DIY Tools

Milwaukee M18 Packout Radio Review: A Tough Unit With Unmatched Sound

Should you retire that tiny, tinny Bluetooth speaker—or is the Milwaukee M18 Packout Radio and Charger too pricey for the workplace? We tested this premium jobsite radio to find out.
Tom Scalisi Avatar
The Milwaukee M18 Packout Radio and Charger at a building site.
Photo: acmetools.com

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Many people enjoy listening to music while working on a project. Whether it’s a deck build outdoors or a drywall job inside, the right tunes can make the day (and project) more pleasant. But with so many jobsite radios available in a wide range of price points, it can be hard to decide which model to choose.

To help make that decision a bit easier for folks, I performed hands-on testing with some of the best jobsite radios on the market—and my favorite was the Milwaukee M18 Packout radio/speaker. I put this premium-priced radio and charger combination through its paces in a variety of settings, using all of its features to determine how good it really is. For the most part, I loved this model, but it did have a few minor drawbacks. Keep reading my Milwaukee M18 Packout radio and charger review to learn more about what this unit can do and why it might be the right choice for your jobsite. 

Milwaukee M18 Packout Radio and Charger: At a Glance

Milwaukee M18 Packout Radio and Charger Review
Photo: acmetools.com

Rating: 9.4/10

PROS

  • Excellent sound quality from 10 speakers that project 360 degrees to fill the jobsite with sound
  • Connects to the Packout tool storage system and uses M18 Milwaukee batteries or AC power 
  • Water-, debris-, and impact-resistant radio with a weather-sealed storage compartment that allows it to withstand rugged jobsite conditions
  • Charges M18 batteries and mobile devices when plugged into AC power

CONS

  • A fairly large and heavy model for carrying to the jobsite
  • Static intensifies while charging the battery

Get the Milwaukee M18 Packout radio and charger at:

What is the Milwaukee M18 Packout radio and charger?

The Milwaukee M18 Packout radio is a jobsite radio that takes entertainment to a project, indoors or out. It’s rugged, packed with features, and designed to work with a large part of the Milwaukee power tool and tool-storage lineup.

The M18 Packout radio and charger allows users to play music, podcasts, or local radio stations. It has an AM/FM radio with a built-in antenna, Bluetooth compatibility, auxiliary headphone jack input (with an included wire), and a standard USB jack (for charging only—it doesn’t play music). The auxiliary wire and USB jack are hidden away inside a weather-sealed compartment that users can also store a cell phone inside.

The M18 Packout radio and charger has two power options: AC power with the built-in power cord or a Milwaukee M18 battery for hours of cordless radio use. The power cord wraps around brackets on one side of the radio for secure storage, while the battery slides into the storage compartment with the user’s mobile phone, auxiliary jack, and USB port. When this unit is plugged into a standard outlet, it can charge M18 batteries (one at a time) as well as a mobile device. 

This Milwaukee jobsite radio has an impressive total of 10 speakers—four tweeters, four full-range speakers, a subwoofer, and a resonator—all of which combine to project clear, high-quality sound. Plus, the speakers are installed in a 360-degree pattern, allowing this radio to deliver excellent sound throughout the entire jobsite.

Other built-in features include a handy bottle opener, a clock with a backup battery, and the ability to attach to Milwaukee tool boxes and other Packout-compatible items. This tough unit is also dust-, water-, and impact-resistant to stand up to the rigors of the jobsite. 

Milwaukee M18 Packout Radio and Charger Review
Photo: Tom Scalisi for Bob Vila

How easy is it to set up the Milwaukee M18 Packout radio?

There really isn’t much to set up with the Milwaukee M18 Packout radio, but there is one important thing users must know. The unit comes with a set of AAA batteries, and prior to reading the directions, I figured they were for a remote. In fact, they are the backup batteries for the clock, which install inside their own spot in the weather-sealed compartment. The battery cover is secured with Phillips screws, and getting the batteries into place can be a little tricky due to space constraints.

Other than that, the Milwaukee M18 Packout radio is very easy to set up: Simply uncoil the AC wire and plug it in, or open the weather-sealed compartment and install an M18 battery. Then simply press the power button on the volume knob. To listen to the radio, pop up the antenna, select AM or FM, and then use the dial to tune in a station. To program a preset, all that’s necessary is to find a favorite station, hold the preset button, choose the preset number, and press the preset button again. 

To connect a phone, simply long-press the Bluetooth button on the dial for a few seconds until it flashes, then find “M18 PACKOUT” listed in the available devices. Once it’s linked, users can listen to their favorite streaming service through the Packout. The process for auxiliary is even simpler: Just plug the auxiliary jack into the phone’s headphone port (if the phone has one) and select the auxiliary mode. Note: The USB jack does not play music; it only charges. 

How easy is the Milwaukee M18 Packout radio and charger to use?

I found it extremely easy to use the Milwaukee M18 Packout radio and charger—but it’s worth explaining each function separately.

As a radio or speaker, the Milwaukee M18 Packout is very intuitive. The Bluetooth connection doesn’t require an app, and swapping between modes or stations requires just the press of a button on the front of the control panel. Also, the equalizer button makes it a breeze to adjust bass and treble, so folks can easily tune the sound to their tastes. And when it’s linked to Bluetooth, users can pause, skip, or repeat songs with the buttons on the dial. 

As a charger, this unit gets even easier to use. All the user has to do to charge a battery is slide it into the dock inside the weathertight compartment and plug the AC cord into an outlet. The unit will automatically start charging. For mobile devices, plugging an applicable cord into the USB while the radio is plugged into an outlet will start the charging process.

Milwaukee M18 Packout Radio and Charger Review
Photo: Tom Scalisi for Bob Vila

Is the M18 Packout radio well designed?

As far as sound quality and functionality are concerned, I was quite impressed by the M18 radio’s design. It works well, sounds great, and easily links to M18 Packout boxes for simple transport. However, at 23 pounds, it proved to be a pretty hefty handful to tote around when it’s not connected to a wheeled tool box. It’s larger and heavier than other jobsite radios I tested, so that’s where it fell short. Other models are more compact and easier to carry, though they do trade functionality and sound quality for that portability. 

As I complain about this model’s size, it’s also worth noting that the weathertight compartment that fits cords, phones, and batteries is oversized—and that’s a plus. I was able to fit my large smartphone (Samsung S22+) in that compartment, while it wouldn’t fit in other radio compartments. It could also hold the extra cords, a large 5Ah battery, the radio’s instruction booklet, and even a wallet if desired. So while it is an armful, this extra space proved to be a real bonus and convenience in real-life situations.

How does the M18 Packout radio and charger perform?

It performs excellently. I’ve been pretty clear about the sound quality, which no other radio in the test could match (the next closest was another Milwaukee radio). It projects 360 degrees of sound, and the bass and treble adjustments make it possible to dial in the sound quality even more. Also, the Bluetooth range reached up to around 100 feet, which is more than enough for most project sites (especially with the unit placed in the middle of the room). 

There was one area in which the M18’s performance did take quite a hit. When I was using the charging mode, the radio static intensified, making it almost impossible to listen to some FM stations. I’m assuming the electronics in the charger or battery are the cause, but folks planning to use this jobsite radio primarily for listening to FM stations will likely see this as a drawback. However, there were no issues when charging and using Bluetooth or AM stations.

Milwaukee M18 Packout Radio and Charger Review
Photo: acmetools.com

Is the Milwaukee M18 Packout radio worth the price?

One of the biggest drawbacks to the Milwaukee M18 Packout radio is the fairly steep price. At around $300, it’s an investment that most other radios and chargers don’t come close to rivaling. But does that mean it’s overpriced? I don’t think so. 

The M18 Packout sounds so much better than the other radios in my test that it was hard to even compare them in that regard. The sound is clear, the bass has a nice thump, and it’s louder than any other model I tested. 

Also, it’s important to recognize that this model charges batteries. Basic models that cost considerably less might not have charging functions, and those that do usually don’t sound this good. If you want top-level audio performance and charging from a jobsite radio, this is the model, and for that reason, it’s worth the money. 

However, I do not think this model is for everyone. Folks who want to listen to sports radio on AM or local radio stations probably don’t need a radio this high-tech or powerful. A basic radio would likely do just fine in those situations.

Should you buy the Milwaukee M18 radio and charger? 

I’m a big fan of the Milwaukee M18 radio and charger, and I think almost anyone would be happy with this jobsite radio. Yet I recognize that this might not be the best radio for everyone. Certain people will appreciate it, while others will likely be happy with a less expensive option.

Folks who just want to hear AM radio while working around the house could go with something a bit cheaper, such as a standard portable radio. The same applies to those who don’t care much about sound quality. Talk shows and static-ridden radio stations won’t sound much better coming from the M18 Packout than they would from a standard radio. 

However, music lovers who find that their favorite tunes make any worksite or project more pleasurable will want to seriously consider the M18 radio. I would also suggest it to anyone who appreciates clear sound quality from their podcasts and streaming services. The Milwaukee M18 doesn’t have a rival in the jobsite radio market when it comes to sound quality.

Also, for those with the money in the budget, I would also say that it’s the perfect complement to the Packout tool-storage system. Attaching this radio and charger to that system allows users to bring some entertainment as well as a charger directly to the jobsite—and since it’s secure and tough, it can handle the rigors of the site. Folks invested in Milwaukee tools and its Packout system will appreciate this model’s quality and capabilities.

Where to Buy the Milwaukee M18 Packout Radio and Charger

Get the Milwaukee M18 Packout radio and charger at:

Meet the Tester

Tom Scalisi is a full-time DIY and construction writer for many of the largest websites in the industry, including BobVila.com, This Old House, Family Handyman, and Forbes. He also owns and operates a pest control blog, RiddaBugs.com. He spent years working on a variety of jobsites and knows what to look for in a jobsite radio. 

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Tom Scalisi

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Tom Scalisi is a freelance writer, author, and blogger with a passion for building. Whether it’s a DIY project or an entire website, Tom loves creating something from the ground up, stepping back, and admiring a job well done.

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