Wireless speakers

Wireless speaker buying guide

Last updated: May 2015

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Wireless speaker systems let you play music stored on a phone, tablet, media player, or computer that's across the room or even elsewhere in the house without fiddling around with cables and connections. Our tests showed that you don't have to trade sound quality for convenience, but you will pay a premium--several models we tested cost $400 or more.

Most portable models use Bluetooth wireless technology, which works with a wide range of mobile devices, including the Apple iPhone 5 and Android smart phones. But Bluetooth's reach is limited to about 30 feet, fine when the music source and the speaker are in the same room. Wi-Fi has a longer range, and with some sources you can stream music to multiple speakers in different rooms. Typically Apple devices use AirPlay to connect to your Wi-Fi network; Android and Windows devices generally use DLNA technology. (See Wi-Fi vs. Bluetooth.)

Depending on the speaker model, you may also get an iPod dock or the ability to connect an iPhone, iPod, or other device via USB. And almost all of the tested wireless speaker models have auxiliary audio inputs for connecting other gear, such as a portable audio player or TV.

Making setup easier

In general, setting up Bluetooth speakers is a bit easier and takes fewer steps than connecting by Wi-Fi. Some Bluetooth models now include NFC technology, which enables pairing simply by tapping an NFC-equipped device to the NFC tag on the speaker. Still, some Wi-Fi models can be among the easiest to use overall. That's especially true of those that use WPS (Wi-Fi Protected Setup), a feature designed to connect the speaker to your home network simply by pushing WPS buttons on the speaker and the WPS-enabled router. In general, poorly marked controls on the console or confusing owner's manuals and setup guides can be frustrating if you're not familiar with wireless network setups.

Styles differ

Several models we tested are plain and boxy, but others have striking designs. More than just aesthetics, some speaker system designs are functional, too. One model's integrated stand, for example, doubles as a fold-over book-style cover for traveling.

Features vary

Wireless speaker systems can be an integral part of your home entertainment gear--provided they have the proper connections.

Some systems have outputs for adding an additional subwoofer or to send video from a docked Apple iPad, iPhone, or iPod to a TV. Other models may offer an optical digital audio input for connecting other gear, such as a home CD player, to the wireless system.

Some have connectors or docks that accept the old-style 30-pin connections found on iPads, iPods, and older iPhones. (The latest 9-pin Lightning connector on the Apple iPhone 5 requires a separate $30 adapter from Apple.) Some have connections for specific Android devices: The Samsung speaker's dual dock will also mate with the company's Galaxy S II, Galaxy S III and Galaxy Note smart phones, for example.

In addition to streaming digital audio from your computer, several of the Wi-Fi models can access dozens of online music services, such as Pandora and Spotify.

Some wireless speaker sets come with remote controls or voice recognition in attempts to simplify use, but they can be hit or miss.

Wi-Fi vs. Bluetooth

Bluetooth is widely supported by portable devices, including smart phones and tablets. But you can stream to just one device at a time, usually within a 30-foot range.

Apple AirPlay uses Wi-Fi, which has a longer range, and you can stream from a mobile device with Apple's iOS software to one speaker or from a computer running iTunes to speakers in up to six rooms. Android and Windows-powered devices use DLNA to connect to your home network.

Sonos' wireless mesh network is very flexible. Each Sonos device acts as a Wi-Fi signal repeater to extend the wireless range of the system. This system can stream music from different sources in up to 32 different locations in your home. Samsung's Shape M7 is also quite flexible, and has both Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, and the Bose SoundTouch 20 is AirPlay-compatible.


Wireless speaker systems let you play music stored on a phone, tablet, media player, or computer that's across the room or even elsewhere in the house. Our tests showed that you don't have to trade sound quality for convenience, but you will pay a premium—several models we tested cost $400 or more.

Altec Lansing

Altec Lansing has a long history in the audio category and currently has a line of portable Bluetooth speakers that are low to mid-priced, some of which are waterproof.


Amazon’s first Bluetooth speaker, the Echo, blurs the line between a portable Bluetooth speaker and digital personal assistant that can answer questions and respond to voice commands.

Beats by Dr. Dre

This company has been purchased by Apple. The brand name “Beats by Dr. Dre” continues to offer mid-priced portable Bluetooth speakers.


Bose, perhaps best known for speaker systems and headphones, now has several home and portable speaker systems covering all price categories.

Bowers & Wilkins

Bowers & Wilkins, a speaker company, markets both home (AirPlay) and portable (Bluetooth) speakers, which are typically higher priced.


Founded in 2011, Braven offers a line of speakers ranging from rugged, outdoor portable Bluetooth speakers to interactive wireless home audio systems. Braven products are typically low to mid-priced.

Cambridge Audio

Cambridge Audio, a mid- to higher-priced audio brand, offers both wireless home and Bluetooth portable speakers.

ClearView Audio

ClearView Audio offers a unique-looking home Bluetooth speaker that features a large, transparent acrylic-glass panel that transmits sound—hence its name.


Creative may be best known for its portable audio players and computer speakers, but it also sells a full line of Bluetooth portable speakers in the mid-price category.

Definitive Technology

Definitive Technology—part of DEI Holdings, which also owns the Polk Audio and Boom brands—is known for its higher-end speakers. The company now also sells portable, mid-priced Bluetooth speakers.


Denon—part of D&M Group, which also includes Boston Acoustics and Marantz—is well known for products in all home-theater categories, including multi-room Wi-Fi sound systems using its own Heos technology. The products tend to carry mid to higher prices.


Edifier has a full line of Bluetooth speakers for both home and portable use. Many model have unique and/or colorful designs are unique and colorful, with prices that range from low to mid priced.

Grace Digital

Grace Digital, perhaps best known for its line of Internet radios, offers Bluetooth speakers at a mid price level. It markets a waterproof, shockproof, and dustproof line of speakers, typically at low to mid prices, under the Ecoxgear sub-brand.

Harman Kardon

Harman Kardon—part of Harman International, which also owns AKG, Infinity, JBL, Lexicon, Mark Levinson and Revel—offers audio products in many home-theater categories, including wireless home speakers and Bluetooth portable systems in all shapes and sizes, generally in the mid to higher priced ranges.

House of Marley

Marley speaker products are known for being crafted from earth-friendly materials. The company offers a full line of home and portable Bluetooth speakers spanning all price ranges.


JBL – part of Harman International, which also owns the AKG, Harman Kardon, Infinity, Lexicon, Mark Levinson and Revel brands—markets products in many home-theater categories, including wireless home speakers and Bluetooth portable systems. Products are available in a wide range of prices.


Jabra – a subsidiary of GN Netcom – is known for its wireless and corded headsets for mobile phone users. Jabra also manufactures a line of portable Bluetooth speakers in the low to mid price ranges.


Jawbone, a privately held consumer technology and wearable products company headquartered in San Francisco, is the maker of the Jambox family of mid-priced portable Bluetooth speakers.


Klipsch, a venerable speaker brand, is now part of Voxx International, formerly known as Audiovox, which also owns the Jamo, Energy and 808 brands. Klipsch home and portable speaker products generally carry mid to higher prices.


Korus – part of Core Brands, which also owns the Proficient Audio and Speakercraft brands – makes mid-priced wireless and portable speakers.


Libratone offers a complete line of wireless and Bluetooth products for both home and outdoor use. The products tend to carry mid to higher prices.


Logitech is best known for its personal computer and tablets accessories. Its line of Ultimate Ears (UE) Bluetooth portable speakers come in several sizes, with low to mid- range prices.


Marshall, the classic guitar amplifier brand that now also markets headphones, offers a line of mid- to higher-priced Bluetooth speakers.


Audio and home theater brand NAD Electronics now offers headphones and AirPlay and Bluetooth wireless music systems and speakers under the Viso sub-brand. Products typically carry higher prices.


Phorus, a subsidiary of DTS, Inc., makes wireless audio products that utilize its Play-Fi audio streaming technology, which is also licensed to other brands. DTS' own products are typically low to mid-priced.


Pioneer markets Bluetooth speakers in the low to mid price range.

Polk Audio

Polk Audio —part of DEI Holdings, which also owns the Definitive Technology and Boom brands—is a well-known speaker company that has a line of mid- to higher-priced Wi-Fi and Bluetooth speakers.


Pure, a division of Imagination Technologies Group, makes a line of mid- to higher-priced wireless multi-room-capable speakers.


Samsung offers a wide range of products in multiple categories, including multi-room wireless and portable Bluetooth speaker systems. Prices vary widely, though they are typically moderate to somewhat expensive.


Sonos, which helped pioneer the multiroom wireless speaker category, has a lineup of Wi-Fi speakers that can be used either independently, as part of a multichannel sound system, or as a speaker in a multi-room system. Prices range from low to high.


Sony markets Wi-Fi and Bluetooth portable and multiroom products across almost all price ranges.


Soundcast Systems offers a line of portable, weather-resistant Bluetooth speakers, with prices generally in the mid to higher ranges.

Stelle Audio Couture

Stelle Audio Couture, a privately owned company, creates fashion-focused audio products. It markets mid-priced portable and home Bluetooth speakers with unique designs.


The TDK brand, perhaps still best known for cassette tapes, is licensed to Imation Corp., which offers a complete line of mid-priced weatherized Bluetooth portable speakers.

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