As technology changes and evolves over the years, it impacts what is small and light enough to pack for every trip. We’re at the point now where you might as well throw in a portable Bluetooth speaker for your trip.
The first portable speakers I reviewed when I started the first version of Practical Travel Gear were considered “compact” if they were smaller than a shoe and nearly all of them used multiple AA or AAA batteries. As lithium ion batteries have gotten cheaper and smaller, it’s now possible to buy a much smaller one that’s rechargeable and will crank out good sound. Thanks to Bluetooth becoming ubiquitous as well in both phones and iPods, speaker companies are including that function in all but the cheapest ones now.
The designs have also gotten better too, whether that’s a fully waterproof speaker that can be submerged in water and still work to this cool pop-out Pocket Party speaker that lights up and uses a box to give it more bass. Instant party!
Design innovations like this solve a couple different problems and make the speakers multi-functional. This one has a suction cup on the back so you can adhere it to a vertical surface and there’s a hook so you can hang it from a backpack or on the wall. That one also has four different light show modes (see examples in that video) so you can have an instant party. If a phone call comes in, you can answer it then the music will start up where you stopped.
You can find the most basic no-name brand from China for as little as $15 these days at Big Lots, but you kind of get what you pay for in terms of sound quality. The big hurdle to overcome is that it’s really hard to get good bass sound without either a heavy magnet and/or a big surface area to emit the large sound waves. There are some boosting tricks that help a little, but there’s only so much an engineer can do to overcome the laws of physics. That speaker in the video above gets points for trying by suggesting you utilize another object to boost the bass vibrations. I used a pizza box but also tried it with a packing box from Amazon and a wooden desk where I attached the suction cup. Both helped a lot.
If you’re not sweating the weight or you are packing up a car, then take something heavier for better sound. I reviewed this NYNE TT one a while back and it’s my go-to speaker when heading to the beach or going to a hotel where I’ll be arriving in a car. It really cranks out a lot more sound because of its size. I also reviewed a couple models from Eton a few years back and they had the advantage of being solar powered. Unfortunately they were more than $200, which is now the ceiling for these speakers unless you’re Bose or Beats and can charge a premium based on brainwashing heavy marketing. Eton’s Ruckus solar model is down to $75 though, which is a good value.
So what’s the smallest one that really cranks out good sound quality? I like my friend’s Jawbone mini I’ve listened to a lot, but the maximum volume is kind of wimpy if you’re in a large room. I really enjoyed this Outdoor Tech Buckshot one that is deceptively loud and booming for the size. Unfortunately I say “liked” because it’s black and when I cleaned out my safe at a hotel I didn’t see it hiding in the back and…someone else is enjoying it now.
If you believe in the wisdom of the crowds, the bestselling portable Bluetooth speaker on Amazon right now is the MagicBox from DKnight that is only $35 for a smokin’ loud speaker that measures six inches long by two inches high. It’ll run for 10 or more hours on a single charge. You really can’t lose at that low price.
As you can tell from that example, prices have come down a lot for these travel speakers as they have gotten more popular. Even that big NYNE one is less than $100 at Amazon. The Buckshot one is around $40 at Amazon and the Pocket Party one is less than $40.
You’ve got thousands of songs in your pocket. You can unleash them when you travel without taking up a lot of space.