Portable Wireless Speakers: The Gift That Keeps On Giving

The past decade has seen a sea change when it comes to how we consume entertainment. Just a few years ago, most of our entertainment came in the form of traditional home entertainment, but the inescapable influence of smartphones and tablets, as well as the ever-expanding world of Android and iOS mobile apps, has created an entire new industry around the idea of portable or mobile entertainment.

We used to leave the house, go about our business and perhaps listen to the radio or a portable CD player. Back home is where we’d watch TV and movies or surf the Web. Our stereo systems were also much larger and more cumbersome. However, today we use mobile devices to enjoy TV, movies, music, and the Internet away from home, but we also use these devices nearly as much inside the house. This has created a new industry where the lines between home and portable entertainment have blurred and one is now interdependent on the other. Our TVs stream content from our smartphones and our personal stereos can now leave the house with us. This means that any portable music accessory you purchase as a gift for the approaching holiday season will probably be used nearly as much in the home as it will be while hanging out with friends and family away from the home.

We’re going to look at a handful of portable wireless speakers that are designed to work with your smartphone or tablet. However, just because these speakers are all portable, doesn’t mean they won't ever be used in the home. To the contrary, I use my portable Bluetooth speaker more at home than I do away from home. Its portability allows me to carry it easily from room to room around my apartment, out onto the front stoop, and then along with me out into my backyard. This generational shift toward mobile forms of entertainment is a reflection of our cultural demand for everything all at once, but it also reflects our desire to simplify our lives in an increasingly disorienting world. This holiday season, you should consider buying a portable wireless speaker for just about anyone on your shopping list. There are so many to choose from—but we’re going to focus on just a handful of the most popular and unique portable wireless speaker models.

Popular Models for the Holidays

One of the most popular portable wireless speaker models for this holiday season is the Bose® SoundLink Mini Bluetooth Speaker. Besides fitting in the palm of your hand, the SoudLink Mini offers Bluetooth connectivity for streaming wireless audio from your Bluetooth-enabled smartphone, tablet, MP3 player, or laptop. This ultra-compact speaker features Bose proprietary speaker technology, which includes an innovative stereo driver configuration that supports true, full-range sound. I’ve heard this speaker in person, several times, and it gets plenty loud while still remaining remarkably clear.

The SoundLink Mini’s exterior shell is crafted from a single piece of aluminum, which gives it a modern look while also making it durable and lightweight. Since Bose wanted to make this speaker as simple as possible to operate, they designed it with a basic control panel that features large, easy-to-read buttons for power, volume, mute, Bluetooth connection, and auxiliary connection. The auxiliary connection button is included so you can easily switch inputs to play music through the speaker’s 3.5mm stereo mini-jack audio input. This allows you to connect portable CD players, MP3 players, and other portable music devices that don’t support Bluetooth wireless connectivity.

The SoundLink Mini’s other highlights include an integrated USB port for software updates, a built-in rechargeable battery that lasts up to seven hours, and a convenient charging cradle that recharges the speaker’s battery. The cradle also doubles as a home base station for the speaker and it allows you to play music while you’re recharging the battery. This speaker is compatible with a trio of covers as well, so you can personalize each speaker with a colored cover that matches the style of whomever you’re buying the speaker for. The SoundLink Mini protective speaker covers are available in orange, blue, or green.

Another similarly sized and equally popular high-end portable wireless speaker model is the 2.1-channel TDK A33. Not only does this model support Bluetooth v2.1 + EDR (Enhanced Data Rate) wireless technology, but it is also completely weatherproof. TDK designed the A33 with an IP64-rated weatherized shell that will protect it from splashing water and dust, so you can stream your favorite music—even if you’re at the beach. If you are using the A33 away from home and your smartphone or tablet battery is almost dead, you can use the A33’s integrated USB port to charge most USB-powered mobile devices.

The A33’s room-filling sound is produced by dual front 1.5-inch full-range drivers, two 3-inch passive radiators, and a single 2.5-inch subwoofer that produces the kind of rich, powerful bass usually found only in larger, non-portable speaker systems. The A33 also affords nearly lossless AAC audio streaming. And, it supports A2DP (2-channel stereo), HFP (hands-free), and HSP (headset) Bluetooth protocols. The speaker even features a built-in microphone so you can use it as a speakerphone system for hands-free calling whenever your Bluetooth-enabled smartphone is hooked up to it. The speaker has an auxiliary 3.5mm stereo mini-jack audio input as well.

Sony is a brand that is known for innovation. If they’re not leading the way, then they’re closely following the latest industry trends, so it’s no surprise that they make a variety of different portable Bluetooth speakers to accommodate every type of listener. Both Sony models we’re going to look at in this section are technologically similar yet physically very different from each other. It’s this level of design thoughtfulness that Sony puts into all their devices that makes them both hugely popular. Sony could have made just one option designed to suit everyone’s needs. Instead, they’ve created two unique speakers.

The first model is the ultra-portable and youthful Sony SRS-BTS50 Bluetooth Speaker, which is available in black, blue, pink, red, or white. It’s about the size of a typical clutch purse and it’s designed with a splash-proof exterior so you can take it with you to the beach, pool, or lake. It’s also great for camping, hiking, and just about any other outdoor activity. The SRS-BTS50 supports Bluetooth wireless connectivity with compatible mobile devices. You can stream your favorite music using the high-quality AAC audio format and there’s also an auxiliary 3.5mm audio input for connecting non-Bluetooth devices.

This speaker supports NFC (Near Field Communications) pairing, which means that to pair your Bluetooth and NFC-enabled smartphone or tablet with the speaker, all you have to do is touch the NFC logos on both devices together briefly. That quick motion will power the speaker on, activate the Bluetooth connection, and pair the devices. NFC pairing makes it much easier to get started streaming your favorite music over Bluetooth, so consider finding a speaker with NFC if you’re shopping for someone who is technologically timid. Some of the SRS-BTS50’s other standout features include a Voice Feedback Mode, an Automatic Surround Mode, and a built-in Lithium-ion rechargeable battery that provides up to ten hours of continuous music streaming.

The larger, 13.5-inch long Bluetooth Wireless Speaker is Sony’s more sophisticated and powerful option. It’s available in either black or white and it provides an impressive 20W of audio power from two 70mm stereo drivers. The speaker features a clean, modern look that’s highlighted by a discreet fold-out stand that works well at home and when you’re using the speaker outside.

For wireless audio streaming and fast pairing with all your compatible mobile devices, this model supports Bluetooth v3.0 wireless connectivity and NFC quick-pairing technology. The unit also has a built-in microphone for speakerphone functionality and an integrated USB port for charging your USB-powered mobile devices. Like the SRS-BTS50, this model has a rechargeable Lithium-ion battery for portable use, but it also features a power input jack for running the speaker from an AC wall outlet. It’s this support for both a portable and home power source, as well as 20W of audio power and a folding stand, that make this speaker just as useful at home as it is on the go.

Fashionable Speakers for Portable Use

Although the Bose, Sony, and TDK speaker options all sound great and are ultra-portable, their designs are more subdued and understated than some of the more ostentatious models out there. While a sophisticated speaker design is perfect for some people, the style-conscious friend or fashionable family member on your holiday shopping list deserves a portable wireless speaker with a youthful attitude that matches their style, individuality, and fashion sense. Luckily, B&H carries a variety of portable wireless speakers that combine chic, fashionable designs with the latest color trends and patterns pulled straight from the runways of New York City and Milan.

Beats by Dre is definitely one of the most fashion-forward portable electronic brands making headphones and Bluetooth speakers today. The Beats by Dre headphones can be seen in magazines and on TV being worn by a who’s who of fashionable celebrities including Lil’ Wayne, Lady GaGa, LeBron James, and more. Although the Beats by Dre brand is best known for their variety of extravagant headphone lines, they also offer a handful of Bluetooth speakers that are designed with the same attitude, attention to style, and individual expression that has made the Beats headphones some of the most coveted electronic accessories on the market. Of all the Beats by Dre Bluetooth speaker options, the most portable model is also the most interesting option.

The Beats by Dre Pill is an ultra-compact, capsule-shaped portable wireless Bluetooth speaker designed to be just as much a fashion accessory as it is a portable speaker. It’s small enough to go everywhere your smartphone or tablet can go, which means that you’ll always be able to take the party with you. Despite its handheld design, the Pill still produces excellent sound, thanks to its four full-range drivers.

This model supports Bluetooth wireless technology and has a built-in microphone so you can use it as a speakerphone unit when it’s paired with your Bluetooth-enabled smartphone. The Pill allows you to change the track or adjust the volume using your mobile device’s touchscreen from up to 30 feet away as well. Plus, staying true to its fashion roots, it’s available in a range of colors to satisfy us all. Choose from neon blue, neon pink, white, black, red, silver, or limited-edition pink.

Jawbone also manufactures one of the best-selling and most unique looking portable wireless Bluetooth speakers. The Jawbone JAMBOX is a resplendent-looking speaker available in four unique color patterns including Black Diamond, Gray Hex, Blue Wave, and Red Dot. All four of the color patterns provide either a unique faceted or riveted surface design that casts interesting shadows and makes the speaker sparkle like a diamond under the right lighting conditions.

The JAMBOX shares several similarities with the Beats Pill. It uses Bluetooth wireless technology with an approximate 30-foot wireless range to connect to your mobile device. It also has a built-in rechargeable Lithium-ion battery and an integrated microphone for speakerphone functionality and conference calling. Although the JAMBOX only has two internal speakers, it has a passive bass radiator that helps the speaker produce rich, full-range sound with a well-defined low end and a clear high end.

The JAMBOX also has an auxiliary input for connecting non-Bluetooth mobile devices and its built-in battery provides up to ten hours of continuous music playback per charge. Another standout feature of the JAMBOX is its myTALK function, which helps keep your JAMBOX up to date with software and feature upgrades. You can use the Jawbone myTALK online platform to download compatible apps and sync your new JAMBOX speaker with all your own personal preferences. In order to ensure maximum flexibility for everyone, the myTALK function works with both Windows and Mac operating systems. The JAMBOX even has a tough stainless-steel exterior shell and a protective molded rubber casing that make it durable enough for a life on the road.

One of our absolute favorite wireless speaker options is the iHome iBT44 portable Bluetooth-enabled FM stereo boombox. By combining a vintage “boombox” aesthetic with modern Bluetooth streaming technology and an integrated iPod/iPhone dock, iHome has created a truly original, one-of-a-kind portable wireless speaker. This amalgam of vintage design and modern technology makes the iBT44 a great holiday gift idea for high school or college students, designers, and young creative professionals.

Although the iBT44 is designed for portable use, the speaker’s neutral color pallet enables it to blend seamlessly into most modern home or office decors as well. It can be powered by either an included AC adapter or by six D batteries (sold separately), which makes it a great option for both portable and home use. Like all the other models we’ve looked at in this article so far, the iBT44 uses Bluetooth technology to facilitate wireless audio streaming from any compatible Bluetooth-enabled smartphone, tablet, MP3 player, or laptop. However, the unit also features an integrated iPhone/iPod dock, which sets it apart from all of the other models in this article.

To ensure rich, full-range sound, the iBT44 uses Class D amplifiers to power its dual four-inch woofers and one-inch tweeters. The speaker also supports SRS TruBass digital signal processing technology, which helps ensure clear, well-defined bass response. A five-band graphic equalizer is built-in as well, so you can adjust the low, mid, and high audio levels of your music to suit your individual taste. The iBT44’s other talking points include a convenient removable shoulder strap, an auxiliary 3.5mm audio input and an included magnetic remote control that allows you to operate the speaker from a comfortable distance as well as any docked iPod touch or iPhone.

Another rather unique-looking option is the Sol Republic Deck Bluetooth Speaker, which is available in a classic Gunmetal or exciting Lemon Lime color. What makes this model special is its flat shape, which facilitates 360-degree sound output. Like the other models in this section, the Deck projects a youthful exuberance that makes it perfect for students. It also supports NFC pairing and it has a built-in microphone for making speakerphone calls. Another reason this speaker is perfect for students is its Heist Mode, which makes it possible to make up to five Bluetooth connections from five different sources so a group of friends can all connect and take turns sharing their favorite music with each other.

To ensure powerful bass response and full-range sound, the Deck features large R2 sound engines and an integrated bass port. It also provides a stereo input and stereo output, which allow you to connect the speaker to any larger sound system or you can daisy-chain multiple Deck speakers together to create more powerful sound when hanging out with friends who also have a Deck. This model is outfitted with an Outdoor Mode as well, which boosts the volume so everyone can hear the music or speakerphone call—even if you’re outdoors in a noisy environment.

The last of the fashion-forward portable wireless speakers we’ll discuss in this section is the egg-shaped Sony Bluetooth Wireless Mobile Speaker, which is available in black, white, or pink. This speaker literally fits in the palm of your hand and offers 360 degrees of audio output, thanks to its unique shape and vertically positioned 1.2W driver. Although it's less powerful than the larger Sony options, this model is perfect for students and professionals who are constantly on the go. It weighs only 4.8 ounces and is not much bigger than a softball. This model features built-in speakerphone functionality, Bluetooth v3.0 wireless connectivity, NFC quick pairing technology, and a built-in Lithium-ion battery that supports up to five hours of continuous music playback per charge.

This list should help you get started, but we’ve still barely scratched the surface. If you want to explore the complete selection of portable wireless speaker options or take a closer look at any of the models mentioned in this article, stop by the B&H website, the SuperStore in Manhattan, or go online for a Live Chat.