Summer means more time outdoors and for most folks music is an essential ingredient of fun in the sun. The portable Bluetooth speaker category has exploded in the last few years and become what boomboxes were 40 years ago—without dual tape decks and with connected features to enjoy streaming music.
If you want to enjoy your playlist outdoors by the pool, beach, lake, or river—and also be prepared for a sudden summer shower—waterproof and water-resistant outdoor Bluetooth speakers pump out the tunes while providing peace of mind. There are plenty of options from speakers small enough to put in your pocket to those large enough to rock a block party.
The Expert: I’ve been testing audio equipment for more than three decades for outlets ranging from Audio to Rolling Stone. I have written about music for more than 25 years and have interviewed dozens of top artists and producers to find out how their recordings are supposed to sound.
What to Look for With Outdoor Bluetooth Speakers
Sound quality is first and foremost when evaluating audio equipment and assessing overall aesthetic style. But just as important is a solid set of features that make the speaker easy to use and enjoyable to live with long term. Sound and style are subjective—and you can use your own ears and eyes to gauge those qualities—but certain features can make or break audio gear no matter how good it sounds or looks. Of course, price is also a consideration and with higher cost comes more power and usually better sound quality. Prices here range from $60 to more than $350 so you can find a speaker that fits both your budget and needs.
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Look for the longest battery life, but be aware that the stated ratings are typically lower if the speaker is played at loud volume or if light features are engaged. The outdoor Bluetooth speakers tested here offer battery life ranging from 6 to 24 hours, but that varies depending on factors such as volume level and whether built-in lights are activated. On average, expect 10 to 12 hours of jam time.
Bluetooth is a wireless technology that uses a radio frequency to share data over a short distance. Check if the speaker connects not only via Bluetooth, but also to Wi-Fi which delivers better range and no interruption of music if you get a phone call. Wi-Fi also gives you the option for multiroom audio by connecting to other Bluetooth speakers from the same brand, or to Apple Airplay or Google Chromecast if you plan to make a speaker part of a larger home audio system.
How do you plan to use an outdoor Bluetooth speaker? Will you toss it in your backpack when heading out for summer activities or will the speaker live somewhere like out by a pool? What kind of music do you listen to, and will it be for your own personal listening or serve as a music source for family gatherings and festivities? Will you use it for hands-free phone calls or listening to podcasts and audiobooks? All of these answers can help determine how big or small a size speaker you should consider.
Waterproof and Weatherproof
If you plan to pump out tunes where there is water involved, then look for a a waterproof or water-resistant speaker. Be sure to reference the product’s IP rating, which stands for Ingress Protection. The IP ratings are written as IPXX, with the first X indicating resistance to dust and particles and the second resistance to liquid. Dust resistance IP ratings range from 0 to 6; water IP ratings range from 0 to 9. A product with an IP67 rating means it’s theoretically impervious to damage by, say, sand at the beach and is protected against immersion in water up to one meter for 30 minutes. Keep in mind that all IP liquid tests are performed in freshwater since testing in saltwater and chlorinated pools causes corrosion.
How We Evaluated These Outdoor Bluetooth Speakers
As a surfer, kiteboarder, paddleboarder, and swimmer, I’m never far from the water—and rarely without my music. In summer, I serve as a host at a waterfront park in Hood River, Oregon, that’s on the Columbia River so it's water sports central. I tested the speakers in early season/spring conditions in the Columbia River Gorge, which means in rain and wind, and I also took the waterproof speakers out on a standup paddle board. While I mainly evaluated the sound of the speakers outside, I also listened to them inside since they can serve double duty as desktop or countertop speakers. I used a variety of streaming music, including high-resolution files. I also considered features such as battery power, lighting effects, and the ability to connect to other equipment or additional speakers. Finally, I appraised how they looked and felt.
JBL offers an extensive line of Bluetooth speakers (I’ve owned several and currently rock a Flip 5), but the Charge 5 is my favorite speaker that I tested here based on sound quality. With a long-excursion speaker for higher volume, separate tweeter for better high frequencies, and a bass radiator at each end for improved low-end frequencies, it pumps out clean, crisp, and loud sound. It boasts 20 hours of playtime on a full charge and also has a built-in USB powerbank so you can charge other devices even while cranking out tunes. An IP67 waterproof and dustproof rating let you take this speaker anywhere. That all said, the Charge 5 is one of the least aesthetically appealing of the bunch.