Wireless Speakers Review
Why Buy a Wireless Speaker?
The top performers in our review are JBL Authentics L8, the Gold Award winner; Polk Woodbourne, the Silver Award winner; and Sonos PLAY:5, the Bronze Award winner. Here’s more on choosing a system to meet your needs, along with detail on how we arrived at our ranking of 10 wireless speakers.
Wi-Fi speakers give you a convenient way to stream music throughout your home without range or connectivity limitations. These wireless speakers connect to your home network and use your Wi-Fi to stream music from your mobile device to the speaker.
Generally, you connect wireless speakers to your home network through a mobile application. For example, you connect the Amazon Echo speaker to your Wi-Fi by downloading the Amazon Alexa application on your smartphone. The application assists you with pairing the speaker to your network. Once the speaker is connected to your Wi-Fi, you can stream music without limited range restrictions or sound quality issues.
Those who use Apple mobile devices can buy an Airplay-enabled speaker that can stream from any Apple phone, tablet or computer. Airplay-compatible speakers can display the artist name, track information and album art. Airplay also gives you the ability to connect to multiple receivers from your mobile device. This means you can connect to your Airplay-enabled wireless speaker in one room and an Airplay-compatible stereo in another and stream music to both. You can then walk about your house without any breaks in the music.
Wi-Fi speakers provide better connectivity and sound quality than standard Bluetooth speakers can offer. The normal Bluetooth connectivity range is 33 feet, and audio streaming starts to become distorted once you breach that range. Wi-Fi speakers offer connectivity range based on your Wi-Fi signal's strength. You can stream music from your mobile device to your speaker wherever your home Wi-Fi network reaches. You no longer have to stay close to your speaker to stream audio.
The wireless speakers we reviewed are bigger, more powerful and better sounding than portable Bluetooth speakers, though there are potential drawbacks as well. Wi-Fi speakers are more power hungry than portable speakers, so most of them have to be plugged into the wall in order to operate. This takes away from the mobility that many Bluetooth speakers offer. Most portable speakers are also water and impact resistant while W-Fi speakers aren't. If you are looking for an outdoor wireless speaker as opposed to an indoor wireless speaker, you can take a look at our portable speaker comparison. Wi-Fi speakers are also more expensive than many Bluetooth speakers; Wi-Fi speakers cost upwards of $180 while many Bluetooth speakers cost closer to $100.
There is no need to fret if you don't have Wi-Fi in your home. While it is the preferred method to wirelessly connect the speaker to your mobile device, most of the speakers we reviewed also include Bluetooth technology. If you would like to learn more, check out our articles about wireless speakers.
Wireless Speakers: What We Tested, What We Found
We compared the wireless speakers in our review for sound quality, pairing difficulty and features. The best wireless speakers have top-notch sound quality and can connect to your home Wi-Fi network in just a few steps.
Sound Quality Test
We tested the wireless speakers by hardwiring each speaker to the source of music; we didn't want any issues in our wireless network to compromise the quality of the music playback. Before we listened to any music, we played pink noise – which is similar to white noise – through each speaker and used a decibel meter to determine that all the music was played at the same volume.
We listened to audio tracks from multiple artists to cover a range of genres and tastes. A few examples include Pretty Lights and Bassnector to cover bass response and Radiohead to test sound dispersion as well as instrumentation and vocal clarity. We switched back and forth between speakers and noted musical characteristics such as bass response, dynamic range and treble clarity. We took the stats from our research and turned the scores into a letter grade to determine the best-sounding wireless speaker in our lineup.
From many hours of listening, we determined which speakers sound best overall. We also discovered that some speakers are best suited to certain types of music. This information is detailed within our reviews.
We tested each wireless speaker's ability to connect to a Wi-Fi network. Connecting your wireless speaker to your Wi-Fi should be an intuitive process that only takes a couple of steps. We accounted for each step within the process and noted any difficulties we had. Speakers that connect to your home network with only a few steps received the best scores in this category.
The Samsung Radiant360 R5, Sony SRS-X7 and Harmon Kardon Aura are among the easiest speakers to connect to your home network. These speakers were connected to Wi-Fi within a few minutes of unwrapping.
The Sonos speakers in our lineup require many steps to connect to a home network. There is even a speaker tuning process you have to go through. While tuning ensures the speaker sounds best in its surrounding environment, it does slow down the setup process considerably. This process is not difficult to complete – it just takes time and patience.
Top Ten Reviews seeks, whenever possible, to evaluate all products and services in hands-on tests that simulate as closely as possible the experiences of a typical consumer. We obtained all of the units in our comparison in house, some by loans from the manufacturer and some by purchase. The manufacturers had no input or influence over our test methodology, nor was the methodology provided to any of them in more detail than is available through reading our reviews. Results of our evaluations were not provided to the companies in advance of publication.
Wireless Speakers: What Else Is Important?
While sound quality and connectivity are the main focal points, the features of the mobile app are also important. The best wireless speakers feature additional capabilities you can control from your mobile devices.
All of the wireless speakers in our lineup can be controlled to some degree using a mobile application you can download for free. We tried out all of the applications to determine which ones are easiest to use and have the most functionality. Speaker applications that can sync with internet streaming services like Spotify, Pandora, iHeart Radio and Rhapsody provide one convenient place to access all of your music.
Functionality also played a large role in our testing. Apps that allow you to control the volume, equalization, alarms, song queues, playlists and sleep timers are the most helpful. Samsung and Sonos provide the best mobile applications to control their respective wireless speakers. Both provide all the functionality we looked for in our testing an allow you to link to multiple streaming services.
The JBL, Polk and Harmon Kardon mobile apps are underwhelming. The Polk Woodbourne application is only used to connect the speaker to your Wi-Fi network. The JBL and Harmon Kardon apps have limited functionality – they really only let you control the volume and play and pause songs.
Wireless Speakers: Our Verdict and Recommendations
The wireless speakers in our review range from $180 to $600. This makes them notably more expensive than Bluetooth speakers. However, if sound quality means more to you than portability, you'll want to invest in a Wi-Fi speaker.
The JBL Authentics L8 earns our Top Ten Reviews Gold Award. No other speaker comes close to producing the round, punchy, strong bass that this wireless speaker provides. Not only does it surpass all others on the low end – the L8 also provides a natural tonal quality that brings balance to your music. Frankly, music sounds great on the Authentics L8. Outside of sound quality, the JBL also provides a handful of connectivity options, including an optical input – it's the only speaker in our lineup that can connect to your TV via optical. The connectivity options and sound quality make this our top-rated wireless speaker.
The Polk Woodbourne is our Top Ten Review Silver Award winner. The Woodbourne has a wide dispersion of sound, filling a medium-size room with clear sound. In our testing we determined that both the JBL Authentics L8 and the Sonos PLAY:3 (and PLAY:5) have slightly better clarity than the Polk, but our reviewers often described the sound quality as crisp and natural during our testing. The Polk Woodbourne also has a plethora of connectivity options, including Bluetooth, Ethernet, AptX, USB and aux in. The Woodbourne comes with a remote to control the speaker. Sound quality and connectivity are the main reasons you'll find this speaker near the top of our list.
The Sonos PLAY:5 is our Top Ten Reviews Bronze Award winner. Overall, the Sonos PLAY:5 scored the highest in our sound quality testing, providing pristine clarity along with prominent bass. Its lack of connectivity prevents this speaker from taking our wireless speaker crown. Outside of an aux input and Wi-Fi, you can't stream music to this speaker any other way. The Sonos mobile application is among the best we used and provides total control over the speaker. The Sonos' sound quality is top notch, but its lack of connectivity is something you should keep in mind.
You won't find the Amazon Echo near the top of our list due to subpar sound quality compared to others in our lineup. In terms of functionality, this speaker is one of a kind. Once the speaker is connected to your Wi-Fi, you can talk to the Echo, ask it questions, have it set timers and alarms, and tell it to read aloud your to-do list for the day, among others features. It's a hands-free device that is useful to have around the house. It is also small and lightweight compared to all of the other speakers in our lineup, so you can tuck it away in a corner without it being obtrusive. As long as the Amazon Echo can hear your voice, it can assist you at home.