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If one Bluetooth speaker sounds good, two sound better. And three sound even better, and… you get the idea. These speakers offer a “party mode” to make it dead simple to pair speakers for powerful playback. Here’s our top picks.
Part of newer Bluetooth standards, “Party mode” allows a sound source like your phone to send its wireless audio signal to multiple receivers at once. That means that only some of the more recent models of speaker can do this, and not all of them support that specific function: it’s generally achieved via a separate manufacturer-supplied app.
Unfortunately, that means that Bluetooth speakers can generally only pair with similar models from the same manufacturer. An alternative way to achieve this which doesn’t rely on a single manufacturer is via “smart” speakers, using a Wi-Fi connected system like Amazon’s Alexa or Google Chromecast. But, for people that want to build out a wireless and synchronized speaker system without using a smart home platform (or to use it at, say, the beach or camping where using a smart home system is impractical) party mode is a perfect fit.
For a combination of features, slick design, and price, you can’t beat this mid-range offering from Logitech’s Ultimate Ears sub-brand. A simple but effective chassis combines circularly-placed drivers and radiators with big, finger-friendly control buttons and a variety of color and cloth combinations.
UE’s mobile app allows connecting to up to 150 different BOOM speakers at once (yes, really), and includes a “Block Party” mode so three people can send music at once and take turns at playing DJ. Other pluses include a 15-hour rechargeable battery, IPX7 water resistance, a standard headphone audio-in jack, and a tripod mount for the included strap handle. The BOOM 2 is available in various colors for around $100. If you want even more sound, the MEGABOOM design has bigger, beefier drivers and a 20-hour battery life with identical features for around a $160 street price.
Once you dip below the $70 price point, quality speakers tend to be hard to find, not to mention speakers with anything more than “it plays music!” in its list of features. Creative’s Metallix is a happy exception.
In addition to basic Bluetooth playback and an aux-in port, the speaker packs a MicroSD card slot. Load up a card with MP3s and you can play them back on the speaker with music controls, like an old-fashioned MP3 player sans screen. It’s a nice bonus for something so inexpensive. And for just thirty bucks (marked as a promotional price at the time of writing), this little guy certainly is on the cheaper side.
The speaker runs for a quoted 24 hours, with the only downside being that its pairing is limited to one other Metallix speaker at maximum. If you’d like a small step up, the Metallix Plus adds a dual driver and IPX5 splash-proof water resistance for just $10 more, but for some reason it drops the MicroSD card slot.
There are plenty of speakers that offer the same IPX7 water resistance as the Xtreme 2—that’s 30 minutes of submersion in a meter of water, by the way. But this beefy speaker includes a couple of extra features that make it better suited to a poolside or a camping trip. First, with that big body comes a big 10,000mAh battery, enough to run both the speaker and your phone via the included USB charging port for at least a day or two combined.
Second, its rubberized exterior and tough shoulder strap make it a handy companion for any long distance hiking or biking you might be planning. That oversized housing manages to pack in two radiators on either side, in addition to double tweeters and double woofers. It’s so loud you might not even need the party mode function, but if you do, it’ll connect to up to 100 other JBL Bluetooth speakers via the mobile app.
This upgraded version of the UE BOOM 2 changes very little about the design, but it adds in hands-free control of Amazon’s Alexa digital assistant, something that needs an external device on the older model.
The BLAST can still function perfectly well as a Bluetooth speaker, but pairing it with other speakers for a whole-home approach needs Alexa and Wi-Fi. (Note that the BLAST series speakers cannot pair with the BOOM series.) The BLAST upgrade isn’t much more expensive than the BOOM 2, so it’s definitely worth the extra cash if you want to add in smart home control features. And like the BOOM 2, there’s also a bigger, badder model called the MEGABLAST, with a street price around $200 at the time of writing. An extra charging base can be added to turn either one into a more stylish, semi-permanent smart speaker.
If you’re buying one or more speakers specifically to take to parties, odds are you wouldn’t mind a little visual stimulation along with your audio. And in that sense, the Pulse 3 is the best on the market. There are other speakers that will pulse LED lights in time to your music, but the Pulse 3’s huge lava lamp-style circular display is easily the most eye-catching of the bunch.
Imagine a hundred of them pulsing in synchronized beats thanks to the JBL mobile app, and you won’t need anything else to (ahem) “enhance” your experience. The speaker isn’t cheap at $200 (or $170 for the white version at the time of writing), but it also includes IPX7 water resistance, speakerphone functionality, and 12 hours of battery life.
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