| July 19, 2012

Even though outdoor entertaining means different things to different people (especially depending upon the amount of space you call your own), almost any party benefits from adding music to the mix. In the age of MP3s, your smartphone can become the ultimate party DJ when partnered with the right portable speaker (and a well-curated playlist), so we've gathered the best portable and wireless units available now or coming soon.

Jawbone Big Jambox

With the newly released big brother of the original Jawbone Jambox, everything I liked about the original has been upgraded to a larger size (and sound) with this latest iteration of Yves Behar's hallmark design. For the last week, I've been using the Big Jambox during conference calls in speakerphone mode (utilizing the built-in microphone), streaming music during the workday from my computer, and at the end of the day, unplugging it and carrying it out to the backyard for some music while dining al fresco (via Bluetooth from my phone's playlist). The device gets up to 15 hours per charge and its wireless range is rated at 33 feet. Models are available in Graphite Hex, White Wave and Red Dot for $299.99.

Outdoor Technology Turtle Shell

Unveiled at this year's CES, extreme sports accessory brand Outdoor Technology is calling their Turtle Shell a "wireless boom box." This waterproof, shockproof and dust-resistant Bluetooth speaker is designed for rugged on-the-go outdoor use (Outdoor Technology displayed it strapped onto a BMX bike and even mentioned wearing it clipped onto the chest as a speaker medallion). The device boasts 10 hours of playback with 240 hours of standby, but the Turtle Shell speaker is, unfortunately, a late summer bloomer; it's targeted to be released at the tail end of summer for around $130.

Bose SoundLink

The Bose SoundLink appears to be the handsome offspring of a fashionable mod clutch purse and a Braun-designed audio tape player from the late '60s. Open up the front nylon flap (the material is available in four colors) and turn on the unit, and the SoundLink automatically goes into Bluetooth pairing mode, searching for your iPhone, Android, tablet or laptop for wireless audio use, with a memory for up to six devices. Being one of the larger, louder speakers of the bunch, the rechargeable lithium-ion battery provides a modest "up to" eight hours of playback (half that if pushed to the upper volume range). The minimalist design hides four neodymium transducers, two passive radiators and a DSP (digital signal processing) system. Offering capable audio playback for any type of music (except for primarily bass-heavy music), the SoundLink is perfectly suited for backyard or picnic performance duties. Prices start at $299.

The OutCast

The funky-looking OutCast stands apart from the other smaller-sized speakers in shape and features. Sold with an iDevice dock (wirelessly transmitting music via a 2.4GHz band), the OutCast is a large multidirectional patio speaker with a weather-resistant case, loud enough to pump out tunes up to 300 feet thanks to a 100 watt digital amplifier. And unlike the smaller competition, this seriously equipped unit has an eight-inch downward firing woofer to reproduce a respectable low end for up to 10 hours of playback. The OutCast is listed as "portable," but at over 25 pounds, remember to bend the knees when lifting, Big Boi. This unit is priced at $999.99.

Libratone Live

I had this Scandinavian Airplay speaker as a houseguest for a month for review and the plush speaker won points for its decor-friendly design and easy-to-set-up simplicity. The Libratone Live even comes with a handle for easy pick up (and you'll need it, since it weighs 14 pounds) and its triangular design produces a discernible 360 degrees of sound, perfect for gatherings indoors or outdoors when people are situated all around. It costs $699 ($799 for cashmere units).

Ion Audio Mobile LP

Vinyl continues to grow as a niche market, and we're guessing more than a few of you Apartment Therapy readers have a collection of LPs to enjoy when digital fails to satisfy. The ION Audio Mobile LP is picnic-blanket-ready, complete with a carrying case and battery power operation. When back at home, the Mobile LP can be plugged into Windows or OS X operating systems for LP-to-digital file format transfer via USV and an included EZ Vinyl Converter. This device goes for $99.99.