Wireless Speakers

The best Bluetooth and wireless speakers for 2018

Wireless speakers are ideal for anyone looking for a multi-use speaker. They’re easy to carry when travelling or spending time outdoors – on a picnic, for example – but are equally as useful for listening to music around the house.

The speakers allow you to access your music, or listen to audiobooks and podcasts, from any Bluetooth- or wireless-enabled device, such as a phone, tablet or laptop.

Aside from the crucial factor – sound quality – there are several features to consider before buying a portable speaker.

What is the difference between Bluetooth, AirPlay and Wi-Fi speakers?

There are several different ways you can set up wireless speakers, but probably the most common is Bluetooth.

Bluetooth has become the ubiquitous wireless speaker technology, simply pairing up a smartphone or tablet. Bluetooth speakers offer easy portability and simple connections, but can be interrupted by phone calls or notifications.

Wi-Fi speakers from the likes of Sonos or the Amazon Echo set up their own mini Wi-Fi system, meaning they use internet connections rather than Bluetooth. This can be used for effectively setting up multi-room audio.

If you want a full breakdown of our favourite multi-room speakers you can find our guide here. Alternatively, if you want a multi-room system using a smart speaker check out our guide to all the best smart home devices such as the Amazon Echo and Google Home.

Some wireless speakers in TechnoVolume, from Apple and its preferred manufacturers, use their own AirPlay technology. This is used for iPhone, MacBook and iPad users and can also be used to transmit video.

Portability

For a wireless speakers to be portable, it needs to both be small and light enough to easily carry around, and be equipped with a battery so it can run without being plugged in. Of course, “small” and “light” are relative; tiny speakers with carabiners let you clip them to your backpack and take them on hikes, while much bigger and heavier speakers might be intended only to be taken from room to room in your home.

Bluetooth speakers are usually portable, but they don’t have to be. If a Bluetooth speaker is too big to easily carry around, or doesn’t have a battery, it won’t be portable.

Since Wi-Fi speakers rely on a separate network to enable multi-speaker and multi-room audio playback, they’re rarely portable. After all, portability doesn’t matter if you need to be connected to your home’s hotspot. There are exceptions, though, and Wi-Fi speakers can still be portable if they have batteries, and ideally can create an ad-hoc Wi-Fi network with your phone.

Durability

Not all wireless speakers are built to be carried around outdoors, or used by the pool. Rugged speakers can handle splashes, dunks, drops, and gunk and keep running. If you try that with the non-rugged speakers on this list, however, you’ll find yourself with a brick instead of an audio device. Look for speakers with IPX ratings and guarantees of water and shock resistance if you want to carry them around to the beach, the lake, the slopes, or the sewers. Our guide to IP ratings explains what those numbers mean, so you can know whether your speaker can handle getting dunked in the pool, or if it simply will stay intact in a light drizzle.

For more, see our list of the best outdoor speakers.

Audio Quality

Unless portability is at the top of your priority list, sound quality is paramount. Plenty of wireless speakers don’t offer much in the way of features, but produce top-notch audio. Big bass isn’t for everyone, but unless your speaker is downright tiny, it should be able to reproduce low frequencies accurately without distorting at high volumes. Clarity is more important than sheer power, and a balanced, clean sound should be your goal when shopping for a speaker. If you want a sound system that can drive a whole party instead of just fill a small room, keep the size of the speaker in mind; generally, the bigger a speaker is, the louder it can get while still sounding good.

As mentioned earlier, in the early days of wireless audio Bluetooth was far inferior to Wi-Fi standards because of limited bandwidth and audio compression. Those problems have been largely solved, and Bluetooth 4.0 (not to mention 5.0) and its relevant audio codecs can transmit excellent quality audio. Wi-Fi can still get an edge purely due to the available bandwidth, and if you want to listen to lossless music on services like Tidal you should probably go with Wi-Fi over Bluetooth. Of course, a wired connection can be better than both thanks to either faster data speeds for digital signals or simply the fact that the wire is carrying the analog sound without any conversion. But this guide is for wireless speakers.

Voice Assistants

Voice assistants let you simply tell your wireless speakers what to play instead of looking through your smartphone. They were initially very limited, closed systems only available on first-party devices, like Alexa on the Amazon Echo and Google Assistant on the Google Home, but that’s steadily changing. More and more third-party speakers are integrating some form of voice assistant, either Google Assistant or Alexa.

These voice assistants are useful for more than just playing music. You can ask them for weather forecasts, sports scores, unit conversions, and even language translation. They also generally support third-party skills that let you do anything from order pizza to play trivia games. If you have other smart home devices, you might even be able to integrate them as well, letting you control the lights and thermostat with your voice.

Voice assistant speakers have one universal requirement: Wi-Fi. They need an internet connection, and without one voice recognition and all of the processing needed to find your music, answer your questions, and control your smart home devices simply won’t work. These speakers can still be portable, and even offer Bluetooth connectivity when you’re away from your network, but those features aren’t certain. The most prominent first-party voice assistant wireless speakers like the Amazon Echo and Google Home don’t have batteries.

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