Ever since Sony launched its Walkman personal stereo in 1979, people have tried to find ways to enhance the sound from miniature music players. We’ve seen plug-in speakers added to the Walkman to create a small stereo that others could listen to at the same time. This was a significant improvement to our lives compared to lugging a large ghetto-blaster around with us. Unfortunately, although personal stereos sounded great through headphones, those mini-speakers didn’t sound good at all. Luckily now there are tiny speakers that can pump out a good sound. We’ve been testing the latest portable Bluetooth speakers and you can compare them here

Music used to be stored on audio cassette tapes, CDs, mini-discs and MP3 players. But there’s been quite a big revolution in the way people buy music. In this era of music downloads, most of us keep our music collections on smartphones, computers or tablets. So, if we wish to share our music and detach the headphones, we’ll need to connect one of those devices to speakers. 

Meanwhile, external mini speakers that you could plug in with an audio lead have given way to Bluetooth speakers, connecting either wirelessly or via an audio lead. They use the same wireless Bluetooth technology as a vehicle’s hands-free phone system, and this makes more freedom possible. Typically, you can have your phone, tablet or laptop in one place and the speaker up to 10m away. This means you can control the music from the smartphone or computer in your hand, even if the speakers are at the other end of the van or in the awning – without any trailing leads to trip over!

Our main consideration when testing audio speakers had to be the sound quality of each. We looked at the power of the output, how clear and full the sound was, throughout the sonic range. We compared how long each speaker could keep playing between charges, and also whether the recharging could be via the mains or just a USB port, meaning that you’d have to get your laptop going. We were interested to see that only some portable speakers could be controlled from the music-playing device, preferring to only react to their own control buttons! Speakers with their own remote controls were useful.

Next we looked at the input possibilities. All Bluetooth speakers use Bluetooth signals from a device as their primary source of sound, but it’s a bonus if they’re compatible with both older and newer devices as well. Some of the speakers also accept the older analogue signals, so you could have a Bluetooth speaker playing music from your iPod, computer headphone port, Sony Walkman or video player via an auxiliary lead rather than wireless technology. The latest speakers will also have the latest Near Field Communication (NFC) technology. This looks set to replace Bluetooth in future, so it’s worth getting speakers that will be able to hook up with your next phone and digital gadgets. 

Some speakers even have a small memory-card slot and a built-in digital player, so that they become a sound system in their own right. Playing music directly from an SD card is also a way of preserving the battery on your mobile phone or tablet, which is handy if you’re away from any electric hook-up. 

Another bonus is that some of the portable speakers are even showerproof – always handy, considering the British weather.

We’ve tested the Edifier Prisma Encore, the Creative MUVO Mini at £39.99, the Edifier MP211 at £39.99 and the Creative Woof 3 at £39.99. At a higher price point we’ve tested the Speedlink Portajoy at £64.99, the Denyon Envaya Mini DSB-100 and the Edifier Bric Connect at £79.99. So what’s the difference between them, and what do you get for your money?

In this review we will focus on the Creative Woof 3, at the very reasonable price of £39.99 as tested.

Keeping this speaker ultra compact hasn’t stopped Creative cramming in as many features as possible. Simply slide a micro SD card into the slot to make this a standalone music system. Failing that, Bluetooth and an auxiliary port make it a doddle to import music from other sources, though an auxiliary lead isn’t provided. Given its configuration, the speaker doesn’t make any attempt to produce stereo sound. Still, its output is impressive in terms of volume and overall quality. 

As with its sibling, the Creative Soundblaster Free (£59.99), the Creative Woof 3 is plenty good enough, until you hear some of the premium models. Given the size, the six-hour running time between charges is pretty impressive, too.