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Best Wireless Speakers for Dorm-Room Style

Some of these fun models light up, doubling as accent lamps for campus living

A black wireless speakers on a multi-color background.
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College students (and, of course, their high school siblings) tend to be short on both space and cash, but they're not short on opinions when it comes to dorm-room style. That's where this crop of stylish wireless speakers from Consumer Reports testing comes in.

These models make a strong aesthetic statement while cranking out summer hits such as "High Horse" by Kacey Musgraves. They're perfect speakers for a dorm room. And four of them can double as an accent light that can make studying for Chem 101 just a bit more tolerable.

1
Post-Modern Lava Lamp
JBL Pulse 3
JBL Pulse 3

    JBL Pulse 3

    What looks a little like a lava lamp and plays music really well? Meet the JBL Pulse 3. This Bluetooth speaker channels the look of those groovy 1960s relics but uses LEDs under a plastic dome—instead of heated waxy blobs—for its visual effects. That should make the campus fire marshal happy.

     

    It can also do things that no lava lamp can. You can customize the patterns and colors of its light show through the JBL app, and even match the color palette to a throw pillow or your favorite T-shirt.

     

    The Pulse 3 also performed well in our sound-quality tests, earning a recommendation for its good bass impact and smooth trebles. Stereo pairing is an option, but the Pulse 3 can also be synced with up to 100 other Pulse 3s using JBL's Connect+ protocol. Imagine that party.

     

    JBL claims an IPX7 water-resistance rating for the Pulse 3, which means that it should withstand immersion in up to a meter of water for up to 30 minutes. CR doesn't test speakers for water-resistance, though. No word about how the speaker will stand up to a spilled beer.  

    2
    Just Beat It
    Sony SRS-XB31
    Sony SRS-XB31

      Sony SRS-XB31

      How about a speaker that you can not only play music on but also make music on? The Sony SRS-XB31 features what the company calls a Party Booster, which plays a variety of percussion sounds when you strike the sides and top of the enclosure. So you can play along with the music. The feature wasn't as responsive as it might have been, though, and of course it's more of a fun novelty than a necessity.

       

      The XB31 also features cool lighting effects—a multicolored LED that changes color with the beat, accented by two white strobes. It's a nice look.

       

      The XB31 is recommended by our testers largely on the basis of its sound quality. Though the XB stands for, um, "eXtra bass," that's a bit of a mischaracterization. Our testers found that percussion instruments were reproduced with realistic sharpness and impact, but the deepest bass was limited by the speaker's modest size.

       

      Despite its tweedy fabric covering (available in five colors), the XB31 features an IP67 rating, which means that it should keep out both dust and water to a claimed depth of 1 meter for 30 minutes. (We don't test speakers for water resistance.) That should be sufficient to withstand the rigors of most dorm rooms, even on a Saturday night. 

      3
      Bass-ic Black
      Harman Kardon Onyx Studio 4
      Harman Kardon Onyx Studio 4

        Harman Kardon Onyx Studio 4

        Unlike the other speakers listed here, the Harman Kardon Onyx 4 does not light up. But it does make a striking visual statement with an oversized round shape and "none more black" hue. It looks like a cross between a throw pillow and a giant black M&M. The Harman Kardon logo on the back (which is also a functional part of the speaker) puts on its own little show, vibrating with the beat when you're blasting Beyoncé.

        Our testers liked the way the Onyx sounds, with bass that reached into the lowest registers while providing pop on drums and bass. And while it's not quite as party-friendly as some of the other models in this roundup, at least when it comes to water resistance, the Onyx 4 does play plenty loud.

        If you're interested in the Onyx 4, some savvy shopping could save you serious coin. Though the retail price is a quite spendy $450 on the company's website and at Best Buy, it routinely sells for less than half that. Its current Amazon price is a mere $150. You can put a lot of cash into the Late Night Pizza Fund with the difference.

        4
        A Sibling With Slam
        Sony SRS-XB41
        Sony SRS-XB41

          Sony SRS-XB41

          Sony's SRS-XB21 is the larger sibling of the XB31, which received a Best Buy rating from our testers.The family resemblance does extend to its performance—and that's a good thing.

           

          The XB41 wears the same tweedy covering as the XB31, and Sony claims that it's similarly water-resistant. It can put on an LED light show that syncs to the music and includes Sony's Party Booster feature; if you hit the speaker, it produces percussion sounds that can accent the music.

           

          The major differences between the XB41 and the XB31 are size and sound. The almost foot-long XB41 is significantly larger than the 9-inch XB31, which may or may not be an advantage, depending on the size of the dorm room. The heftier XB41 also plays louder and can pump out more bass, making it just the thing for an impromptu dance party.

           

          After everyone's done studying, that is. 

          5
          Beefy but Below-Average Sound
          BeFree Sound Dual 12" (BFS-4600)
          BeFree Sound Dual 12" (BFS-4600)

            BeFree Sound Dual 12" (BFS-4600)

            Don't let appearance deceive you. The BeFree Sound Dual has the look of a serious piece of public-address equipment, from its massive, knee-high beefy plastic shell to its roller-bag-style wheels and collapsible handle.

             

            The problem, our testers discovered, is that the sound doesn't come close to living up to the speaker's aesthetics. For example, what seems to be a large speaker cone is really just a flashing LED disco light.

             

            Sonically, the BeFree ranked near the bottom of our ratings. Its bass was surprisingly subdued for such a large speaker, and the midrange reproduced voices with a thin and plasticky quality. Our testers also reported that the unit made faint chirping sounds whenever it was on.

             

            The BeFree does include a boatload of features, including a microphone, RCA inputs, and even a wireless remote. But while we all love bells and whistles, the primary job of a speaker is to make music sound great. The BeFree doesn't accomplish that. 

            Allen St. John

            I believe that technology has the power to change our lives—for better or for worse. That's why I’ve spent my life reporting and writing about it for outlets of all sorts, from newspapers (such as the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times) to magazines (Popular Mechanics and Rolling Stone) and even my own books ("Newton’s Football" and "Clapton’s Guitar"). For me, there's no better way to spend a day than talking to a bunch of experts about an important subject and then writing a story that'll help others be smarter and better informed.