The Best Outdoor Speakers for 2021

Need a good outdoor speaker you can use poolside or take on your next hiking or camping trip? These rugged, waterproof, battery-operated models are worth a listen.

Updated July 13, 2021

Our 10 Top Picks From 122 Products Reviewed

There's a seemingly endless supply of portable Bluetooth speakers out there, most of which will work just fine after being stowed in your luggage and pulled out for use in your hotel room. But perhaps you're looking for something to take on your next camping excursion or trip to the beach. Or maybe you want a speaker with built-in cupholders, a retractable luggage handle, and the ability to double as a guitar amp. We test plenty of outdoor-friendly speakers that meet all of these requirements and more. Here's what to look for, as well as the top models we've tested.

What IP Rating Should an Outdoor Speaker Have?

Manufacturers often claim a speaker is water-resistant or waterproof, but the only true measure of just how protected a speaker is from liquid and other potential hazards is its IP rating. But these ratings can be confusing as well.

Every proper IP rating consists of either a two-digit score, or an X (acting as a placeholder) and a single digit. The first digit refers to a product's protection against solids, like dust, while the second refers to protection against liquids. The number range for solids spans from zero (no protection) to six (dustproof), and for liquids it's zero to eight (waterproof and submersible beyond one meter for extended time periods).

The rating IP68, therefore, is the top IP rating, signifying a dustproof, waterproof, submersible product. When you see ratings with an X in them, it usually means the manufacturer didn't officially test for protection, but believes the rating would be higher than zero. Thus, an IPX8 rating means the product has the highest level of water protection, and an unverified level of dust protection (but one that is assumed to be higher than no protection at all).

bike speaker

Most portable wireless speakers with IP ratings range in the IPX5 to IPX7 range. The low end of this spectrum means the speaker is protected against low-pressure water streaming from any direction, while IPX7 signifies a speaker is submersible up to 1 meter without issue. Sometimes a time period will be specified—some speakers are only guaranteed to be protected while submerged for, say, 30 minutes.

Plenty of speakers also have solids protection, and will list the tested number instead of the X placeholder. If protection against dust or sand is crucial (good for trips to the beach), you'll want to go for a speaker that actually lists a numeral rather than an X.

If a manufacturer neglects to list a speaker's IP rating but makes a claim of a water-resistant design, you can probably assume that it can handle rain, sweat, and minor splashes, as well as a quick rinse in the sink now and then. But submerging it in a pool or tub is not a wise idea without knowing the IP rating.

What Size Speaker Do You Need?

Portable speakers aren't limited to small speakers that can be stashed in your backpack. In fact, plenty of the ones we test are relatively large and heavy, meant for portability in the sense that you can carry them to your car's trunk and from the car to the campfire, but they're about as large as a cooler.

Obviously, one role size plays in the equation is how much bass response and overall volume a speaker is able to project. Don't expect a pocket-size speaker to have much, if any, bass depth. Of course, bass doesn't matter nearly as much as powerful high-mids and high-frequency response outdoors; there aren't any walls to shake and resonate powerful bass vibrations, so sound can only carry directly through the air (which is much more treble's forte).

picnic speaker

How Do Speakers Sound Outside?

Portable Bluetooth speakers have come a long way in the last half decade. Today small speakers can pack some fairly impressive firepower. This is thanks mostly to the near-ubiquitous inclusion of passive radiators.

Passive bass radiators are made of rubber-like surfaces that vibrate sympathetically with the output of a powered driver—like when you place a speaker on a long wooden table and you notice the table vibrating, seemingly increasing the bass response. The vibrations often create the sense of stronger bass depth, even without these radiators receiving actual powered audio on their own. It sounds like a gimmick that shouldn't be effective, but some manufacturers have worked magic and manage to pump out rich bass response from fairly small speakers.

See How We Test Speakers

Some outdoor speakers also feature outdoor listening modes. These modes tend to dial up the treble to make up for the lack of reflective surfaces when you're sitting in the middle of a field or forest. The walls in your kitchen or office do, indeed, perform a function in transmitting audio to your ears, and without them in the picture, high frequencies in particular can sound dulled, especially if you're not terribly close to the speaker.

One more thing to note is whether a speaker is mono or stereo. Plenty of the Bluetooth speakers we test, especially the smaller ones, only have a single driver. Or they may have multiple drivers, but the drivers are devoted to different frequency ranges and not left and right channels—in other words, the manufacturer decided that pumping out some stronger bass matters more than stereo separation. And it's not a bad approach—keep in mind that if your left and right drivers aren't farther apart than your ears, you're not likely to hear much stereo separation unless they're angled to play off a room's surfaces. And even if you do have enough space between the drivers for stereo separation, if you are farther away from the speakers than the drivers are from each other, that stereo image will often sound a lot more like mono.

Portable Speaker Battery Life

Many of these extra features, along with drivers that pump out big bass at high volumes, come at the cost of battery life. Just about every speaker we test is powered by an internal lithium-ion battery that gets charged via a micro USB port or an actual AC power adapter.

Typical battery life for portable speakers ranges anywhere from 10 to 20 hours, depending on size and features. But keep in mind these are estimates, and manufacturers will often list a higher battery life based on the assumption that you'll be listening at modest volume levels. As you might expect, blasting a speaker at top volume will drain the battery more quickly.

If the speaker you're considering delivers less than 10 hours of battery life, it might be worth investing in a portable battery pack to keep the party going.

Extra Features

You can argue that, beyond a strong IP rating and solid audio performance, a quality outdoor speaker needn't have a bunch of extra features. But where's the fun in that? Some speakers let you charge other devices with their battery, provide light shows, or even function as flash lights.

Voice assistance, in the form of Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant, is also starting to make its way into the portable market, for outdoor-friendly models you can treat like any other smart speaker.

Just keep in mind that if you want a speaker with a built-in flashlight, for instance, it's out there, but if it costs only slightly more than an actual flashlight that has no speaker, you can do the math and rightfully assume you won't be getting much in the way of quality audio. Extra features (should) drive up the price to an extent—you are wise to be skeptical when they don't.

ue speaker

But there are some added features that cost very little to include, and are often exceedingly useful. Plenty of outdoor speakers have a threaded screw mount for tripods, or for attaching to bikes or action camera gear, for instance.

How Much Should You Spend on an Outdoor Speaker?

There are plenty of solid-sounding outdoor-friendly speakers for $150 or less. The top end of this price range will get you reasonably good bass response, and typically, the speaker will be able to transmit stereo audio. The lower end of this price range will usually feature smaller speakers, often mono, and few of them will have much low-end response to offer.

Below, say, $50, you're flirting with options that may not sound markedly (or at all) better than your mobile device on its own. And if you're willing to reach above $150 there plenty of alluring options, including offerings from luxury brands.

If you don't necessarily need something rugged, head to our list of the best wireless speakers overall. For budget-friendly options, check out our top picks under $100.

And for more outdoor-friendly tech, see the best outdoor smart home devices we've tested.

Physical Connections
USB-C, USB 3.5mm, USB 3.5mm 3.5mm, USB None 3.5mm USB USB 3.5mm, USB, 1/4-inch 3.5mm, USB, 1/4-inch
Voice Assistant
None None None None None None None Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant None None
Where to Buy
at Amazon
at Amazon
at Amazon
at Target
at Amazon
at Amazon
at Walmart
at Best Buy
at Amazon
at Abt Electronics
at Amazon
at Amazon
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About Tim Gideon

Tim Gideon

Contributing Editor Tim Gideon has been writing for PhonespySoftware24 since 2006. He specializes in reviewing audio products, and is obsessed with headphones, speakers, and recording gear.

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