How to buy the best wireless or Bluetooth speaker
By Ben Stockton
Wi-fi or Bluetooth? Multi-room or portable? We're here to help you find your perfect wireless speaker to give you crystal-clear sound.
Modern day speakers come in all shapes and sizes - from large, powerful home systems to compact battery-powered Bluetooth speakers. Some can even be controlled by voice alone.
Whether they connect via Bluetooth or over wi-fi, are to take on holiday or are for a multi-room set-up, there are lots of things to consider before you buy beyond simply price. You can spend as little as £50 or as much as £500, but whatever your budget, this expert guide will show you everything you need to look for.
To see which models we recommend, head straight to our Best Buy wireless and Bluetooth speakers.
Buying the best wireless speaker for you
To help you find your perfect speaker - be it for at home or out and about - our dedicated interactive tool will show you the key features to look for. Get started by clicking on the images below and discover all you need to know before you buy.
How much should I spend on a speaker?
Wireless speakers can vary greatly in price - entry-level Bluetooth models that are light on features can be picked up for less than £50, whereas larger, premium models can cost 10 times that figure. Wi-fi-enabled wireless speakers tend to cost a little more, with few sub-£100 models on the market, so creating a multi-room speaker system can soon become pretty expensive.
What makes a good speaker?
Sound quality is the top consideration when choosing the best wireless or Bluetooth speaker, however, the latest models are packing in more extra features than ever before, so picking the best one can be a challenge. For example, some models can access online radio stations and streaming services - such as Spotify - giving you a greater choice of music to listen to. Here are the main features to look for.
Many speakers use a Bluetooth connection to wirelessly play music stored on mobile devices, such as phones and tablets. They can also be used to enhance the sound quality of your phone or tablet, for example, you can watch a YouTube video on your tablet with the audio coming out of your Bluetooth speaker.
Pros: Easy to set up on most speakers, doesn't tie your phone down, great for playing music stored on your mobile device and streamed from music services such as Spotify, can be used to enhance the audio on your mobile phone or tablet.
Cons: Limited range of around 10 metres before the connection is lost, need to own a Bluetooth device to play music from, music may stop if you receive a phone call when connected.
The latest breed of speakers connect to your home internet network over a wi-fi connection, to wirelessly play your favourite albums. They still need to be plugged into mains, but other than that are completely free of wires. Most wi-fi-enabled speakers from the same brand can be synchronised to form a multi-room speaker system, where you can play the same music simultaneously from all connected speakers, or different songs from each individual speaker, all from the same audio source.
Pros: You are free to move around your home without audio interference, can be controlled by mobile device or computer, most brands give you access to a host of online music streaming services.
Cons: Can be tricky to set up, need a reliable wi-fi internet connection, music service subscription may be needed to make the most out of them, can only playback audio from devices on the same wi-fi network.
If you're hoping to move your speaker from room to room, out in the garden, or even travelling with you, look for a compact model that can run on battery power alone. The best can last more than 15 hours without needing a recharge, whereas other models we've tested will struggle to see you through two or three albums.
We've tested several battery-powered speakers that are both compact and lightweight, without compromising on sound quality. They tend to be exclusively Bluetooth but some battery-powered wireless speakers can connect via wi-fi.
Pros: Can move the speaker without interrupting your music, great for garden parties, some last for hours and hours.
Cons: Batteries may need replacing over time, some need regular recharging.
Remotes and apps
Most Bluetooth speakers are quick and easy to set up but wi-fi speakers and multi-room systems can be a little trickier. Whether Bluetooth or wi-fi, very few speakers come with a remote control. One of the advantages of wireless speaker is that you can keep your phone in your pocket. Skipping tracks and turning up the volume can easily be done on your phone, just like you would if you were listening through headphones - your phone essentially becomes the remote.
While many speakers have a few physical buttons on the device itself, most advanced functionality - such as connecting another phone to the same speaker or multi-room set-up - is done through an app. Some are really easy to use and give simple step-by-step guides to get you up and running quickly. Our research has shown, however, that this isn't always the case. Many are clunky and poorly designed, which can make using your speaker very frustrating.
Pros: Controlling the speaker with your phone is no different to listening through headphones, no need for a separate remote.
Cons: Some apps can be tricky to use, onboard controls can be awkward and limited.
Voice-controlled wireless speakers
The launch of the Amazon Echo and Google Home heralded a new wave of voice-controlled wireless speakers. Compatible with many smart home products, these 'personal assistants' are considered much more than a wireless speaker, but playing music is a key feature.
By starting your request with 'OK Google' when using the Google's Home, or 'Alexa' with Amazon's Echo, you can play, stop, skip, shuffle and turn up the music with your voice alone. If you're looking for a simple wireless speaker, this probably isn't for you. But these could be great if you're into your smart home products and want a wireless speaker to go with them.
Pros: Multi-faceted devices with smart-home compatibility.
Cons: Can be quite complex.