Summer is a time for outdoor parties, wherever possible -- be it the beach, rooftop, courtyard or front stoop. And with traditional boomboxes having gone the way of the dodo, you'll need something else to blast your digital music. We've rounded up some of our favorite portable speaker options on the market. All are iPod and iPhone compatible (with shielded speakers to prevent interference), have AUX-in to support any MP3 player with a headphone jack, and are battery powered, enabling you to load it on your ten-speed, and be the life of the pool party.
The biggest hitter in our roundup is the Bose SoundDock. Right off the bat, this thing bumps. In terms of bass and sheer aural punch, the SoundDock was the most impressive unit we tested, filling the room with its single speaker. Of course, it doesn't come cheap; $400 is a lot of coin for a system meant to be used outside the protected confines of your living room. However, it's a very well constructed unit, and feels like it can take its share of knocks. The rotating dock disappears for easier transit, and the molded handle makes it easy to carry. That being said, however, it's still a rather bulky, heavy unit. The rechargeable lithium-ion battery provides more power and longer playing time than most other rechargeable batteries. It's a good option if you've got the cash, and a car/large bag/horse and carriage with which to carry it.
Philips's newly launched Fidelio line of iPod docks includes the DS7550, its most portable offering (and the most portable of all the "dock" style units we tested). While not exactly capable of producing booming sound, it gets the job done well for its size, and the built-in rechargeable battery provides up to eight hours of playback time. The speaker dock works with the free Fidelio+ app, which provides such niceties as a digital/analog clock display, multiple alarms and sleep timer options. The dock charges your iPhone/iPod, and comes with its own neoprene carrying case (including a pocket for the AC adapter). The iPod USB connector feels a bit flimsy, but it's an otherwise solid little package that easily slips into a shoulder bag.
Web: The Apple Store
Altec Lansing inMotion Classic
In terms of features, Altec Lansing's inMotion Classic has a lot going for it. Its sound quality is very good, and the rechargeable battery provides roughly five hours of playtime. The built-in handle swings back to serve as a kickstand, and tucks away when it's time to pack things up. It comes with a handy remote, and the slim design is impressively portable. Oh, and it may seem like a small thing, but Altec Lansing's inclusion of an FM tuner makes a big difference; a retractable antenna and high-contrast LCD display allow you choose one of four preset stations. The unit itself feels somewhat plastic-y and a bit light for its size (great for toting around, though more susceptible to damage), but otherwise it's a handy and versatile little bugger, and easily one of the best we tested.
Grace Eco Extreme
Although there are clearly some performance trade-offs, the Eco Extreme is by far the most durable portable speaker option we tested. Essentially, the door opens up to reveal an insulated pocket for your iPod/iPhone/MP3 player, into which you plug the headphone cable. Then, just clamp the door shut. The rubberized body is waterproof, making this a great case to bring to the beach or swimming pool (or, for that matter, into the shower), and its detachable carabiner allows you to clip it to your backpack or belt for hiking soundtracks. The speaker output is just 3 watts, but it's enough to get the point across, and is plenty louder than your iPhone's built-in speaker. The Eco Extreme requires three AAA batteries (for up to 30 hours of battery life), and is available in black, blue or orange.
When your number one priority is sturdiness, a good rule of thumb is to buy the device made by the company known for its power tools. It's telling that one of the images on the PB360S's packaging is an illustration of the unit falling down a flight of stairs; this is a speaker system built for abuse, and our tests (as well as some YouTube videos) confirm its durability. (It has roll bars!) But, as you can see in the photos, the PB360 has a lot more going for it, including a staggering array of inputs and connections. There's the weather-sealed media bay for your MP3 player, which includes AUX-IN and USB ports, as well as a slot for SD and MMC memory cards. In addition to the built-in power cord, there are four GFCI-protected, 120-volt AC outlets, a 12-volt DC cigarette outlet for powering your other devices, and an antenna for FM radio. There's an entirely separate compartment for Bosch Lithium Ion batteries (not included, but required for true off-the-grid portability), and an onboard equalizer for tweaking your tunes. The sound quality is strong (and even stronger for an extra $50 in its cousin, the 360D), making this an utter beast of a machine.
Logitech Pure-Fi Anywhere 2
Given its size, Logitech's Pure-Fi Anywhere 2 sounds excellent. The device houses four speaker drivers (not to mention a 10-hour rechargeable battery) inside its rectangular body, and, even at full volume, doesn't fail to impress. Its flip-out metal feet folds inward for storage, and the included carrying case (with space for the AC adapter and included remote control) makes travel quick and easy. Oh, and Logitech includes an absolute bevy of dock adapters that fit every iPod and iPhone under the sun. The Pure-Fi Anywhere 2 is considered by many to be the top of the pops when it comes to portable music docks, and it's clearly on our shortlist.
Look familiar? The iP46 is iHome's attempt to replicate the general look and feel (and, it hopes, popularity) of Logitech's Pure-Fi Anywhere 2, right down to its shape, folding feet, and 10-hour rechargeable battery. The major difference comes in the dock itself, which pops out of the unit to reveal the iPod connection -- perhaps for the worse, in fact, as the pop-out piece of plastic feels a bit flimsy. Still, in terms of sound, the iP46 rivals Logitech's entry, with impressive bass and relatively little distortion -- although it should be noted that the Pure-Fi reached a higher peak volume, and produced richer sound, overall. If the shape seems right for you, it ultimately comes down to price and brand. iHome's model costs 30 bucks less, but comes with neither remote nor carrying case, and the Logitech edges it out in terms of sound quality. Still, in terms of bang for the buck, the iP46 is tough to beat.