It’s pretty vital to travel with good sound.
We’ve tried out dozens of different Bluetooth speakers for this site, and we also continue to read all speaker reviews from top consumer test organizations, tech sites, and bloggers around the world. It’s not easy to pick just one travel Bluetooth speaker from the heap, but if we had to do it, here’s the current winner we’d take on any trip.
The Best Travel Speaker of 2020
Pros: Even mix, punchy, dynamic sound insp a small, nearly indestructible waterproof cylinder; the overall best portable replacement for a full speaker system
- Why the UE Boom 3 Is Our Favorite Travel Speaker (And Why Others Think So Too)
- Features of the UE Boom 3: Rugged, Ready to Travel
- Waterproof, dustproof, drop-proof
- Convenient Charging and a 15-hour Battery for Long Parties Away from a Power Source
- Hang Loop
- The Boom 3's Dedicated Apps: Equalizer, Pair Multiple Speakers, and More
- Portable Size and Weight
- The Feature It Lacks: The Boom 3 Is Not a Smart Speaker, So Talk to Your Phone Instead
- How the UE Boom 3 Sounds
- Downsides of the UE Boom 3 (But Not Enough to Hold Us Back)
- Buying Options for the UE Boom 3 and Scoring the Best Prices
- Features of the UE Boom 3: Rugged, Ready to Travel
- An (Unnecessary?) Accessory for the UE Boom 3: Carrying Cases
- Other Top Travel Bluetooth Speaker Options
- Top-End Sound, but More for Indoor Use (Hotels Rooms...): Bose Soundlink Mini II
- The Most Ruggedness and Battery Life in a Quality Travel Bluetooth Speaker: Fugoo Tough
- Want a Better Bass for Your Travels, and Willing to Carry a Heftier Speaker?
- The Best Smaller Bluetooth Speaker (Slip it in a Pocket, Clip it to Your Pack): Bose Soundlink Micro
- Cheaper Portable Bluetooth Speakers
- Other Options (But Not Our Top Picks)
- Wrap-Up: And the Best Speaker for YOUR Travels Is...
Update History of This Article
Why the UE Boom 3 Is Our Favorite Travel Speaker (And Why Others Think So Too)
We’ll discuss its main road-worthy features first, then its sound — including a meta-take on critics views of this versus other portable speakers.
Features of the UE Boom 3: Rugged, Ready to Travel
This is not a feature-rich speaker, but it does include everything we find essential for use anywhere.
Waterproof, dustproof, drop-proof
No you’re not actually going to listen to your speaker underwater. But with the Ultimate Ears Boom 3, you could. The IP67 waterproof rating means that the unit is rated to be immersed under a meter of water for up to 30 minutes with no damage. This is a specific and meaningful claim (with legal implications) under the conditions of the International Electrotechnical Commission’s standards.
In our test it sounds fine in the bathtub, but really, just put it next to your bath, shower, or pool. We do like knowing that we can easily wash it when needed, and that the odd splash of water won’t hurt it, but the 7 rating in waterproofing (meaning it can be submerged) is a bit overkill.
The 6 in the rating also means that it is “dustproof” and meets the standards for keeping dust out of the unit — an extra level of protection that is rare in such speakers, even those that are rated as waterproof.
The “drop-proofing” is a vaguer claim from Ultimate Ears that meets no specific standards, but the company claims that the Boom 3 passed various drop and durability tests. We were not so interested in testing this particular claim, but clumsier Amazon reviewers report that they’ve dropped it with no problems or even scratches. (The same was reported with its predecessor UE Boom 2.) And prior to picking up a Boom 3, I myself was using, dropping, and bumping an (ancient-model, long discontinued) UE Mini speaker from the same manufacturer for many, many years and to this day it plays perfectly. The battery still works great too.
Convenient Charging and a 15-hour Battery for Long Parties Away from a Power Source
This is not the longest battery life for a quality small travel speaker (the Fugoo Tough described below goes for 40 hours) but the Boom 3 has more battery time than most reasonable people will ever need. (We also recommend carrying a backup battery for our devices when on the road, which could be used to charge your speaker in a pinch.) The Boom 3 lasts for 15 hours of constant use. In the real world, I used it without charging for a two-week trip that included several spurts of use in (3-4-hour) car trips, and use in hotel rooms, showers, little improvised dance parties, and more with more battery to spare at the end.
It’s also convenient that this speaker charges via a standard mini USB-B port, so it’s easy to borrow a charger from someone’s phone if you haven’t brought the Boom 3’s (included) cable and plug with you.
The other power option is an optional charging dock, which we think is a very lovely way to display and listen to your Boom 3 at home. You simply plop the speaker down on this stand and it starts charging. Super convenient, though it’s also a bit overpriced.
If you’ve seen our commentary on toiletry kits, you know that we’re obsessed with the utility of being able to hang things while travelling, and staying in cramped quarters.
You can use a carabiner to attach your Ultimate Ears Boom 3’s hang loop to a backpack, a fence, a chair, a towel hook when you’re the shower… this is a very small but incredibly convenient feature. At least I think so; I always seem to run out of space to set stuff out on when I’m staying in weird corners of the world.
The Boom 3’s Dedicated Apps: Equalizer, Pair Multiple Speakers, and More
You can use the Ultimate Ears Boom 3 without installing any special apps as a simple Bluetooth-connected speaker. But you’ll want the relevant Android or iOS app for your phone as they add quite a bit of functionality.
- The “block party” features allows three people to share/fight for DJ-rights to the speaker.
- You can remotely turn the speaker on and off, which turns out to be quite convenient for making sure you save battery when the speaker is a bit further than you’d like to reach, or for turning it on to find it by sound if misplaced.
- Customize the EQ to your taste.
- Use the speaker as a musical alarm.
- Connect multiple Boom 3 speakers for bigger sound. You can also connect 150+ Ultimate Ears Boom, Boom 2, Megaboom, and Megaboom 3 and have them all blasting music from your little old phone.
Portable Size and Weight
The Boom 3 is a very packable 2.9-in. (7.3 cm.) diameter cylinder and is 7.2 in. (18.4 cm.) tall. It weighs 1.34 lbs. (608 g.).
Want to travel even lighter? We totally understand. In that case opt instead for the Bose Soundlink Micro described below.
The Feature It Lacks: The Boom 3 Is Not a Smart Speaker, So Talk to Your Phone Instead
If you want a speaker you can chat with (ask about the weather, news, control a smart home), you can see our comparison with the Ultimate Ears Blast. But note that we wouldn’t really bother recommending any smart speaker, at least in terms of travel, as all smart speakers currently only work when connected to WiFi.
We also think that smart speakers are a bit gimmicky and not all that useful; if you want an assistant we’d go instead for a (much more useful, nearly essential) screen on a unit like the Echo Show or Google Home Hub for your home, and get a separate durable speaker for the road.
How the UE Boom 3 Sounds
Our top-pick travel speaker Ultimate Ears Boom 3 is, as you may suspect, the third in a series. The previous UE Boom and UE Boom 2 were both revolutionary hits with reviewers when released with tech press, audiophiles, and international consumer and testing organizations. These were the first speakers to really do 360-degree audio and they packed an incredible punch for their small size.
The competition has caught up, definitely, and plenty of other portable Bluetooth speakers sound wonderful. But the Boom 3 has improved over the Boom 2 too. Thus far the critics have been heaping praise on the new portable party guy from Ultimate Ears, saying that its sound has a bit better performance at top volumes. Since speaker tastes are subjective, our meta-take is always to look for an overall consensus in this way rather than taking just our ears or any other one critic’s tastes as gospel.
And overall the experts think that the Boom 3 sounds fantastic. Its 2-inch drivers and 2×4-inch passive radiators punch out powerful sound and relatively deep bass for such a small unit with little risk of distortion. It’s an impressive feat of engineering and it doesn’t — like certain competitors, hike up the bass end to try to cover sloppy performance. The sound is balanced and rich, clear and sweet in the mids, and often described as “punchy” or “dynamic”.
Of the many Bluetooth speakers that I’ve personally listened to, the Ultimate Ears Boom 3 is the best sounding of its size, and certainly has the most convincing bass — not quite as deep and pleasing as high-end home bookshelf speakers, but it’s getting well close, which to my mind is fantastic for someone who is rarely in my living room enough to enjoy those.
The speaker goes quite loud (up to 90 dBA) and doesn’t have issues with distortion or odd mix effects when it gets up to its limits. Pushed to the max it was uncomfortably loud in a large interior living room/dining area, and could certainly serve as the sound system for a house party if needed.
Also crucial for good sound in practical outdoor settings or larger rooms is the UE Boom 3’s 360-degree output. No matter which side of the speaker you’re on, it sounds the same. The speaker is designed to be placed in the center of the action, and be equally enjoyable from any side. This means you can take a party to go and place the speaker in the center of the action, and it will sound great to everyone.
Downsides of the UE Boom 3 (But Not Enough to Hold Us Back)
- There is always a trade-off between a speaker’s size and its ability to deliver convincing bass and volume, so of course some larger Bluetooth speakers do sound better especially on the bass end. In this article we focus on portable units and compare the Boom 3’s sound to them; we separately cover the bigger, less portable Bluetooth speakers here. The Boom 3 is to most ears the best-sounding speaker with the features and the size that a traveller wants, but you might also compare it to the Megaboom 3 if you’re willing to carry about twice the weight.
- It’s a bit expensive. You can certainly spend less and still have a great-sounding and robustly durable travel speaker (see below).
Buying Options for the UE Boom 3 and Scoring the Best Prices
In addition to the Amazon box at right, you can check Best Buy, although we haven’t thus far seen better prices there. Some retailers (especially Amazon) do sometimes have different prices depending on the color you buy, so you may want to click around to different colors if you’re flexible and see what each costs.
We wouldn’t recommend buying a used Boom 3 —or any other battery-containing electronic device — as there is no telling how many cycles the battery has already been through at the time of purchase. You may end up having to replace the battery too soon (though our experience with Ultimate Ears batteries has generally been quite good).
An (Unnecessary?) Accessory for the UE Boom 3: Carrying Cases
The Boom 3 is an incredibly rugged speaker and we don’t think it really needs a case (we do travel with our cables neatly stored and protected in aSkooba Cable Stable however).
But we hear that lots of our readers do buy cases anyway. While we have no idea what’s best, here’s the top three with our obviously savvy and stylish readership. The cases do also provide a nice way to organize and protect the charging cable and keep it alongside the speaker.
Other Top Travel Bluetooth Speaker Options
Depending on your audio preferences and travel style, the following speakers may be more suitable for your voyages.
Top-End Sound, but More for Indoor Use (Hotels Rooms…): Bose Soundlink Mini II
The Bose Soundlink Mini II is a good choice for the audiophile who wants a tiny Bluetooth speaker for mainly inside use on the road (hotel rooms, etc.), and doesn’t need the waterproofing or klutz-proofing of our main pick.
The Mini II sounds just as great as its beloved predecessor (the Soundlink Mini), according to a number of reviewers and consumer organizations; they call the Mini II the top option for “booming bass in as small a form factor as possible” and say instruments and vocals in the mid-range have “space to breathe” and impressive warmth. It can “competently handle the full spectrum of use.”
You can’t pair two of them together for stereo, unlike our main pick. The Bose Soundlink Mini II measures 7.1 x 2.3 x 2 inches (18 x 5.8 x 5.1 cm). The major drawback is that it’s a heavy little guy (1.5 pounds/.68 kg) and not as rugged and suitable for rough travel as our main pick. Its battery life has been tested at 8-10 hours.
The Most Ruggedness and Battery Life in a Quality Travel Bluetooth Speaker: Fugoo Tough
TheFugoo Toughis designed to withstand snow, mud, shocks, and submersion underwater. It has an IP67 rating just like our main pick and a removable jacket that suggests it’s going into war — It’s not going to have any issues with being dropped, bumped, or kicked around.
It’s also the speaker we’d recommend with the most battery life: 40 hours.
Overall it doesn’t get near as many accolades for sound as our main pick, but it’s not too bad either. Several reviewers quite like how it handles music, while another faults it for lack of bass and volume.
Fugoo sells basically the same speaker in Sport, Style S, and Fugoo Style versions, but the Tough version is the only one that might make sense for some travellers as it is the most indestructible of the lot, and that’s what Fugoo has going for it in comparison to other options. We have done a full analysis of the differences between these Fugoo speakers. And we have a more complete comparison of the Fugoo, UE, and Bose lines of speakers.
Want a Better Bass for Your Travels, and Willing to Carry a Heftier Speaker?
We’re all about travelling light so we’ve focused this article on speakers that are about the size and weight of the UE Boom 3.
If you think you can carry more, you’ll also be able to get more volume and better sound — this is a basic law of speaker tech.
Our rugged, larger travel speaker recommendation is theUltimate Ears Megaboom 3. In our direct comparison of the Boom 3 and Megaboom 3 we note that they’re almost identical in terms of design but the Megaboom 3 offers a bit more soundstage and performs better on the bass end. It goes deeper, and its lows on bass-heavy tracks are more full and convincing.
The Best Smaller Bluetooth Speaker (Slip it in a Pocket, Clip it to Your Pack): Bose Soundlink Micro
At about half the size and weight of our main pick, the Bose has introduced a clippable, pocketable marvel that still somehow manages to deliver signature Bose evenness and clarity, and even enough loudness to fill a room or work for outdoor listening.
The Bose Soundlink Micromeasures 3.87 inches (9.8 cm) square and is 1.37 inches (3.5 cm) thick; it weighs 0.64 pounds (.29 kg), making it one of the lightest speakers we’ve ever recommended. It’s fully IPX7 waterproof and has a very durable rubberized chassis.
The tech critics and audiophiles who have reviewed it tend to agree that its clarity is great and there is even somewhat of a soundstage and a solid bass end; it’s widely held to be the best-sounding small speaker of its size.
The main complaint it gets is its price; this costs more than most such tiny speakers. And the battery life of six hours may deter some (though if you’re carrying your own spare USB battery in your pack you don’t have to worry).
Overall, if you’re someone who is into extremely light packing and you need your tunes on the go, this is the speaker to go for.
See also our comparison of the Micro with the Bose Soundlink Color II.
Cheaper Portable Bluetooth Speakers
Our top pick is louder and sounds a bit better than the options in this section; we think it’s worth it as we travel constantly.
But there are other, cheaper options that are similarly lovely if you don’t need that extra oomph, or want to spend a bit less.
A Great-Sounding, Ultra-Small and Cheap Travel Speaker: The Tribit Stormbox Micro
The Tribit Stormbox Micro is half the price of the Bose Soundlink Micro above, and to some ears sounds even better. I personally have loved listening to most music on it, as it really excels in delivering a full, well-rounded impression of the mid-range that you’d normally get from a much larger speaker.
It’s also significantly cheaper and more portable than my top-choice Boom 3. While it can’t come anywhere near delivering the powerful bass and immersiveness of my top travel speaker pick, if I were just slightly less snobby about sound, or if I needed to lighten my load, I’d happily go with the Stormbox Micro.
It charges via USB-C (how modern), so you can use it with the same USB-C travel charger that you likely already use for your phone and perhaps laptop and other devices. Add to that Bluetooth 5.0 and full IP67 waterproofing, and it’s hard to find any objection. You can read my full review of the Tribit StormBox Micro for more.
The Absolute Cheapest and Tiniest Bluetooth Speaker Worth Buying: Dodocool
This tiny little speaker is dirt cheap, easily fits in any pocket or even on a keychain, and will sound better (slightly) and louder than your mobile phone. The Dodocool Bluetooth Speaker‘s connectivity is not great — the Bluetooth signal is prone to drop, especially if you’re trying to listen while the speaker is charging (not recommended).
And the Dodocool certainly didn’t sound as good as any of the other, larger speakers we recommend. But it’s loud enough to be heard in the shower and provides more clarity and oomph than your mobile phone’s built-in speaker. Don’t expect bass, of course. I know one extremely light traveller who tours the globe with only what fits in his shoulder bag; this is the kind of travel bluetooth speaker that he could easily carry.
Other Options (But Not Our Top Picks)
A Quieter but Excellent-Sounding Travel Bluetooth Speaker: Bose Soundlink Color II
The Bose Soundlink Color II is the small-to-mid-sized Bluetooth speaker to get if you want a decent soundstage and the smooth mids and trebles that the Bose universe tends to provide.
The Color II not as loud, and doesn’t kick out as much powerful bass as some of the other options, but the critics and consumer organizations report that holds it own and is excellent for filling a room with clean, detailed sound. We offer a full comparison of the Soundlink Color II with the other Bose speakers.
The Color II is directional, meaning that it sounds best when you’re right in front of it, and it’s spash-resistant (but not waterproof) and has a rubberized body so is expected to survive drops well. Overall, that makes it a nice-enough speaker to travel with, but the UE Boom 3 seems like a better deal to us.
The Bose Soundlink Color II measures 2.2 x 5.0 x 5.2 inches (5.6 x 12.7 x 13.2 cm) and weighs 1.2 pounds (.544 kg).
Generally Well-Liked: The JBL Flip 5
We think that the JBL Flip 5 is a very good speaker and a slight improvement on the JBL Flip 4 (see this review for full thoughts). It could be a good in-between step between our main pick and the cheaper speakers we recommend above.
Cheap Waterproof Bluetooth Speakers: The Polk Audio BOOM Swimmer, Boom Swimmer Duo, and Boom Swimmer Junior
But if you want a very cheap speaker that sounds decent and is waterproof and can be strapped to anything, the Boom Swimmer is your guy.
You can also remove the funky tail and use the suction cup to stick it to a wet wall or a glass window, which can help deliver more resonant bass. The battery life is excellent for the price range; eight hours at full volume, and up to 16 at half.
Other Speakers that We Considered
The AYL Portable Mini Capsule Speaker System is not actually a bluetooth speaker, but connects via a mini cable. It’s really small and really cheap, and considering that sounds decent according to some. If you have a modern smartphone or tablet, though, your sound may already be better directly from that.
The B&O Play, a.k.a. Bang & Olufson Beoplay A2 is an expensive audiophile brand’s entry into the portable bluetooth speaker market; reviewers liked its sound OK, but also expressed quite a bit of disappointment in this famous brand’s shortcomings with this entry. The upper bass end doesn’t have much punch, there is a lack of warmth and clarity falls short depending on where you are positioned (it is nominally omnidirectional). Like our main pick at the top, it can be paired with another for stereo sound, but you’d be wasting a lot of money for not much effect.
We’ve listened to the Blitzwolf BW-AS1 recently and enjoyed the detail in the mids, but they were overemphasized and we missed a lot of bass that can be present on other speakers of this size and weight.
It’s a stereo speaker with dual 45mm 10W speakers, and the battery lasts for 7-11 hours. It’s about the same size as our main pick but surprisingly heavy — we think too much so for taking on trips: 1.7 lbs (.75 kg).
We recently completed a comparative meta-review of the differences between the Bose Soundlink Revolve and Bose Soundlink Revolve+, which we think are both quite fine Bluetooth speakers but perhaps not what we’d want to take on the road.
In our comparison with the UE Boom 2, we note that critics think the Revolves sounded warm and detailed in the mids and high end, but that the bass was more convincing on the Ultimate Ears speaker. There were also some complaints that they struggled more at high volumes. The Revolves are more expensive, at $199 for the Revolve and $299 for the Revolve+.
The Jawbone Mini Jambox sounds great but doesn’t play very loud.
The Jawbone Big Jamboxis admired by some critics, but they generally prefer the main picks above.
The Monster Superstar‘s bass is quite limited.
As of this writing there are a couple of reviews out there of the Oontz Angle 3, but no serious comparisons to other speakers by anyone who is an expert in audio. This speaker is quite popular on Amazon, and most reviewers there seem to be enjoying their purchase as a functional and loud-enough option for “rocking out in the shower” or listening to audio books. We can’t recommend this over the other cheap options (above) until we see more written about it or try it out ourselves, but it may be another good option at the lowest price point.
The Polk Audio Boom Bit is one of the smallest Bluetooth speakers and is designed to be clipped to your shirt collar — it’s more of a personal, open headphone alternative than something you would use to fill a room with sound, much less party outside. Reviewers say that it packs impressive punch and reasonable sound, but only for its size. One says it sounds like a transistor radio. Really this is mainly for runners and bikers who want an alternative to headphones, which can be dangerous in that they block out other noise.
The Rise MiniBoom Wireless Speaker is a tiny, palm-sized and well-built speaker that would be a great road companion if it sounded better. Unfortunately, I found the sound at high volumes to be so harsh and unpleasant that I didn’t even want to use it for listening to podcasts — the sound from my Pixel phone itself was actually more even and listenable. If you lower the volume and listen to music, there is a bit more body and presence than a cell phone’s own speaker, but unsurprisingly not the clarity of the larger speakers we review here, and the sound is muffled. I wanted to love this speaker for its small footprint and obvious convenience as a minimalist travel accessory, but unfortunately the sound quality for me is overall not worth adding to one’s bag (or even pocket).
Demanding tech critics really loved the clean, even, authentic sound produced by the Riva S — but it’s now often out of stock and possibly being discontinued. Also, it doesn’t have the 360-degree delivery and it doesn’t go quite as loud as our main pick. The other downsides are that it is only IPX4 (i.e., water-resistant, can survive the odd splash) instead of waterproof, and so not as rugged for travel. We’d prefer to have a speaker that can go into the real, messy outdoors, and not worry about dirt, water, and being able to hear it well in a noisy place. The Riva S has a 13-hour battery life and you can charge your phone or tablet off of the Riva’s battery — a feature that’s rather likely to come in handy at some point. If you buy two of them, you can pair them together for stereo sound. It comes with a carrying case and international plugs, which is a classy touch for travellers — though you can also just get a universal adapter. The unit measures 7.5 x 2.6 x 2.5 inches (19 x 6.6 x 6.4 cm) and weighs 1.5 pounds (.68 kg).
The Samsung Level Box Minihas gotten a mix of customer reviews but most are positive, if undemanding in terms of audio expectations. Likewise for blogger reviews. The price has dropped some 70 percent on Amazon as of this writing, but we think our cheap options above are a surer bet.
The Skullcandy Barricade Bluetooth Speaker floats and is fully waterproof. Its few reviewers liked its even, faithful mix, but said that it distorted on the low end at high volumes. It also comes in Skullcandy Shrapnel Drop-Proof Barricade, Skullcandy Barricade Mini, and Skullcandy XLversions. If you’re looking for a great sounding waterproof speaker at under a hundred bucks, the UE Roll 2 (above) is a safer bet.
The SOL Republic Deck was pretty well-liked by some reviewers, though they weren’t in completely in love with it or anything. It is long and thin, and its price has dropped significantly, so it could now be considered a decent cheap option, but still not as good as our other cheap picks above.
The Soundboks‘ claim to fame is that it’s the loudest bluetooth speaker on the market. Reviewers say that this is true, but that the sound is terrible. It is also huge; if you want to annoy your neighbors there are cheaper and better ways to do so — like running an extension cord to a powered setup in your yard.
Several SoundBot Bluetooth speakers get decent if unexceptional ratings over at Amazon; we have not tried them out ourselves nor encountered serious reviews or testing of any of these at this point, however.
Wrap-Up: And the Best Speaker for YOUR Travels Is…
With Ultimate Ears speakers especially, it’s very worth clicking over to Amazon and checking out prices for various colors, as they vary widely at times.