Summer seems like the perfect time to introduce portable Bluetooth speakers: people want to hear music anywhere without having to carry or depend upon large sound systems. Three companies have just introduced new compact Bluetooth speakers, two of which are pocketable, while the third is slightly larger, but sounds a bit better for it. JBL’s speaker is called Clip ($50), Logitech’s is X100 ($50), and Braven’s is Mira ($100), the latter first introduced at the 2014 International CES. All three speakers offer speakerphone capabilities in addition to music playback, and have a minimum of five hours of battery life, replenished using included Micro-USB cables. Only Mira comes with an extra accessory — a zippered, water-resistant carrying bag.
Clip may look familiar to some readers, as it’s the successor to the impressive Micro II and Micro Wireless speakers we covered in 2012. Physically, it looks almost identical to those earlier options, handsomely combining metal, plastic, and rubber. A single speaker driver is housed inside a round puck that’s almost 3.5” in diameter. It’s clear this one is made for travel, because as the name suggests, there’s a clip at the top, allowing you to connect the speaker to a bag’s strap or a carabiner.
The raised plastic ring opens along its left side, somewhat limited due to its thickness and 0.3” height, but the feature is still appreciated. Follow the clip clockwise around the perimeter of the speaker and you’ll find volume buttons, an audio input, a Micro-USB port, a small microphone hole, and additional buttons for answering calls, toggling power, and pairing over Bluetooth. All the buttons are flush with the body, but physically depress when pushed. For times when a wired audio connection is needed, there’s an aux cord built into Clip. The plug rests in the back of the speaker when not in use, and the cable is 10.5” long. While it might not be necessary, it’s a nice addition that doesn’t affect the price.
X100 isn’t too dissimilar from Clip, although there are clear aesthetic differences. Measuring 3.35” in diameter, it looks a hint smaller when the speaker’s pointed towards you. Instead of a metallic grille over the front, this one obviously uses plastic, with a perforation pattern that slightly reveals an asymmetrical speaker and port design underneath. The rest of the body is sturdy, but with a rubbery finish, and the thickness is about the same. In our opinion, JBL is the winner in the design department, but not by much, and X100 looks nice enough in its own right.
It also has an attachment option; instead of a clip, there’s a 7” long nylon cord with plastic nubs on either end strung through a raised opening above the driver. The ends physically attach to one another, and while the cord could connect to a wider array of mounting points, the lightly attached ends leave far greater potential for it to fall off accidentally; you’ll have to be cautious using X100 in this way. In addition to the same audio and power ports as Clip, there’s a flush power button, plus discrete volume and Bluetooth buttons. You don’t get an auxiliary audio cable with this unit.
At twice the price, Mira is more than just a larger version of the two other speakers, although it’s not as different as we originally expected. It’s physically larger, measuring 5” from edge to edge. The 1.3”-thick rubberized border has a small flap at the 8:00 position, hiding the aux and charging ports, as well as a reset button. While the grate over the drivers—three little speakers instead of one—is plastic, a handsome brushed aluminum ring around it adds a touch of class.
Buttons are built into the ring. Power and play/pause controls are at the 3:00 position, with volume up and down buttons directly across from them. Instead of a clip, Mira has a hook on the back that serves multiple purposes. It can be used to hang the speaker, but it can also serve as a stand, with a small rubber pad on the bottom of the speaker’s body helping to prevent it from slipping. Of the three, Mira has the longest lasting battery at ten hours, compared to five on the others, and it has one other important feature: it’s IPX5 water resistant, which means that it’s protected against water jets. If you wanted, you could use the hook to hang Mira on your shower head, for example, though you can’t submerge it in water or float it in a bathtub.
We tested the three speakers directly against one another using the same songs. Clip sounds very similar to the earlier JBL Micro speakers it’s based on, which is a good thing. One can’t expect huge sound from a single-driver speaker is such a small package, but it’s quite competent for the hardware and price, producing monaural sound with a respectable balance of highs, mids, and mid-bass given its size. While they’re close, JBL edges out Logitech in audio performance. X100 delivers extremely similar monaural sound to Clip, but Clip has the slightest edge in bass, and gets a little louder as well. Both have integrated microphones for phone calls, and work well, but Clip’s sounded just a little more natural.
The Braven Mira speaker, with its extra drivers, larger size, and higher price, should sound better, and it does. It can be turned up a step louder than Clip, delivering crisper highs and stronger bass, but it’s much more similar to the other two speakers than we would have expected: Clip and X100 offer about 85 percent of Mira’s sonic performance at half the price. Mira also had the least impressive speakerphone performance by a small margin, sounding a bit more mechanical than the other two. Still, calls through Mira were totally intelligible. It’s also the only one of the three with stereo separation, as narrow as it may be.
Of these three speakers, the best performer for the price is Clip, earning our A- rating. It’s nicer-looking than its predecessors, with the addition of the clip, better controls, and speakerphone adding to the value, while maintaining audio fidelity. That said, there have been some major improvements in budget-priced Bluetooth speakers since Micro Wireless was released, which is why Clip warrants the same rating. JBL’s integrated aux cable, stronger clip, and a better industrial design also elevate it over X100, which comes in at a B+. It’s totally competent, and would make a good choice if Clip isn’t available, but it doesn’t offer anything JBL’s speaker doesn’t, and the sound isn’t quite as strong. Some of our editors also strongly preferred the industrial design of Clip. Then there’s Braven’s Mira, which also earns our B+ rating and strong general recommendation. While the sound isn’t twice as good to match the higher price, it does certainly sound better, and has some nicer design elements. The water resistance is a key factor in the rating. Knowing it can be splashed certainly adds to the value, especially if it’s going to be used around the pool or in a safe corner of a shower.
Company and Price
Compatibility: All Bluetooth-Equipped iPads, iPhones, iPods