Your average cheap portable Bluetooth speaker is shitty. The crap to quality ratio in the category is ridiculous. But I’ve spent the past month combing through
loads a handful of speakers just under the R5000 mark (more than that and you’re better off spending on a Home Theater system) and found three that are actually good.
I’m a music nerd who loves playing with vintage stereo gear. From the start, Bluetooth felt like betrayal. I remember rudely dismissing the MINI Jambox when it arrived on my desk (God bless the Ogilvy PR team from back then) because pushing music through the air didn’t make sense to me. Bluetooth headsets have the worst sound quality, so why would a wireless speaker be any better?
That’s not technically fair: the bandwidth of a Bluetooth connection is more than sufficient to push high-quality audio from place to place. But there are scores of speakers out there, and most of them aren’t the best.
So I went looking for the features that made me embrace Bluetooth speakers over my lovely stereo in the first place. The ideal speaker should; For starters, sound great, look good, be portable, and work without any glitches. It should also have a high sound-quality-to-size ratio. Some speakers are insanely tiny while others are beefier, and while you can’t expect tiny speaker drivers to move a lot of air they still need to justify their existence.
Also, I shouldn’t have to spend more than R5 000 on a portable speaker, and I’ll take a cheaper one if it’s good value for the money. (There are plenty of R5 000+ speakers out there, but I’m a cheapskate.) And since the nicest thing about Bluetooth speakers is that they can travel with you, any good speaker should have solid battery life and build quality that’s tough enough for a ride in my laptop bag. If it charges my handset or doubles as a speakerphone, that’s just the caramel on my Bar One cake. My contenders (in alphabetical order) are the Bang & Olufsen Beoplay A1, Jawbone MINI Jambox and JBL’s Charge2 Plus portables. I will give my take on each with a conclusion on the best, of best.