What’s the difference between a bunch of people standing around talking and a party? Besides alcohol. Yeah, that’s right, music. There was a time not too long ago when having great music for your party meant staying in one place, risking your car battery going dead or lugging around a boom box and fanny pack full of cassette tapes. I miss it too sometimes, but it’s time to move on.
With the rise of Bluetooth and rechargeable battery technology, we can take music anywhere and play it for the whole party to hear with just a smartphone and some portable speakers. Let’s take a look at the tech behind these party purveyors and what to look for when buying some.
Why Would I Want Portable Speakers?
Why wouldn’t you? They are great to have for parties, obviously. You can have a portable boom box a small fraction of the size and weight of a traditional stereo. You can take your music anywhere and share it your friends and family without sacrificing quality. No more straining to hear dinky smartphone or tablet speakers.
And music is just one way you can use them. You can grab a portable projector, throw up a movie or game on the wall and get rich audio from an equally portable speaker system. Or maybe you just want everyone watching something on your phone or tablet to hear without having to split headphone jacks or crowding around the device’s weak speakers.
How Do They Work?
As you can probably guess, you can take portable speakers anywhere. They don’t need to be hard-lined to the source of music like traditional speakers. That means no cables to trip you up and no worrying about 3.5 mm jacks or ¼ inch jacks. They use almost exclusively Bluetooth technology. Some systems use Wi-Fi, but those are mostly in-home systems not meant for travel.
What Is Bluetooth?
It’s hard to go into any store and not hear about Bluetooth something or other, and that is because it is a very versatile technology. Bluetooth creates short-range wireless networks similar to wifi, but the equipment required is much smaller and uses much less energy. This means that its range is not as far, but when you just want wireless headphones or a headset to connect to a phone in your pocket or a computer across the room, this is not a problem.
Nearly every device with any sort of connectivity produced today is compatible with Bluetooth. Your smartphone has it, your computer has it, and even some home appliances have it. So don’t worry about having to go out and get any extra devices to take advantage of wireless speakers. All you need is a smartphone, tablet, laptop or another device that plays music and is Bluetooth compatible.
Do I Have To Plug Them In?
Yes, but only for a little while. Portable speakers use internal rechargeable batteries, so you just have to plug the speaker in before using it, let it get a charge then unplug and go. Just like a cell phone or tablet. You could probably find some wireless speakers that take traditional batteries, but that is not an ideal solution. More on that later.
OK, I’m Convinced. What Do I Look For?
The market is practically inundated with portable speakers. There’s a wealth of options out there, as demand has skyrocketed. There’s a lot to consider before running out and buying one, and your decision should be based on your needs. Here are a few areas you should look at carefully, be it on the box or online.
Before dropping some coin on a speaker, consider when you will be using it and for what purpose. Portable speakers range in size from pocket-sized to backpack or even suitcase size. As you might expect, larger speakers are louder and require more energy.
There are also some midrange size wireless speakers. These can be the size of external computer speakers but are generally much more powerful and produce better sound. Just think about what you want to be carrying around. If you want to blast tunes from your car, you can get the deluxe carrying case size speakers for big events. But, if you just want something to play some chill tunes for a handful of friends on a picnic at a moment’s notice, you can get a wireless speaker so small that it clips onto a belt.
Internally speaking, the size of the driver in the speakers will determine their sound quality. Drivers are the core of any speaker and largely determine its ability to produce sound. Bigger is, of course, better but also more battery hungry and less portable. Driver size is printed on the box to be sure to check it first to get the quality you are willing to pay for.
A common size is 40mm, serviceable for general use, but pretty basic. You can find speakers drivers with 61mm drivers or bigger for louder more bass filled sound. Just be prepared to pay more for a heavier setup.
The number of drivers is also important. Most smaller speakers will have a single driver, but others may have two or more. More drivers mean louder and more complex sound but of course higher weight and price, too.
Another indicator of sound quality is frequency response. It is measured in Hertz (abbreviated as “Hz”). Audio ranges from around 20Hz, the bass, all the way up to 20,000Hz, the treble. The range of sound your speaker is capable of will be printed on the box so look out for it.
Theoretically, the wider the range, the better. However, everyone hears sound different, and if you aren’t an audio connoisseur, you might not hear the difference. Similarly, if you plan on blasting some beats, nuance might not be a high priority. Your age comes into play as well, as our ability to hear certain frequencies diminish over time.
How your speakers attach to your audio device should also factor into your decision-making process. Bluetooth speakers connect over wireless networks, sure, but some also come with a hardline option. You’ll see this on the speaker or package labeled as “Aux-In.” With this option, you can connect your phone or whatever with the speaker with an old-fashioned cable.
Why go backwards? Well, using Bluetooth is a drain on your device’s battery, so keeping it on all the time will reduce the amount of time it can stay on. If you plug in your speakers directly, you’ll have music for longer without having to recharge. Also, if consistent audio quality is a priority, a hard line guarantees fewer drops in connectivity and dips in sound output.
Bluetooth evolves just like any other technology. There are old versions and new versions. Bluetooth is measure in simple versions like “Bluetooth 4,” and the higher number, the better.
You should definitely be looking for Bluetooth 4 or higher. Version 4 guarantees not only top-quality audio but also more efficient battery usage for longer charges. There are higher versions with more improvements, but they are rarer and almost certainly more expensive.
As stated above, wireless speakers require energy to work, and they get it from their internal rechargeable batteries. These days, it’s always best to find portable speakers with USB charging. That way you don’t have to worry about adapters or anything. Furthermore, Micro-USB charging ensures that you can plug it into a portable power bank for charging on the go; no more being stuck next to an outlet.
Now you may be tempted to get a speaker that takes traditional batteries. Maybe you plan on being out in the wilderness or away from a plugin for a long time. Fair enough, but the future is now, there are better options. Instead of carrying around bulky batteries that trash the environment, consider buying a power bank that has a solar panel built in so you can charge anywhere there is sunlight.
If you have a need, the market will fill it. Here are some extra features you may want to look for.
- Waterproof/Water resistant: If you want some wireless outdoor speakers to use in the rain or the pool, these are for you.
- Microphone: Integrated microphone lets you take voice calls from your device.
- Companion Apps: Advanced features and control for audiophiles and people with more technical needs.
- Multi-speaker Connectivity: Link with many other speakers for massive output.
Break the Chains
If you ever hold any events outside or just away from your home or car, a portable speaker is darn near vital. You’ll wonder how you got along without one, like a smartphone or the internet. Just think about your needs and intended uses before running out and spending your money. There are so many options out there; you deserve on that is right for you.