The iPod-specific speaker market has grown by leaps and bounds over the past several years, and there are now options at every price point from $30 to over $400. To make speaker selection easier for our readers, we’ve distinguished four broad categories of options, and rated new releases within the context of those options.
Ultra-Portable Speakers can fit into a pocket – either alone or with an iPod attached. Their sound quality is typically not fantastic, but their convenience factor is high, and their pricing (under $50) is attractive for one- or two-person simultaneous listening. These speakers generally run off of disposable batteries and do not mount or charge the iPod while playing music.
Portable Speakers can fit in a medium-sized bag or briefcase, and typically step up significantly in both sound quality and price ($100-330) from ultra-portables. All portable speakers run off of batteries, and most also run off of wall power, as well, enabling them to be used at home or anywhere you travel outside. The best of these speakers include iPod-charging docks, rechargeable batteries and remote controls.
We use the term Semi-Portable Speakers to refer to most of the all-in-one iPod docking speaker systems that either cannot fit in a briefcase, or do not run off of battery power, but can be easily carried around a house or office. They all run off of wall power, and commonly – but not always – have better sound quality than the portables. They generally range in price from $70 to $300, and are capable of recharging the docked iPod, and sometimes also serving as full-time speakers for non-iPod devices as well.
Finally, Non-Portable Speakers are those that are too large to frequently move around – you buy them, put them in one place, and keep them there. They do not run off of batteries, and frequently do not include iPod docks – you buy one separately. But they generally offer two advantages over smaller alternatives: they sound better and deliver more power for the dollar. Even though they range in price from around $100 to over $400, a sub-$100 non-portable system often sounds better than a $200-$300 portable one.
As a general rule, it’s not necessarily true that you get a better speaker for a higher price. We strongly recommend top non-portable speakers as the best on value, top semi-portable speakers as the best on ease of installation and use, and top portable speakers as appropriate mostly for people who really travel around with their iPods. Ultra-portable speakers are best for budget-conscious and/or younger listeners. You can check out all of our Speaker reviews here.