The Bluetooth-speaker market has skyrocketed by more than 400 percent in the past year, spurred by the large number of smartphone and tablet owners . Instead of tethering your mobile device to a dock to rock out, you can stream your favorite tunes to a wireless speaker and use your phone or slate as a remote. Bluetooth's audio fidelity has also advanced beyond its grainy-sounding early years to become a richer experience for discerning listeners.
These wireless speakers represent the best cross-section of what's on the market for every budget. Some models also have strengths that will suit very specific needs, whether you're looking for a speaker for the car or one that can be dunked in water. Here are our top picks.
The SoundLink Mini is the best-sounding ultracompact Bluetooth speaker on the market. This 1.5-pound device outperforms many larger models, especially in the bass department. It doesn't have bells and whistles like speakerphone or device-charging capability, but you will be shocked by the full sound this tiny wonder puts out. It's also easy to use and very well built. Expect a solid 7 hours of battery life, and the slimline charger fits easily alongside the speaker in a purse or backpack. You can also trick out your speaker with a soft cover in one of several colors.
Best Bluetooth Speaker for Less Than $100:iHome iBT24 ($65 on Amazon)
iHome's affordable iBT24 is a simple, very-good-sounding speaker that costs much less than $100. The SRS TruBass processor helps beef up the audio, and you can use the line-out jack to connect the iBT24 to any other speaker with a line-in port. An LED light on the front of the 1.1-pound iBT24 blinks in time with the music, which is a neat effect. Other highlights include a durable, rubberized finish. Although you don't get speakerphone capability, the fairly good 8-hour battery life and impressive audio performance make this Bluetooth speaker an excellent value.
Best Ruggedized Bluetooth Speaker: Braven BRV-1 ($145.98 on Amazon)
IPX5-certified to operate in wet conditions like rain or poolside, the BRV-1 is an excellent companion for outdoorsy types. It is very compact and lightweight (12.2 ounces), and its built-in 1400mAh battery keeps the music going for up to 12 hours. Plus, you can use the BRV-1 to charge your smartphone via the USB port on the back. While it's not nearly as capable in the audio department as the Bose SoundLink Mini, this is a solid choice for personal listening that doubles as a speakerphone.
Best Bluetooth Speaker for the Shower: Ivation Hipo HIP-400 ($99 MSRP, $39.99 on Amazon)
The HIP-400 is an affordable waterproof speaker for your shower, and is IPX6-certified to withstand more than just splashes. It has an integrated hook on top that lets it hang from any showerhead. The auto-pairing feature detects when your Bluetooth device is within range and connects the speaker automatically, and the built-in battery lasts an impressive 25 hours on a charge. The HIP-400 even doubles as a speakerphone, so you can chat while you rinse.
Best Bluetooth Speakerphone for Your Car: Motorola Roadster 2 ($94 on Amazon)
If your vehicle lacks in-dash Bluetooth, the Roadster 2 is a simple and affordable solution to bring your ride up-to-date for hands-free calling and music. Clip this light 3.5-ounce speaker to your car's sun visor, and run it off the 20-hour rechargeable battery or your car's 12V power jack. You can stream your calls and music directly to the fairly powerful speaker, or you can use the built-in FM transmitter to stream to your car's FM stereo. The Roadster 2 also connects with two Bluetooth devices simultaneously.
Best Stereo Bluetooth Speaker for Musicians: IK Multimedia iLoud ($299.99)
A pair of 3-inch woofers and 0.75-inch tweeters powered by a 40W amplifier make this speaker live up to its name, easily filling a room with crystal-clear audio. In fact, the iLoud delivers the most accurate sound we've heard among Bluetooth speakers. You can also plug a guitar or mic directly into the iLoud (or via other IK Multimedia products like the iRig Pro) and use it as a portable studio monitor alongside your iPad. The 10-hour battery life is good given the unit's size, though you can't use it as a speakerphone.
Best Bluetooth Speaker for iOS Devices: Cambridge Audio Minx Air 200 ($599)
The Minx Air 200 is more than just a Bluetooth speaker. It also includes Apple's AirPlay technology, so you can switch over to Wi-Fi, though you'll need to be in range of a Wi-Fi network. This versatility commands a high price, but the audio quality is very good, with powerful bass delivered via a 6-inch subwoofer. The Minx Air 200 also comes preloaded with Internet radio stations, which you can manage via an iOS app. Just keep in mind that this 11-pound powerhouse is not very portable — it must be plugged in for power.
Best Bluetooth Speakerphone: Ultimate Ears Boom ($179.99)
This fun, tube-shaped, portable Bluetooth speaker blasts loud audio in every direction, with dual passive radiators (for deep bass) and dual drivers (for clear mids and highs). The 1.1-pound Boom has a water-resistant shell that comes in six colors. The internal battery lasts up to 15 hours, which is pretty good for its class, and the speakerphone audio quality is well above average. An app-assisted, dual-streaming mode lets you wirelessly connect another Boom for a wider stereo sound and more volume.