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Best wireless Bluetooth boombox for 2021


Most people like the concept of a supercompact portable Bluetooth speaker that travels well and weighs just a few ounces so that you can play your favorite music on the go. But if you’re looking for monstrous sound with thumping bass, you have to step up to one of the jumbo models, which are sometimes referred to as a wireless boombox, although they don’t always look quite like your retro boombox of yesteryear.

The speakers on this list weigh a minimum of 6 pounds (2.7 kg) and some weigh a lot more than that, and the powerful higher-end models require a bulky AC adapter — not just a standard USB phone charger and cable — for charging. All of them are designed to play a long time at moderate volume levels on the go. But if you want to go loud, the battery life drops to more like three to five hours. They also have built-in straps or handles for transport. 

Since these are designed for everything from camping trips to tailgating to pool and beach parties, they’re all fairly rugged, with most offering a good degree of water resistance and several being fully waterproof. I’ve personally listened to all of these (or, in the case of the Soundcore Trance Go, its nearly identical sibling speaker).

Read more: Best Bluetooth wireless speaker for 2021

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Anker’s $100 Soundcore Motion Boom is what I’d call a mini portable boombox speaker. It’s kind of a poor man’s version of JBL’s well-regarded Xtreme 2 speaker, which currently sells for around $200 though its list price is higher. Equipped with a handle and weighing a little over 4 pounds, the speaker reminds me of one of those giant flashlights or “floating lanterns” that were in vogue about 30 years ago. For the record, the Motion Boom actually does float and it’s got an IPX7 waterproof rating. 

Anker says the Motion Boom delivers “huge stereo sound” and, yes, it plays pretty loud and has a decent amount of bass with reasonable clarity. (I kept the bass boost on at all times because the speaker sounds better that way.) It can’t compete against bigger and more expensive speakers like JBL’s Boombox 2 ($400) and Ultimate Ears’ Hyperboom ($400), but it packs a lot more volume and punch than more compact Bluetooth speakers like JBL’s Flip 5 that cost around the same. It also travels well, so it’s ideal for a beach excursion or a little tailgating. It also can be used as a backup battery to charge your smartphone or other mobile device.

If you want something at half the size with a more refined sound, check out the Anker Soundcore Motion Boom Plus.

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JBL’s second-generation Boombox 2 doesn’t really look different from the original. But it’s more energy-efficient, with a new Bluetooth 5.1 chipset. Also, the speaker weighs about 1.5 pounds more, which means the added weight went into other components besides the battery, which is the same capacity.

The big difference in the sound between the Boombox 2 — which is fully waterproof (IPX7) — and the original is the bass. It goes deeper and has more punch to it. While the power rating is a little higher for the Boombox 2, its top volume is about the same as the original. It sounds fuller and more dynamic at its top volume. Unlike the original, it doesn’t have indoor and outdoor modes. You can link up wirelessly to the latest JBL Bluetooth speakers, but sadly you can’t link to the original Boombox.

Like the UE Hyperboom (see below), this has a USB-out port that allows you to charge external devices like your phone, and there’s also an analog audio input if you want to go wired and connect a device without using Bluetooth connectivity (the Hyperboom adds an optical digital input).

For outdoor use, I like the design of the Bluetooth Boombox 2 better than UE Hyperboom. It’s easier to carry around and just looks more like an outdoor speaker. However, while they both play loud and deliver plenty of bass, the Hyperboom sounds more natural and has a bigger soundstage with better overall clarity and great sound.


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The UE Hyperboom has a few things going for it over the Boombox 2. For starters, the price: It’s $400 while the Boombox 2 is $500. 

For outdoor use, I give the nod to the JBL’s design. Both of these weigh 13 pounds, but the JBL is a little more natural to carry around. It’s got the handle, the tubular design — it looks like it belongs outdoors. The Hyperboom’s got a thick rubber strap and it kind of feels like you’re carrying a big pitcher of something really solid. It’s boxy and understated, and it looks a little more at home indoors.

The Hyperboom is splashproof with an IPX4 rating while the Boombox 2 is fully waterproof with an IPX7 rating. (I put them out in the rain and they both survived without issues.) Like the Boombox 2, this has a USB-out port that allows you to charge devices like your phone and it also has analog audio input if you want to go wired and connect a device without using Bluetooth. However, the Hyperboom adds an optical digital input. That means you can connect it to a TV, PC or game console with an optical output. You can also toggle between two Bluetooth connections and it has a built-in microphone that calibrates the speaker’s sound to wherever it is, inside or outside.

The Hyperboom also is the better-sounding portable Bluetooth speaker overall. It has a wider soundstage with slightly more bass and clarity. It also sounds a little more natural. 

If you can afford it, you can link up two Hyperbooms and create a stereo pair. You can also link it wirelessly to the latest UE Bluetooth speakers to spread out the sound across a wider area.

Read our Ultimate Ears Hyperboom review.

 

David Carnoy/CNET

If you don’t want to get something quite as big as the JBL Boombox 2, the Xtreme 3 weighs a good deal less but is still large by Bluetooth speaker standards and puts out a lot of sound (though not as much as the Boombox 2). Instead of a built-in handle, a detachable shoulder strap is included.

Like JBL’s smaller Bluetooth speakers, the Xtreme 3 is a versatile boombox that can be stood up vertically or placed horizontally. Though a tad bigger than the Xtreme 2, at first glance it doesn’t look much different from the previous model, but it does have upgraded sound with slightly better bass and clarity while actually weighing slightly less. Here are the key differences between the two speakers, according to JBL: 

  • Plays slightly louder: Xtreme 3’s rated output power is 2 x 25W vs. Xtreme 2’s 2 x 20W
  • Xtreme 3 is IPX67 (waterproof/dustproof) vs. Xtreme 2’s IPX7 (waterproof)
  • Xtreme 3 offers JBL PartyBoost while Xtreme 2 delivers JBL Connected Plus syncing technologies
  • The Xtreme 3 improves charge time to just 2.5 hours, down from 3.5 hours for the Xtreme 2 (both have 15 hours of battery life)
  • The Xtreme 3 has Bluetooth 5.1 vs. Bluetooth 4.2 on the Xtreme 2
  • The Xtreme 3 is slightly larger but weighs less than the Xtreme 2 (4.3 pounds vs. 5.3 pounds)

Amazon

Last year I reviewed Anker’s Soundcore Rave Neo party speaker and gave it high marks. The Trance Go is essentially that speaker without the integrated LEDs that allow you to create a mini light show. It costs right around $100, plays loud for its size (it’s a medium-size speaker that weighs about 6 pounds) and has a built-in handle that makes it easy to tote around. The speaker is fully waterproof and can get up to 24 hours on a single charge at moderate levels. A USB port allows you to charge devices. Also worth noting: For those who want more expansive sound for streaming music, you can link multiple Trance Go speakers. 

If you do want a light show, Anker also has the Soundcore Trance. However, it costs $50 more.

Sony

The Sony GTKXB90 weighs a whopping 30.9 pounds (14 kg), which means you’ll get a workout if you have to carry it for an extended distance (unless of course you’re really strong). I’ve only heard it in demos and haven’t fully tested it, but it certainly packs plenty of punch and comes equipped with LEDs for a light show. Battery life is rated at 16 hours at moderate volume levels. That’ll drop quite a bit if you crank it. It’s also worth noting that you can plug in a microphone if you want to play MC. 

The step-down GTK-XB60 isn’t quite as powerful, has a little less battery life and also doesn’t seem to cost any less. The GTKXB900 lists for $450, but sometimes sells for significantly less.

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