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people gathered around a grill at a tailgate party

Best (and Biggest) Portable Speakers for Tailgating

If your idea of nirvana is a football stadium parking lot on the weekend, here's your perfect outdoor audio system

Summer days may be dwindling to a precious few, but for some sports fans that means only one thing: the beginning of the NFL and college football seasons. Which also means the beginning of tailgating season. 

In parking lots and campus gathering spots all across America, tailgating has become a sport unto itself as enthusiastic fans engage in friendly competition to throw the biggest and best shindig before the big game. 

And what's a party without great sound? Here's a selection of wireless Bluetooth speakers that can fill the great outdoors with music, your favorite team's pregame show, or even the dulcet baritone of NFL Films legend John Facenda

Despite their throwback boom-box-style handles, these tailgate speakers tend to be bulky and heavy—not ideal for a leisurely stroll about town. But with audio, more mass often equals superior sound quality.

"The Braventhe JBL, and the Monster played louder than most of the wireless speakers in our ratings," says Elias Arias, the head of CR's wireless speaker testing program. "But all the speakers in this roundup featured admirable sound quality, and that should be enough to earn them a place in your home after the game."

These five standouts have been tested by Consumer Reports to evaluate sound quality, ease of use, and versatility using thorough and repeatable procedures in our labs. And, as always, we purchase all of our test samples anonymously from retail sources and never accept freebies from manufacturers.

1
Our Portable Sound-Quality Champ
Braven BRV-XXL
Braven BRV-XXL

    Braven BRV-XXL

    Our highest-rated portable speaker is a testament to how sheer mass can have an impact on sound quality in a positive way. The aptly named XXL weighs a spine-twisting 19 pounds, and the result is a speaker that's a sonic heavyweight, the only portable model in our current ratings to earn a Very Good in sound quality.

     

    The Braven's bass goes very deep but it's not tubby or flabby. And the crucial midrange—the section of the sonic spectrum where most vocals and solo instruments reside—is surprisingly delicate and detailed.

     

    With its rubberized surfaces, heavy-duty construction and sturdy grill protecting the speaker drivers, the XXL exudes a military-spec vibe. While it looks like it can deal with any abuse that tailgaters can dish out, the speaker is only splashproof, not fully waterproof, according to the manufacturer. Just keep that in mind if you want it to do double duty by the pool.

    2
    The Boom Box Reborn
    JBL Boombox
    JBL Boombox

      JBL Boombox

      The JBL Boombox is another stylish, modern update of the giant beat boxes that the cool kids—and LL Cool J—carried around in the 1980s and '90s. But while those behemoths ate D-cell batteries like the competitive eater Joey Chestnut downs Nathan's hot dogs, the Boombox features a huge 20,000 mAh battery that's claimed to be good for 24 hours of music. And instead of the cassettes that would warble and occasionally self-destruct, this new-school Boombox streams smoothly from your phone via Bluetooth.

       

      But if there's any common ground between the JBL and the music players you'd find in an old MTV video, it's the sheer volume of the Boombox's bass. This speaker will rattle the walls. And that's not necessarily a good thing. 

       

      While our testers gave the Boombox a solid score for sound quality, they added that the bass can be "overwhelming" with some content, adding that the JBL would have scored higher if the low end was tamed a bit. That means it's less than great, say, sitting on your desk in a small office. But its bass impact might be just the thing to play the Penn State fight song in all its turf-rumbling glory.

      3
      An Urbane Alternative
      Monster SuperStar Monster Blaster
      Monster SuperStar Monster Blaster

        Monster SuperStar Monster Blaster

        The Monster SuperStar Blaster can almost be called the city cousin of the Braven BRV-XXL. While big and beefy by portable-speaker standards, it's smaller and lighter than the Braven. The sleek stying is flashier than that of the ruggedized XXL, too. 

         

        Our testers thought the Monster's sound quality fell a tad short of the Braven as well, although it remains one of the best-sounding portables we've tested. The bass is a bit boomy and the midrange is slightly edgy and metallic, but the speaker provides more than enough volume even in a large room. Or the great outdoors. 

         

        The speaker's controls are a little easier to use than the Braven's but also a little less flexible. The Monster has indoor and outdoor modes instead of the Braven's individual bass and treble controls. The Monster also features easy NFC device pairing. (That's near field communication, not National Football Conference, gridiron fans.)

        4
        Small but Mighty
        JLab Audio Block Party
        JLab Audio Block Party

          JLab Audio Block Party

          Minimalism. It's not a concept you'd usually associate with the glorious excess of the tailgating ritual. But even tailgaters have limitations when it comes to space and budget. Which brings us to the JLab Audio Block Party, which features compact cubic styling that borders on the delicate. At first glance, the Block Party seems a bit out of place compared with the behemoths in this roundup.

           

          But don't be fooled by appearances. The Block Party plays surprisingly loud even outdoors, although its bass is a bit limited by the modest size of the enclosure. The petite dimensions make the speaker ideal for a tailgating situation where space is at a premium, and the device, which the manufacturer claims is splashproof but not fully waterproof, is protected in the back of a station wagon or an SUV rather than out in the open. 


          Given the speaker's modest dimensions and $150 price, you've got the option of buying a several Block Parties and syncing them for something like surround sound in a parking lot.

          5
          Carry It Like a Kettlebell
          Kicker Bullfrog Jump
          Kicker Bullfrog Jump

            Kicker Bullfrog Jump

            If you're going to be actually carrying your tailgating speaker any distance, the Kicker Bullfrog could be the model for you. With its unusual vertical design and ergonomic handle, the Bullfrog is a solid midsized alternative. Heck, it almost looks like a kettlebell you'd find in a gym, an object that all-but-insists you pick it up. (Although swing your Kicker at your own risk.)

            The Kicker features speakers that fire front and rear for a wider soundfield, although our testers noted that the bass didn't go as low as it did on larger models. The company claims that the Bullfrog is well-sealed against water and dust and protected from drops, although CR didn't confirm that because we don't put speakers through durability testing.

             

            One especially useful feature for tailgating: The Bullfrog offers a built-in FM tuner, perfect for listening to pregame predictions and postgame analysis in Parking Lot A. 

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            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.