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Do wi-fi or Bluetooth speakers sound better?

Our expert tests reveal whether wi-fi really does sound better than Bluetooth in 2019

When Bluetooth technology was new to speakers, its limited capacity meant music played over wi-fi was clearly superior. However, with Bluetooth 5.0 supporting higher capacities, is wi-fi still the better choice for those looking for the very best sound? 

Connecting speakers via Bluetooth is usually very easy to do. In most cases you simply find your speaker in the Bluetooth menu on your smartphone, pair it, and you’re good to go.

Wi-fi, however, is often more tricky. You usually have to set it up via your speaker’s dedicated app on your smartphone. For this reason, when a speaker supports both wi-fi and Bluetooth, many connect via Bluetooth for convenience.

To find out whether it’s worth putting in the effort to connect over wi-fi we looked at the sound quality ratings for both wi-fi and Bluetooth speakers by our expect lab.

Looking to make a quick purchase? Skip straight to our Best Buy speakers.

Do wi-fi speakers sound better than Bluetooth speakers?

To assess the sound quality of wireless speakers, we used a dedicated expert listening panel of five members with decades of experience between them. They each rated the sound quality performance of each speaker across a wide variety of music and radio genres to find out which are the best-sounding wireless and Bluetooth speakers on the market. Their scores were converted to a 1-5 star rating for each speaker.

In the graphs below, we’ve taken the average sound quality scores for all Which? wireless and Bluetooth speaker reviews. For a fair comparison, we’ve split the results into price bands and excluded very cheap or very expensive price ranges where the choices of wi-fi or Bluetooth speakers are limited.

Speakers costing £25-£75

On average, if you’re looking for a very cheap wireless speaker, it’s clear that wi-fi–capable speakers have the edge over Bluetooth speakers, even in 2019. However, the gap is now pretty narrow – and we’ve found many exceptions to the rule. For example, we’ve found Best Buy Bluetooth-only speakers with fantastic sound for as little as £30 or less.

Speakers costing £75-£125

The difference in sound quality for mid-priced wireless and Bluetooth speakers is, on average, extremely narrow – less than 0.2 on our 1-5 star rating scale. However, this is only an average, and it’s worth noting that we’ve found many Don’t Buy wi-fi and Bluetooth speakers costing between £75 and £125.

Speakers costing £125-£175

While both Bluetooth and wi-fi speakers get a further sound upgrade in this more premium price range, the average wi-fi speaker is starting to approach an impressive four stars out of five on our scale – a rating which would likely net the speaker a Best Buy.

However, we’ve also found several Don’t Buy wi-fi and Bluetooth wireless speaker flops in this price range – so paying more is no guarantee of avoiding disappointment. Find these on our Don’t Buy wireless and Bluetooth speakers page, to make sure you don’t make an expensive mistake.

Popular wireless speakers to consider

Below we select some of the most popular wireless and Bluetooth speaker models to see how they differ – with some supporting wi-fi, Bluetooth or both. Click through to our reviews to see whether they’re worth buying.

Sonos Play:1, £149

  • Supports wi-fi only

One of the most popular wireless speakers on the market, the Sonos Play:1 is wi-fi only, with no Bluetooth connectivity option – something it shares with the more expensive Apple Homepod.

It’s the smallest speaker in Sonos’ popular multi-room speaker range, and comes with a dedicated app you use to control a vast range of functions, including compatibility with music streaming services such as Spotify and Apple Music (with subscriptions).

So is the popularity of the Sonos Play:1 justified, and are there drawbacks with a speaker that lacks Bluetooth? Find out in our comprehensive Sonos Play:1 review.

Polk Audio Assist, £159

  • Supports Bluetooth and wi-fi

Polk Audio is a specialist audio brand popular with hi-fi retailers, but demand for the well-priced Polk Audio Assist means it’s now widely available in major retailers. It supports both wi-fi and Bluetooth connectivity – so you have the best of both worlds – and is also a smart speaker with optional Google Assistant voice control, so you can use it hands-free.

It also supports Chromecast so you can connect it up to other Chromecast-supporting speakers, including those from other brands.

Are there any compromises with choosing a speaker with both wi-fi and Bluetooth? See what we thought of this speaker in our definitive Polk Audio Assist review.

Anker Soundcore Flare, £70

  • Supports Bluetooth only

Anker is a brand best known to budget buyers on Amazon, and the Anker Soundcore Flare is an affordable Bluetooth-only portable wireless speaker with a flared base.

It comes with optional light effects that dance to your music, is fully waterproof, and there’s a 3.5mm socket for the choice of a wired connection to your devices. Anker claims the built-in rechargeable battery lasts for an impressive 21 hours.

Is this one of the Bluetooth-only speakers that excels in our expert tests, or one that doesn’t make it to the finish line? We reveal all in our extensive Anker Soundcore Flare review.

Sandstrom SCBTS17, £80

  • Supports Bluetooth only

If you’re looking for a very simple and affordable Bluetooth-only home speaker, the Sandstrom SCBTS17 could be the ideal choice for you.

It will appeal to traditional speaker fans with its wooden cabinet-style design and large size, and its impressive claimed 80W output makes it one of the more powerful speakers on the market.

Could this be the home speaker you’ve been looking for? Our lab experts put it to the test in our thorough Sandstrom SCBTS17 review.

Ultimate Ears Blast, £73

  • Supports Bluetooth and wi-fi

Many choose Bluetooth speakers because they’re compact and portable, but the Ultimate Ears Blast manages to pack in both wi-fi and Bluetooth into its conveniently portable design. It looks perfect for home use, with the option to take it out and about as you wish.

Ultimate Ears claims the battery life lasts for a strong 12 hours, and it’s impressively durable, too, being not only waterproof, but dust-proof and drop-proof as well.

But that ‘Blast’ name is worrying – does it really sound good? Find out in our full Ultimate Ears Blast review.

Sony SRS-XB01, £20

  • Supports Bluetooth only

There are even some extremely cheap Bluetooth speakers on the market – so are these worth considering, or does the sound quality drop off a cliff?

The Sony SRS-XB01 looks ideal for taking out and about with its small, lightweight ultra-portable design, with convenient carry strap you can attach to your bag.

It’s water-resistant so should survive getting caught out in the rain, and its simple design should make it highly convenient to use.

So does it punch above its weight, or is it one to avoid? Our experts give their definitive verdict in our expert Sony SRS-XB01 review.

Want to browse more? See all our wireless and Bluetooth speaker reviews.

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