Apple’s original iPod redefined how we carry and listen to our music. But its utility really took off with the introduction of amplified speaker devices that turned an iPod into a portable stereo.
To get the iPod and speaker pairing to work required physically placing the music device into the amplifier’s cradle. But Bluetooth wireless technology has extended speakers to all sorts of outdoor spots—even the pool.
Using the same system that connects smartphones to cars, Bluetooth enables smartphones and tablets to stream music to a compatible speaker that is up to 33 feet away.
Today, a wide range of Bluetooth-capable speakers are designed for the outdoors. Hoping to appeal to pool loungers as well as snowboarders and parasailors, manufacturers have come up with rugged models that can withstand being dropped, as well as others that are water-resistant, waterproof and dustproof.
Because they use Bluetooth, many of the models double as telephone speakerphones. Just as in a car, when a call comes in, the audio will shut off and the phone’s ring and call will play through the speaker.
To determine if a particular speaker is waterproof, you don’t have to rely on a manufacturer’s claims. There are actually dust- and water-resistance standards, using what is called IP, or International Protection Marking. Look for the IP codes on the product’s box. The first digit refers to dust resistance, and the second to water resistance; the higher the numbers, the better. For example, if a speaker is rated at IP67, the unit is dustproof and can be submerged in up to one meter (39 inches) of water. A rating of IP66 would mean that the speaker is dustproof and can survive being sprayed with powerful jets of water. The lesser resistance rating of 5 indicates that water sprayed from a quarter-inch nozzle will have no deleterious effect.
Speakers also vary in useful battery time. Many models allow music to be streamed by connecting a device to the speaker with a cable. And generally, the bigger the unit, the richer the sound.
Monster SuperStar BackFloat
Of all the small models tested, this attractively designed, 7-inch-long, rubber-encased unit produced the richest sound. You can plop the $150 speaker in the pool and experience the added benefit of watching water pop out of the floating speaker in sync with the bass—like a miniature version of the fountains at the Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas.
The speaker comes with a carrying bag and charges with a standard USB port. The battery is rated at seven hours of life. Voice confirmation lets you know when the unit is turned on or off. Phone mode allows you to answer an incoming call by pressing the Bluetooth button on the unit.
Philips Shoqbox Mini
This diminutive black speaker—about 4 inches long by 2 inches high—resembles a small hand grenade. Its size leaves the quality of the sound less than optimum, although the volume can be pumped up to an adequate level.
The lightweight Shoqbox ($50) also doubles as a cellphone remote speaker. With an IP water rating of 6, it can withstand splashes, but should not be submerged, although it can float in the pool.
Altec Lansing Life Jacket
This rugged speaker, which costs $112 and looks like a tank tread, will be right at home with your camouflage gear. The Life Jacket pumps out an impressive amount of sound, but the sharpness doesn’t reach that of Monster’s BackFloat.
With an IP67 rating, the Life Jacket is dustproof and submersible. Voice prompts let you know when the unit is on and off while phone numbers from incoming calls are read aloud. Pressing the volume button turns the unit into a speakerphone.
The Life Jacket comes with a mount enabling it to be attached to a surfboard, kayak or bike. While the Life Jacket may be safe when you are out in the ocean, you will still need to find a way to protect your smartphone or tablet from the elements.
Brookstone Big Blue Party
The Big Daddy of outdoor speakers, the Big Blue Party sits vertically and is 16 inches tall. Designed to be placed at the center of the action, the unit contains four full-range speakers, plus a subwoofer. With the speakers placed in every direction, the Big Blue directs sound in every direction. The speaker has an IP water rating of 5, withstanding a spray from a quarter-inch nozzle. Weighing in at 12 pounds, the unit would likely sink quickly if dropped in the water.
It costs $200 and is available only at Brookstone stores.
With its size and combined 72 watts of power, this modern take on a boombox projects sharp, wide-frequency, thumping sound across a large area. The downside is that all that power means that the rechargeable battery lasts just 4 1/2 hours.
Unlike some other models, the Big Blue does not act as a cellphone speaker. While an incoming call silences the speaker, you will need to use your phone to answer the call. Once you are finished talking, the speaker reactivates.
Positioning itself as one of the world’s smallest Bluetooth speakers, the $48 cylindrical Mogics is just 1.6 inches high and 1.45 inches in diameter. The moderate 3 watts of power allows the unit to play via its rechargeable battery for four to six hours.
The Mogics also distinguishes itself with its one-button operation. Depending on how long the button is held down, it will power the unit, change to the next song, answer a phone call or pause.The speaker is magnetic, allowing it to be attached to a metal mast, for example. Rated at IP56, the Mogics comes with a disc that allows it to float on top of the water. In addition, the manufacturer says it can withstand water up to 2 meters in depth for 5 minutes without damage.