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Best (and Biggest) Portable Speakers for Tailgating

If your idea of nirvana is a football stadium parking lot on the weekend, here are top picks for an outdoor audio system

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

In campus gathering spots and parking lots 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 and 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

These tailgate speakers tend to be bulky and heavy, and thus not ideal for a leisurely stroll about town. But with audio, more mass often equals superior sound quality.

"The 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 for sound quality, ease of use, and versatility using thorough and repeatable procedures in our labs. We purchase all of our test samples anonymously from retail sources and never accept freebies from manufacturers.

1
The Boom Box Reborn
JBL Boombox
JBL Boombox

    JBL Boombox

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

     

    If there's 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. But that's not necessarily a good thing. 

     

    While our testers give the Boombox a solid score for sound quality, they add that the bass can be overwhelming with some music. The JBL would have scored higher if the bass wasn't so overwhelming. The Boombox might be less than great sitting on your desk in a small office, but its extreme bass impact might be just the thing to play the Penn State fight song in the parking lot on a Saturday afternoon.

    2
    An Urbane Alternative
    Monster SuperStar Monster Blaster
    Monster SuperStar Monster Blaster

      Monster SuperStar Monster Blaster

      The Monster SuperStar Blaster is big and beefy by portable-speaker standards, but with relatively low-key styling.

       

      Our testers found the Monster's bass a bit boomy, with good sound overall. And the Monster provides enough volume to fill a large room or the area around a grill and lawn chairs outside.

       

      The speaker's controls are quite easy to use but they're a little less flexible than some of its competitors'. For example, instead of individual bass and treble controls, the Monster has indoor and outdoor modes that tailor the bass response to the surroundings. 

      3
      Big Speaker, Low Price
      Ion Tailgater Sport
      Ion Tailgater Sport

        Ion Tailgater Sport

        The Ion Tailgater Sport is proof that in audio, size matters. This beefy block of a speaker, about a foot in each dimension, uses its considerable mass to produce impressive sound.  


        The Tailgater Sport is well-suited for pumping out tunes between the grill and the cooler. The sound lacks a little nuance and detail compared with what you'll get from the very best wireless speakers, but if you're blasting music in a parking lot, that's not as important as sheer volume. And that's what this speaker delivers.

         

        Our testers also give this modestly priced speaker high marks for its versatility and ease of use. It boasts a large and well-labeled volume knob, and it includes a microphone input and the mic itself. That makes it easy to do DJ honors or channel your inner sportscaster.

        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 of space and budget. Which brings us to the JLab Audio Block Party, which features compact cubic styling that borders on the delicate. 

           

          But don't be fooled by appearances. The Block Party pumps out surprisingly loud sound, although its bass is a bit limited by the modest size of the enclosure. 


          Given the modest dimensions and relatively low price, you've got the option of buying a couple of Block Party speakers and syncing them by Bluetooth for something like surround-sound in a parking lot. And when the game is over, use them at home for a versatile multiroom system.

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

            Kicker Bullfrog Jump

            If you'll be carrying your tailgating speaker any distance, the Kicker Bullfrog could be the model for you, thanks to its unusual vertical design and ergonomic handle. It kind of looks like a kettlebell you'd find in a gym—but swing your Kicker at your own risk.

            The Kicker features speakers that fire front and rear for a wider soundfield, but our testers noted that the bass didn't go as low as on some larger models. The company claims that the Bullfrog is well-sealed against water and dust and protected from drops, claims that CR hasn't confirmed.

             

            One feature that's especially useful for tailgating: The Bullfrog includes a built-in FM tuner, making it easy to listen to pregame predictions and postgame analysis in Parking Lot A. 

            96
            Wireless & Bluetooth Speakers Rated
            Access Ratings
            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.