Audio options for road trips and campervans

A Parkers guide to portable speakers and car stereos for road trips and campervans.

Portable speaker sitting on the grass

by Chris Williams |

Let's begin by defining exactly what we mean. You're right, cars and vehicles possess stereo systems, and increasingly good ones. But on a road trip, you tend to want to take your music away from the car and around the campsite, or beach, or wherever it is you have ended up.

This applies to campervans too, though, just like our campervan gadget article, this is aimed at the simpler, more budget type of campervan. Often a DIY job. While we enjoy the fancy Volkswagen California as much as the next person, we also get giddy about going simplistic too.

Additionally, your campervan donor vehicle such as an aged Ford Transit or Toyota Hiace is unlikely to have desirable audio, if any at all. What we wish to do here is provide you with a range of audio options for your road trip or campervan, from tiny Bluetooth speakers to proper vehicle stereos.

The best audio options for road trips and campervans

Ultimate Ears MEGABOOM 3

Editoru2019s pick
Ultimate Ears MEGABOOM 3
Amazon

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UE set the tone when it brought out its original BOOM a few years ago. Since then the MEGABOOM has been the cream of portable speakers and the 3 is the latest version. For anyone who hasn't witnessed one of these in action, the sound quality is exceptional.

And that's just the start. Sound is projected 360 degrees and the speaker is IP67 rated (also dust and sand-proof). You get, realistically, 15-20 hours run time. All this culminates to make the MEGABOOM 3 our foremost recommendation.

Pros Cons
• Incredible audio quality • None. The ideal portable speaker
• Durable
• Compact

Sony XAV-AX3005DB DAB Car Stereo

Best campervan stereo upgrade
Sony XAV-AX3005DB DAB Car Stereo

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It's not only sound quality that drives us to select this unit. Being Apple Car Play and Android Auto compatible, this stereo can also act as your sat nav. Hook them up to some speakers and the audio aspect of your campervan renovation is complete.

This unit keeps the Sony reputation for quality intact. The touchscreen is easy to use and responsive. It's probably the one high-tech concession you may want to make when creating a more simplistic campervan.

Pros Cons
• Apple Car Play and Android Auto • It's a sizeable investment
• Excellent touchscreen
• DAB+ radio

Sony SRS-XB13

Best small speaker
Sony SRS-XB13
Amazon

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And we mean small: 7.4 x 9.2 x 7.4 cm and weighing a mere 240g. Does that mean poor sound quality? Be in no doubt the MEGABOOM 3 is better but for something the size of a tin of sweetcorn, the SRS-XB13 is amazing.

Dashboard, camping table, log - the SRS-XB13 can be popped wherever. And like the MEGABOOM 3, this is hardy and IP67 rated. There are a handful of colours to choose from too.

Pros Cons
• Very compact • UE MEGABOOM 3 has better sound quality
• 16-hour runtime
• IP67 rated

Anker Soundcore Motion Boom

Best looking portable speaker
Anker Soundcore Motion Boom
Amazon

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We like the boombox looks but we wouldn't recommend it purely on those merits. The Motion Boom is an excellent sound system too. And tough - IPX7 rated.

It's the largest portable speaker here at 34.5 x 14.7 x 20cm but the handle aids portability and the run time of up to 24 hours is better than the others.

Pros Cons
• Long run time • UE MEGABOOM 3 has better sound quality
• Great design
• IPX7 rated

Tribit StormBox Pro

Value option to Editor's Pick
Tribit StormBox Pro
Amazon

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The MEGABOOM 3 is superb but it's not cheap. If you can't justify the price, consider this as an alternative. Like the MEGABOOM 3 it's waterproof (IPX7) with 360-degree sound, and has a runtime to rival the Anker Soundcore Motion Boom.

Sound quality is very good but not quite that of the incredible MEGABOOM 3.

Pros Cons
• IPX7 tough • UE MEGABOOM 3 has better sound quality
• Up to 24 hour run time • Only comes in black
• Good value

Majority Little Shelford Portable Radio

Best old school audio
Majority Little Shelford Portable Radio
Amazon

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We say old school but it's essentially the retro looks. It's a radio with FM and DAB+, plus Bluetooth connectivity too. There are six colour options and it can be powered either by the mains or via four AA batteries.

It's certainly not as robust as the other portable speakers here and nor does it project as nice a sound. But the bar is set high by the others and the Little Shelford performs well in its own right, in addition to serving as a piece of décor too. At 10 x 13 x17cm, it's also very portable.

Pros Cons
• Looks great • Requires AAs – no rechargeable battery
• DAB+ radio • No IP rating
• Bluetooth

Pioneer-MVH-S420BT

Best basic car stereo
Pioneer-MVH-S420BT

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Though lacking the big touchscreen of the Sony, the Pioneer unit still possesses the important features including Bluetooth and USB connectivity. Consequently, you are able to play music, make calls, and have maps audio all hands free. The USB connectivity also provides device charging.

In terms of sound quality, Pioneer's Advanced Sound Retriever technology and other software collectively produce crisp and pleasant audio.

Pros Cons
• Bluetooth connectivity • No touchscreen
• Good audio software • Looks are a bit dated
• Straightfoward operation

Powering your portable speaker

If it is a portable speaker you opt for, charging it is rather essential in the same way fuel is for your car or campervan.

One option is to have a USB charger in your car or campervan. These are very easy to get hold of but we express the need for caution here. We know that the cheap, tacky options are not worth the time or money. Spend a couple of extra pounds, and it is only a couple of extra pounds - £5 maybe, to get a quality one that has current, voltage, temperature, and short circuit protection. Our suggestion is below.

Veld USB Car Charger

Best USB car charger
Veld USB Car Charger
Amazon

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Dual port USB A and USB-C charger. Fast and safe charging.

Another alternative is solar. Where the USB car charger is faster, the solar charger is more portable, allowing you to charge your speaker or other devices away from the car or campervan.

The Goal Zero Nomad 10 Solar Panel is a sound option here. It's light (544g) and has reasonable charging ability, weather-dependant of course, and performs well either plugged in and left to fully charge a device, or used as a top-up. We also really rate Goal Zero as a company too, founded on fantastic principles and is driven by a great ethos.

For car stereos

If you wish to kit your campervan out with the Sony or Pioneer stereos, speakers are the natural and important next step. If you want the best in sound quality, you will want component speakers where the subwoofer and tweeter speakers are separate units. The alternative are coxial speakers that have the subwoofer and tweeters in one speaker.

A component setup is more expensive and takes up more space but the improvement in sound quality is considerable.

In terms of installation, you can do it yourself or with a mate if either of you know what you're doing and/or wish to save on installation costs. It's not difficult and there are plenty of excellent YouTube videos on the subject. Alternatively, places like Halfords offer excellent installation services for a fee, and also have stereo advice if you need it.

Read next:

The best cookware for your campervan

The best wireless car chargers

The best travel flasks you should have for your car

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