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Now that we’re deep into summer, so many great things have moved outside. Cooking. Reading. And, of course, listening to your favorite music.
Whether it’s a little Katy Perry while you’re grilling or a Prince playlist for an after-dinner dance party, playing tunes alfresco is a huge part of summer. And the conduit to your favorite music is a great-sounding speaker that can fill your yard with sound.
The speakers we’ve picked for the great outdoors share some common traits. They’re large, battery-powered, reasonably rugged, and splash-resistant, if not downright waterproof. More importantly, they provide versatile sonics.
Load your Iron and Wine playlist and these speakers are subtle enough to deliver background music at low to moderate volumes—albeit some better than others. But turn them up for Parliament Funkadelic or the Ramones and they can pump out volume aplenty with bass galore. And all these speakers can, of course, do double-duty indoors when the weather turns chilly.
The following speakers receive high marks from our testers, who evaluated them for ease of use, versatility, and most of all, sound quality. Like all the products we put through the paces at Consumer Reports, the tested models were purchased through normal retail channels, just like the ones you use.
An Indoor-Outdoor Alternative
If you’re looking for a great-sounding speaker with low-key styling that blends into its surroundings, Ultimate Ears’ Hyperboom should be on your shopping list.
Our testers report that the speaker is both loud and clear, with robust bass and clean midrange, and enough volume for most situations, indoors or out. They find the large controls easy to use, so the model gets good grades for versatility.
The Hyperboom also features an optical input, which allows it to serve as a TV sound bar or a way to upgrade the sound of a game console.
Though the Hyperboom isn’t exactly small—remember that speaker size and sound quality tend to go hand in hand—its orientation is vertical, so it doesn’t take up much space on a patio or a picnic table. And compared with many good-sounding portables, the styling is subdued, which allows it to blend with most décor when you take it inside.
UE claims an IPX4 water-resistance rating for the Hyperboom, which means it’s splashproof and spillproof but not designed to stand up to a full-fledged dunking.
Stellar Sound With a Side of Adventure
Want to get away from it all, deep in the backwoods? Or just at the far end of your backyard? The Braven XXL/2 channels that designed-for-adventure vibe, and more importantly, provides the performance to back it up.
The device weighs 17 pounds, so you’ll be glad it has a sturdy and comfortable carrying handle. Part of that weight is devoted to a robust rechargeable battery, which the manufacturer says can provide 18 hours of nonstop music, making the Braven ideal for listening far from an outlet.
The claimed IPX5 water-resistance rating means the unit should be splashproof, too. The XXL/2 even features a magnetic bottle opener.
Like its predecessor, the highly rated XXL, the new Braven XXL/2 sounds great. It delivers substantial bass and can supply plenty of volume without distortion, indoors or out. But unlike many speakers aimed at the outdoors, the Braven XXL/2 offers a refined midrange and extended top end, so it’s equally at home rocking out or mellowing out, indoors or out.
Despite its fine sound and strong overall performance, the XXL/2 seems to be on its way out of the market. At this point, the big Braven is available at only a few retailers, so if you find one at a reasonable price, don’t hesitate.
A Laid-Back Boom Box
Call it the gentleperson’s boom box. The Monster SuperStar Blaster may be big and beefy compared with those wireless speakers you throw into a beach bag, but the relatively low-key styling makes it a versatile music maker.
And a pleasant-sounding one, too. Sonically, our testers found the Monster’s bass a bit boomy, but they give the overall sound a Good rating. And the Monster provides enough volume to fill a large room or the area around your firepit.
The speaker’s controls are quite easy to use, but they’re a little less flexible than those of some competitors. For example, instead of individual bass and treble controls, the Monster has indoor and outdoor modes that tailor the bass response to your surroundings without much opportunity for fine-tuning.
All About the Bass
Summer is the time for sequels, and the JBL Boombox 2 is just that: a faithful and satisfying update of JBL’s original Boombox. And like its predecessor, the Boombox 2 hearkens back to the giant beatboxes the cool kids—and even LL Cool J—carried around in the 1980s and ’90s.
But while those behemoths ate D-cell batteries like competitive eaters down Nathan’s hot dogs, JBL’s newest Bluetooth boombox streams digital music (instead of warbly cassettes) and is powered by a 10,000-milliamp-hour rechargeable battery. It’s somewhat smaller than the previous-generation Boombox. And JBL claims it’s good for the same 24 hours of music. The Boombox 2 is said to meet IPX7 waterproofness standards, so the speaker should stay safe from a significant splash or even a modest dunking.
Our testers find a very strong sonic resemblance between the new model and its predecessor. Both feature bass that can rattle the walls—or maybe your neighbor’s fence—and that’s not entirely a good thing.
While our testers give the Boombox 2 a solid rating for sound quality, they add that the bass can be overwhelming on certain kinds of music. And though it might be just the thing for that outdoor dance party, it could be a little too much low end for a small bedroom or home office.
Note that while it’s being phased out, the original Boombox is still available through regular retail channels. If you find a good deal on the older model, you’ll get a speaker that performs almost identically to the newer model, both sonically and in terms of features and controls.