We're already halfway into 2023 and the year has been absolutely packed with smart new speakers ranging from pocketable portables to all-singing, all dancing home entertainment audio tech. Whether you're looking for the ultimate smart speaker or something you can chuck in a bag on the way to the beach, there's more choice than ever before.
Some of the launches we've seen so far this year have been relatively minor updates to old favorites, such as Apple's spot-the-difference revamp of the HomePod speaker. Others are interesting takes from old names, such as the Orange Box. And of course there's been brand new speakers launched from firms better known for other audio products, such as headphone experts Skullcandy.
In this guide, we're not going to put every speaker head to head. Rather, we're going to look at the launches we think were the most interesting, and use our crystal balls to predict what we might see next.
Speakers in 2023: what have been the biggest launches so far this year?
The Sonos Era 100 and 300 speakers were leaked well in advance. Still, it was no less exciting when Sonos officially launched the Era 100 and Era 300 speakers. Sonos' brand new multi-room speakers come with Bluetooth and USB-C line-in. In the case of the larger, more expensive Sonos Era 300, there was very impressive Dolby Atmos Spatial Audio too. The Sonos Era 100 is arguably the more important of the pair, however, as it is a direct replacement for the venerable Sonos One.
It may not have the multi-room smarts of Sonos, but JBL's newly launched Pulse 5 is a strong contender for one of the best Bluetooth speakers or best waterproof speakers of 2023. Not only does it sound pretty good, but it has some nice LED illumination too.
However, it was up against tough competition from some other big hitters, such as Sony's SRS-XB100 and XV800. The former is a super-light portable that punches above its weight when it comes to bass, and the latter is a full-on five-tweeter party speaker where Sony invites you to hook up a mic and sing – you can even use it as a guitar amp.
There were some interesting new speakers from Skullcandy, better known for their headphones and only occasionally offering speakers. This year's crop includes the titchy, key ring-esque Ounce, the slightly larger Kilo and the rugged Terrain Mini / Terrain / Terrain XL, each of which offers a bit more power in a bit heftier casing.
At the high end there was the welcome return of the B&O Beosound Explore, one of the most beautiful of all 2023's speaker crop thanks to its retro Scandinavian design. There was also Apple's HomePod 2, which adds Atmos to the original Apple HomePod but replicates its key omissions including the lack of an Aux input and frustrating Siri assistant. Another tech giant had a new speaker to show off too, albeit one that's a lot smaller and a lot cheaper. Amazon launched a cool new Echo Pop mini Alexa speaker for anyone who thought the already-small Echo Dot was still too hefty.
My personal highlight so far didn't come from a tech firm though. It came from Orange, whose guitar amplifiers have graced stages from the very birth of rock (and plenty of other genres too). Available in portable and non-portable versions the Orange's seriously powerful portable speakers (the Orange Box and Orange Box L) have the iconic looks of the legendary amps but the inside is decidedly modern, with both Class D and A/B analogue amplifiers to deliver tight bass, natural mids and the warmth that only analogue amps can really provide.
Speakers in 2023: what launches are we expecting during the rest of the year?
Sonos may be our pick right now for the best wireless speaker, but some interesting rivals are expected in the months to come. Some of them are cutting-edge, and others are cut from very different cloth.
The most intriguing speaker we're expecting to see later this year is the Nothing speaker, from the same firm as the already iconic Nothing phone and Nothing Ear 2 buds. All we've seen so far is a pair of leaked images that suggest a very odd design that looks like no speaker we've ever seen, so if you're into future-looking tech this could be one to watch.
At the other end of the style spectrum you'll find the Victrola Music Editions 1 and 2, which are handheld and tabletop speakers respectively. Both Music Edition portable speakers are available in black and silver, and their durable anodized aluminum grilles offer a sleek yet sturdy design inspired by iconic products of the past. They're IP67 for water resistance and you can pair them for extra oomph.
Whether or not they'll be entering our best party speaker roundup remains to be seen, but if they're as much of a feast for the ears as they are for the eyes they may well crash that particular party.
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Writer, broadcaster, musician and kitchen gadget obsessive Carrie Marshall (Twitter) has been writing about tech since 1998, contributing sage advice and odd opinions to all kinds of magazines and websites as well as writing more than a dozen books. Her memoir, Carrie Kills A Man, is on sale now. She is the singer in Glaswegian rock band HAVR.