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Consumer Reports: Best (and Biggest) Portable Speakers for Tailgating

If your idea of nirvana is a football stadium parking lot on the weekend, here are the top picks for an outdoor audio system from JBL, Monster, and UE
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/ Source: Consumer Reports

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For millions of sports fans, the shift from summer to fall means only one thing: football season.

In campus gathering spots and stadium parking lots all across America, people are now gathering to support their favorite teams, raising the art of tailgating to a sport unto itself—all in a 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 team’s pregame show, or even the dulcet baritone of NFL Films legend John Facenda.

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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.

"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," says Elias Arias, the head of CR’s wireless speaker testing program.

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.

The Boom Box Rebooted

JBL Boombox 2

The JBL Boombox 2 represents a slight upgrade to the original Boombox, which was a digital re-imagining of the giant beat boxes 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 2’s rechargeable battery is good for 24 hours of music, according to JBL. And unlike those old school boomboxes, the JBL sports an IPX7 water-resistance rating, which means you can submerge it up to 3 meters.

But instead of old-school cassettes that would warble and occasionally self-destruct, the JBL streams smoothly from your phone via Bluetooth. Sonically, our testers find a very strong sonic resemblance between the new model and the original JBL Boombox. Both feature bass that can rattle the walls—or maybe your neighbor’s fillings—and that’s not entirely a good thing

While our testers give the Boombox 2 a solid score for sound quality, they add a caveat that those robust low frequencies can be overwhelming with some music, and explain that this speaker would have scored even higher with a little less bass. The Boombox 2 might be less than great sitting on a desk in a small office, but its extreme low-frequency impact might be just the thing to pump up the Penn State fight song in the parking lot on a Saturday afternoon.

An Urban Alternative

Monster SuperStar Monster Blaster

The Monster SuperStar Blaster is big and beefy by portable-speaker standards, but with relatively low-key styling compared with some boombox-inspired speakers. It features an IPX5 rating, which means it’s splashproof rather than waterproof, so make sure to keep it out of the elements.

Sonically, the Monster Blaster is a very solid performer, although our testers did find the bass a bit boomy. And the model provides enough volume to fill a large room or a decent chunk of a parking lot.

The speaker’s controls are quite easy to use but they’re a little less flexible than those of some 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. It also has a microphone input, which comes in handy when you need everyone’s attention as kickoff time approaches.

From the Living Room to the Parking Lot

Ultimate Ears Hyperboom

If you’re looking for really great-sound at your tailgate and you’re willing to pay for it, the Ultimate Ears Hyperboom should be on your shopping list.

Our testers report that the speaker is both loud and clear, with robust bass and clean midrange, and enough volume for most situations, indoors or out. They find the large controls easy to use, so the model gets good grades for versatility.

The Hyperboom also features an optical input, which allows it to serve as a TV sound bar or a way to upgrade the sound of a game console. UE claims an IPX4 water-resistance rating for the Hyperboom, which means it’s splashproof and spillproof, but not designed to stand up to a full-fledged dunking.

Although the Hyperboom isn’t exactly small—remember that speaker size and sound quality tend to go hand in hand—its orientation is vertical, so the footprint is relatively compact, which is a plus at a tailgate. And compared with many top portables, the UE’s styling is subdued, allowing it to be heard but not seen when you return it to your living room after the game.

Carry It Like a Kettlebell

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 model features speakers that fire front and rear for a wider soundfield, but our testers noted that the bass doesn’t go as low as it does on some larger models. The manufacturer says the speaker 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.

Lights, Sound, and Action!

Anker SoundCore Rave PartyCast

As you might expect from the name, Anker’s SoundCore Rave PartyCast is quite the social animal.

While the sound isn’t especially refined compared with the very best wireless speakers in our ratings, the sonic flaws are relatively minor. The speaker is quite substantial in size, plays impressively loud, and, the manufacturer claims, it meets IPX 7 water-resistance standards, which allow for a dunk in shallow water—or at least a bout with a spilled drink—without serious harm. All of these features serve the PartyCast well in the parking lot.

Our testers also find the PartyCast quite easy to use, with intuitive, always-on Bluetooth pairing. The model has USB and Aux inputs in case you want to plug in a source rather than streaming your source material. And the PartyCast feature allows you to connect up to 100 of the company’s speakers at once.

If you want to add visual interest to your tailgate, the speaker has LED lights that sync to the music. And, if you’re so inclined, even your favorite team’s play-by-play.

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