testing to waterproof speakers, we did give preference in our judging to speakers with an Ingress Protection (IP) rating, which tells you exactly how waterproof and dustproof a speaker is.
- Price: even if we might like to test every kind of portable Bluetooth speaker, we set a bottom price of $15. Bluetooth speakers are often available for as little as $5, but we’ve never found such an affordable model to sound good enough to bother using—especially when the speakers built into today’s better phones can play loud enough for light listening.
- Playback controls: Because playback will be controlled from your Bluetooth source device (usually a phone or tablet), we didn’t require the speaker itself to have playback controls, but it’s a convenient plus.
- Special features: Bluetooth speakers offer all kinds of features beyond the ability to play audio from Bluetooth-sourced devices. These include speakerphone capability, pairing (the ability to play an equivalent material through two Bluetooth speakers at once), built-in lighting, and even integral bottle openers. In polls and comments, every reader seems to own their own opinion as to which (if any) features are the foremost important, so we didn’t require any particular features when picking products to check.
We didn’t award “extra points” for the inclusion of additional Bluetooth codecs beyond the quality SBC codec included altogether Bluetooth products. The sonic differences among these codecs are insignificant next to the massive, easily heard differences among the speakers themselves. and since most of the people use portable Bluetooth speakers for music, podcasts, and internet radio—and not for movies, TV, or gaming—the reduced latency of codecs like aptX Low Latency offers few benefits in this case.
After considering all of the factors, we ended up evaluating 20 new models for our summer 2020 update, including recent releases from Altec Lansing, Braven, EcoXGear, JBL, Marshall, Morpheus, Sony, Anker, Tribit, UE, and Wharfedale. This brings us to a complete of about 290 Bluetooth speakers that we’ve tested since this guide first posted in 2013.
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How we tested
As has become my standard practice for updates to this guide, I started by giving all of the new models a long listen, connecting them via Bluetooth through my Samsung Galaxy S10 phone and playing a similar four test tracks—in this case, two pop/folk, one heavy rock, and one jazz. I compared the speakers not only with each other but also with a number of our previous picks.
During these tests, I measured the most output of each speaker indoors at a distance of 1 meter using an NTi Minilyzer audio analyzer and a calibrated NTi MiniSPL test microphone. For this test, I used the analyzer’s Leq mode, measuring the average maximum level when playing ZZ Top’s very loudly recorded tune “Chartreuse.” Note that I’ve refined this method since the previous update, therefore the numbers are slightly different from before, but this doesn’t change how the products stacked up against each other.
I narrowed the contestants to the models that I assumed had a real chance to impress our listening panel, and that I included some of past picks. Then I divided the set of speakers into four groups: ultra-compact, small, medium, and large. I set the volume of the speakers within a particular group to a constant level, using the shaped-noise channel-balancing test tone recorded from a Dolby Digital receiver. For the ultra-compact and tiny speakers, it had been 74 dB at 1 meter, and it had been 78 and 85 dB for the medium and large speakers, respectively. due to the widely varying performance, the coarse volume-control steps, and therefore the unpredictable actions of the volume limiters utilized in these speakers, it had been impossible to match levels accurately, but in most cases, I was able to get them within plus/minus 0.3 dB. At the end of every speaker’s run, I cranked it full blast and played Kanye West’s “Love Lockdown” to check how well the speaker tolerated high volume and robust, deep bass.
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, I wasn’t ready to conduct our usual blind panel tests for our summer 2020 update, but I used to be ready to drop off the most promising models with Lauren Dragan so she could give me a second opinion. Lauren used the same process as mine to check the limited selection of speakers I sent to her. Ultimately, our top, upgrade, and budget picks (which were previously panel-tested) didn’t change, but we discovered a bunch of latest speakers that we liked.
During these tests, we paid particular attention to:
- how clear the speakers sounded at normal levels
- the balance of bass to midrange to treble
- how loud they were ready to play when cranked up
- how clear they sounded when cranked up
I checked the battery life of each of our top picks by repeating Steely Dan’s “Aja” at an average level of 75 dB (measured at 1 meter) over and over until the power ran out (for the UE Hyperboom, I increased the amount to 81 dB). Note that our results might not consider the manufacturers’ stated battery life, likely because their testing methodology—which they almost never publish—varies from ours. I also measured the most Bluetooth range of all our picks.
For models that provide speakerphone functionality, I tried placing a call with each model to Lauren, who has helped me evaluate speakerphone quality for years. I speak to her from the same place in my lounge, starting with my mouth 2 feet from the speaker; then I note how she sounds to me, and she tells me how my voice sounds.
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Our pick: UE Wonderboom 2
A portable Bluetooth speaker should be compact, strong, and affordable, and (most of all) sound great. The UE Wonderboom 2 ticks all of those boxes than some. All but one of our listeners praised the Wonderboom 2 for its natural balance of bass to midrange to treble, as well as its clear reproduction of voices. The Wonderboom 2 is about the size and weight of a large apple, so it’s easy to carry around. It also has lots of useful features, including an Outdoor Boost mode that makes it louder (at the expense of bass), an ultra-rugged design, stereo/mono pairing, an extra-long Bluetooth range, and a top button that lets you pause and restart the music, as well as skip to the next track.
“The sound is surprisingly clear for such a little speaker,” Sammy said. Lauren added: “It sounds bright, but it’s got enough bass to balance that out—it’s boom and sizzle, where most of the small speakers are all sizzle.”
With an IP67 rating, the Wonderboom 2 is dustproof and waterproof, and it can be submerged in up to 1 meter of water for a half-hour. It also floats, so you won’t lose it if you drop it off a boat or dock or into a swimming pool. UE says the Wonderboom 2 can withstand a 5-foot drop; we confirmed this by dropping it from 5 feet, first onto a hardwood floor, and then onto concrete (see video above). Not only did it keep working, but it barely even showed a scuff mark. A small, elasticized strap on top lets you hang the Wonderboom 2 from a shower rod, tent pole, or other objects, provided you have a carabiner, hook, or strand of string to attach it.
In our measurements, the Wonderboom 2 put out 85.1 dB at 1 meter, about the same level you’d hear from the traffic noise if you were standing at a busy city intersection—and enough to fill a small room with sound. The Outdoor Boost mode increased this by about 3 dB—that’s not a dramatic boost, but it is noticeably louder. However, this mode reduces bass, so the speaker doesn’t sound as full and as pleasing. Bluetooth range measured a powerful 95 feet through one window.
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Flaws but not dealbreakers
If you like lots of basses, this probably isn’t your speaker. I was bothered to hear its little speaker drivers choking on some of the deep bass notes in my favorite jazz and pop recordings. If you prefer more bass, the Walmart-exclusive Anker SoundCore Rave Neo or the Sony SRS-XB33 may be more to your liking.
The Wonderboom 2 lacks a speakerphone function. We wouldn’t use this feature often, but you might.
Battery life is rated at 13 hours, but we measured roughly 8 hours, and that’s with four trials of two different units, with the Outdoor Boost mode disengaged. That’s adequate to cover a full workday, but there won’t be any reserve to save you if you forget to keep it charged. Charging is through a Micro-USB port; Micro-USB cables are readily available, but many readers tell us they prefer USB-C.
Finally, though the Wonderboom 2 is light and compact, it’s not slim. Its cylindrical design, measuring about 3½ inches in diameter and 4 inches high, takes up more space in a suitcase than some slimmer designs and prevents it from fitting comfortably in a laptop bag.
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Upgrade pick: JBL Xtreme 2
The JBL Xtreme 2 is one among the best portable Bluetooth speakers we’ve heard, with a big, full sound that approaches the quality of what you may hear from a good compact stereo system. The Xtreme 2 is a good bit bigger and heavier than the UE Wonderboom 2 and the Sony SRS-XB33, but its detachable shoulder strap makes toting it to the beach or parks easy. Because the Xtreme 2 carries an IPX7 rating, it can readily survive rogue waves or unexpected downpours.
“The JBL is one of the few speakers in its size range with enough bass to sound good on Kanye West’s ‘Love Lockdown,’” Lauren said. “It has a 3D, spacious quality to the sound. Male voices sounded good, although the sound is a little bright, so it makes female voices sound a little harsh.” Sammy and I had similar comments; only Dan demurred, saying the bass was too pumped up for his taste.
At 11½ inches long by 5 inches in diameter, with a weight of 5.4 pounds (more than four pounds heavier than the Wonderboom 2), the JBL Xtreme 2 isn’t especially compact, and it definitely isn’t light—but thanks to its thick canvas shoulder strap, it’s easy to lug around. The strap even has a bottle opener built into its buckle.
The JBL Xtreme 2 put out a relatively modest 90.8 dB at 1 meter in our tests, but it seems far louder because the sound is so full and the bass really kicks. Battery life is rated at 15 hours, and we measured 19 hours in our tests. The Bluetooth area measured an awesome 110 feet through one window.
There’s a speakerphone function—when I called Lauren, she described my voice as sounding “clear, but a little compressed,” but her voice sounded great on my end. The Connect+ function lets you connect up to 100 Connect+ speakers together for mass playback (although that’s 98 speakers more than most people would probably want to connect). The play button on top lets you pause and restart playback and skip to the next track.
We originally considered the JBL Xtreme 2 a little expensive, but the typical selling price has dropped by $100 since we first featured it in this guide, so now we consider it a much better value.
The only real downside to JBL Xtreme 2 is that it is limited to charging through a separate AC adapter, which of course you’ll have to remember to bring with you if you want to play this speaker for more than 19 hours. A speaker this big and powerful would charge much too slowly through a Micro-USB cable; we wish JVC would update it with USB-C, which would allow fast charging with suitable generic chargers.
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Budget pick: Tribit XSound Go
If you require a great all-around portable Bluetooth speaker for about the price of a tank of gas, the Tribit XSound Go is a wonderful choice. Even two years after its debut, it still sounds better than almost everything else in its price range, with clearer vocals and more bass than most competitors can muster. It’s small enough to slip into a laptop bag or any suitcase, and it’s IPX7-rated, which means it’s sufficiently waterproof to survive a half-hour swim in 1 meter of water. Tribit recently upgraded the XSound Go with USB-C charging and stereo pairing, so we tested a new sample and found it to be as good as the previous one.
When the XSound Go accompanied me through four weeks of travel, I continued to be surprised by how clear and full its sound was. Voices were natural and distinct, never bloated or hoarse, as they can be through most inexpensive Bluetooth speakers. The XSound Go doesn’t come across as full or play as loud as the UE Wonderboom 2, but all of the panelists thought it delivered amazing sound quality for its price. The measured maximum volume was 82.2 dB—not enough to get a party going, but enough for light listening in a typical living room.
There’s nothing flashy about the XSound Go, but it doesn’t have that cheap, plasticky look that many budget Bluetooth speakers have. Although it has a play/pause button on the top, it doesn’t have track-skip buttons, which would come in handy if you used the XSound Go in the shower. The battery is rated for 24 hours of life; we got only about 10½ hours, but for a cheap Bluetooth speaker, that’s fine.
For the price, the XSound Go’s speakerphone function is acceptable. Lauren’s voice sounded full but a little garbled to me, and she complained of a high-frequency hissing noise that accompanied my voice. The Bluetooth range seems to have improved in the new version—I got about 50 feet through one window, versus 25 feet with the old version.
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Also great: Sony SRS-XB33
The Sony SRS-XB33 is the speaker to get when you need a bit more speaker than the UE Wonderboom 2 but don’t need the party-level volume of the JBL Xtreme 2. It’s a completely redesigned and re-engineered update of our previous pick, the Sony SRS-XB32. It’s more than twice the size and weight of the Wonderboom 2, but it has a clearer, fuller, bassy sound that gets it fairly close to the performance of a small set of desktop speakers—making it an ideal choice for a dorm room, office, or bedroom. Like its predecessor, the SRS-XB33 is packed with features, although some are of questionable utility unless you’ve got someone you want to annoy.
“Best sound I’ve heard all day,” Lauren said, although she wasn’t testing any larger models at the time. “The highs sound clear, the bass and the treble are well-balanced, and it didn’t misbehave when I played ‘Love Lockdown.’” I agreed; the SRS-XB33 was good enough for me to enjoy through hours-long jazz listening sessions. The app gives a three-band equalizer, as well as Extra Bass and Vivid Sound modes. Our advice? Turn Extra Bass on and Live Sound off, then never adjust the sound again.
The app offers four DJ sound effects, such as Jet and Noise, but I found no use for them beyond eliciting adorable puzzled reactions from my Shih Tzu. And of course, the app accesses numerous lighting schemes using the integral strobe and multicolor LED lights, which you can enjoy or banish.
The SRS-XB33 measures 9.5 by 3.1 by 3.3 inches and weighs 2.4 pounds—too big to fit easily into a suitcase but small enough to toss into a car trunk or beach bag. It’s IP67 rating, which indicates it is dustproof and waterproof, means there’s no need to worry if it encounters sand, splashes, or rain. It’s also said to be shock-resistant, but Sony provides no additional details, and we didn’t conduct impact testing.
Battery life is rated at 24 hours; with Extra Bass on, we got 16 hours before the speaker started announcing “Please charge” every couple of minutes. This is a huge improvement over the SRS-XB32, which ran for only six hours before it automatically reduced its level to preserve battery life. Charging is through a USB-C port. At full blast, the SRS-XB33 puts out a very impressive 92.3 dB at 1 meter—even more than the JBL Xtreme 2, although it doesn’t sound as full and clear as the JBL Xtreme 2 at high volume. That’s 7.2 dB more than the Wonderboom 2, or about the difference between speaking in a normal voice and raising your voice so it can be heard in a conversation with a half-dozen people.
Bluetooth reach measured about 70 feet through one window. You can connect up to 100 compatible Sony wireless speakers for synchronized playback, and you can even sync the lights. The play and pause button on top lets you pause and restart playback and skip to the next track. When we tested the speakerphone function, Lauren’s voice sounded wonderfully full and natural, but she reported that my voice, while reasonably easy to understand, had a crackly, rough character.
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Also great: UE Hyperboom
The UE Hyperboom is a speaker anyone could use, from the parent who wants to fill their backyard with music for a pool party to the audio aficionado who wants a portable speaker whose sound quality comes close to that of a modest stereo system. It plays very loud, maxing out at 102.9 dB—about 11 dB louder than the JBL Xtreme 2. That’s plenty of volume for an outdoor party. And with an IPX4 rating, it’s water-resistant enough to survive splashes. “For picnics or group workout sessions in the park, this is ideal,” Lauren said.
From a sonic standpoint, the Hyperboom is the most technically sophisticated Bluetooth speaker we’ve encountered. With two tweeters (to reproduce the higher-frequency sounds), two woofers (for the lower-frequency sounds), and two passive radiators (to further help with bass reproduction), it’s like two good stereo speakers in one box—in fact, I noted that it had the kind of clear, robust sound I hear in the ELAC Debut 2.0 B6.2, a top pick in our Best Bookshelf Speakers and Best Surround-Sound Speakers guides, but rarely in a Bluetooth speaker. The Hyperboom also incorporates an Adaptive EQ feature, which is said to adapt the speaker’s sound automatically to the acoustics of the surroundings. Indoors, Adaptive EQ does allow a little too much bass to sneak through, and the full bass tends to obscure some of the treble, so acoustic guitars have less twang and cymbals less ping. (Of course, many listeners prefer a bassier sound.) Outdoors, Adaptive EQ seems to work perfectly. If you don’t like the sound with Adaptive EQ, the app has a five-band equalizer plus Bass Jump, Game/Cinema, and Podcast modes.
The Hyperboom also offers a few unusual features. First is an optical input, which creates it easy to attach to TV sets for louder, fuller sound. (You’ll have to control the volume on the Hyperboom, though.) Next is a top-mounted ring switch that lets you choose between two Bluetooth sources and select the optical and analog inputs. Through the app, you can connect it to any number of additional Hyperbooms, as well as any speakers from the UE Boom and Megaboom lines.
At 16.6 pounds and 14.3 inches high, the Hyperboom is large, but a rear-mounted retractable rubber handle makes it pretty easy to lug around. It has a rated battery life of 24 hours; we got 27.5 hours with the Hyperboom running at 81 dB—6 dB louder than the other speakers. We measured Bluetooth range at 110 feet, which is outstanding—although getting this long-range sometimes required that we turn the Hyperboom in a particular direction, probably because the sheer size of the unit can interfere with the Bluetooth antenna.
The only real downside to the Hyperboom is its rather high cost, but it’s less pricey than the new Sonos Five, which from an audio standpoint is similarly sophisticated—although of course, the Sonos model gives Wi-Fi audio rather than Bluetooth. (If you need more volume, don’t mind something larger, and don’t need a water-resistant speaker, the JBL PartyBox 100, described below, is a better and more affordable choice.) Also, the Hyperboom has a dedicated charger, which you’ll have to remember to bring if you take the speaker to your vacation home for more than a day or two. It lacks a speakerphone function, but it’s unlikely most people would demand a speakerphone feature in a speaker this large.
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Other portable Bluetooth speakers we like
Each of these speakers is a runner-up for one of our picks. They’re listed in the same order as the picks—e.g., the SoundCore Flare 2 is a runner-up to the UE Wonderboom 2, and so on. For some people and applications, these may be better choices than our top picks.
The Anker SoundCore Flare 2 is an ideal choice for anyone who wants a good speaker in the mid-two-figures price range and doesn’t need the extreme portability and durability of the UE Wonderboom 2, which is a little more than half the Flare 2’s height. As of this writing, it’s less expensive than the UE Wonderboom 2, and Lauren and I both thought it sounded better—with more bass, 1.5 dB more volume, and a fuller, smoother sound that made voices sound more natural. App-controlled EQ controls let you fine-tune the sound. It also has a speakerphone function (which the UE Wonderboom 2 lacks) and app-controlled multicolored LED lighting (which can be turned off).
The Sony SRS-XB43 almost replaced the JBL Xtreme 2 as our upgrade pick because it sounds a little better, plays 3.6 dB louder, and costs about the same. (It also offers the same lighting and sound features as the SRS-XB33.) The only reason we didn’t make the SRS-XB43 a pick is that it’s only marginally portable, with a weight of 6.4 pounds and no carrying handle or provisions for attaching a strap. It’s like carrying a football filled with sand, and for many people, that’ll mean a two-handed carry.
The Tribit StormBox Micro is the most suitable speaker we’ve found for ultra-portable use, such as backpacking and cycling tours. It’s IP67-rated and only about 4 inches square and 1.4 inches thick. An integral rubber strap attaches it to bike handlebars, tent poles, or backpack straps. Lauren liked its sound better than that of the Tribit XSound Go; I liked it but preferred the XSound Go’s sound. Two caveats: At the time of this update, the StormBox Micro was almost twice as expensive as the XSound Go, and we tested battery life at just five hours.
The Anker SoundCore Rave Neo is a cheaper but much larger alternative to the Sony SRS-XB33. It’s a two-way speaker design with a separate woofer and tweeter, so it has an especially big, full sound for its price. “It’s a lot of speaker for $100,” Lauren said, citing its list price at launch. This has a large, fabric carrying strap that makes it easy to lug its 11.5-inch-high, 6.4-pound bulk, and it’s small enough to fit in some beach bags. SoundCore Rave Neo plays at about the same volume as the SRS-XB33, but while the Rave Neo has plenty of bass for hip-hop, it doesn’t sound quite as clear on vocals as the Sony, and it doesn’t sound as clear as the Sony when they’re both cranked up. It offers app-controlled lights and EQ modes and adds a few DJ sound effects.
Along with the UE Hyperboom, the JBL PartyBox 100 is one of our favorites among the growing class of portable Bluetooth speakers designed to power large parties. At 21.8 pounds and 21.5 inches high, it’s designed to play loud, but to our surprise, it sounds as smooth and refined as many of the best wireless speakers. Input jacks and level controls for a guitar and microphone make this a great choice for casual DJing and musical performances, too. While the PartyBox 100 includes the expected (and easily deactivated) LED light show, it lacks the EQ modes and tuning apps included in many party-prioritized speakers—but it doesn’t need them. It is less expensive than the Hyperboom, but it doesn’t sound quite as smooth and even though the whole audio range, and it’s not water-resistant, so using it near a pool or at the beach is ill-advised.