Music is the great enhancer. No matter where you are or what you're doing, virtually everything is better with a song. With that sentiment in mind, we've put together a list of some of our favorite speakers and portable music players. With each device, we've also included a song recommendation—just a handful of tracks we've been listening to a lot lately. Hope you enjoy!
Sonos Move 2
Last fall, Sonos released the Move 2, the follow-up to the original Move speaker, which first debuted in 2019. Like its predecessor, reviews for the Move 2 have been positive, with an emphasis on the overall sound quality and improved soundstage. However, what we really love about the Move 2 is its versatility. Not just its physical versatility (which is a definite plus), but the fact that it sounds great no matter the genre of music or listening environment. The secret behind the Move 2's versatility is its automatic Trueplay feature, which continuously optimizes the audio quality based on the type of music you're listening to and the unique acoustics of your listening environment. If you're someone whose playlists swing eclectically from genre to genre, from Dr. Dog to Dr. Dre, the Move 2 is a great portable player, one that can keep up with your varying tastes and preferences.
Song Recommendation: "This Year" by the Mountain Goats. Front man John Darnielle once described the Mountain Goats' signature sound as "cheerful desolation," the strangely hopeful idea that when things have gotten so bad, there's nowhere to go but up. For anyone who's going through a tough time or has their back against a wall, "This Year" is a perfect anthem, one that urges you to hold on, to persevere, and to look ahead toward a better future.
Bose® QuietComfort Ultra™ Wireless Headphones
Excellent sound quality, unrivaled active noise cancelling (ANC), a 24-hour battery, and superior comfort helped put the Bose® new QuietComfort Ultra™ Wireless Headphones in the running for our favorite pair of over-ear headphones. What sealed the deal was the inclusion of Bose's CustomTune technology, which allows the QC Ultras to adjust sound performance automatically based on the unique shape of your ear. This creates a customized listening experience that's tailored and optimized specifically to you. What can we say? We like the attention.
Song Recommendation: "Fearmonger" by Saba. Saba's funky, retro-tinged rumination on fears, finances, and the trauma that comes from living through generational poverty is, despite its emotional weight, a bright and bouncy jam with a nod-inducing hook that's impossible to ignore.
JBL Authentics 500 Wireless Home Speaker
The JBL Authentics 500 is currently one of the best smart speakers available. This premium 3.1-channel speaker features built-in support for Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant. You can even use both voice assistants simultaneously, which is something we didn't even know was possible. In addition to its smart-speaker functionality, the Authentics 500 boasts a very stylish retro design, excellent soundstage, and a mile-long feature list that includes virtual Dolby Atmos support, built-in Wi-Fi, and an automatic calibration tool for sound optimization—all of which helped it stand out among the very crowded, very competitive smart speaker category.
Song Recommendation: "Paragraph President" by Blackalicious. Sadly, in 2021, we lost Timothy "Gift of Gab" Parker, one half of the alt rap duo Blackalicious and inarguably one of the most gifted MCs of all time. He combined his absolute mastery of the English language with fearless rhyme schemes and rhetorical effects, sliding gracefully from one intricate phrase or pattern to the next, never losing his verbal footing. Evidence of Parker's brilliance can be heard throughout Blackalicious's catalog, and especially on songs like "Alphabet Aerobics" and our personal favorite: "Paragraph President."
SHOKZ OpenFit True Wireless Earbuds
The SHOKZ OpenFit True Wireless Earbuds are our new go-to headphones for working out. They're comfortable. They're secure. Their open-ear design doesn't totally block out background noise, which we prefer during a workout and especially on a run. Best of all, these buds offer the kind of bass-thumping, adrenaline-fueling sound quality you need to help power you through your workout. Add their water-resistant design and 7-hour battery life, and it's easy to see why we love them.
Song Recommendation: "Who We Be" by DMX. One of the greatest hype songs of all time, "Who We Be" by DMX is like epinephrine for your ears. The sound of X's gravelly voice rapping breathlessly over a raw, relentless beat is guaranteed to help power you through that next set or one last mile.
Bose® Home Speaker™ 500
When it comes to home audio, few brands are as trusted as Bose®. Its 50-plus-year catalog of audio equipment includes some of the finest speakers ever made—among them, the Home Speaker™ 500. We first reviewed the Home Speaker™ 500 in 2018 and it's still one of our favorite portable speakers, thanks in part to its surprisingly large soundstage and not-so-surprising sound quality. We also loved the overall design, which features a front-facing LCD that shows the album artwork of whatever song is currently playing.
Song Recommendation: "Bottom" by TOOL. There are hype songs and then there are songs that will make you run through a (expletive) wall. Like many tracks from TOOL's incredible 30-year catalog, this song is the latter. Featuring an incredible vocal performance from MJK and one of Adam Jones's most atomizing guitar riffs, "Bottom" is a raw, relentless, piledriver of a song that'll put gas in your veins and fire in your soul. Careful you don't explode.
Amazon Echo Studio
Truth be told: When I think about the Amazon Echo, sound quality isn't the first thing that comes to mind. But that's only because it does so many other, non-music-related things really well, from ordering groceries or takeout to answering the majority of my everyday queries competently. In fact, it's such a handy device, it's easy to forget that the Echo isn't just smart, it's a smart speaker. The Echo can definitely fill a decent-size room with good sound, and the bass production makes it great for a party or at-home workout.
Song Recommendation: "The Curse" by Josh Ritter. Ritter is generally regarded as one of the greatest songwriters of his generation, and tracks like "The Curse" are good reasons why. In it, Ritter tells the story of a reanimated Egyptian mummy who falls in love with the archaeologist who discovers him. It's the sort of romantic narrative that only Ritter could pull off, an enchanting ballad that captivates and delights—right up to the moment it breaks your heart.
Ultimate Ears EPICBOOM
If you're in the market for a portable Bluetooth speaker that functions great indoors and outside, might we recommend the Ultimate Ears EPICBOOM? With sound that's as big as its all-caps moniker, the EPICBOOM is a must-have for any barbecue or pool party (don't worry, it's water resistant and it floats). It doesn't have the same bells and whistles as a smart speaker, but that's not why you want this speaker. You want the EPICBOOM because you can take it anywhere, it's super durable, and, most of all, it is capital L-O-U-D loud. And we're not just talking volume for volume's sake. Crank it all the way up and you're still going to get rich, full sound with deep bass that will make the whole park vibrate.
Song Recommendation: "Caribou Lou" by Tech N9ne. Inspired by KCMO's signature cocktail, "Caribou Lou" features Tech at his finest, chopping cleverly constructed lyrics and syllable-saturated bars over a fast and frenetic beat. Like the drink that inspired it, "Caribou Lou" is great at a house party, barbecue, or anywhere there's a dance floor. Unfortunately, you can no longer enjoy a Caribou Lou (something about its key ingredient being "overly flammable" and people accidentally "setting themselves on fire" allegedly caused its discontinuation), however, you can (and should) enjoy this ode to the legendary cocktail today.
Got a speaker or song recommendation? Drop us a line and tell us what we should be listening to.