Bluetooth button on the back of the Sonos Era 100
Justin Duino / How-To Geek
Update, 03/22/2023: We’ve reviewed our recommendations and have updated our best budget and best smart speaker picks with its latest models.

What to Look for in a Speaker in 2023

As speakers have changed and evolved, even the word has grown to include many types of products. To understand what we’re looking at in terms of a “speaker”, Bluetooth speakers, soundbars, smart speakers, and traditional bookshelf speakers are all represented in our roundup below.

The first thing you should remember when considering a speaker purchase is the use case and form factor. If you’re considering indoor use, are you looking for a single smart speaker or a pair of bookshelf speakers? Will a soundbar cover your music needs?

You’ll also need to consider whether you need a powered speaker. Soundbars, smart speakers, and Bluetooth speakers are all self-powered, meaning you don’t need an external amplifier. Bookshelf speakers often require an amplifier or A/V receiver to power them, though you generally get better audio in return.

Also, just because a speaker is wireless and has a battery built-in, that doesn’t mean it’s ready for use outdoors. One thing to check is the IP rating, a two-number rating for dust and water resistance that we include when it’s relevant. Outdoor sound modes and long battery life are also important for a speaker you’ll take everywhere.

When it comes to wired speakers, you’ll also need to keep connectivity in mind. Bookshelf speakers use traditional speaker wire, but if you’re looking at more audiophile-oriented speakers, you may find that you’ll need more specialized cables like XLR or 1/4-inch TRS cable.

When a speaker we’re recommending requires any sort of unusual cable, we’ll be sure to point it out. If speakers require an amplifier to work, we’ll also mention that.

Finally, the vast majority of speakers we’re looking at here use some sort of wireless connectivity. Bluetooth is the most common form of wireless connectivity, but a few of our recommendations include alternative wireless connections like Wi-Fi.

This is a lot to remember, but when you’ve figured out what you need, one of our recommendations will serve that function perfectly.

Best Speaker Overall: Sonos Beam (Gen 2)

sonos beam gen 2 on desk
Kris Wouk / How-To Geek


  • Trueplay does a great job tuning the speaker to the room
  • Dolby Atmos makes for convincing 3D sound
  • Better sound for music than most soundbars


  • You'll need extra speakers to make the most out of the Beam

The Sonos Beam is a soundbar, but it’s far from just any other soundbar. While most soundbars work fine for watching TV and not much else, the Sonos Beam sounds great for music, podcasts, or any other form of audio entertainment you can think of.

Even without a subwoofer, the Sonos Beam manages a well-balanced sound signature, with powerful lows and clear highs. This works equally well for music, movies, and TV shows, with built-in support for Dolby Atmos and Dolby Atmos Music. You can read our review of the Sonos Beam to learn more:

The new Beam is a major upgrade to the original model. This time around it provides five speaker arrays compared to the original’s three, features a much faster processor, and supports HDMI eARC in addition to the standard ARC. That said, the biggest feature in the new Beam is the addition of Dolby Atmos support.

Setting up the Sonos Beam is a breeze. You only need two cables—one for power, and one for the HDMI connection. Using the Trueplay feature of the Sonos iPhone app (Trueplay is not currently supported on Android devices), the speaker can use your iPhone as a microphone to examine your room and tune the Beam to sound its best.

When using the Sonos Beam as a soundbar, it works as you’d expect any other soundbar to work. Turn off the TV, however, and it becomes a Wi-Fi streaming smart speaker, similar to other Sonos speakers. It will also work with other speakers from Sonos for whole-home audio when you’re listening to music.

The Sonos Beam can also be the core of multi-speaker home theater systems. You can add a Sonos Sub as a subwoofer and other speakers as satellites to complete your system.

Best Speaker Overall

Sonos Beam (Gen 2)

Read How-To Geek's Full Review

The Sonos Beam is the perfect all-in-one speaker for TV, movies, and music, plus you can add additional speakers whenever you want.

Best Budget Speaker: Tribit Stormbox Micro 2

Tribit StormBox Micro 2 in a hand
Hannah Stryker / How-To Geek


  • Tiny and portable, you can mount it anywhere
  • IP67 water resistance
  • 12-hour battery life
  • Two can work together in stereo


  • Maybe not as waterproof as it should be
  • Sound is limited by the small size

Budget speakers have come a long way, and spending less doesn’t mean walking away with a lesser product. The Tribit StormBox Micro 2 is a great example, as it’s portable, tough, and surprisingly loud given the size and price.

As the name implies, the StormBox Micro 2 is meant to be used anywhere, including outside. This model is IP67 rated, which means it can handle the rain. You may not want to submerge the speaker, as sister site Review Geek discovered in their review of the Tribit Stormbox Micro 2, but it can stand up to most other types of water.

The Tribit StormBox Micro 2 has impressive audio quality for the size, as long as you don’t play it at max volume. Its long battery life, flexible attachment strap and water resistant rating make it a good choice for outdoor use. Just don’t rely on its ability to charge your phone.

Like the original StormBox Micro, this newer version features a strap for mounting the speaker. This is mainly for mounting the speaker on the handlebars of a bicycle, but you can use this to mount the speaker in all sorts of locations. With 12 hours of battery life, you don’t have to worry about it running out either.

While this is a small speaker, it uses clever DSP to sound much larger than it is. Even better, if you want to spring for two, you can pair them and use them together for stereo sound. With the affordable price tag, this is much more in reach than with other speakers.

The Tribit StormBox Micro 2 is available in black and blue color varieties.

Best Budget Speaker

Tribit StormBox Micro 2

Read Review Geek's Full Review

Looking at the small size of the Tribit StormBox Micro 2, you may not expect it to sound just as big as it does, and that's before you pair two in stereo.

Best Bluetooth Speaker: JBL Charge 5

JBL Charge 5 in the rain


  • Great volume, even with one speaker
  • Built-in power bank functionality is useful
  • Pair one or more speakers for stereo or more volume


  • Buying another speaker for PartyBoost isn't cheap

If you’re looking for a speaker that works well anywhere you’re looking for music, the JBL Charge 5 is ready to handle it. Whether you’re inside or outside, listening alone or providing the soundtrack for a party, the Charge 5 has the volume and the sound quality for the job.

The JBL Charge 5 uses a separate tweeter and dual bass radiators to provide a big-sounding speaker without making it weigh a ton. The enclosure is tough too, with a solid build and IP67 rating, meaning it’s dust and water-resistant, so long as you don’t drop it at the bottom of a pool.

While the JBL Charge 5 is loud on its own, it gets even louder when you pair two of them together. Thanks to JBL’s PartyBoost feature, you don’t have to stop at two. This is great if you want wide-ranging sound without springing for a permanent whole-home audio setup.

Due to the heftier size of the JBL Charge 5, it can fit a sizable battery. This gives the speaker a maximum playback time of up to 20 hours, though this will depend on the playback volume.

If you don’t need all that playback time but want to take advantage of the size of the battery, the JBL Charge 5 also doubles as a power bank. Simply plug a USB cable into the port, and you can use the speaker to recharge your devices.

Best Bluetooth Speaker

JBL Charge 5

The JBL Charge 5 isn't just a speaker, it's a portable battery too. It's loud, it sounds great, and on the rare occasion that it isn't loud enough, you can always pair multiple speakers with JBL PartyBoost.

Best Outdoor Speaker: Ultimate Ears WONDERBOOM 2

Ultimate Ears Wonderboom 2 linked up to smartphone
Cameron Summerson / How-To Geek


  • Water-resistant and it even floats
  • 360-degree sound means big sound from just one speaker
  • Ability to pair another for stereo is useful
  • Outdoor sound mode makes outdoor listening more enjoyable


  • Battery life isn't great at highest volumes

If you’re looking for a speaker to bring everywhere with you, it doesn’t get better than the Ultimate Ears WONDERBOOM 2. The speaker is light enough to carry anywhere and packed with the volume and features to play your music as loud as you want.

Like the other portable Bluetooth speakers we’re looking at in this article, the WONDERBOOM 2 has an IP67 rating. That said, the rating is far from the only reason we suggest this as an outdoor speaker. The build quality is solid and even floats if you drop it in the pool or during a canoeing trip.

The WONDERBOOM 2 features a 360-degree design, meaning you’ll hear the same audio, regardless of which side of the speaker you’re standing on. It also features an outdoor boost button that tweaks the sound specifically for outdoor use.

Worried about the audio quality? Don’t be, as sister site Review Geek reviewed the WONDERBOOM 2 and gave it an Editor’s Choice award:

Despite its short, tubby build, the Wonderboom 2 provides rich sound quality—more bass than one normally expects from a speaker of this size, along with equally as impressive high- and mid-response. The overall clarity and range of this speaker can’t be overstated—it sounds shockingly big for being so small.

If one speaker isn’t enough, you can always add another. When you connect two WONDERBOOM 2 models together, you can use them for louder mono playback or in paired stereo mode.

While the battery life isn’t quite as impressive as the JBL Charge 5, the WONDERBOOM 2 still boasts up to 13 hours of battery life, depending on playback volume.

Best Outdoor Speaker

Ultimate Ears WONDERBOOM 2

Read Review Geek's Full Review

The WONDERBOOM 2 is a tough-as-nails speaker, plus the outdoor sound mode makes the music sound even better when you're in the wild.

Best Smart Speaker: Sonos Era 100

White Sonos Era 100 sitting on a shelf
Justin Duino / How-To Geek


  • Great stereo sound
  • Finally a Sonos home speaker supports Bluetooth
  • TruePlay is still a game changer
  • Great voice control


  • Expensive compared to the alternatives
  • No Google Assistant

One of the best aspects of smart speakers is how easily they work together, making things like playing music throughout your home easy. If you’ve considered dipping a toe in the waters of whole-home audio but want to start small, the Sonos Era 100 is a perfect option.

While Sonos speakers are generally meant to work together as part of a larger system, the Sonos Era 100 works fine just on its own. This is one of the first home speakers from the company to support Bluetooth, so it’s easier than ever to grab your phone and start listening. That said, adding speakers and setting up a larger system is still easy.

Sonos has had a trick up its sleeve for years in the form of TruePlay, a feature that uses the built-in microphone on your iPhone or iPad to measure the sound of a room and tune your speakers accordingly. With the Sonos Era 100, that feature is no longer Apple-exclusive, as it uses a built-in microphone and a spin-off of TruePlay known as Quick Tune to adapt to your room.

The Sonos Era 100 supports Sonos Voice Control as well as Amazon Alexa. It doesn’t support Google Assistant at launch, unlike the previous Sonos One. Whether Google Assistant support will arrive at some point remains to be seen.

As with most Sonos products, you can buy the Era 100 in either black or white.

Best Smart Speaker

Sonos Era 100

The Sonos Era 100 improves on the Sonos One in many ways, including adding support for Bluetooth. If you're looking for a smart speaker with a focus on sound quality, this is your best option.

Best Bookshelf Speaker: ELAC Debut 2.0 B6.2

ELAC Debut on blue background


  • Speakers work great in hi-fi or home theater setups
  • Front-firing ports make the speakers easy to place in your room
  • Detailed, accurate sound reproduction


  • Center channel speaker is sold separately

If you’re looking for a set of classic-style bookshelf speakers, the ELAC Debut 2.0 B6.2 needs to be on your shortlist. These speakers will work wonderfully with your turntable setup or hi-fi stereo system, but they’re just as comfortable in a home theater surround-sound setting.

The ELAC Debut 2.0 B6.2 features an aramid fiber woofer for the bass and midrange, while a 1-inch soft-dome tweeter ranges up as high as 35,000 Hz. The speakers use front-firing ports, which means you don’t need to be as careful with where you’re placing them in your room.

These are standard bookshelf speakers, so they’ll need an amplifier to work. The speakers handle up to 120 watts of power at 6 ohms. These speakers will work with most A/V receivers, including 5.1 channel and up-home theater receivers.

The speakers are internally braced to dampen vibrations, meaning you won’t encounter any degradation of sound quality as the volume increases. If you’re looking for speakers that present an accurate representation of what you’re playing through them, but don’t want to go quite as far as studio monitors, this is a great middle ground.

If you’re buying these as part of building a home theater system, don’t forget to check out the matching ELAC Debut 2.0 C6.2 center channel speaker.

Best Bookshelf Speaker

ELAC Debut 2.0 B6.2

The ELAC Debut 2.0 B6.2 can handle playing back your vinyl collection or serve as the centerpiece of your home theater system. It's all up to you and how you want to use them.

Best Speaker for Music: Kali Audio LP-6 V2

Kali LP-6 on dark background


  • Boundary EQ makes these work in spaces other speakers won't
  • Plenty of connectivity options
  • Improved low-end quality compared to the original


  • You'll need an audio interface to make the most of these

If you take your music listening seriously, or you’re an audio or video professional, standard speakers aren’t going to be ideal. Instead, you’ll want a pair of monitor speakers meant for critical listening like the Kali Audio LP-6 V2.

The LP-6 uses a 6.5-inch woofer and a 1-inch soft-dome tweeter for clear highs that aren’t overly strident and a low end that carries surprising weight. In the V2 version of this speaker, the woofer is lower mass than the original, making for improved low-end clarity.

Also improved in this latest iteration of the Kali Audio LP-6 are the Boundary EQ settings. These are a series of switches on the back of each speaker letting you set whether the speakers are close to a wall or sitting on a desktop and shape the sound accordingly to better fit your setup.

The Kali Audio LP-6 V2 offers a few different connectivity options, but since these are powered monitors, they may not be what you expect. For balanced connections, you get 1/4-inch TRS and XLR connectors, while for unbalanced connections you get RCA connectors.

To make the most of these speakers, you’ll need an audio interface. If all you’re doing is listening to music on the speakers, a simple interface like the Focusrite Scarlett Solo will work perfectly with the RCA inputs on the speakers.

Best Speaker for Music

Kali Audio LP-6 V2

Whether you're an audio/video professional or you just really enjoy listening to music, the Kali Audio LP-6 V2 deliver sound rivaling speakers that cost more than twice the price.

Frequently Asked Questions

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Profile Photo for Kris Wouk Kris Wouk
Kris Wouk is a freelance tech writer and musician with over 10 years of experience as a writer and a lifetime of experience as a gadget fan. He has also written for Digital Trends, MakeUseOf, Android Authority, and Sound Guys. At MakeUseOf, he was Section Editor in charge of the site's Mac coverage.
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