Portable speakers are essential gadgets nowadays. On occasional tours and house parties alike, portable speakers offer the best of audio fidelity and form factor versatility to discerning users. 2016 saw a number of portable speakers enter our test labs, and needless to say, we heard ‘em all with equal enthusiasm and vigour.
We’ve had bigger players lower prices for their entry segment offerings, smaller companies challenge established audio-makers, and a significant drift has been evident among buyers who now prefer speakers with more peripheral features than bare necessities.
With that being a clear reflection of a shift in lifestyles, portable speakers are no longer luxury gadgets. They are deemed as essentials – gadgets that seamlessly fit lifestyles and demeanours, while doing what they were meant to do in the first place – play good audio. With these in mind, we rank the best of 2016, from the world of portable Bluetooth speakers.
Zero1 Winner: Bang & Olufsen Beoplay A1
Bang & Olufsen has typically catered to the luxury segment of technolgy, and with the Beoplay A1, the Danish luxury giant has provided the best of finesse and audio quality in possibly one of its most competitively priced speaker.
Mid frequencies are equally well detailed, and the audio is finely balanced to give proper emphasis to vocals. There is an exciting balance of rhythm and vibrancy in the audio, and the dynamic range of the speaker makes almost every track sound more detailed than any other speaker in the neighbouring price ranges manage to sound. Highs are pristine and balanced to sound loud and yet not piercing. The entire audio delivery is cohesive and tightly knit, sounding akin to more expensive, wood-crafted bookshelf speakers.
The Beoplay A1 holds equal composure from Johann Sebastian Bach’s Minuet & Badinerie and Opeth’s Deliverance to John Coltrane’s Equinox and Pink Floyd’s Live Rendition of Another Brick in the Wall. It also includes a USB-C port and a multi-function key that can be programmed to your preference.
All of this combines to make the Bang & Olufsen Beoplay A1 the best Bluetooth speaker that we’ve tested in 2016.
Runner-up: UE Boom 2
Logitech’s energetic, affable speaker, the Boom 2, presents an upgrade over the already commendable UE Boom. The activity-oriented speaker does not sound as rich or expansive as the B&O Beoplay A1, but is bright, detailed and lively in its own right. The audio performance fits its demeanour of an active, rugged speaker, with sufficient bass that keeps the thump alive. The low frequencies are rich in terms of clarity and are well-detailed, and complement the bright, warm mid frequencies. Vocals sound bright and lively, and are not overpowered by the rich, loud bass performance. Clarity and audio balance is great in the UE Boom 2, and it tackles the highs with equal composure.
Best buy: UE Roll 2
The UE Roll 2 delivers excellent audio for its price. Albeit slightly attuned bass that can be equalised from its app, the overall audio is very clear, and the speaker can last for nearly 10 hours on a single charge. You get pleasant, detailed mids and clear highs, and soundstaging is great, too. The saucer-shaped speaker is water-resistant and comes with a floatie and daisy chaining capability to further amplify its value proposition. It also retained connectivity up to 80 feet in our tests, by far the most extensive, and thus, makes for a good purchase.