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Technology.

13 September 2021

How to buy the best wireless or Bluetooth speaker

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.
Oliver Trebilcock
How-to-buy - Bluetooth speaker
How-to-buy - Bluetooth speaker

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.

Portable speakers pros and cons

All portable wireless speakers have Bluetooth which lets you wirelessly connect to play audio from devices such as your smartphone, and the best portable speakers will be easy to carry around with you and have battery power that’ll last throughout the day.

Pros

  • 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).

Cons

  • 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).

Best portable speakers for 2021

  • 77%
    £159.00

    This is a fantastic Best Buy Bluetooth speaker that offers powerful sound with hefty bass despite its pretty compact dimensions. It has a robust, waterproof design plus a strong 19-hour battery life that makes it perfect for outdoor parties or the campsite, and you can even connect two together for stereo sound. It’s one of the best portable speakers around.

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  • 74%
    £49.99

    This innovative Bluetooth speaker’s ideal for taking down the lawn or to the park. It’s a superb, nice-looking and affordable speaker. Sound has nice energy and high volume, although could have more body at times. The battery lasted almost 20 hours in our tests. You can even buy two for true stereo sound in the garden – it’s a sensation.

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  • 69%
    £28.99

    Many buyers want a compact speaker – the challenge is making one that sounds great, particularly in the bass. This small Bluetooth speaker succeeds where many have failed, despite its slim pocketable design. Speech is clear and music is well-balanced and detailed. Build quality is good, it’s waterproof and the battery lasted more than 9.5 hours in our tests too – it’s a bargain.

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Pricing and recommendations correct as of September 2021.

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.

Wi-fi and smart speakers pros and cons

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.

Pros

  • The best wireless speakers with wi-fi are easy and convenient to use while offering great 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).

Cons

  • 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.

Best wi-fi and smart speakers for 2021

  • 82%
    £179.00

    This wireless speaker offers exceptional quality sound at a great price. It’s nicely compact, well build and easy to use too via its app on your smartphone. A plethora of music-streaming services are supported (may require subscriptions). Our professional listening panel praised its balanced, warm and engaging sound, packed full of detail and depth.

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  • 82%
    £89.00

    This smart speaker is a real triumph. Its voice control is snappy and responsive, and the sound quality is so high even hi-fi system fans will be impressed. It’s easy to set up and use, and well-built with a discreet design that will blend well into any home. You can even combine two for stereo sound and connect to any other Chromecast speakers including those from rival brands. It’s superb value, too.

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  • 75%
    £499.00

    With easy setup and controlled by one of the most well-featured apps around, this speaker is one of the leading lights among an increasingly competitive market of multi-room speakers. 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 to tweak bass and treble built into the app.

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  • 74%
    £60.00

    This manufacturer has a winner on its hands. It has a high maximum volume to fill large rooms and lovely oomph in the bass. It’s easy to set up and use, well-built and competitively priced. The voice assistant is responsive to your commands and enjoyable to use.

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Wi-fi speakers with voice assistants and multi-room support can be very expensive. Make sure you make the most of your money – and avoid a costly dud – by checking our expert best multi-room speakers guide.

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:

Battery power

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.

Size

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.

Voice assistants

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 great 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.’

Water resistance

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.

How to buy2 - wi-fi speaker with smartphone app
How to buy2 - wi-fi speaker with smartphone app

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:

Great sound

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.

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.