Audio Gear

Summer Outdoor Speaker Review

One of writers had the chance to test out a few outdoor speaker options for summer. Wanna see what he chose?

Google Home Max

After reviewing the Google Home Max, one of the first uses I thought about was outside, by the pool or BBQ. The Google Home Max would undoubtedly work for this task in loudness and music clarity, however, it lacks a few key features for the task.

First off is the portability, at over 11 pounds and no built-in battery setting it up outside is limited. I set out to find a suitable speaker for this task.

JBL Link 20

The first speaker I tested was the JBL Link 20. This $269.99 CDN speaker offers similar features to the Google Home Max with its built-in Google Assistant.

The design like many JBL speakers is tall and cylindrical, resembling a large coffee mug. The speaker offers IPX7 water and dust protection which make it perfect for pool or beachside use. Featuring a 10-hour built-in battery, it is also free of needing an outlet nearby.

Like the Google Home Max, the JBL speaker is a smart device featuring built-in Gooogle voice assistant and Chromecast support. Easily connecting to your home network or mobile devices by WiFi and Bluetooth.

In my tests, however, I did find it would often forget its WiFi and Google Home settings between uses and would frequently need to be set up from scratch. This became frustrating when all you wanted to do was turn it on and start enjoying your music.

The sound performance was good to my ears, but not as good or as loud as the Google Home Max,

Bose SoundLink Revolve

The second device I tested was the Bose SoundLink Revolve. This $249.99 speaker starts out being physically smaller than the JBL and – on paper – inferior to the more feature-rich JBL Link 20.

For starters, the Bose SoundLink Revolve is only a traditional Bluetooth speaker, lacking any of the smart features found on the more expensive JBL.

The Bose does feature a built-in battery that manages to squeeze out two additional hours of playback between charges. It is also IPX4 rated for water and dust incursion. This is less than the JBL, which can survive being dropped in the pool while the Bose is only resistant to splashes and rather than full immersion.

Where the Bose shines unsurprisingly is sound quality. The sound from this tiny speaker is more impressive than I expected given its size. The base is rich and deep, managing to pass the deep base of Phil Collins’ “In The Air Tonight” through the table it was sitting on and through to the deck below.

The sound clarity was vibrant and clear across all range, leaving vocals clear and defined.

While the JBL speaker was slightly louder on my decibel meter by about 5-8 decibels, the sound was muddier and over-amplified at the top volume range. The music on the Bose on the other hand managed to keep its fidelity through the entire volume range.

Again, remarkable given its tiny size the sound emanating in all directions was loud and rich, easily filling our large 75 feet x 75 feet backyard.

The Bose also had excellent Bluetooth range, keeping connected for much greater distances than the JBL unit.

Google Home Mini

The third speaker tested at first may seem non-conventional, the Google Home Mini. After my experience with the Google Home Max, I wanted to see how its little cousin performed. Often, on sale for only $39 (half its regular price), it’s a real bargain. Offering all the hands-free features of the Google assistant, the speaker is at the ready for all the usual voice commands for music control even while you are in the pool!

The sound output from this $79 speaker is more than adequate for most background tasks and could be heard around most of our backyard deck. It’s no Bose or its big brother the Max in loudness or fidelity, but, it is still satisfying and impressive at the price point. While it lacks the portability and waterproof features of the other speakers tested, at $79 if it gets damaged being outside it’s not the loss of the $500 Google Max, or the other speakers reviewed here.

Besides wishing the Google Home Mini was waterproof, I wish it had a slot on the back so it could be hung on a wall. This would make it much more useful. Apparently, I am not the only one who thinks so judging by the number of mounts and plug adapters available online. The Amazon Alexa also suffers from the omission of this feature as well.

The Google Home Mini does not seem to be able to connect to my WiFi as well as my other devices at extreme distances.

So which one did I finally choose?

Even with all the extra functionality of the JBL, it really came down to the sound quality of the Bose. If you were not testing units side by side, head to head you may have never noticed the subtle differences between these 2 great speakers. Nevertheless, after hearing both I took the JBL back.

Finally, I also kept the Google Home Mini, with its ability to direct its music playback to a Bluetooth, in this case, the excellent sounding Bose Soundlink, I was able to add the missing smart features to the Bose.

A little unconventional yes, and it is not without its odd quirks, it does work and gives me greater flexibility by having two separate devices that can be used together or apart.

This compromise could have been even better if the Google Home Mini had a wired input connection, that the Google Max offers. This would have eliminated some of the usual Bluetooth connection issues while providing better sound output. Wired audio input is a feature of the similar priced competing Amazon Alexa Dot. If the Alexa is your preferred smart assistant, this would be an excellent pairing.

Still More Options

While not tested here, 2 other great choices are the JBL Link 10 the little cousin of the Link 20 at a more attractive price. Or the bigger cousin of the Bose SoundLink Revolve, the SoundLink Revolve+.

For a description of IPX ratings and what they mean check this link.

Did I miss a better option available?

See the full specifications of all the products reviewed here below:

JBL Link 20 Specs

General Specifications

Transducer2 x 50mm
Output power2 x 10W
Frequency response65Hz–20kHz
Signal-to-noise ratio>80dB
Wireless network802.11b/g/n/ac (2.4/5GHz)
Bluetooth version4.2
Supported audio formatsHE-AAC, LC-AAC, MP3, Vorbis, WAV (LPCM), FLAC, Opus
Dimensions (Dia x H)93mm x 210mm
Weight950 g

Battery

Battery typeLithium-ion Polymer (3.7V, 6000mAh)
Battery charge time4.5 hours @5V 2.3A
Music play timeup to 10 hours (varies by volume level and content)

Bose Sound Link Revolve Specs

Dimensions/weight

  • Speaker:15.2 cm H x 8.2 cm W x 8.2 cm D (0.66 kg)

Inputs and outputs

  • 3.5 mm auxiliary input
  • Micro-B USB port

Additional details

  • Wireless range up to 9 m (30 ft)
  • Battery life up to 12 hours

WHAT’S IN THE BOX

  • SoundLink Revolve speaker
  • USB power supply
  • USB cable
  • AC power adaptors

Google Home Mini

Dimensions/weight

  • Speaker:15.2 cm H x 8.2 cm W x 8.2 cm D (0.66 kg)

Inputs and outputs

  • 3.5 mm auxiliary input
  • Micro-B USB port

Additional details

  • Wireless range up to 9 m (30 ft)
  • Battery life up to 12 hours

WHAT’S IN THE BOX

  • SoundLink Revolve speaker
  • USB power supply
  • USB cable
  • AC power adapters
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