Looking to pick up a shiny new wireless speaker, but not sure which to opt for? Well you’re not alone.
These days, the wireless speaker market is a jungle full of a variety of beasts, each with different strengths, weaknesses and native habitats.
This, alongside the ever-growing number of technical terms and marketing buzzwords makes finding the model that’s best for your specific needs a tricky road to navigate, even for the most tech-savvy of buyers.
But fear not, the audio experts at Trusted Towers have put their heads together to offer five key tips to consider when buying a wireless speaker.
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1. What do you want to use it for?
This is a question you should ask yourself before buying any new bit of tech. There’s no point shelling out lots of cash for a top-end speaker with advanced features, such as multi-room and Hi-Res Audio support, if you plan to listen to low-quality files in the shower. Equally, you don’t want to underspend on a system that doesn’t meet your requirements.
You should also consider the specific purpose. Do you plan to use the speaker with other bits of tech, such as your TV, an old record player or streaming from a smartphone? Then you’ll need the right physical connections. Key ones to look out for are a TOSLINK/Optical connection for flat-screen TVs and an analogue 3.5mm jack for MP3 and music players. Wi-Fi or Bluetooth is needed for streaming.
Portability and form are other key factors. If you’re only going to use it at home then a bigger speaker will potentially deliver more heft and a bigger sound. If you want a speaker for when you’re out and about you’ll need a model with a battery – with decent battery life at that – as well as Bluetooth connectivity.
Next, you should consider form factor and where you plan to set the speaker up. The first thing any audiophile will ask is where you want to use it. The shape of a room can impact how a speaker sounds.
If you want to use the unit as a standalone speaker then invest in one with omnidirectional sound. Of course, if it will be placed in the centre of the room then you’ll also want it to have a battery, to avoid dragging cables across the floor.
Conversely, if it is to sit in the corner of a room, or next to a wall, a wall-powered system will be better. Also consider where you’ll spend the most time listening to the speaker and position it to hit the lorded sweet spot in your room.
The size of a room should also be considered. A big room will need a speaker capable of some grunt to fill that space. A smaller room may not need a speaker as big, but smaller speakers are more than capable of going loud.
Want to create a multi-room setup? Then invest in a speaker family that can easily be expanded, such as Sonos. And if you’re going to use the speaker in the shower then definitely get a unit with an IP water-resistance rating.
3. Connectivity and streaming capabilities
This is an area that can often confuse new buyers. Currently, there are a variety of different wireless connection types doing the rounds.
Bluetooth is the most common, and is supported on most mainstream devices including laptops, tablets and mobile phones. It’s also super-easy to set up. The downsides are that it doesn’t offer the best audio quality unless it’s compatible with aptX or aptX HD Bluetooth variants. It has a limited transmission distance and signal interference can be an issue in busy areas.
Next up is Wi-Fi. This lets you connect to any device on the same Wi-Fi network. This makes it a great, and stable, option for speaker systems that will stay planted in your home – and also for the golden oldies who wish to stream music from their PC, mobile device or a NAS system without sacrificing audio quality.
Finally, there are the company-specific solutions, such as AirPlay. AirPlay is a proprietary wireless streaming tech from Apple. It brings with it a few benefits for Apple Music and iTunes users, such as a one-tap way to stream music from Apple Music to compatible speakers, and Siri support. The latest AirPlay 2 also adds multi-room functionality and the ability to hook up speakers in stereo. When it first launched the tech was limited to Apple’s own HomePod family, but it’s since become increasingly common on third party systems.#
Related: Best multi-room speaker
Plan to use your wireless speaker solely at home? Then treat it like a piece of furniture and consider the impact it will have on the overall look of your room.
If you’ve got oodles of space and are happy to make a tower or cylinder speaker the centrepiece of the room, then there are plenty of attractive-looking speakers available. But thanks to advances in audio tech, though, the market has plenty of smaller, discrete-looking wireless speakers, too, which don’t compromise much on audio quality. Many, including the KEF LSX Wireless, also come in multiple colour options, so you can match them to the decor of your room.
5. Sound quality
Sadly, fewer folk are following through on the concept of “try before you buy”, with most people opting to make their purchases online. But you should still do your research before handing over your cash. Read multiple reviews of the speaker you’re considering to ensure the audio performance meets your tastes.
Technically, too, you’ll want to be sure that it’s up to scratch. If you’re playing music using a hi-resolution audio source such as Tidal, for example, you’ll want to know that the speaker you choose is capable of playing it at that quality. Many wireless speakers still cap out at CD quality.
That concludes our quick guide on how to pick a wireless speaker. Still got questions? Then hit up our team of experts on Twitter @TrustedReviews