Q: I am a bartender in a restaurant, and my boss has asked me to find a couple of Bluetooth speakers to put behind the bar. Most Bluetooth speakers are rechargeable, but we need a pair that we can just plug into the wall and leave them there. Also, they have to be cheap, no more than $100 each. Do you have any suggestions?
– David Hunter (davidhunternyc)
A: Virtually all Bluetooth speakers have a rechargeable battery, but you can also leave them plugged in, so that’s a non-issue. The Wirecutter’s picks for best Bluetooth speakers include several that fit into your budget, and I completely trust the author of that list, Brent Butterworth. His top pick is the UE Roll 2 ($55 on Amazon as of this writing). According to Brent, “It sounds better and plays louder than most competitors, plus it has a slim, waterproof, rugged design that lets it survive almost any journey yet still slip easily into a backpack or laptop bag.” Of course, your speakers won’t be going anywhere, but being waterproof is probably important behind a bar.
Another top pick from that article is the Logitech X300 ($62 on Amazon as of this writing). As Brent says, “With this speaker, the focus is on sound quality; it isn’t quite as loud as the UE Roll 2, but we think it sounds a little fuller and more natural. It’s not waterproof, and other than the speakerphone function, it doesn’t have any fancy features. But it sounds smoother than most Bluetooth speakers we’ve heard, even many larger and more-expensive models.”
The Wirecutter article also recommends my personal favorite—the Riva Turbo X—though it exceeds your budget ($200 on Amazon as of this writing). Still, I think it’s worth considering. According to Brent, “If portability isn’t your primary concern and you just want the best possible performance, we think the Riva Turbo X is one of the best portable Bluetooth speakers you can buy. Its sound is clearer, livelier, more spacious, and more natural than its competitors’. It gets you closer to the sound of a real stereo speaker system than any other Bluetooth portable we’ve tried, and it’s the only speaker among our picks that delivers enough volume to be heard over loud party conversation. It’s also more refined and elegant-looking.
“Previously the Turbo X was one of the most expensive portable Bluetooth speakers you could find, and we thought it was worth its original price, but now that its price has been lowered to $200, it is an amazing deal. Note, however, that even though the Turbo X is splashproof when its rear jacks are protected by its included rubber cover, it’s heavy for its size and not as rugged as the other speakers we’ve picked, so it’s best suited to places like offices, bedrooms, and living rooms.”
You can save $50 with the smaller Riva S ($150 on Amazon as of this writing), which Brent likes quite a bit as well. “The Riva S is a smaller version of the Riva Turbo X, and it shares the X’s refined, smooth sound. The S doesn’t play quite as loud as the UE Roll 2 and Logitech X300, though, so it’s harder to justify the S’s price. Still, if you need something compact, great-sounding, and elegant (perhaps for an executive office or a designer living room), the S has a lot of appeal.”
Clearly, a bar is not an executive office or designer living room, so perhaps the Riva models aren’t the best choice for your particular application. Also, the ambient noise in most bars would obscure the subtler aspects of a speaker’s performance, which is another reason not to spend the extra money on the Rivas. Finally, volume is probably more important than ultimate sound quality in your situation, which leads us back to the UE Roll 2 or Logitech X300.
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