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Best Wireless Dorm

Oct 30, 2023

These models deliver fun, great sound, and sometimes a little extra for students

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College students (and, of course, their high school siblings) tend to be short on space and cash, but they still love music. That’s where this crop of stylish, good-sounding wireless speakers from Consumer Reports’ testing comes in.

They’re perfect for a dorm room, a bedroom, or an off-campus apartment. And some of them have lighting features that can make studying physics just a bit more tolerable. All of these speakers were evaluated in our labs in Yonkers, N.Y., by our team of trained testers for ease of use, versatility, and especially sound quality. Every last one was purchased at retail, too, just the way you’d buy a speaker. No freebies for us.

For more info on student gear, deals, and discounts, go to CR’s Back-to-School Guide.

Harman Kardon Onyx Studio 6

The Harman Kardon Onyx 6 makes a striking visual statement with an oversized round shape that vaguely resembles a high-fashion purse, complete with a stylish handle. More to the point, our testers like the way the speaker sounds, with bass that reaches into the lowest registers while providing pop on drums and bass. And while it’s not quite as party-friendly as some of the other models in this roundup, at least when it comes to water resistance, the Onyx 4 does play plenty loud.

JBL Pulse 4

What looks a little like a lava lamp and plays music quite well? The JBL Pulse 4. This Bluetooth speaker channels the look of those groovy 1960s relics but uses LEDs under a plastic dome—instead of heated waxy blobs—for its visual effects. That should make the campus fire marshal happy.

It can also do things that no lava lamp can. You can customize the patterns and colors of the light show via the JBL app, and even match the color palette to a throw pillow or your favorite T-shirt.

The Pulse 4 also performed fine in our sound-quality tests, with impactful but slightly boomy bass and smooth trebles. Stereo pairing is an option, but the Pulse 4 can also be synced with up to 100 other Pulse 4s using JBL’s Connect+ protocol. Imagine that party.

The manufacturer claims an IPX7 water-resistance rating for the Pulse 4, which means that it should withstand immersion in up to a meter of water for up to 30 minutes. (CR doesn’t test speakers for water resistance.)

JBL has introduced a Pulse 5, but our testers found it to be a significant step down from the Pulse 4, especially in sound quality, so if the lava lamp vibe appeals to you, find the earlier version.

JBL Flip 5

The JBL Flip 5 is a flat-out bargain. It lists for $100 and often sells for significantly less. But don’t be fooled by the low price: It’s a lot of speaker for the money. This small portable comes in a variety of fun colors, and you can personalize the graphics and have your photo printed on the grille cloth for a small fee.

The company claims a battery life of up to 12 hours, and the advertised IPX7 water-resistance rating means the JBL Flip 5 can survive being fully submerged . . . or having a beverage spilled on it.

Compared with the best-sounding speakers we’ve tested, this model does have a few shortcomings, with bass that’s a bit boomy and trebles that are somewhat subdued. But when played outdoors and in other casual environments where a speaker like this works best, the Flip 5’s largely forgiving sonic signature encourages you to play tunes one right after the other during a long study session.

JBL has introduced a rather similar Flip 6. Our testers report that the new model doesn’t sound quite as good, so you’re better off searching for the Flip 5.

JBL Boombox 2

Carrying your tunes with you just never gets old. JBL’s Boombox 2 allows you to do just that, harkening back to the giant beatboxes that the cool kids—and even LL Cool J—carried around in the 1980s and 90s.

But while those behemoths ate D-cell batteries like competitive eaters down Nathan’s hot dogs, JBL’s newest Bluetooth speaker streams digital music (instead of warbly cassettes) and is powered by a 10,000mAh (milliamp hours) rechargeable battery said to be good for 24 hours of music. The Boombox 2 meets IPX7 water-resistance standards, says JBL, so the speaker should survive a significant splash or even a modest dunking.

While our testers give the Boombox 2 a solid rating for sound quality, they add that the bass can be overwhelming with certain kinds of music and for certain kinds of music lovers. JBL has introduced a Boombox 3, which didn’t perform as well in our tests. The midrange is more hazy and congested than that of the JBL Boombox 2, and the overall sound quality is worse, so it’s worth seeking out the older model.

Onn Large Party Speaker Gen 2

If you like the idea of the highly rated Sony SRS-XP500 party speaker but you’re counting your pennies, the Onn Large Party Speaker Gen 2, sold only by Walmart, is a great option. The name may not be catchy, but it’s descriptive: What you get is a large box, just a bit short of 2 feet tall, with lighting effects and inputs for a guitar or a mic. The model is a bit bigger than Onn’s previous-gen Large Party Speaker and actually looks more like the more expensive JBL Party Box 100 than its predecessor. For a speaker of its size, the big Onn sounds quite good. The bass is a little boomy and there’s a bit of sizzle in the trebles but in general, the model’s performance is a pleasant surprise given the low price. Our testers note that you’ll get the best sound by positioning the speaker horizontally and turning the Bass Boost off.

The Large Party Speaker is only IPX4 water-resistant, which means it’s merely splashproof.

Sony SRS-XP500

The SRS XP500 ranks near the very top of our ratings for portable speakers. It’s a big party speaker that’s versatile and easy to use, and while it plays plenty loud, it works in intimate environments as well. It features fun LED lighting effects that can enhance an impromptu dance-off.The sound is solid but not superb; the XP500 slots below the UE Hyperboom, for example, which is the best-sounding portable speaker in our ratings. Our testers found there’s a bit too much bass, while the midrange, where most music and vocals reside, isn’t as rich as what you’ll find on the very best Bluetooth speakers.

soundcore Rave Neo 2

The foot-tall Rave Neo 2 is ideal for dorm room life, providing a fun vibe at a size that may be better for close quarters. It’s a midsized, midpriced party box, complete with customizable LED lighting.

The speaker provides satisfying if not stellar sound and can deliver a decent volume level even in a large room. It also has Party Cast, a Bluetooth feature that allows you to link to more than 100 compatible speakers, and our testers found the Bluetooth pairing mode easy to use.The model features an IPX7 water-resistance rating, which makes it dunkable rather than just splashproof.

Allen St. John

Allen St. John is a senior tech editor at Consumer Reports. He has been with CR since 2016, focusing on digital privacy and covering smartwatches, wireless speakers, and headphones. Previously, Allen was a senior editor at Condé Nast and a contributing editor at publications ranging from Road & Track to the Village Voice, and his work has appeared in the New York Times Magazine, the Wall Street Journal, Rolling Stone, and other national outlets. He is a New York Times bestselling author, and lives in Montclair, N.J., with his wife and his dog, Rugby.