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    Home audio: Try these inexpensive speakers for outdoor listening
    • July 30, 2023

    My wife, Patti, likes to listen to music while she gardens in the backyard. She can listen through her phone’s speakers, but even though modern smartphone speakers have gotten better, they’re still not that great, especially at loud volumes. So, to allow Patti to listen to music or audiobooks while picking blueberries and watering her tomatoes, I decided it was time to get a portable Bluetooth speaker.

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    There are many to choose from, including several high-end products costing $200 or more. Some of these might be the right choice for use in the home, but background music while gardening isn’t exactly critical listening, so I opted to try out some inexpensive models. To my surprise, I was able to find several good choices for under $50. I found one decent one for $29. These are the current prices. I got mine for a lot less during Amazon’s Prime Day sale.

    All of them can easily connect to a smartphone or any other device capable of driving Bluetooth speakers or headphones. All have rechargeable batteries, and the ones I tried out all have a USB power connector that uses the same “power brick” as smartphones.

    There are two types of USB connectors used in today’s speakers. One is an older MicroUSB plug, but the plug I prefer is the newer-style USB C connector. MicroUSB, which is pretty much being phased out, was once the standard for Android phones. But now, USB C has become the standard for most new products, except iPhones and iPads, in the United States. And it’s been reported that Apple will adopt USB C in future US iPhones and iPads. USB C is also emerging as a standard for laptops from many companies, including Apple.

    After testing several speakers, I settled on the $42 Sony SRS-XB13. A very close runner-up was the $50 stereo Soundcore 3 by Anker. I was also impressed by the $42 Soundcore Anker Mini 3. The fourth-place contender was the $29 stereo Raymate Bluetooth Speaker.

    I also tried out the older $39 Anker Soundcore 2 stereo speaker, which has a MicroUSB connector. If you don’t care about USB C, then definitely consider saving money on the otherwise excellent Soundcore 2.

    All the speakers I tested are water resistant, and the Sony is also dust resistant. All are likely to survive a brief dunk in water or an errant spray from Patti’s garden hose. All of these speakers advertise long battery life, ranging from 15 to 24 hours, although there is often a significant difference between advertised battery life and what you get in real life.

    The Sony model and the Soundcore Anker Mini 3 are round monaural speakers that resemble a miniature subwoofer but handle the full range of frequencies from high treble to low bass. Frankly, it was hard to pick a winner in terms of sound quality. The Soundcore Mini 3 is a little smaller and slightly lighter, but the Sony comes in more colors and has a longer strap, which made it easy to hang on the handlebar of my bicycle to be entertained on my ride. Earbuds and headphones are illegal on bikes in California if worn on both ears, but I don’t know of any law against a speaker, although I wouldn’t use one on a bike path, out of courtesy to others. It’s also considerate to not disturb others if you’re using a speaker in your yard or a public place.

    The Anker 3 and the Raymate have stereo speakers, but because the speakers are fairly close to each other, the sound separation isn’t very prominent, especially if you’re a few feet away. I love stereo, but I didn’t find the stereo on these units to be a compelling reason to buy them unless you plan to be right near the speaker as you listen.

    These are just a few of the many options you’ll find if you look on Amazon or other e-tailers websites. I don’t recommend any of them for audiophiles looking for the best possible sound quality, but even though I appreciate high-end sound, I am happy with the quality of these speakers for outdoor use such as at a party or by the pool.

    All of these speakers require that you have your smartphone within Bluetooth range, which can vary depending on obstacles, but it will usually cover a backyard. If you’re using your phone on a sunny day, I recommend you keep it away from direct sunlight so it doesn’t overheat. Both iPhones’ SIRI and Android’s “Hey Google” allow you to use your voice to select your music, which can be handy if your hands are busy tending the garden.

    If you want an entirely phone-free and hands-free experience, you can opt for an Amazon Echo or Google Nest speaker connected to an electrical outlet or an external battery, as long as you’re able to connect to a WiFi network. Batteries for some Echo and Nest models start at about $16.

    Of course, there is a low-tech alternative. Patti sometimes enjoys silence or the sound of birds chirping as she gardens.

    Larry Magid is a tech journalist and internet safety activist.

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    ​ Orange County Register