There’s nothing like music to enhance a vacation, but all too often the speakers in hotel rooms and rentals are sadly substandard. Now, after giving these top-quality compact speakers a listen, we’ve come to believe that—just as great earphones are a must for your journey—good speakers are essential once you’ve arrived. These mini models pack a punch of audio power, and are sure to enhance your vacation’s soundtrack, whether you’re reclining on a beach in Puerto Rico or sipping prosecco on the terrace of an Italian villa.
1. Skullcandy Pipe
Why We Like It: A few times the size of the boomCAN, this is the big daddy of the group. But other than its girth, this rough-and-tumble speaker is unique amongst its peers in a few respects. It’s the only dock here, which is nice for those with i-devices, but it also comes with a universal cord and input for non-Apple players. It is also the only one that runs off replaceable batteries, although it can also run off a power adapter. And it’s the only one with a remote. Put all that together and you’ve got a nice-sounding portable speaker dock you can proudly bust out and casually control from the comfort of your deck chair.
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How Much: $70
Buy It: Visit Skullcandy.com
2. iHome Audio iHM61
Why We Like It: Okay, we admit it: The mesmerizing color-changing lights are what first caught our attention. But we were pleasantly surprised to hear this speaker blast out some amazing sound. In fact, in terms of the sound you get for the money, this is definitely the best value of the bunch. It scrunches down to be pretty compact and comes with a carrying case. The groovy colored mood-lighting is optional.
How Much: $26
Buy It: Visit iHomeAudio.com
3. Mighty Dwarf 5W
Why We Like It: First, it turns whatever it is sitting on into a speaker. Half the fun is creatively placing it on an Adirondack chair or a hotel armoire to produce different sound qualities. Second, it’s the only one on our list with a built-in memory card reader. That means you can either connect it to your favorite media player as an external speaker or use it as a self-contained unit capable of playing days of plentifully powerful music wherever you go. And last, Mighty Dwarf tells us they have two new souped-up versions coming out later this month.
How Much: $70
Buy It: Visit MightyDwarf.com
4. Jawbone Limited Edition Jambox
Why We Like It: Far and away, this well-designed speaker has the richest, deepest, most expansive sound of the lot. It can wirelessly connect to two devices at once. But it’s also easy to use, including voice feedback in several languages. Through your computer, you can even change that voice and add other features. But what makes this particular speaker the most special is that (for a limited time) Jawbone is dedicating $50 from each Limited Edition sale to charity: water, which provides clean drinking water to those around the world who need it.
How Much: $200
Buy It: Visit Jawbone.com
5. Scosche boomCAN
Why We Like It: This tiny, shiny lightweight is no taller than your pinky. But it’s a huge improvement over your portable media player’s built-in speaker. And it’s plenty sturdy, so don’t worry about it rattling around in your shirt, pants, purse, or suitcase pocket. Fully charged, it will kick out several hours of very respectable sound. It is available in four colors and comes with a handy travel pouch.
How Much: $25
Buy It: Visit Scosche.com
6. JBL On Tour Micro
Why We Like It: Just as you might expect from JBL, this simple little hockey puck-sized speaker has excellent sound quality. It’s not as bass-y as most of the others, but offers super clarity. It has an easy-to-use volume wheel and a handy stowaway wired jack. Last but not least, it’s the flattest member of this group, so it’s the most pocket-friendly.
How Much: $50
Buy It: Visit Amazon.com
7. X-mini KAI
Why We Like It: From the makers of the "original capsule speaker" in Singapore comes this great new wireless-capable speaker with lots of cool options. In Bluetooth mode, the controls right on the speaker allow you to play, pause, change the track, adjust the volume, mute, and answer a call—all with your music player or phone in your pocket. It has a wired output jack, so even if your music player isn’t wireless, you can plug this in and still jam out. You can also plug it into another speaker, essentially creating a wireless duo of speakers—or trio, or quartet, depending on how many you have and how big the room is that you’re trying to fill.
How Much: $110
Buy It: Visit X-mini.com
Fodors.com Travel Technology Columnist Scott Tharler is an expert in gadgets, gambling, and travel. He’s written four books, plus hundreds of mobile and wireless tips for Sony and PC World. In addition to his daily Discovery News gadget blog, you can find links to other gadget articles, social feeds and lists of his current favorite gadgets at about.me/gadgetfans.
Photo Credit: courtesy 1. Skullcandy; 2. SDI Technologies Inc; 3. Mighty Dwarf; 4. Jawbone; 5. Max Borges Agency; 6. Harman International Industries, Inc; 7. Xmi Pte Ltd