Portable Speaker Buying Guide

With the advent of compressed music and MP3 files, most people have their favorite music stored digitally on their mobile phone or iPod. Taking the hottest tracks with you has never been easier, but until now it’s been difficult to share this music with friends or family away from home. Luckily, speaker manufacturers noticed the dilemma and have developed some very innovative portable speakers to fill this need. But how do you know which speaker is right for you? This article has the goal of narrowing down the options.

Portable Speaker Varities

There are two main groups of portable speakers on the market: Battery powered and corded shelf systems. Each type has specific advantages based on user needs:

Shelf Systems

Shelf Systems have always been a popular choice among music lovers. Although most of these stereos require a power cord, you can usually crank them up loud since power is no problem. The latest generation of shelf systems incorporate cutting edge technology like Bluetooth connectivity, Apple AirPlay, and some even have internet radio. This variety of portable speaker sound great and are easily carried around the house, office, or dorm room. You’ll find shelf systems from all the top brands including Bose, Beats By Dre, Yamaha & more.

Battery Powered Speakers

For True portability, nothing beats a battery powered speaker. Ranging in size from tiny to full-size, some of these speakers are small enough to slip in a pocket while others are large enough to have a shoulder strap. Battery life can range from 5 – 20 hours depending on the speakers size and power output. Almost all models have integrated Bluetooth for wireless connectivity but some inexpensive models need to be directly wired to a mobile phone or iPod. Some portable speakers also feature advanced technology such as a USB port to charge a mobile phone or the ability to connect multiple speakers together for increased sound output. Other advanced options that can be found on some models include integrated Bluetooth speaker phone, AirPlay, and solar powered charging.

Connecting Your Music

Another consideration that should be made before buying a portable speaker is how you plan to connect your music. Because most music is now stored digitally on mobile phones or iPods, very few portable speakers still have built-in CD players. The most common methods of connecting your device are using a dock, Bluetooth, AirPlay, or by using a 1/8” (3.5mm) audio cable.

Docking Your iPod/iPhone/iPad

With the success of the iPod, iPad & iPhone, speaker manufacturers have created products with an integrated dock. Docking your device keeps the signal digital all the way to the speaker thus providing excellent sound quality. These speakers also have the ability to charge your iPhone/iPod/iPad so the battery is not drained while you enjoy your music. Although the dock is proprietary to Apple products, they usually have auxiliary inputs or Bluetooth connectivity for non-Apple gear.

Connecting With Bluetooth

Bluetooth is a wireless technology used for transmitting data (or music) on short-wavelength radio transmissions. The range tends to be 30 feet or less and most mobile phones, tablets, and handheld music players now have Bluetooth built-in. Connecting with Bluetooth means no wires or cables, and you can leave your phone in your pocket or purse. Changing the song or artist is easily accomplished without getting up from your chair with a Bluetooth connection. Although advancements in Bluetooth versions have increased the sound quality immensely, it’s still not as detailed as a wired or docked connection would be. Still, the convenience of a wireless connection makes it the most popular option currently.

Connecting With Apple AirPlay

To get AirPlay to work properly, users must have 3 things: An Apple device (iPhone/iPad/iPod), a wireless router, & an AirPlay-enabled speaker. Unlike Bluetooth, your apple device does not connect directly to the speaker. Instead, your apple device connects to your Wi-Fi router which, in turn, will then connect to your AirPlay-enabled speaker. Because of this, speakers must be within range of the wireless router and AirPlay cannot be used outside the home. Unlike Bluetooth, however, AirPlay is able to connect to multiple AirPlay-enabled speakers throughout the house simultaneously creating a truly amazing whole house system. In addition, song information such as song title, artist name, album name & more to be transmitted to each room. Although AirPlay was designed for apply devices, there are several apps available for android devices which allow them to connect to AirPlay-enabled speakers as well. Individuals looking for a whole house system should also consider Sonos products.

Connecting With an Audio Cable

Not all portable speakers have a 1/8” auxiliary jack, but many of the larger systems do. For mobile phones or iPods without Bluetooth, this may be the best way to connect. Although using a 1/8” audio cable can be a drag, the sound quality will be much better and it will have universal connectivity since most portable devices have a 1/8” headphone output jack.

Music has always been a vital part of the human experience. Many would argue it enriches our lives and feeds our souls beyond what we can comprehend. Only now, however, with the advent of digital music, Lithium-ion batteries, and wireless technology can we truly enjoy our favorite music anytime, anywhere. With the help of portable speakers, we can take our music with us and beautify our life.