A Portable Speaker Buying Guide

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A Portable Speaker Buying Guide

Portable speakers are any of a variety of speakers that either run on batteries or take power from their source such as a computer via a USB port. Varieties include portable radios, mini speakers, miniature docks intended for playing music from an MP3 player or iPod, or for connecting to a laptop on the go. Most portable speakers, also called personal compact speakers, are powered or active speakers with built-in amplifiers, usually containing active crossovers with multi-layer drives for a wider range of sound. Usually subwoofer, woofer, and tweeter multi-drive speakers are only seen in the highest quality portable speakers, but are still sometimes available in mid-range brands as well.

Portable speakers can be purchased in most electronics stores, some toy shops and novelty stores, from online stores, and on eBay. Anyone interested in buying portable speakers should decide what they are looking for based on budget, requirements, features, and power options as listed here.

What are Powered Speakers?

All personal speakers are powered speakers, meaning that they power and amplify themselves. A passive loudspeaker must be plugged into an external amplifier before use, which is neither convenient nor probable for a portable speaker. Powered speakers have the amplifier and a crossover built into the design so that they can play audio themselves after being connected to a radio, MP3 player, iPod, or computer. Higher-end versions of powered speakers are labelled as integrated active systems. They offer a slightly higher quality of audio than standard powered loudspeakers due to a built-in multi-amplifier system with a series of active crossovers, which lower distortion and noise during playback. Integrated active systems are probably the best type of system for concert quality sound.

Different Types of Portable Speakers

Portable speakers range in design and intended purpose. For example, a portable speaker dock is meant to be plugged into an MP3 player or iPod, while a bike speaker is intended to be clipped on a bike. Choosing a type of portable speaker should be based on the intended use, as well as the audio medium, such as iPod, MP3 player, or computer.

Speaker Docks

A speaker dock features a large body with an insert port for either an MP3 player or an iPod. Some speaker docks are built for only one model of player, while others can be modified using fittings so that various players can be used in the dock. Docks can range from very cheap models with poor sound quality to options that cost a great deal but offer studio-quality sound. Many people purchase speaker docks for home and portable use, because higher-end varieties can often be plugged into an existing home audio system to play music without draining player’s batteries. Speaker docks usually offer battery or wall plug power options, or a combination of the two.

Laptop Speakers

Laptop speakers may or may not be portable, depending on their power source. Standard laptop speakers that require a live power plug are not portable. Portable laptop speakers are powered via a USB port on the laptop and usually drain a minimum of power in order to last for longer without draining the computer’s battery. However, the louder the volume of the speakers, the faster the battery drains. Portable laptop speakers range in price and quality, but are limited in quality by the sound card in the laptop. Considerations include the drivers, bass and ultra-bass functions, any on-off buttons, and built-in volume control.

Standard Portable Speakers

Also named box speakers, circle speakers, cube speakers, and speaker boxes, the standard portable speaker is traditionally small enough to be held in one hand, but can be as large as a small radio. Portable speakers come in different shapes and sizes, with different functions including dual speakers, various audio inputs, different colours, volume control, and more. Most people find that higher-quality portable speakers offer better sound quality, but for outdoor use, a cheaper set is acceptable as well, due to loss of acoustics.

Novelty Speakers

Novelty speakers are generally poor quality but fun to have and to use. These include everything from television- or media-themed speakers, to specific examples such as the Pringles chips brand lid speaker which fits over a can of their speakers. Variations include everything from waterproof to animal-shaped speakers, mostly produced for entertainment or novelty purposes. Most music lovers find that the quality of novelty speakers is too low for truly appreciating music; however, novelty speakers make excellent gifts, party favours, and are great for adding a bit of entertainment to any setting.

Pocket Speakers

Pocket speakers are simply any portable speaker designed to fit into a pocket, usually a jean or T-shirt pocket. Pocket speakers come in a range of qualities but are generally quite small and, therefore, on the lower quality range. Pocket speakers can also be wireless to avoid the need for cords, but may also have a headphone or audio port jack for anyone who does not have a Bluetooth device.

Bluetooth Speakers

Bluetooth portable speakers can include any of the options above, and may or may not also include audio port options such as USB or standard audio jack. Bluetooth speakers can be used with any compatible Bluetooth audio device to stream music wirelessly to the speakers, which is excellent for anyone who either does not like cables and cords, or who does not want to leave their audio player sitting on top of or next to speakers. Bluetooth speakers are usually considered more convenient than other types of speakers, but can be pricier due to their relatively new technology.

Small vs. Medium Portable Speakers

Many people prefer to purchase small portable speakers for transportation reasons, but medium speakers for audio quality reasons. While it is true that it is easier to transport a pocket speaker or one that can fit into the hands, the smaller a speaker is, the lower the quality the audio. For this reason, many high-end portable speakers are the size of a small radio or provided as dock stations which have more room for audio. Most people choose to balance size and quality concerns by choosing a mid-range size, but many people also just choose the size they want and the price they can afford. Some small speakers can offer very high quality audio, while not being able to get very loud. Others offer louder sound, but lower quality audio. A large portable speaker should be able to sufficiently offer both qualities.

Guide to Speaker Specifications

Anyone buying portable speakers should check the specifications for the dimensions and capabilities of the portable speakers. Most electronics stores also allow potential buyers to listen to the speakers in order to determine quality, but this is not always possible, especially not with online options. Buyers can find most specifications on the back label of the box, or on the Internet description.




L × W × H (length by width by height)

Net Weight

The weight of the speaker out of the box, usually specified in grams (g)


Size of speaker in mm/ohm(Ω) and power rating in watts (W)


Amp output in watts (W) should be matched to play device output

Rating Power

Frequency rating measured in Hertz (Hz)

Frequency Response

The frequency rating usually measured in watts (W)

Signal to Noise

Noise level, measured in decibels (dB)


Lost quality, measured in per cent (%)

Playback Time

For battery speakers, measured in hours (h)


Battery voltage and charging, measured in volts (V) and hours (h)


Audio or USB jack

Depending on the origin of the portable speaker, it might have different terms listed, but these are the most common. Most users can check these specifications to determine the volume, power, and dimensions of the device, all of which are important to making a purchase decision. Many budget portable speakers do not actually list any specifications, but these can likely be assumed to be very low anyway. Speakers can also run on a variety of battery sources including AA, AAA, and internal batteries that charge when the device is plugged in.

Buying Portable Speakers on eBay

eBay is home to a large selection of portable speakers including budget options and high-end designer styles. You should determine your budget in advance based on how much you are willing to spend, how often you use the portable speakers, and what quality you need from the speakers. For most uses, mid-range speakers are ideal because they offer the best sound quality at the most affordable price. Most audiophiles may be disappointed in any but the highest range of portable speakers, and should definitely look for a larger option.

Once you have decided what you are looking for, you can visit the home page of eBay and type in your search. Popular portable speakers include iLuv portable speakers, iPod docks, Bose portable speaker, or SoundScience QSB speakers. Once you have found a pair of speakers you like, you can ask the seller any questions you like or make your purchase. The cost of shipping and the shipping time are important considerations, and most buyers should remember that local sellers ship speakers more quickly than international sellers.


Portable speakers are any type of powered speaker with a built in amplifier and active crossover. Portable speakers can be small or large and offer either very cheap or very high quality audio playback, but most are somewhere in between. Portable speakers can be made with a variety of different designs such as made specifically to be played with one media player, made to clip onto a bike, fit into a pocket, or even as a portable docking station for MP3 players or iPods.

Interested buyers can find portable speakers in electronics stores, online stores such as eBay, and sometimes in toy and novelty stores. Purchase decisions should be made using budget, function, feature, quality, and compatibility specifications, most of which can be found on the back of the box, or on the website description. Many users also take the size into consideration for transport vs. audio quality considerations, and for most, the number and quality of drivers inside is a big decision-making factor.

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