Jawbone Jambox ($199)
Sound Quality: We listened to R.E.M., Jurassic 5, the Beatles, and Thelonious Monk to test a range of instruments and production styles.
Full volume sounded fine at 2 feet away. From across the room, quality was the worst tested. Bass had a hiccup tone. Jazz was like a telephone call on hold.
Portability: Is it easy to take this show on the road?
Weighing 12 ounces and measuring 1.5 x 2 x 6 inches, the Jambox is the most portable item. Its rechargeable battery is rated for 10 hours’ sustained use.
Ease of Connection: These speakers sync with iPhones and other portable devices. But is it easy? As for range, a phone could control each speaker well past its audible listening distance.
Aces the setup—a voice from the speaker tells you it’s connected.
Collision Test: To simulate a tailgating/picnic disaster, we pelted each speaker with a leather football to knock it off a 30-inch-tall table.
The lightweight Jambox popped off the table after slight contact, but it took no noticeable damage.
JBL On Tour iBT ($199)
Clear vocals, but small sound overall. High and low notes blended in the middle. Bass, despite four drivers, barely existed.
Four AA batteries last up to 5 hours in this 2-inch-tall, 6.5-inch-diameter disc.
Ease of Connection:
Tricky to connect. An accidental button mashing made a phone call through the speaker.
The On Tour iBT’s shiny plastic case acquired a permanent scuff after catching a tight spiral, but its rubber feet held firm.
Bose SoundLink ($299)
Below full volume, the box pumped out rich vocals, deep sound, and subtleties like rattling snares and high-hat-cymbal echoes. Bass distorted at high volumes, but four drivers kicked out notable decibels.
The Bose rocks steady, with a projected 8-hour battery life. But it’s bulky at 5 x 2 x 9.5 inches and almost 3 pounds.
Ease of Connection:
Not intuitive to connect. We had to, of all things, read the instructions. The key: Hold down the speaker’s Bluetooth button.
The SoundLink’s removable case suffered an unsightly dent, but the speaker continued to function after a spill.
The Bottom Line:
To gain portability and battery life, these all compromise sound quality. Small drivers and speakers can push only so much air. (Bluetooth compression did not harm the sound, defying our expectation.) For a picnic or a party in a tent, the Bose model is the best of the bunch. But for $300, audiophiles may prefer a rechargeable dock.