Wireless speakers always make popular Christmas gifts.
Virtually everyone owns a smartphone or tablet, and if they aren’t using them to listen to music, they watch movies or play games — all activities that benefit from an external speaker.
Bluetooth speakers work with virtually any mobile device, whether it’s from Apple (AAPL) or it runs Android or Windows. So you don’t run into the platform compatibility issues that can be an issue with other accessories, which is another reason they make a great gift.
There are literally thousands of choices out there. To help you pick the right one, we’ve put together a list of five of the best wireless speakers — based on personal experience — covering a variety of form factors and price ranges.
You won’t find the usual Beats or Bose here, because some of the best speakers come from smaller manufacturers that don’t have the same marketing budget as the big players.
Best Wireless Speakers: Bowers & Wilkins Zeppelin Wireless
Let’s start things off on a high note: the B&W Zeppelin Wireless.
There are a few things the Zeppelin Wireless isn’t. At $699.99 it’s not cheap; at over 14 pounds (and with no handle), it is not portable; and at over two feet wide, it is not compact.
But B&W ’s Zeppelin line has established a reputation for being among the best wireless speakers on the market. I’ve tested several versions (and own the original) and I can say without any doubt that any music lover who receives one of these for a gift will thank you.
Inside the iconic Zeppelin form are two double dome tweeters, two midrange speakers and a six-inch subwoofer, driven by an incredible 150-Watts of power.
The Zeppelin Air supports Bluetooth, Spotify Connect and Apple AirPlay.
Best Wireless Speakers: Nyne Mini
Of course, not everyone is in the market for $700 speakers.
If you want something to just slip in a coat pocket, take to the beach or for a kid (who’s liable to lose or destroy it), the best wireless speakers offer a combination of compact size and affordable price, while still offering decent sound and battery life.
The first two are easy, the second two, not so much.
One of the best speakers I’ve come across that covers all these requirements is the Nyne Mini.
At five inches long and 9.6 ounces, it’s portable.
It has a funky look with bright color options and a splash-resistant rubberized cover, includes a carrying case with a carabiner hook (along with charging and auxiliary cables) and you can pick one up on Amazon for just $35.
You’re not going to dominate a room with the sound from a Nyne Mini, but it sounds much better than your smartphone’s built-in speakers, has 10-hour battery life and it looks like a device that would cost considerably more.
Best Wireless Speakers: Tree Labs Astro
The Astro Bluetooth speaker from Tree Labs will appeal to those who like pure audio and minimalist design.
Many popular wireless speakers manipulate audio using software that emphasizes bass at the expense of other layers from the source music.
The Astro speaker relies on hardware to get the sound across, skipping the artificially booming bass for a fuller, more nuanced sound that’s much more true to the original recording.
The pure approach extends to the look, too. The Astro speaker offers a functional metal speaker grill with a rubberized surround, hiding a pair of 2-inch drivers and a passive radiator. The only button is power, letting your smartphone handle things like volume control. A loop for hanging the speaker is the only adornment.
Available in a variety of colors, the Astro speaker is currently priced at $159.99, which is $20 off the regular price.
Best Wireless Speakers: Creative Roar 2
Before spending $230 on Apple’s new Beats Pill+ speaker, I would seriously consider the Sound Blaster Roar 2 from Creative Technology (CREAF).
The Sound Blaster Roar 2 is a little heavier at 2.2 lbs and its battery life isn’t quite as good at 8 hours on a charge, but Creative Technology packed a lot of its PC audio know-how into this thing, along with incredible flexibility.
The Roar 2 has five premium drivers, including a subwoofer and a pair of side-mounted, machine-finished passive radiators. Sound quality is excellent for something this size.
Two devices can be connected to the Roar 2 simultaneously using Bluetooth — a great way to share DJ duties on wireless speakers at a party — and the whole thing can be hooked up to a Mac, PC or even a Playstation 4 using a microUSB cable, then used as an external Sound Blaster audio device.
There’s a microsSD card reader, support for MP3 files and audio playback buttons for music without a connected mobile device. You can also use the Roar 2 to record sound.
Finally, there’s also a full-sized USB out port that lets you plug in and recharge your mobile device from the Roar 2’s battery.
At $170, the Sound Blaster Roar 2 is one of the best wireless speakers for the price and an interesting multi-purpose audio gadget as well.
Best Wireless Speakers: Riva Turbo X
Finally, another premium Bluetooth speaker, although this one is half the price of the Zeppelin.
I recently reviewed the Riva Turbo X and came away thoroughly impressed.
Its sound is easily up there with the best wireless speakers in its price range, thanks to a housing that conceals three full-range drivers and four dual-piston bass radiators.
With 45 Watts of power, the sound is powerful, but the name-sake Turbo boost will kick the volume levels up to 100 decibels. Trillium Sound mode lets you put all those drivers and multi-directional audio projection to work as an A/V sound system for gaming or watching movies.
At 3 lbs and 9.1-inches wide, the Turbo X is one of those wireless speakers that pushes the definition of portable, but Riva sells an optional carrying case that helps a lot there.
That weight hides another surprise. The battery is rated for an incredible 26 hours of use, and like the Roar 2, the Turbo X can be used to recharge your mobile devices. It took me a week and a half of frequent use — plus using it to top up the charge on my iPad Mini — to finally wear the battery down.
At $349 (on sale for $299.99 as of this writing), the Riva Turbo X is competing with some of the best wireless speakers on the market –including models from Bose, Sonos and the popular UE Megaboom — but I think the Turbo X holds its own on audio quality, while offering that unbeatable battery life.
As of this writing, Brad Moon did not hold a position in any of the aforementioned securities.