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Best summer Bluetooth audio 2021: Low-cost audio gear

The best Bluetooth speakers, headphones, and earbuds for summer 2021.

Go into summer 2021 with a new set of Bluetooth earphones, earbuds, and speakers! There are plenty of options out there, from portable Bluetooth speakers, waterproof earbuds, ear sticks with long play times, and loud boom boxes.

Costs range from $33 up to $125, so choose a new Bluetooth audio device based on your budget and preferences, and enjoy your sounds.

Tribit StormBox Pro

Loud 40W speaker with carry handle

The best Bluetooth audio 2021 zdnet
Tribit

Wow, the Tribit StormBox Pro Bluetooth speaker really packs a punch with its 40W speaker. Its sound is loud with minimal distortion, even when the volume is cranked up to the max. High- and mid-ranges are superb even at very loud volumes, and bass ranges only have a slight distortion. The StormBox Pro will remember up to eight paired Bluetooth devices so you do not need to connect and reconnect to each device you have.

Furthermore, this speaker can connect with up to two devices simultaneously. It has an XBass button to deepen bass sounds and make its surface vibrate. It has a long battery life too, with two 5,000mAh batteries. Charged with a USB-C cable, this speaker will operate at maximum volume for over 14 hours (and up to 24 hours on mid volume). With its carrying handle, this is certainly a speaker for outdoor parties -- it's IP67 rated so it can cope with both the beach and the rain.

Pros

  • IP67 rated
  • Loud 40W speaker

Cons

  • Slight distortion in bass ranges

Youxiu X10 waterproof Bluetooth speaker

Connect two together for True Wireless Stereo

The best Bluetooth audio 2021 zdnet
Youxiu

The Youxiu X10 is a handy-sized portable, waterproof speaker with a carrying lanyard, moving bass cones, and flashing disco lights that change according to the music you are playing. It is rated at IPX7 and can be immersed in water for up to 30 minutes. Its 20W speaker is fairly loud and the sound is good across all ranges. You can also connect two X10s together with True Wireless Stereo.

There is an equalizer button on the speaker for changing the bass levels -- but I found that some of the settings made the sound a little tinny. There is a separate button for answering calls, and you can invoke your voice X10 assistant by pressing the EQ button for three seconds. The speaker will power off after 10 minutes of inactivity. Its 3,600mAh battery will give you sound for up to 20 hours.

Pros

  • Flashing disco lights
  • IPX7 rated
  • True Wireless Stereo

Cons

  • Some EQ settings tinny

Bluedio LS Bluetooth speaker

Long bar speaker for full stereo experience

The best Bluetooth audio 2021 zdnet
Bluedio

The Bluedio LS Bluetooth speaker has two 4W speakers at each end of the long bar device, giving a good stereo experience when the bar is in front of you. Sound is good in the mid and upper ranges, but I feel the bass is weak, as I like the rich deep sounds of bass ranges.

This is not a fully-portable Bluetooth device. The Bluedio LS needs to be connected to a USB-A port -- either from the wall, or a battery pack to power the speaker. It is intended to be used in your office, probably underneath your external screen. A nice retro touch is the volume control dial which also switches the speaker on.

Pros

  • Good stereo sound
  • Retro volume and on/off dial

Cons

  • No battery, so needs a power supply

EarFun Free 2 true wireless earbuds

Great sound across all ranges

The best Bluetooth audio 2021 zdnet
EarFun

The EarFun Free 2 earbuds are incredibly quick to pair and connect with Bluetooth. They sit comfortably in your ears, and you can swivel them until they feel comfortable. There are three sets of ear tips to help you get the best fit for you. These earbuds are low-latency for gaming and watching videos. The EarFun Free 2 earbuds are also rated IPX7, so they are fully waterproof and will not be impacted if you have sweaty ears. They charge quickly -- a 10 minute charge will give you two hours of playtime. These earbuds will give up to seven hours of playtime and can be charged from the case another three times before they needs to be recharged.

Sound is good across all ranges, with little distortion at low or high ranges. The sound is particularly good in the mid range and there is no tinny sound -- even at full volume.

To play or pause the EarFun Free 2 earbuds, or to answer calls, tap twice on either ear. Tap three times on either ear to navigate music tracks back and forward. Tap once on your right ear to increase volume, and on the left to decrease. Tap and hold to reject a call. You can even answer and transfer two calls by triple tapping, or tap and hold to activate the voice assistant and turn low latency on or off.

There is an instant 10% coupon on the Amazon page for these earbuds, and you can get an extra 10% discount if you use the discount code FREEOFF2.

Pros

  • Bluetooth is quick to pair
  • IPX7 rated

Cons

  • Earbuds, not sticks

Coumi freedom dots earbuds

No sound distortion

The best Bluetooth audio 2021 zdnet
Coumi

The Coumi Freedom Dots earbuds connect really quickly to Bluetooth and have a lovely fit in the ear. These IPX7 rated waterproof buds are actually little sticks that sit forward in your ear. In the box they come in, there are five sets of silicone tips in different sizes -- in addition to the tips supplied on the earbuds. The sound quality is excellent across all ranges with no distortion -- even the bass quality is good. I had challenges with the controls to stop and start my music, at least until I read the instructions in the user guide.

These ear sticks have pressure-sensitive pads on the front of each stick. You need to squeeze the stick to start and stop your music, and you can navigate through the tracks by squeezing twice on one bud instead of pressing the earpiece directly. You can answer and reject calls by pressing on the the pad (and a long press to reject), and triple press for the voice assistant.

The only feature that seems to be missing is the volume control, which you need to adjust on your device itself. Active noise cancelling is on by default, but you can toggle it on and off, and switch to ambient sound by long-pressing the sensor pad. There is also an app for Android that you can download to get access to extra features such as voice app integration with brands.

These earbuds will give four to six hours of playtime, depending on whether you have ANC turned on or off, and the charging case will charge the buds up to four times. Charging time is about two hours for a full charge.

Pros

  • Waterproof IPX7 rated
  • Excellent sound across all ranges

Cons

  • Pressure-sensitive pads take time to get used to
  • No volume controls on ear sticks

ZMI PurPods Pro earbuds

The best Bluetooth audio 2021 zdnet
ZMI

The ZMI PurPods Pro earbuds are fairly quick to connect via Bluetooth, although they are not as instantaneous as the Coumi or EarFun Free buds. They are ear sticks that sit comfortably in the ear and have three sets of ear tips for a customized fit.

Sound is good across all ranges, with little distortion and reasonable bass sounds. Like the Cuomi earbuds, the ZMI PurPods Pro have a pressure-sensitive pad on the front of each ear stick which manages calls (one tap), play and pause (one tap), navigation through tracks (two taps), and invoking your voice assistant (three taps).

Touching and holding the pressure pad invokes or cancels ANC. There are no voice prompts on these buds, but instead a series of beeps indicate connection -- or ANC going off or on. You can also invoke game mode if you install the ZMI Hear app from Google Play for your Android. You can also check battery levels and EQ mode using the app. Playing time is around 6-10 hours depending on whether you have enabled ANC, and you can charge the earbuds up to three times in the fully-charged case.

Pros

  • Reasonable bass
  • App to change EQ mode

Cons

  • Pressure-sensitive pads take time to get used to
  • Beeps instead of voice prompts

Tronsmart Apollo Air ANC earbuds

Quick Bluetooth pairing

The best Bluetooth audio 2021 zdnet
Tronsmart

The Apollo Air ANC earbuds are comfortable in the ears and have three sets of customized ear tips so you can get the best fit possible. Bluetooth pairing is simple and quick, and voice alerts inform you of the pairing status. The user guide leaflet is not clear about how to turn ANC on or off, but the information on the website indicates that ANC can be toggled by touching either earbud for three seconds.

You can adjust the volume on these earbuds by tapping once on either ear, and pressing for two seconds will let you navigate through tracks. Tapping twice will answer or end a phone call, and tapping for two seconds will reject a phone call. Tapping and holding will invoke the voice assistant.

10 minutes charging will give around an hour's play time, and when fully charged you will get five hours of play time. The charging case will charge the earbuds a further four times.

The Apollo Air ANC earbuds are IP45 dust- and water-resistant. Sound is good across all ranges with no distortion at the high end, and the bass is excellent. There is also an app that lets you enhance the bass and adjust the equalizer for any genre of music you like. Tronsmart is celebrating its eighth birthday this week with a range of giveaways and a 15%-off coupon for GeekBuying

Pros

  • Excellent bass
  • App to change EQ mode for different genres

Cons

  • User guide leaflet could be improved

Tronsmart Apollo Air+ ANC earbuds

Feedback and feedforward ANC

The best Bluetooth audio 2021 zdnet
Tronsmart

The Tronsmart Apollo Air + ANC earbuds connect really quickly and have voice alerts to tell you if pairing is successful. These earbuds have two types of ANC: feedback ANC -- which reduces noises in a broader range of frequencies -- and something called feedforward ANC, which reduces noises in a narrow range of frequencies. I could not really tell the difference between this ANC and other earbuds in this list, but when ANC is on, the sound experience is very good. The Apollo Air+ are rated at IP45, so they are dust- and water-resistant.

There are two ambient modes: on and off, and noise cancellation. Tap the earbuds three times to toggle between these modes. You can invoke the voice assistant by tapping and then holding for two seconds. These earbuds do seem louder than the Apollo Air and the mid range sound is excellent with no tinny sounds or distortion. Tap twice to answer or end a call and long press for two seconds to reject a call.

If you take one earbud out of your ear, the music will pause, as the earbud will detect when it is or is not in your ear. You can get up to five hours of playtime from one charge, and the carrying case will charge the buds up to four times. Tronsmart is celebrating its eighth birthday this week with a range of giveaways and a 15%-off coupon for GeekBuying.

Pros

  • Good sound experience when ANC is on
  • IP45 dust- and water-resistant

Cons

  • User guide leaflet could be improved

xFyro ANC earbuds

Gaming mode for low latency

The best Bluetooth audio 2021 zdnet
xFyro

The xFyro ANC Pro earbuds sit snugly in the ear and are comfortable to wear -- even for an extended period of time. You can customize these with three sets of ear tips to give you the most comfortable fit. The xFyro are the most expensive on this list, clocking in at $125, but the extended battery life and multi-charge options in the carry case mean that your sound experience is not interrupted at all. Noise cancelling is good, and the sound is good across the mid and bass ranges. Calls are clear with no distortion.

These earbuds are IPX5 water resistant and do not move when you run. You do need to keep the user manual with you to learn the touch controls. Hold the right earbud for two seconds to turn on or off ANC or transparency mode. Tap twice on either earbud to answer or end a call, or do one long press to reject a call. Tap three times to move through the tracks and tap the right earbud to turn the volume down (and the left earbud to increase the volume).

If you tap the left earbud four times the earbud will enter gaming mode. This mode optimizes video-audio sync and decreases audio latency for a better gaming experience. These buds are expensive -- but the smooth sound will make it worthwhile for audiophiles.

Pros

  • Comfortable to wear
  • Smooth sounds and good ANC

Cons

  • Expensive

SuperEQ ANC headphones

Cushioned fit and comfortable

10-supereq-anc-bluetooth-headphones-eileen-brown-zdnet.png
OneOdio

The SuperEQ headphones from OneOdio are nicely cushioned and fit over the ears in a nice snug fit. Pairing is simple and quick, and the headphones have minimal buttons to confuse you. The ANC noise cancelling button is at the bottom of the right ear and can and toggle between noise cancelling on, off, and ambient sound. The three buttons at the back of the right ear can control the on/off/Bluetooth pairing, and also play and pause. You can also adjust the volume and move from track to track using the upper and lower buttons. I've been really impressed by the ANC feature, which completely blocks out the sound.

The battery lasts for ages between charges, which are done using a micro-USB slot -- not USB Type-C. If the headphones are inactive they will shut down after 10 minutes. Charging takes about two hours. The headphones last for well over 36 hours before needing a recharge. If you hate Bluetooth, you can also use the 3.5mm audio jack, which is supplied in the box. There is also a handy stretchy pleather carry bag for the headphones. Use the code BEST20OFF for a 20% discount at OneOdio.

Pros

  • Comfortable over-ear headphones
  • Good ANC

Cons

  • Micro USB -- not USB Type-C

Which style should I buy?

Some people love earbuds, some prefer the fit of sticks. I love over-ear headphones, but you might love in-earbuds instead. Buy a speaker if you want to share your audio experience, otherwise choose earbuds or headphones.

How long will the battery last?

The louder the sound output, the shorter the battery will last. If you have ANC switched on and are playing loud sounds, expect the battery to deplete the fastest.

Why is the IP rating important?

The IP (Ingress Protection) rating is a standardized set of tests that determine whether a device is dust-proof, splash-proof, or can be fully immersed in water. Check the grid for a list of IP ratings pertaining to your device.

How did we choose these audio devices?

We chose these audio devices on three factors: audio quality, ease of use, and price.

Choosing an audio device is a very personal experience. An earbud that might fit perfectly in my ear might be very uncomfortable in yours. You might hate anything in your ear, and find that the over-ear headphones that block out all sounds might be best for you.

Extra features such as Active Noise Cancelling (ANC) might be important to you -- especially if you feel ambient sound is a distraction when you are listening to music. You might prefer super loud sounds directly into your ear canal, and hate the tinny sounds that some cheaper earbuds deliver. If you want a banging bass, then you might prefer a Bluetooth speaker with a large wattage to pump the bass outside

If price is an issue, then choose a cheaper earbud so you can enjoy your own sounds and compromise a little on sound distortion and smoothness. Ultimately, the more expensive the device, the smoother the sound output will be.

Which Bluetooth device is right for you?

For the perfect Bluetooth device, you need to decide on the form factor. Do you love headphones, or do earbuds, sticks, or speakers deliver the sound you want? Where are you going to use your device? Do you need privacy when you travel, or do you want others to listen to your music?

Also, consider the following:

  • How loud do you want the sound? Are you buying a speaker for yourself, or do you primarily want to use it outside in groups? Remember, if earbuds are too loud in your ear, you can suffer hearing loss if you use them over an extended period of time.
  • How many features does the device have? Do you need ANC when you are only going to listen in quiet areas, or will you use the earbuds when going our for a run? Will ambient sound suit you perfectly well?
  • How long will the battery take to recharge? Will the earbuds still work after a quick 10 minute charge, or do you need the full charging time before you can use the device again?
  • How expensive is the Bluetooth device? The sky is the limit for some of the big-name brands, when a cheaper brand might be just as good in terms of sound, and might suit your budget perfectly.