How to buy the best wireless or Bluetooth speaker
By Oliver Trebilcock
Wi-fi or Bluetooth speaker? Multi-room or portable? We're here to help you find your perfect wireless speaker to give you crystal-clear sound.
To see which models we recommend, head straight to our best wireless and Bluetooth speakers.
Video: how to buy the best Bluetooth or wireless speaker
Watch the video below to help you choose which type of wireless or Bluetooth speaker is best for you.
What to consider when buying wireless and Bluetooth speakers
Modern wireless speakers aren’t simply passive speakers you plug into a hi-fi. They come in all shapes and sizes from large, powerful wi-fi speakers that can be audio systems in their own right, to compact battery-powered small Bluetooth speakers. The term ‘wireless speaker’ doesn’t mean they necessarily have no wires. It means you have the option to connect wirelessly to your devices, typically using a Bluetooth or wi-fi connection.
Here are the key things to consider to buy the best wireless speaker for you:
Do you want to be able to take your wireless speaker away from the mains? If so, look for a portable speaker with a battery power. These days almost all portable speakers have built-in rechargeable batteries. The best can last more than 15 hours without needing a recharge, while the worst will last just three hours.
The best wireless speakers are ones you’ll use again and again, so there’s no use buying a large, heavy one if you want to easily move it around or take it outside. However, smaller speakers tend to have lower maximum volumes and – with some exceptions – lower sound quality, so you’ll need to find a compromise that works best for you.
Bluetooth vs wi-fi speakers
Bluetooth speakers are typically the simplest to use. They rely on a Bluetooth wireless connection to your smartphone, tablet or Bluetooth-enabled laptop. The best Bluetooth speakers have Bluetooth connections that are quick and easy to set up. Bluetooth has a limited wireless range (typically 10-30 metres), which is fine for most uses. Wi-fi speakers are more self-sufficient. The wi-fi connection is more complex to set up initially but offers much more functionality, such as the ability to access music streaming services such as Spotify (may require subscriptions) and voice assistants including Alexa without everything being processed through your smartphone. They run on your home wi-fi network, and usually you set them up using a dedicated app for the speaker on your smartphone or tablet.
Many of the latest wi-fi speakers offer the convenience of controlling them hands-free with only your voice, meaning you don’t even need to lift a finger. There are a range of voice assistants on offer, including Alexa, Google Assistant, Siri and Bixby. Many wi-fi speakers will only support one of these, but some give you a choice. They also give you a great deal of additional ever-growing functionality, such as asking for the latest news update, or being able to access internet radio directly from the speaker simply by asking: ‘Alexa, play BBC Radio 4.’
Many portable speakers now have some level of water resistance. Choose one that has the level of protection you’re likely to need. How much water a speaker will tolerate varies. This is defined by the IP scale (ingress protection). For example, a speaker with an IPX2 rating is drip-proof, so could survive the occasional water droplet in the kitchen, while a speaker with IPX7 full waterproofing can survive complete submersion in a metre of water for 30 minutes. The scale is also used for dustproofing, which is useful if you want to take the speaker to the beach without sand getting in. This is in the place of the ‘X’ in the IP rating – for example, an IP67 rating can mean the wireless speaker is both fully dustproof and capable of being completely submerged in a metre of water for 30 minutes.
What makes a good wireless or Bluetooth speaker?
Sound quality is the top consideration when choosing the best wireless or Bluetooth speaker. But there are lots of other factors to consider as well. Great sound may not be enough for you if getting to it is a frustrating experience or the speaker weighs more than the kitchen sink.
Here are the main features to look for to get the best wireless speaker for you:
There’s no point getting a super-cheap wireless speaker that sounds little better than your phone’s tinny speakers. We use a dedicated discerning listening panel at our expert audio lab to rigorously test the sound quality of each wireless speaker to find out which are the best on the market. A Best Buy recommendation from us means that whatever you choose to listen to, you can be confident your wireless speaker will sound fantastic.
Portable and powerful
Truly portable speakers should be small and lightweight with good battery life. If you’d like to move your speaker around a lot and take it out of the house, it should be convenient to carry around and have sufficient battery life to last through at least a day’s listening. However, smaller speakers will have a lower maximum volume and it’s more challenging to find one with good sound quality – so be sure to check our reviews to find the exceptions to the trend. If you only want to move the speaker occasionally, you can afford to get a larger one.
Easy to use
For portable, small Bluetooth speakers this will mean easy-to-use controls on the speaker housing and an easy-to-set-up Bluetooth connection to your smartphone or tablet. For home Bluetooth and wi-fi speakers, this’ll mean a simple-to-use app on your smartphone or tablet, and a straightforward setup process.
Durable and reliable
We’ve found speakers with painful buzzing sounds at certain frequencies that’ll ruin your listening, and others with extremely dubious build quality – even with more expensive models. Make sure you check our recommendations below to make sure you don’t get caught out.
The best Bluetooth speakers for home use
Many wireless speakers use a Bluetooth connection to wirelessly play music stored on mobile devices, such as smartphones and tablets. They can also be used to enhance the sound quality of your phone or tablet if you like listening to music or watching programmes. If you intend to use your Bluetooth speaker only at home, you’ll likely want a larger model with a higher maximum volume, with or without the option of battery power.
- Larger wireless speakers often have better sound quality and a higher maximum volume, and an easy-to-set-up Bluetooth connection to your devices.
- Bluetooth doesn’t lock you in to your speaker’s dedicated app, and through your mobile device it allows you to stream music stored on your device or from the internet (including music services such as Spotify – which in some cases Bluetooth can also grant access free versions of such services).
- Bigger speakers tend to be heavier and more difficult to move around.
- Bluetooth connections have a limited operational range of around 10-30 metres before the connection is lost.
- Calls and alerts from your phone can disturb your listening, and not all devices support Bluetooth (such as older desktop computers and laptops).
This Bluetooth and wi-fi smart speaker is one of the very best wireless speakers we've seen, and is proof that you don't need big brands and deep pockets to get top-of-the-range sound quality. It easily makes the grade to be a Which? Best Buy. You can control it with your voice using Google Assistant, and integrate it into a multi-room speaker setup with any Chromecast-supporting speaker including those from other brands. It delivers exceptionally detailed sound that has set a new standard for rivals to match.
Among the very best-sounding smart speakers, this Bluetooth and wi-fi wireless speaker has internet radio voice control with Google Assistant, which allows you to control the speaker hands-free plus perform tasks like setting calendar reminders. There’s also multi-room support to connect other speakers, and the beautifully warm, well-balanced sound will do justice to whatever you listen to. See how easy it is to use and what music services are supported in our expert review.
For our full list of the best Bluetooth speakers for home use, see our expert best home Bluetooth speakers guide.
The best portable speakers to buy in 2020
The best portable speakers will be easy to carry around with you and have battery power that’ll last throughout the day.
- The best small Bluetooth speakers are lightweight and don’t take up much space, and are often simple and easy to use.
- Great for playing and improving the sound quality of music stored on your mobile device or streamed from the internet (including music services such as Spotify – which in some cases Bluetooth can also grant access free versions of such services).
- Small, light portable speakers often have poorer sound quality – so be sure to check below to find out which are worth buying.
- Bluetooth connections have a limited operational range of around 10 to 30 metres before the connection is lost.
- Calls and alerts from your phone can disturb your listening, and not all devices support Bluetooth (such as older desktop computers and laptops).
This Bluetooth speaker has a superb 19-hour battery life, a great build and you can even charge your smartphone from the speaker while it’s playing. The sound is excellent with a great sense of energy that’s enjoyable to listen to. It’s even fully waterproof, so you don’t have to worry about it getting caught out in the rain. It’s a fantastic Best Buy.
With a durable cylindrical design, this portable and waterproof Bluetooth and wi-fi speaker produces well-balanced, powerful and clear sound, with crystal-clear speech. It performs strongly across genres from classical to pop, and has a high maximum volume. It also has Amazon’s Alexa voice assistant integrated so you can control the unit hands-free, and the 12.4-hour battery life will see you through the day.
If you’re looking for a low-cost simple Bluetooth speaker on a budget, this speaker is ideal. It’s rare to find a small portable speaker with great sound, but this speaker excels, impressing our expert panel with its great energy and drive, and a surprisingly large sound for its size. It’s very easy to set up, with a ten-and-a-half hour battery life, and is even slash-proof as well.
Finding a great-sounding small Bluetooth speaker is a challenge, so we’ve done the work for you – see our best portable Bluetooth speakers guide.
The best wi-fi speakers and smart speakers to buy in 2020
Wi-fi speakers give you the most functionality of any type of wireless speaker, including direct access to internet radio and music streaming services (the latter may require a subscription), the option of multi-room speakers, and many will have voice assistants like smart speakers. Most will give you the choice of connecting to your devices over wi-fi or Bluetooth (so you get the best of both worlds), although some (such as Sonos speakers) restrict you to only a wi-fi connection.
- The best wireless speakers with wi-fi are easy and convenient to use while offering a great deal of functionality.
- Wi-fi speakers typically have a longer wireless signal range than Bluetooth (the same as that of your wi-fi network).
- Most brands give you access to a host of online radio and music streaming services (the latter usually requiring subscriptions to connect directly over wi-fi).
- Wi-fi connections can be more difficult to set up.
- Internet features (such as voice assistants) only work in range of a stable wi-fi connection, so you can’t use wi-fi when you’re out and about.
- Music streaming services usually require subscriptions when connecting directly over wi-fi (this can sometimes be avoided when streaming over Bluetooth from your phone).
- Some of the best multi-room speakers at the top end of the market can be very expensive, particularly if you intend to buy more than one of them to form a multi-speaker setup.
This speaker is an outstanding package, raising the standards for smart speakers. Stereo sound is clear and detailed with excellent speech and enjoyable to listen to. Voice control means you can use it hands-free, and perform other tasks such as asking for news and weather plus much more. Multi-room built-in allows you to connect to other compatible speakers, even some from other brands.
With a super-easy setup and one of the best control apps around, this speaker is a leading light among multi-room options. As clever as this speaker is, it’s sound quality that matters most and we weren’t disappointed. The soundscape is rich and powerful, but subtle enough that you can still pick out individual instruments and melodies. You can adjust the sound too, with the equaliser built into the app.
The popularity of this speaker is richly deserved. It’s the smallest speaker in manufacturer’s range, but there’s no compromise: sound is rich and clear across a wide range of music and radio genres. It’s also easy to set up and use via the accompanying smartphone app. Music streaming services such as Spotify and Apple Music are supported, plus you can connect two of them together for stereo sound.
How much should I spend on a speaker?
Wireless speakers can vary greatly in price. Entry-level small Bluetooth speakers that are light on features can be picked up for less than £50, whereas larger, premium models can cost 10 times as much.
Wi-fi-enabled wireless speakers tend to cost a little more. There are few sub-£100 models on the market, so creating a multi-room speaker system can soon become an expensive venture.
Can I control my wireless speaker remotely?
Most Bluetooth speakers are quick and easy to set up – especially simple, small Bluetooth speakers – 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. You instead use your smartphone or tablet (you could buy a cheap second-hand one if you wanted a dedicated remote for your wireless speaker). Skipping tracks and turning up the volume can easily be done on your phone, just like you would if you were listening through headphones.
While many speakers have a few physical buttons on the device itself, most advanced functionality – such as creating a multi-room speaker setup – is done through an app. Some apps 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 dedicated speaker apps are clunky and poorly designed, which can make using your speaker very frustrating. And in some cases, you’ll likely give up with them even before you’ve managed to set them up, making it a costly time-waster that you’ll return to the store.
If you’re not a fan of using apps, you can buy a wi-fi speaker with a voice assistant instead, which (following one-off setup via the app) you can use to access much of the same functionality on a day-to-day basis, including accessing radio and music streaming services.
Can I use music streaming services?
All wireless speakers can access music streaming services like Spotify by streaming it over Bluetooth from your smartphone (may require subscriptions). If you’d like music streaming built-in to the speaker itself, you’ll need a wireless speaker with wi-fi, so it can connect to the internet directly. Each wi-fi speaker will support a different range of music streaming services, so make sure it features the one you want to use. To discover the best music streaming services to go for, see our expert best music streaming services guide.