5 Portable Bluetooth Speakers to Spice Up Your Barbecue

Share your killer playlist with a wireless speaker built for outdoor parties.

By Scott Webster

It’s the middle of the summer—the time of year when we find ourselves coming and going to parties and other events on frequently.

When it’s your turn to invite guests over for a night of entertainment, your thoughts will surely turn to the music. You will be rocking out to a great playlist of tunes, won’t you? And you aren’t planning to play them through speakers on a phone, we hope. What’s your backup plan if it rains? The forecast calls for 100°F temperatures; what if guests want to take a dip in the pool?

Thanks to the ever-present smartphone, anyone and everyone can play DJ at a gathering. But as important as the songs are, they’re no good if people can’t hear them. And no one enjoys listening to music piped through speakers that sound shrill and uneven. No, we like our bass rich and our highs clear. We expect the playlist and the speaker to go on for hours. Here are five Bluetooth speakers that are guaranteed to spice up your next backyard barbecue.

Nyne Rock

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Decked out in black, the Nyne Rock is exactly the sort of speaker you want to have at the beach: It’s waterproof and dust proof, and designed to take a beating. Thanks to its rubberized matte finish, it can withstand scuffs and scratches without breaking a sweat. You’ll have a hard time doing anything to mar the look of the Rock.

The speaker has a very distinctive angular shape. It’s utilitarian and masculine, but that matters little when it’s pumping out 65 watts worth of party starters. The sound is every bit as big as its footprint; the Nine Rock packs two midrange speakers, two tweeters, and a subwoofer.

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Although the Nyne Rock can pair via Bluetooth 4.0, but alternatively users can take advantage of the NFC one-touch connection. This way they’re off and running without having to deal with the pesky issue of searching and pairing. The unit’s internal 3.5mm auxiliary input lets you plug directly into the speaker so you can play via MP3 players and other media devices.

Across the top of the unit are buttons for playback, including pause, play, next track, previous track, and volume. You can take phone calls with the press of another button.

Besides providing listeners with booming sound, the Nyne Rock pulls double duty as a battery backup for your phone. You can plug in your handset or other USB-powered gadget to juice up while you’re getting down.

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Playback is rated from around 8 to 10 hours of service on a charge, but the duration you get depends largely on how loud you like your music and whether you’re using the battery to recharge your smartphone. Keep things at midlevel, though, and you’ll be fine for an all-day event. Five LED lights indicate how much battery remains.

A hidden handle makes carrying the Nyne Rock simple. The big lug travels easily and feels like a throwback to the boombox speaker era of the 1980s.


by Nyne Multimedia
List $250

UE Boom 2

If you want peace of mind in your encounters with the summer elements, consider the UE (Ultimate Ears) Boom 2. It’s compact, powerful, and loves to get wet.

The speaker’s cylindrical shape takes up about as much space as a bottle of wine, so feel free to place it anywhere you want. Keep it front and center of a table if you’d like, but we’re willing to bet that you’ll be cranking the volume above conversational levels before long. The speaker begs you to play it loud.

One of the neatest tricks that the UE Boom 2 performs involves its built-in accelerometer. Pick the speaker up and smack it on the top, and it will pause or play your tracks. A double whack will cause it to skip to the next song. This arrangement is perfect for times when you’ve just gotten out of the pool or when your phone is elsewhere.

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As its IPX7 rating implies, this speaker takes water in stride. An impromptu rain shower won’t faze it. In fact, you can drop it in water up to 3 feet deep. In addition to the waterproof coating, And don’t worry about spilling that bottle of wine: The Boom 2 is also stain-resistant. Ultimate Ears offers the speaker in a half dozen color choices, some a little flashier than others.

The Android and iOS mobile apps take things further, letting users pair two speakers together (Double Up) for added sound. Got a second UE Boom 2? Set up a true stereo experience and hear the music as it was intended to be played. You can also use the app to set alarms, adjust the equalizer, and install firmware updates.

Battery life is rated at 15 hours, which is in line with the others reviewed here. But the Boom 2 excels in the distance it permits you to be away from the speaker and yet remain connected. It’s not unheard of for listeners to maintain a solid Bluetooth connection 50 to 100 feet from the speaker.

UE Boom 2

by Ultimate Ears
List $200

AR Saratoga

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If you’re looking to host a party that starts in the evening or seems likely to heat up after the sun goes down, the AR Saratoga is a portable Bluetooth speaker worth considering. It provide hours of music playback—and it features LED lights to enhance the mood.

Part of the Elite series from Acoustic Research, the Saratoga looks right at home on the edge of a pool or parked on the deck. It may look more ornamental than other Bluetooth speakers, but don’t let that fool you into thinking it’s pretty only on the outside. The Saratoga packs a midrange driver, a tweeter, and a bass resonator; and it delivers 20 watts of power.

If you have a large backyard or like to crank things up, you can pair the AR Saratoga with another unit to beam stereo sound across the patio.

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Its most interesting feature is its Northern Lights–inspired internal LED lighting. You have multiple modes to choose from. For a basic change of atmosphere, simply pick from one of eight colors and let it shine. Switch to the breathing mode, though, and the speaker will seem alive as light slowly pulses from it. When things get really lively, switch to the party setting and watch the lights flicker, glow, and dance to the music.

The Saratoga provides peace of mind in the IPX4 rating, meaning it can withstand splashes and the occasional summer drizzle. It’s not quite waterproof, but it ought to work well for a typical on-land gathering.

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The control buttons are located at the top of the speaker, near the handle. To the left is the volume up and down; the light mode and color buttons are on the right. Set through the middle are the on/off and Bluetooth pairing button. On the rear of the speaker are the power and auxiliary inputs. Also present is the switch you’ll slide if you plan to pair a second speaker for stereo.

List $200

808 XS

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Not everyone wants to throw a raging party, of course, even if dozens of guests will be on hand. For an evening of background music intended to provide discreet support for sophisticated, distraction-free conversation, you need something small and unobtrusive so that the classical music seems to emerge from thin air.

The 808 XS is unlike the other speakers listed here in various ways, starting with its diminutive stature (6.9 by 3.2 by 2.1 inches). As for additional features, you won’t find anything special. This is an inexpensive, no-frills way to add background music to your get-together.

The 808 XS comes in several colors, including all black, black and blue, and white and gold; each speaks to a slightly different taste. In the front-facing area, a protective grille covers the two main speakers, while the back offers a cutout in the middle for the lows. The entire unit is wrapped in a silicone bumper to prevent it from slipping.

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There is only one button on the 808 XS, as the power control also handles the pairing to Bluetooth. The side panel has a power input with an indicator light, as well as the traditional 3.5mm input. That’s it. Given the absence of physical volume controls, you’ll have to manage audio levels via your smartphone or MP3 player. The same goes for skipping songs or restarting them.

If you’re pairing via Bluetooth, you can get 30 feet or more away from the speaker. Go with the old plug-in setup, though, and you probably won’t venture too far off. If you have a well-balanced playlist or something that stays on an even keel, however, you won’t have to worry about running over to make adjustments.

Battery life is rated at 12 hours, so there’s no reason you can’t keep the party going with the 808 XS. It might not be the loudest party on the block, but it’s loud enough for the neighbors to hear.

Thanks to its size, this speaker travels exceptionally well. It fits readily into bags and purses, and even slides into a hooded sweatshirt or front pants pocket. Charge it every couple of days and you have a speaker that can also accompany you on a Pokemon Go excursion.


by 808 Audio
List $50

Jabra Solemate

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The Jabra Solemate is a tried-and-true speaker that’s been around for years. The unit’s unconventional design calls to mind the aesthetics of a shoe; hence, its Solemate moniker. Yes, that stuff you see on the bottom is essentially the same material you might find on a pair of flip flops, boots, or sneakers.

In addition to offering the standard Bluetooth connectivity, the Solemate pairs quickly via NFC. Should your phone feature this particular option (as it probably does), this makes for a hassle-free handshake with the speaker. You’ll also find a 3.5mm audio cable tucked snug into the sole of the device. Pull it out and you can play your music from pretty much any audio source.

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The side of the speaker accommodates the power and Bluetooth pairing button. It’s also where you’ll find the Bluetooth connection and power indicator lights. To help first-time users get rolling, the Solemate offers voice-guided prompts that walk users through the process.

Though it is small, the Jabra Solemate delivers much bigger sound than you might expect. Complementing the trio of front-facing speakers (two tweeters, one subwoofer) is a bass radiator; all of those components help deliver a robust sound.

Battery life is rated at 8 hours per charge, which comes via an AC wall charger and/or microUSB. In other words, it’s all you need for a birthday or anniversary party or for an afternoon of hosting guests. With upward of 40 days of standby time, chances are good it’ll have enough left in the tank for a trip to the beach, too.

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When it’s time to pack up, simply toss the Jabra Solemate speaker into the sound bag that comes in the box. The bag is designed to help protect against sand and moisture, too. That beach trip sounds even more appealing now, doesn’t it?

It might not be the most professional-looking speaker, but it works well in home and office environments, too. Not only can it make and take calls, but the Solemate knows how to reject calls, dial by voice, and redial the most-recent number.


by Jabra
List $149

Overall Winner

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It’s hard to declare one speaker from this list the overall winner. Every user has different needs, and not every gathering is the same. But the most well-rounded Bluetooth speaker is probably the UE Boom 2.

The Boom 2 is among the most portable speakers reviewed here, and its waterproof coating ensures that you won’t have to rush it back indoors during a sudden downpour. We love that we can pair the Boom 2 to other speakers for enhanced audio, but we also appreciate that we don’t have to. The speaker is loud enough to fill a typical backyard, but it’s also built to handle a weekend at the lake.

A recent software update for the Boom 2 gives the speaker new powers that tap into Google Now and Siri. A quick press of the Bluetooth button, and a voice command lets you keep your phone tucked safely away.

Finally, we love the range of the Boom 2’s Bluetooth connection. Social butterflies like to flit and flutter, making their way around parties. With the Boom 2, we don’t have to worry about being confined to some small circle. Instead, we can mix it up with guests all over the place and still play DJ from our back pocket.

UE Boom 2

by Ultimate Ears
List $200

Photo credits: Nyne Multimedia, Logitech, Techwalla, VOXX International, Jabra.