A few years ago, wireless speakers were quite rare and limited in scope, but today, thanks to advances in wi-fi and Bluetooth and the proliferation of devices equipped with wireless tech, they’re suited to a whole range of jobs.
By having a wireless speaker in your living room, you or any visitors can play music from your phones or tablets without having to fiddle with the old-fashioned audio cable. A wireless speaker in your home office, meanwhile, can pair up with your laptop to give much better sound than its built-in speakers.
You can even pair up a wireless speaker with your television, making improvements to movie sound without having wires running around the lounge.
How do wireless speakers work?
Wireless speakers connect to devices using Bluetooth, wi-fi or both.
A Bluetooth connection sets up a one-to-one link between your source device (phone, tablet, laptop or TV) and the speaker, over which digital audio data is transmitted; this is known as ‘pairing’. Bluetooth used to offer lower sound quality and shorter range, but advances in the technology mean that high-quality signals can now be carried over longer distances (up to 60 metres with Bluetooth 4.0).
Wi-fi speakers usually connect to source devices over a shared wi-fi network rather than a direct device-to-device link like Bluetooth. Wi-fi is a stable, long-range wireless connection with high potential data transfer rates, which means it’s still the preferred wireless technology for those looking for the very highest audio quality.
Of course, wireless speakers do require a power source to work, so they’ll either have to be plugged into a wall socket or run off a battery. Many Bluetooth-based wireless speakers come with a built-in rechargeable battery, allowing you to take them out and about for some al-fresco listening.
When looking at wireless speaker spec sheets, you may also see things like ‘AirPlay’, ‘Google Cast’ and ‘Spotify Connect’ streaming mentioned. These are proprietary wireless streaming technologies that work with particular apps or hardware. AirPlay, for example, is Apple’s streaming technology; you’ll need an iPhone, iPad or MacBook to stream via AirPlay – but it actually works via wi-fi. Find out more.
Are wireless speakers any good?
Yes they are! Or at least, they can be. While audiophiles obsessed with wringing the very best sound quality out of their hi-fi hardware generally disdain wireless, wi-fi and Bluetooth can both carry information at bit rates that allow for very good sound quality. So unless you’re an absolute perfectionist, you’re probably going to be more than satisfied with the sonic skill of a wireless speaker.
Wireless speakers for a smartphone or tablet
Ultimate Ears Roll 2
Small but mighty, the Bluetooth-equipped Roll 2 produces a surprising amount of audio power and detail for its size. It’s also fully waterproof (not just splash-proof – you can dunk this in a pool for up to 30 minutes) and battery-powered, offering up to nine hours of on-the-go use, making it an ideal travel speaker.
Audio Pro Addon T3
The natty leather handle and 30-hour battery life make the Addon T3 a beautifully portable option – but its simple, minimalist design makes it a speaker you’d be happy to display at home too.
The T7 is small enough to sit on your desktop without taking up too much space, and handily battery-powered if you ever fancy taking it on your travels. aptX Bluetooth connection comes as standard, as does a solid construction and great performance.
Wireless speakers for a laptop
Edifier Exclaim E10BT
With an eye-catching design and strong all-round performance, these are just about the best wireless laptop speakers you can buy at this price. A winning balance of power and cost.
Creative Sound Blaster Roar 2
Battery-powered and lightweight, this Bluetooth-equipped portable speaker is aimed at road warriors looking for an on-the-go audio boost. It’ll also work with your smartphone and tablet, of course.
Wireless speakers for a TV
Philips Fidelio E5
This 2.1 (left and right speakers, plus a subwoofer) system can instantly convert into a 4.1 surround sound setup when required – just detach the wireless rear speaker modules and place them behind you for all-enveloping surround effects.
Sonos 5.1 Home Theatre System
Sonos is best known for its wireless music speakers, but it offers a 5.1-channel wireless home cinema setup too: soundbar, subwoofer and two PLAY:1 speakers for rear effects. It’s not cheap, but if you want the full thrills of surround sound with powerful bass and the added bonuses of great music performance and wireless setup, this system fits the bill.
Prices correct at the time of writing, but may be subject to change at any time.