Wireless speaker systems are the bomb. Gone are the days of crawling around on your ceiling threading speaker wires. No longer do you have to have DIY experience just to listen to some Metallica in the kitchen. Multiroom systems are all over the place, and with good reason, and a beach day wouldn't be one without some music. We thought long and hard about doing two roundups - one for WiFi, one for Bluetooth - before deciding to combine the two. Bluetooth is never going to be a patch on WiFi, but many speakers include both, and we think these are all worth picks - whether they're for your living room, or the campsite.
The market for wireless speakers is enormous, but we're fortunate in that there are a few clear winners. The first thing we do is highlight the best overall speaker – the one which will fit the needs and budget of most people while still delivering excellent quality. We also look at best pure sound quality, best value for money (for a model that offers the most bang for the buck),the connection type and reliability, and price.
Narrowing this list down in a market that has rapidly become clogged with models was pretty tricky, but we think we've got a very good list here. Where we've done an in-depth review, we link to it. And by the way: we've probably left your favorite model off the list. Sorry not sorry - we stand by your opinion, and reserve the right to change it at any time (upon receipt of reasoned argument). If you agree with our selections, or disagree, be sure to let us in know in the comments.
Power: 750 Watts
Connections: Bluetooth, WiFi
Drivers: 1 x Tweeter, 1 x Midrange, 2 x Woofer (Sizes unknown)
What We Like: Redefines what wireless speakers can do.
What We Don’t: Huge price tag may turn some people off.
It’s quite rare for us to be absolutely certain about the number one position. In fact, there’s arguably only one other roundup on the site where the number one pick, in our opinion, is the unquestioned winner: our high-end headphones roundup, where the Focal Utopia dominates. Focal is a French company, and so is Devialet, and we don’t know what’s going on in France because the Phantom is absolutely spectacular.
It has so many plus points and jaw-dropping features that it’s hard for any other speaker at the top. Where do we even start? The incredible design? The unbelievable low end, which is put out by twin bass drivers that move in and out hypnotically? The beautiful detail and texture to the sound? The great app? The truly staggering amount of power (this particular model delivers 750 watts, but you can buy units that deliver up to 4,500, if you want, as well as increased sensitivity)? Perhaps only one reason is enough: it’s redefined what wireless speakers can do, and made wired speaker manufacturers very nervous indeed. Ultimately, its high pricetag might stop some from buying it, but there’s no question in our mind: if we’re going to do a list of the best wireless speakers, this is the unquestioned number one.
See the Devialet Phantom
Power: 230 Watts
Connections: Bluetooth, WiFi
Drivers: 2 x 1” Tweeter, 1 x 5.25” Woofer
What We Like: Huge range of features.
What We Don’t: Somewhat badly-designed app.
KEF feature on a lot of product roundups on this site. They dominate our home theater coverage, not to mention our lists of speakers. We often ask ourselves if we are giving them too easy a ride, but honestly: it’s hard to find fault here. The wireless version of their famed LS 50 wired speakers are nothing short of outstanding.
It’s not just the unreal sound, which more than matches the speakers’ wired counterparts. It’s the incredible range of features that come packed into these two boxes. You get digital and analogue inputs, the ability to connect a music streamer, Tidal built in, and even a companion app – although we’ll be the first to say that it could stand a major redesign. On balance, we think these aren’t quite as good as the Devialet Phantom - there are a little too traditional – but there’s no way they would rank outside the top five. They are bloody good.
See the KEF LS50 Wireless
Power: 60 Watts
Connections: Bluetooth, WiFi
Drivers: 2 x 2” mid-range, 1 x 3.5” woofer
What We Like: High-definition audio, extraordinary value, punches way above its weight class.
What We Don’t: Design could be better.
One of the competitors that is slowly starting to encroach on SONOS’ industry stranglehold is Bluesound, and they’re doing it quite unusual way. They are offering high-definition audio, with higher sample rates and bit depths transmitted wirelessly, which means that they are ideal for budding audiophiles or those who are just sick and tired of compressed MP3s.
Bluesound have slowly been gaining ground, and right now, they’re a top three pick in this category - hardly surprising, given the high-definition sound they offer, which easily places them above models like the SONOS Play:5. We’d even argue that they’re a better all-around solution than the Naim Mu-So. BlueSound do, by the way, offer two other models that are worth looking at: the smaller Pulse Flex, and a significantly larger and newer Pulse 2. We are not sure they deserve more than one spot on this list, but make no mistake: the Pulse Mini’s high-def sound is still good enough to get it on here. It also offers aptX-equipped Bluetooth. Nice!
See the BlueSound Pulse Mini
Power: 450 Watts
Connections: Bluetooth, WiFi
What We Like: Crazy audio quality.
What We Don’t: Crazy price tag.
It’s actually pretty difficult for high-class audio brands to break into the multiroom marketplace, simply because their stuff is so expensive, but it hasn’t stopped a few of them trying. We wish more of them would, because the Naim Mu-So is great. It’s a big, ugly box that looks a bit like a coffin had sex with a soundbar, and it pumps out some of the most unbelievable audio we’ve ever heard. Not quite as good as the Phantom or the KEF, but still damn fine.
This thing is titanic, and it’s truly astounding how it squeezes such juice out of an invisible audio signal. You do have to make a couple of compromises, like settling for WiFi and Bluetooth without support for protocols like PlayFi, but if you can deal with that, and afford the $1,349 price tag, you’ll be in for a wild ride. It has six 75 watt separate amplifiers, as well as a 32-bit DSP design by, of all people, Bentley. It comes with a terrific app, and everything you need to fill your personal palace with wireless sound. Just watch out for that price tag.
See the Naim Mu-So
Power: 150 Watts
Connections: Bluetooth, WiFi
Drivers: 2 x 1” Tweeter, 2 x 3.5” Midrange, 1 x 5.9” Woofer
What We Like: Still one of the best around, huge range of features, kick-ass sound.
What We Don’t: Could use an upgrade?
Although it’s been around since 2015, which makes it practically a dinosaur and wireless speaker terms, the Zep’s distinctive shape and signature sound has made it one of the best options available. At $700, we think it offers exceptional bang for buck, with not only a huge range of features, but five drivers pump out some serious audio.
The connectivity you have with the speaker is all-encompassing, including Bluetooth, WiFi, ethernet, Apple Airplay and Spotify functionality. And once you got it all hooked up – the work of moments – you can start to enjoy some of the best sound in the business. A lot of it is down to the midrange drivers, which include B&W’s FST (Fixed Suspension Transducer) technology, meaning that the mids are rich and lush, as well as being pinpoint precise. Having heard this, we think it’s absolutely one of the finest speakers on the market – we prefer the Mu-So, but you can easily go for this is a slightly cheaper alternative that still does a fantastic job.
See the Bowers & Wilkins Zeppelin Wireless
Power: 300 Watts
Connections: Bluetooth, WiFi
Drivers: 2 x 1” Tweeter, 2 x 2.5” Midrange, 1 x Woofer
What We Like: Naim sound at a reasonable price.
What We Don’t: Still overkill for most people.
Naim have absolutely smashed the wireless market, proving that hi-res sound doesn’t need cables. If you can’t afford their massive Mu-So system, you might want to take a long look at the QB. While it’s still expensive, which will put it out of the price range of most people wanting a wireless speaker, that doesn’t stop it being absolutely superb - better than the much bigger Crescendo from MartinLogan, in our opinion, and with three times the power.
You get a massive five drivers and a passive radiator that put out 300 watts of sound at full go, helped along by an aluminum heatsink on the back end. On the front, you can swap out the grilles for ones of different colors, and Naim give you something to do with all that power by supplying access to Spotify, Tidal, Bluetooth audio, WiFi and more. The sound doesn’t quite match the heights of its rectangular cousin, but it’s still excellent, and we have no problem putting both the products on this list. They both exemplify everything we like about wireless speakers: convenient, simple, with devastating sound. And besides, the Naim control app is excellent. We do prefer the SONOS for its ease of use, but again, this is a serious close call.
See the Naim Mu-So QB
Power: 100 Watts
Connections: Bluetooth, WiFi
Drivers: 2 x 1” Tweeter, 1 x 5” Woofer
What We Like: Looks and sounds terrific.
What We Don’t: Down-firing bass ports narrow your options.
It’s quite surprising to see MartinLogan getting into the wireless game. The company is known for its high-end home theater speaker setups, not dinky little wireless units – although to be fair, you’d never call the Crescendo dinky. It’s a hemispherical beast, with a wide frame and imposing looks – although on balance, looks we rather like.
Although it doesn’t come with a companion app, like the SONOS models, it delivers far better sound. The picture is one of crystal-clear detail, with superlative definition and dynamics. The one issue we had was that the down firing bass ports sometimes reacted badly to the surface we placed it on, particularly if the surface was very hard. That’s something you need to watch for when you’re choosing the place to put the speaker. Ultimately, this doesn’t beat models like the NAIM Mu-So or the Devialet, but it gives it a bloody good try.
See the MartinLogan Crescendo
Power: 240 Watts
Connections: Bluetooth, WiFi
Drivers: 2 x 0.75" Tweeter, 1 x 1.5" Midrange, 2 x 5.5" Woofer
What We Like: Gorgeous. Just gorgeous.
What We Don’t: Insanely expensive for what you get.
At first sight of the Beoplay A6, you'll want to run your hands over it. Perhaps that should be avoided, as that's precisely how one controls it, sliding a finger across the top surface to raise and lower volume, and to mute the audio. This might also be the first speaker which was made in collaboration with a fabric manufacturer, and it's covered with a textured cloth that feels fantastic. The audio is, as you'd probably expect, delightful, with three Class D amplifiers powering five different drivers to create an immersive, attention grabbing soundstage.
The absolutely giant pricetag and relatively poor value-for-money means we'd pick other options over it, especially given that it doesn’t do anything other speakers don’t. For example, we much prefer the Naim Mu-So QB for both sound and functionality. While the price has dropped by around $200 in recent months, it’s still a huge amount to pay for a wireless speaker.For most people, this will be more than what is needed, and so we can’t in good conscience put it too high on the list. If you can afford it, however, you'll soon realise that you get what you pay for.
See the B&O Beoplay A6
Drivers: 3 x Tweeters, 3 x Woofers (Sizes unknown)
What We Like: Big, bad, brilliant.
What We Don’t: SONOS is a closed ecosystem.
An upgrade on the original PLAY:3 in every way, the SONOS PLAY:5 is bigger, badder and more imposing than its younger brother. It’s a big block of a thing, with no physical controls (like buttons) in sight; everything is controlled by the app, although there is the option of sweet touch controls on top.
Once you’ve got it set up, the drivers inside pump out some truly magnificent audio. We’re talking jaw-drop level here, with rumbling bass matched up with supremely detailed highs. SONOS’ proprietary tech, TruePlay, makes this even better; it runs the unit through a calibration test through your smartphone that gives it the optimum settings for the room it’s in, meaning you’re always getting the best out of it. Put a few of these in your house and you’ll have people coming to take photos. It's unquestionably one of the best overall speakers here - a real winner. That being said, it may be a little big for some people, and there’s no getting away from the fact that it’s part of a closed ecosystem. We love the ability to instantly turn on music from a smartphone, thanks to its always-on design, but others may not. And by the way: don't feel you have to spring for the Play:5. SONOS have several smaller models, including our office favorite, the PLAY:3. Read our in-depth review.
See the SONOS PLAY:5
Power: 280 Watts
Drivers: 2 x Tweeter, 2 x Midrange (Sizes unknown), 2 x 8" Woofer
What We Like: A truly magnficient bit of kit.
What We Don't: Unique looks, Bluetooth only (rare at this price range), very heavy.
This bizarre unit from Fluance might have some very strange looks, and build more akin to a WiFi unit, but it really gets the job done. Its AptX codec manages streaming with aplomb, and it offers a wealth of complimentary features, including AM/FM radio. But the reason it costs as much as it does, and the reason it's at the top of our list, is we've quite simply never heard a model with this much power. Six drivers, including two magnificent subwoofers, are in evidence here, with some incredible use of materials (such as woven glass) which results in room-filling, exquisite sound.
Our only question, ultimately, is why Fluance went with Bluetooth in the first place. Given that the speaker is decidedly not portable, WiFi may have been a better option. But the aptX-driven Bluetooth works incredibly well, further eroding our opinion that speakers that run on WiFi are superior to those that run on Bluetooth. The unusual design means it is definitely not going to be for everyone, and it is expensive, but it definitely deserves a place on this list - even if it’s not quite good enough to beat off competition from Bang & Olufsen, above.
See the Fluance Fi70
Power: 200 Watts
Drivers: 2 x 1” Tweeter, 1 x 5" Woofer
What We Like: Phenomenal sound…
What We Don’t: …once you get past the annoyances.
Paradigm are a legendary speaker maker. With the PW-600, they’ve brought that expertise to the wireless space. Once you use the included microphone and the Anthem Room Correction system to calibrate the speaker, you’ll be rewarded with some of the best audio in wireless history. They really have done a phenomenal job of crafting the sound signature here.
So why is it so low on our list? Well, that amazing Anthem Room Correction is PC only, Which is crazy in a world full of Macs (although it is on iOS). Secondly, although this speaker is PlayFi compatible, that means setting up relies on the glitchy, badly designed PlayFi app. Not ideal. However, if you can deal with the annoyances, this is a superlative speaker. As we said in our review: “Ultimately, the PW 600 is an intriguing speaker with some fantastic engineering that doesn’t quite hit all its marks.” Still worth a place on this list, though – and if Paradigm can rectify the annoyances, we fully expect this to jump quite a few places. Read our in-depth review.
See the Paradigm Shift PW-600
Power: 30 Watts
Drivers: 1 x 0.75” Tweeter, 1 x 2.75” Woofer
What We Like: Easy-to-use, great sound.
What We Don’t: Lots of wires for a wireless speaker, not very loud.
In our review of the HD3s – a pair of pint -sized wireless speakers from boutique maker Audioengine – we said that they were probably a little bit pricey for what you get, and that you have to be dead set on upgrading your existing system to invest in them. “But it will be one hell of an upgrade, and given how well-designed they are, and how excellent the overall sound quality, we've got no hesitation in giving these a big thumbs up. They were a genuine pleasure to use, almost effortless in their operation, and we were very sorry to have to send them back.”
You could argue that they shouldn’t be this high on the list, but what is noticeable since we’ve done the review is just how much we missed them. They are a genuinely terrific little pair of Bluetooth speakers - although for a wireless pair, they've got some immensely bulky power connections. Although they aren’t as loud as we would have liked, they have terrific sound (including a decent bass boost) and pair with Bluetooth systems almost instantly. As a simple pair of desktop speakers, perhaps to go with a laptop, they are close to unbeatable. If you can forgive the quirks, and don’t need to bigger space to fill, this pair of speakers might be just what you need. They don’t really compete with bigger models, like the Fluance, but then, perhaps they aren’t designed to. Read our in-depth review.
See the Audioengine HD3
Power: 30 Watts
Drivers: 2 x 0.8” Tweeter, 2 x 3.5” Woofer
What We Like: Great design and functionality.
What We Don’t: Very hard to find.
So here’s the thing with the Dali Katch speaker. You can preorder it off their website, quite happily (and get three months of the Tidal streaming service as a perk, thank you very much) or you can go on Amazon, and pay an exorbitant price for an import. While we’re not sure it’s worth more than the list price, there’s no question that it belongs on this list.
Essentially, it’s a battery-powered Bluetooth speaker with some really good design. The housing is made of wood, on the whole thing is highly portable, with a full day of battery life and the ability to charge to full in around two hours. The sound is reportedly terrific, with built-in presets that allow you to easily get the audio you want. You can also connect devices that aren’t set up for Bluetooth, although we’re struggling to name any - old iPods, perhaps? A super high-end audio player? Regardless, this is a speaker that deserves its place here, and will do you just fine if you can track it down. We prefer it to other portable models, like the UE Megaboom, as we think it has far better audio quality. Nice Katch!
See the Dali Katch
What We Like: Great battery life, speakerphone, solid sound.
What We Don’t: Too pricey. And what’s with the charging cradle deal?
In the past, we’ve featured the Bose Soundtouch 10 on this list. For our latest update, we knew that there were too many good speakers to let the company have more than one spot on this list – they definitely deserved a spot, but which speaker would we give it to? After much debate, we settled on the Soundlink Revolve+, which we think offers too many good elements to ignore.
For starters, how does 16 hours of battery life sound? That’s constant play, and at a reasonable volume too. You also get speakerphone capability, and audio quality that is solid if not superb. But as usually happens with Bose, there is a downside, and in this case, there are two. Firstly, we think it’s too pricey at present, and secondly, it’s a bit cheeky of the company to try sell an additional $30 charging cradle alongside the speaker. You don’t need it, but it does make charging a little easier. Still, there’s no question that this speaker sounds terrific, with rich bass that can easily compete with some of the bigger models on this list. If you can deal with the price, and aren’t fussed about the charging cradle, you’ll have fun with this one.
See the Bose Soundlink Revolve+
Drivers: 2 x 3/4” Tweeter, 1 x 4” Woofer
What We Like: Lovely sound quality.
What We Don’t: It has a handle - and yet it definitely isn’t portable!
Audio Pro have delivered something old school here. The Addon T5 has a retro chic that makes us think of 1970s radios, and it’s a design we really like. It definitely deserves a place on this list, even if it isn’t going to compete with models like the Bose Soundlink Revolve+, which have it beaten on portability and sound quality.
And we do mean portability. The smaller model, the T3 – which we don’t think is quite as good – does have the advantage of having a built-in battery, meaning you can take it with you. This one? Nope. And yet, Audio Pro have still put a handle on top for… Reasons. Design issues aside, you do get some genuinely lovely sound here, with rich depth and some fine punch and clarity. For $200, this is a very good option, especially if you have a small sized room that you want to fill with wonderful noise.
See the Audio Pro Addon T5
Connections: WiFi, Bluetooth
Drivers: 2 x Midrange (Size unknown)
What We Like: Included USB port, adaptability to different setups.
What We Don’t: Not quite as good as the SONOS systems.
As with Google’s Chromecast Audio - which is not on this list - the Denon Heos 1 is a bit of an oddity. It’s actually part of an entire system, including the Heos 3, 5 and 7 and the Heos Amp. To get the best out of it, you have to, like the SONOS PLAY:5 above, use it exclusively with its buddies. Not too big a deal, as these are some solid products. And it’s becoming more common for manufacturers to include HEOS functionality in their product. If you have a home theater system, you could do worse than pick this speaker up, especially if you own receivers from Marantz, or Denon themselves.
Taking the Heos 1 as an example, you get decent sound quality, almost effortless setup, and some nifty features that others don’t have. The one we like the most is the included USB port, allowing you to plug a music-loaded drive into one and have all the others be able to play it. The Heos app is fantastic, too, making multi-room use a breeze. This is the system to go for if you want multiroom, but aren’t wild about SONOS. It's also frequently discounted, so keep an eye out for price changes.
See the Denon Heos 1
What We Like: Robust construction, big sound.
What We Don't: Sound needs a little more detail?
We make no bones about the fact that we dig the UE Megaboom. This is a unit that does a lot to impress. It's fully waterproof (seriously, we dumped it in the ocean to test) and although its sound isn't quite as detailed as it should be, it packs a hell of a lot of volume. This is a model that can light up the beach or the park, and its rugged design allows you to kick it about a bit - literally, if it takes your fancy.
Pairing and set up is absolutely straightforward, and the UE app is just fantastic. We think it's perhaps a little bit expensive for what you get, hence its position on the list (although the price is steadily dropping). It certainly doesn’t beat the others for audio fidelity - even the Heos has it licked there. However, it’s still one of the best options out there, especially when you consider how you can kick it about, drop it, probably even run it over with a car. If you're looking for a model to take to the beach, or on a climbing trip, then this should be the one. Read our in-depth review.
See the Ultimate Ears Megaboom
And For When You Want Your Speaker To Talk Back...
Drivers: 1 x 2" Tweeter, 1 x 2.5” Woofer
What We Like: Artificial intelligence, reduced price for the second generation.
What We Don’t: Sound isn't as good for music, despite Dolby functionality. Oh, and it could be plotting to destroy humanity.
We hemmed and hawed about whether or not to include the Echo and its built-in digital assistant, Alexa. It's not nearly as good for music as the other options on this list, for one. However, it's becoming more ubiquitous, and we figure that even if it shouldn't go in the main list, we should at least list it as an alternative.
The voice-controlled artificial intelligence allows you to do things like check the weather and reorder supplies from Amazon, and is activated by a keyword. If this sounds appealing to you, then the Echo should be your first choice. Just remember that it won't do nearly as good a job with deep bass and detailed vocals as the other options on the list! You also have to be extremely comfortable with an always-on speaker listening to your every word. Say what you want about the SONOS systems - they might be always on, but at least they don’t broadcast your details to Jeff Bezos, or keep track of your predilection for Pop Tarts. Still, if you want to experience the Alexa voice assistant, this is the way to go! Read our in-depth review.
See the Amazon Echo
|Devialet Phantom||$1,990||750 Watts||Bluetooth/WiFi||4 (Various sizes)||Yes||99dB|
|KEF LS50 Wireless||$2,200||230 Watts||Bluetooth/WiFi||2 x 1", 1 x 5.25"||Yes||106dB|
|BlueSound Pulse Mini||$599||60 Watts||Bluetooth/WiFi||2 x 2"||Yes||Unknown|
|Naim Mu-So||$1,349||450 Watts||Bluetooth/WiFi||Unknown||Yes||Unknown|
|B&W Zeppelin Wireless||$698||150 Watts||Bluetooth/WiFi||2 x 1", 2 x 3.5", 1 x 5.9"||Yes||Unknown|
|Naim Mu-So QB||$899||300 Watts||Bluetooth/WiFi||2 x 1", 2 x 2.5", 1 x Woofer||Yes||Unknown|
|MartinLogan Crescendo||$699||100 Watts||Bluetooth/WiFi||2 x 1", 1 x 5"||No||Unknown|
|B&O Beoplay A6||$799||240 Watts||Bluetooth/WiFi||2 x 0.75", 1 x 1.5", 2 x 5.5"||Yes||Unknown|
|SONOS PLAY:5||$499||Unknown||WiFI||6 (Various sizes)||Yes||Unknown|
|Fluance Fi70||$500||280 Watts||Bluetooth||6 (Various sizes)||No||Unknown|
|Paradigm Shift PW-600||$599||200 Watts||WiFi||2 x 1", 1 x 5"||Yes||91dB|
|Audioengine HD3||$399||30 Watts||Bluetooth||1 x 0.75", 1 x 2.75"||No||95dB|
|Dali Katch||$665||30 Watts||Bluetooth||2 x 0.8", 2 x 3.5"||No||Unknown|
|Bose Soundlink Revolve+||$299||Unknown||Bluetooth||Unknown||No||Unknown|
|Audio Pro Addon T5||$200||Unknown||Bluetooth||2 x 3/4", 1 x 4"||No||Unknown|
|Denon Heos 1||$199||Unknown||Bluetooth||2 (Various sizes)||Yes||Unknown|
|Ultimate Ears Megaboom||$184||Unknown||Bluetooth||Unknown||Yes||Unknown|
|Amazon Echo||$100||Unknown||WiFi||1 x 2" , 1 x 2.5”||Yes||Unknown|
*Conns. = Connections
**Sens. = Sensitivity
- Wired vs. Wireless Speakers
- WiFi vs. Bluetooth
- Power Explained
- Sensitivity Explained
- Wireless Speaker Placement
- Wireless Speaker Bridges Explained
- Play-Fi vs. WiSA
- Using Wireless Speakers In Home Theater
- NFC Explained
- Battery vs. Mains Power For Wireless Speakers
There’s a very simple way of looking at this. It doesn’t always hold up to scrutiny, but it’s a good guideline: wired speakers are less convenient but offer better sound, and wireless speakers are more convenient, but have sound that isn’t quite as good.
Of course, that’s a very broad statement. And frankly, we’d put something like the Devialet Phantom up against just about any wired speaker under around $5,000. The lines are getting awfully blurry these days, and it’s a little hard to say which one of these types of speaker is definitively ‘better’. Objectively, wires are better at transmitting sound than WiFi, and a million times better than Bluetooth. But the quality of the ones on our list has gotten so good that there’s absolutely no reason why you should shy away from them. We think their general quality is absolutely outstanding.
It is perhaps worth noting that it’s very rare to find a wireless speaker over $5,000 – even the top level, 4,500 watt Devialet doesn’t get there – so perhaps we can say that wired speakers are still winning the sound battle. But there’s no question that they can’t beat wireless audio for convenience. After all, wireless speakers that have only one connection - a power cord. You plug them in, and with a little light fiddling, they will not only talk to each other but to your smartphone as well. You can play one piece of audio throughout the house, or different tunes in different places. Your call.
You used to have to dig into your roof and go crawling around in your attic with wires and an electric saw to get your home sorted for multiroom audio, but that’s no longer the case. First, companies made units that used Bluetooth to transmit audio wirelessly. Then they got a lot smarter, realising that while Bluetooth was perfectly adequate, it made much more sense to rely on WiFi networks that virtually any home in the Western world already has.
Then they got smaller, sleeker, more effective. They began to ditch physical controls in favour of apps on our smart phones. Sound quality improved dramatically, not only because it was that much easier to transmit decent audio over a Wi-Fi network, but because quality skyrocketed. Today, it’s one of the fastest-growing sectors of the marketplace, and as we’ve shown from our picks above, there are some absolutely magnificent products out there.
Ultimately, it comes down to convenience. Audiophiles will always go for wires over wireless, but for the majority of people, wireless models are not just acceptable, but highly preferable. By the way, if you want to examine this topic in more detail before making your choice, you should check out our full wired vs. wireless speakers explainer article.
Now here’s a question we can really sink our teeth into.
Ideally, you want to have both, and there are several speakers on this list that give you the option of doing just that. But which is better for audio quality?
It’s an interesting question. We’ve always been of the opinion that WiFi is better. This is because, simply put, you can send more data over a wireless signal then you can over a Bluetooth one. More data equals more detailed sound, which equals better sound. On the face of it, this should be an argument that can be solved in a single paragraph. The reality is a little bit more complex.
The downside with wireless audio is that it has to, by definition, jump onto an existing network unless you use something like a bridge. If you have a lot of devices on your home network, adding in one or more wireless speakers can bring things to a crushing, grinding halt. It doesn’t matter how data rich the audio stream is; if it’s having to share space with Netflix and web browsing and Skype, then it’s going to slow down.
Bluetooth doesn’t have that problem. A Bluetooth connection is directly between devices – it doesn’t use already existing networks. The biggest problem with Bluetooth, up until recently, is that the codecs – the software protocols used to encode and transmit information – have been good but not brilliant. They’ve been able to encode audio well, but nowhere near the standard of wired or wireless connections.
That is changing – and fast. Bluetooth audio is rapidly becoming the equal of WiFi. Software solutions like aptX, which allow the transmission of higher amounts of data over a much more robust signal, our fast closing the gap. Perfect example: the Fluance Fi70, a Bluetooth only speaker that, while not quite as good as other models on this list, still manages to put out a very fine performance using just Bluetooth.
If we had to pick – and we’re going to, because we don’t want to leave you hanging – we’d still go for WiFi. To our mind, it’s more stable, and we still think it sounds better. But the gap is closing extremely quickly, and don’t be surprised if we put this opinion in a future update. For now, the difference is small enough that you can make the decision based on your needs rather than audio quality. If you have a home network already stacked with wireless devices, Bluetooth may be the way to go. But if you live in a small home, and only have a couple devices knocking about, then you could quite comfortably add a speaker to your wireless network.
Of course, things may improve further if you decide to upgrade your router. Check out this list of the best wireless routers of this year.
Power is, quite literally, a measure of how much electrical power a pair of speakers can deliver, in the form of soundwaves. It’s a loose analogue for how loud a speaker can get, and although it doesn’t have any real relation to volume – which you can always turn up and down – it’s a good way of estimating loudness.
The ratings for each of the speakers here probably aren’t as accurate as they should be – the wattage figures but manufacturers give are often subject to wildly varying testing standards – but they work as a guideline. If you were to apply the same amount of power to the KEF LS50 Wireless and the MartinLogan Crescendo, the former would put out 230 watts, and the latter 100 watts – ergo, the KEF is definitely the louder, more powerful speaker!
Normally, in our speaker roundups, we talk about how to match speakers and amps. You don’t have to do that here; all of these speakers include their own internal amplifiers, which will be perfectly matched to the speaker drivers. If you do want to fiddle with things – say, by adding in a separate preamp – several of these speakers have the relevant inputs that you can use to do this, without risking but you’ll set your speakers on fire. Good to know.
This statistic is even more fluffy than power, in that it is a measure of volume. Like power, the figures that manufacturers give have to be taken with a giant grain of salt – if they even give them at all. For whatever reason, sensitivity – sometimes referred to as efficiency – as a far more common specification to see on wired speakers than it is on wireless ones.
It’s slightly different to wattage/power, in that it directly measures the decibel level - or volume level – the speaker will produce at a given power, usually one miliwatt. For example, the Paradigm Shift PW-600 will put out a volume level of 91dB (decibels) at one miliwatt – an average level of loudness that is squarely in the middle of most speakers’ loudness range.
Again, you shouldn’t let this sway your buying decision, but it’s good to know. If you have a larger room, you may want to consider a speaker that puts out more dB.
Unlike surround sound speakers, which need careful positioning, the expectation with wireless speakers is that you can put them just about anywhere. While this might be true when taking a Bluetooth speaker to the park, it’s not quite accurate with speakers that are designed to be used in the home. The positioning doesn’t need to be as careful or as precise as, say, a pair of floorstanding speakers, but you still need to think about it a little bit.
As a general rule, try avoid placing your speaker directly next to a wall. That doesn’t mean it has to sit in the centre of the room, but it does mean that you should leave a bit of space – a foot or so should be just fine. You should also be thinking about how many drivers your speaker has, and where they are positioned. With each entry on our list, we’ve highlighted the number and types of drivers, so we’ve got you halfway there.
If your speaker is cylindrical, you could quite happily play sit further into the centre of the room to get the benefit of the 360° sound. If it’s cuboid or rectangular, a bookshelf may be ideal (although we suggest placing it on the top).
It may be worth looking at buying multiple speakers, which will really help fill up a room with sound, and increase the stereo effect. And since we are spending money here, make sure your room is equipped to handle sound, by which we mean it is full of objects like bookshelves and couches that absorb sound. The less reflections you have, the better, which means minimising flat surfaces as much as you can and moving erratically objects like lamps away from the speaker.
The good news: you shouldn’t have to stress too much about this. The wonderful advantage with wireless speakers is that if they don’t sound good, you can pick them up and move somewhere else without too much trouble. Hooray!
Something we haven't really touched on here - well, perhaps a little, with the Google Chromecast - is turning your existing system into a wireless system. For that, you need a bridge, like the SONOS Connect.
The idea is, you connect it to your existing wired system, which then becomes a discrete wireless system. Very handy, if you don't want to have to buy new ones. Bridges, as they are known, come in different shapes and sizes. Some boost your existing WiFi signal, some replace amps entirely, and some just make the ones you have wireless. Worth investigating if this is the route you want to go, but you certainly don't need one if you're planning on buying any of the list above.
We haven’t yet put together a list of the best bridges available – they’re still relatively uncommon, so it would be quite a short list! But they're definitely worth investigating if you already own an existing system.
With so many manufacturers around, inevitably we ran into an ecosystem problem. Namely: manufacturer A decides that anyone who buys their product will need to buy others from their product line if they want a multiroom system, as their products won’t talk to any other brands. Good business, in theory. Bloody annoying for the customer, in reality.
Play-Fi is a way around that. It’s a software protocol that lets speakers from different manufacturers work together (AllPlay is another one, although Play-Fi is dominant). From a single, simple app, units from different manufacturers can all work together seamlessly.
Of course, not all products actually accept this. We’re looking at you SONOS. Still, it's a good start. Having said that, in our experience, it suffers from terrible app design, which badly needs to be improved before it becomes an accepted standard.
Then there’s WiSA. It’s a product of the Wireless Speaker and Audio Association, and it works a little differently. It’s primarily used in home theater, to get different systems from different manufacturers talking to each other. Unlike Play-Fi, however, it doesn’t rely on existing wireless networks, using a separate part of the frequency spectrum to create its own.
To be honest, you’re unlikely to see this among wireless speakers – none of the models on our list or actually compatible with it. But this is changing, and you should expect to see a few popping onto the list in the near future. For the time being, it’s worth knowing that it exists. And on that note…
Here’s a question for you. Assuming you have an existing home theater system, what’s to stop you dispensing with all those horrible speaker wires, and simply integrating wireless speakers into a 5.1 or 7.1 setup? As surround/satellite speakers, for example?
The answer is, nothing – as long as you can get the speakers to talk to your A/V receiver. That’s easier said than done, mostly because different manufacturers often don’t like talking to each other. While you could use a software solution like WiSA, a much easier way to do things is actually to invest in dedicated wireless home theater speakers from the manufacturers themselves – from people like Klipsch, axiim and Enclave.
If you do want to give this a try with some of the speakers on this list, the easiest way to do it would be to connect multiple pairs of Denon Heos 1 speakers to something like a Denon or Marantz receiver, which are already set up to work with them. Doing it any other way – using a bridge to connect the receiver to the speakers, for example – isn’t guaranteed to work, on the steps for doing so are a little beyond what we’re trying to do here. We also do need to point out that the wireless speakers on this list, outside of the Heos, aren’t really designed to be home theater speakers. Still, if you want to try, there’s very little to stop you!
The most annoying thing about wireless speakers? Getting them to pair with your phone. It’s easy enough over WiFi, but sometimes, no matter how hard you try, the Bluetooth just won’t work. That’s where Near Field Communication (NFC) comes in.
It’s a way for two devices to exchange data when held at close range – typically less than two inches. If you’ve ever used your debit card to pay for something by tapping it on a machine, you’ve used what’s known as passive NFC – your card can send details, telling the machine who’s buying the sixpack of beer, but it can’t receive details back. Things like smart phones have active NFC, meaning they can both send and receive data, and this is where things get interesting.
It’s not super widespread in the speaker market yet, and few models incorporate NFC. But when they do, it could be a game changer.
Simply holding your phone close to the speaker – like you been doing the entire time you been trying to pair with Bluetooth, in the vain hope that it will make the speaker more likely to recognise it – will connect the two devices. It’s a giant timesaver, and although it can be tricky to find a speaker with full NFC now, that’s not going to stay the same for long.
While this helpfully eliminates many of the speakers on the list, which are plugged into a mains socket, there are several that rely on battery power.
You might reasonably ask how reliable the manufacturer quoted hour range is; if it says 20 hours, are you really likely to get 20 hours of life out of it?
Short answer: no. Sorry. It’s obviously in a company’s best interests to provide a sizeable battery life figure, and so when they do their testing, they often do it in ideal conditions, with temperatures that are kind to the electronics and volume levels that don’t overly tax the battery. Chances are your listening conditions, while not drastically different, are still going to be suboptimal. There are a few exceptions – the Bose Soundlink Revolve+ has a 16 hour battery life when playing at a reasonable volume, and it’s pretty accurate – but you can generally whack a couple of hours off the stated battery life.
And in any case, even if the manufacturers were lying out the back teeth, most speakers would still have a battery life sufficient for all but the most hardcore of beachgoers. Our advice? Don’t worry too much about this one. You probably won’t have an issue with it.