Like many people, music is the lifeblood of my day. Whether I’m waking up, working out, riding the subway to work, or just taking a stroll, everything is better when there’s a soundtrack. To celebrate my love of music, I’ve put together a list of some of my favorite portable audio players. With each device, I’ve included a song recommendation, just a handful of personal favorites I’ve been listening to a lot lately. Hope you enjoy.
In 2019, Sonos released its very first portable speaker: the Move. Across the board, reviews for the Move have been positive, with particular emphasis on the exceptional sound quality. As an owner, I can attest to that high quality, but what I really love about the Move is its versatility. Not its physical versatility (which is a definite plus), but the fact that it sounds great across a wide range of genres and at different volume settings, something you don’t find in a lot of portable Bluetooth speakers. If you’re like me, someone whose playlists jump wildly from genre to genre, from Alabama to Alabama Shakes, the Move is a great portable speaker solution because it can accommodate the gamut of musical 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. That might be the perfect sentiment for the COVID era, and This Year might be the perfect anthem.
Shure AONIC 50
Although the primary focus of this list is sound quality, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t love everything about the AONIC 50’s aesthetic. Those big, synthetic leather-wrapped earcups, the stitched headband and aluminum yokes. They look so good—especially in the dark brown color variant (also available in black). And what’s more, the AONIC 50’s looks are equal to its sound production, which is exceptional. Regardless of song or genre, the AONIC 50 headphones deliver faithful audio with full, clear sound and nice, round bass. Combined with those big, luxurious earcups and ultra-comfy headband, you get a sound experience akin to wrapping yourself up in a weighted blanket.
Song Recommendation: Sunday Candy by Donnie Trumpet & The Social Experiment with Chance the Rapper. Part gospel, part funk, part hip-hop, Sunday Candy is an amalgam of musical influences joined together into a single motif: familial love. Specifically, Chance’s unabashed love for his grandmother, which shines through in every soulful verse and energetic rap. Few songs in the world are as unrepentantly joyous as Sunday Candy, and I can’t think of one that inspires me more to be a better son, a better grandson, and a better person.
Apple HomePod mini
Like its full-size predecessor, the HomePod mini is one of the best smart speakers available. It uses a sophisticated array of sensors and advanced processing technology to deliver 360 degrees of immersive, room-filling sound and features a full suite of Siri-backed smart functions that allow you to do everything from sending a text or intercom message to managing the other devices in your smart home network, such as the lights, thermostat, and more. Those features and more make the HomePod mini a worthy inclusion on our list, but if I’m being totally honest, what I love most about the HomePod mini is that it looks like a very expensive and futuristic candle. I don’t even need it to play music. I just like to look at it.
Song Recommendation: Tilted by Christine and the Queens. While music in general tends to perk me up, this song is my panacea. At its core, Tilted is about embracing your flaws and imperfections, accepting who you are—not with resignation, but pride. Whenever I’m feeling down, this song always lifts me up.
Beats by Dre Powerbeats Pro
The Powerbeats Pro remains my go-to headphones for when I want to exercise. They’re comfortable. They’re secure. They don’t have that annoying connector cable that drives me insane. Best of all, they offer the kind of bass-thumping, adrenaline-fueling sound quality I need to get me through all of my workouts. Add to all that their waterproof design (good against rain or sweat) and 9-hour battery life, and it’s easy to see why I love them.
Song Recommendation: Who We Be by DMX. Every athlete has a hype song, something that turns them up before a game. For me, it’s always been DMX’s Who We Be. X’s gravelly voice rapping breathlessly over the relentless beat has pushed me through more workouts than I can count. If I’m struggling through an exercise, be it a final set or last mile, this is the song that gets me to the other side.
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. I reviewed the Home Speaker™ 500 shortly after its 2018 release and quickly fell in love with its surprisingly large soundstage and a not-so-surprising sound quality. I was also impressed with its overall design, which features a front-facing LCD that shows the album artwork of whatever song is currently playing. Not everyone loved that LCD, though. For them, I usually recommend the Home Speaker™ 300, which features all the great sound features and smart functionality of the Home Speaker™ 500, minus the color display.
Song Recommendation: Paragraph President by Blackalicious. Sadly, last month 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 my personal favorite: Paragraph President.
Amazon Echo 4th Gen
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 competently answering the majority of my everyday queries. 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 Temptation of Adam by Josh Ritter. Ritter is generally regarded as one of the greatest songwriters of his generation, and tracks like The Temptation of Adam are good reasons why. In it, Ritter tells the story of Adam and Marie, a scientist and troubadour who fall in love in a missile silo while the rest of the world teeters on the edge of nuclear Armageddon. It’s the sort of romantic narrative only Ritter could pull off, sung so sweetly and with such earnest conviction it’s hard not to be moved.
Ultimate Ears MEGABOOM 3
If you are in the market for an outdoor Bluetooth speaker, might I recommend the MEGABOOM 3? With sound that’s as big and discernible as its all-caps moniker, the MEGABOOM 3 is a musical must-have for any barbecue or pool party (don’t worry, it’s also waterproof and it floats). The MEGABOOM 3 might not have all the bells and whistles of a smart speaker, nor does it come with as many extra features as some of the other speakers available, but that’s not why you want this speaker. You want the MEGABOOM 3 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: Feel Me Flow by Naughty by Nature. When it comes to barbecues, putting together a playlist is nearly as important as picking out your regional style of sauce (here’s a hint: it’s Kansas City). Similar to my unwavering dedication to KC-style BBQ, I refuse to fully endorse any playlist that doesn’t include Naughty by Nature’s Feel Me Flow. With a funky, head-bobbing, syncopated sample and lead rapper Treach’s signature sound, Feel Me Flow is a timeless track that I will forever associate with summer.
Got any speaker or song recommendations for us? Let us know down below. We would love to hear them!
Got any speaker or headphones recommendations for hard rock/heavy metal lovers? o_O
Hi Esther -
The SHURE AONIC 50 is a fine choice for you headbangers, as is the
JBL Xtreme 3 Portable Bluetooth Speaker (Blue) B&H # JBLXTRME3BLU
Thanks alot! :-)