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Wireless Speakers

Wireless Speakers Buying Guide

The day of the dock speaker has been and gone. With consumers on an endless quest for convenience, wireless sound is now all the rage.
 
Wireless speakers allow you to enjoy music or podcasts while keeping your phone in your hand. Whether you want to listen quietly in your bedroom or blast music at the beach, there’s a wireless speaker to suit every situation.
 
But which of these endless speaker options will hit the right note for you? To find out, our wireless speaker buying guide dissects the options and discovers exactly what you need to know to make the right choice for you.

Types of wireless speaker

Wireless speakers come in a few different forms, separated by their connectivity and major function.
 
WiFi: WiFi speakers connect with your streaming device and each other via – you guessed it – a WiFi network. Perfect for the home, these speakers can be set up in different rooms and controlled by anything connected to the same network. You can choose to play a song throughout your house, or different songs in different areas. Multiple people can be connected at once - perfect for when you have friends around and want to share the playlist! WiFi speakers can also be used with home theatre systems. While these speakers pair wirelessly with your device, they are usually powered from a wall socket, so aren’t particularly portable.
 
Bluetooth: If you want portability, you want a Bluetooth speaker. These speakers are usually battery powered, and can also be dust and splash-proof – perfect for travelling and adventuring. They are also  easier than WiFi speakers to set up, pairing quickly and easily with any Bluetooth device nearby. The compromise with Bluetooth is generally cited as sound quality – the need for portability often limits their size and thus their bass, and the Bluetooth connection has a limited bandwidth that will compress a sound file is it’s too large (WiFi speakers, on the other hand, are able play uncompressed music.) And unlike WiFi, your music will be interrupted by calls and texts with Bluetooth, and the battery drain on your controlling device is significantly greater.
 
Smart Speaker: Finally we have a new entrant to the market. Smart speakers, like Amazon Echo, Google Home and Apple HomePod, are marketed as virtual assistants for the home. They generally feature both WiFi and Bluetooth connectivity, and are set apart by the inclusion of artificial intelligence: namely Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant and Apple Siri. In truth the prime function of these speakers isn’t providing crisp, full sound for your enjoyment – it’s to provide information and hands-free help. For this reason, sound quality can be lacking, but the capabilities of these devices stretch far beyond simple sound.

The best sound

For serious audiophiles, WiFi speakers will generally offer the best sound. But you may not want to trade in the portability of a Bluetooth speaker for the quality of a WiFi speaker. Luckily there are some much improved Bluetooth speakers on the market that can produce great sound. Particularly interesting are the Bluetooth speakers that create bass by vibrating the surface that they are sat on – be it a table, a chair or the floor – rather than requiring a bulky subwoofer. An increasing number of people buy both Bluetooth and WiFi speakers to cover the quality and portability bases.

Important specifications

What numbers should you look for when shopping for speakers? Speakers have a confusing array of measures and ratings applied to them, so let’s look at a few of the most important.
 
Frequency response: At its best, the human ear is capable of hearing a range of frequencies from 20Hz to 20kHz (20,000Hz). The lower number will give you an idea of the bass response of the speaker - lower hertz will mean more rumble! The higher frequency number refers to the treble extension. Speakers with a higher range number will often sound “crisper”.
Watts: The power of a speaker –  to all intents and purposes how loud it can go – is measured in watts (W). While manufacturers won’t generally offer you the true decibel measure of how loud a speaker can go, watts and decibels are inextricably linked. Most quality consumer speakers will sit in the range of 10W – 120W. While there are many ways to measure power, it is best to look out for an “RMS” rating. This is a measurement of deliverable power over an extended period of time rather than for just for a short burst.
Battery life: All important for portable speakers, most good models will offer around 8-10 hours of playback per charge.

Shopping considerations

With all that information swimming around your head, you likely feel ready to jump online and shop. But before you do, ask yourself:
 
How will I be using the speaker? Do you want crisp sound for inside your home? Choose a WiFi speaker. Are you willing to compromise on sound quality for portability, or for a speaker that can actively assist you? Go for a portable Bluetooth or smart speaker. Are you going to take your speaker on adventures? Be sure to choose a dustproof and waterproof model.
How important is sound quality to me? True audiophiles who want the crispest sound will be wise to stick to WiFi speakers for the home, and use a high quality set of headphones when on the move.
Do I want something smarter? While sound quality might be lower, the extra capabilities offered by a smart speaker may see it pay itself off quickly. These devices are also surprisingly cost-effective.
What is my budget? Speaking of cost-effective, your budget may be the single biggest contributing factor to your decision. Basic Bluetooth speakers can be very budget friendly. Top-end WiFi systems, though requiring a more significant initial investment, may pay themselves off in the long term depending on your usage and needs.

 

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