When it comes to wireless speakers, they generally fall into two main categories - Bluetooth, or Wi-Fi. Bluetooth speakers play music by sending it from smartphone, tablet, or computer, wirelessly to the speaker - these types of speaker are usually designed to be portable. Wi-Fi speakers, on the other hand, connect directly to your home network and stream content from online services like iTunes, or Deezer. While some of them do support Bluetooth connections, they usually need to be plugged into the mains and are designed to stay in one place.
When you’re trying to decide which type to get, it really depends on where you’ll mostly be using it - so let’s take a look at the pros and cons of each in more detail.
Bluetooth speakers are so much better than they used to be, the sound quality has hugely improved over the last few years, meaning some of them even out-perform the high-end, big brand Wi-Fi speakers.
The main benefit of Bluetooth speakers over Wi-Fi is that they’re portable, so if you like to take your music with you, Bluetooth might be the way to go. Lots of manufacturers are now making waterproof Bluetooth speakers too - great if you’re looking for something to use on holiday, by the pool, or just while you’re washing the car.
Portable Bluetooth speakers are powered by an internal battery that needs to be charged from the mains or a USB socket. Battery life can vary from one speaker to the next, giving you anything from around 5 hours of continuous play, all the way up to 24 hours for some high-end speakers. Some of them even come with USB ports so you can charge your phone or tablet from the speaker while you’re out and about.
The main drawback with any Bluetooth device is the range, most new speakers use Bluetooth 4.2, and you’ll often get connection problems if you move your speaker away from the device it’s connected to. In an open area, it should stay connected at a distance of around 30 or 40 feet. But if you’re using your speaker indoors and moving around your house with your phone in your pocket, walls can cause the connection to drop out.
Bluetooth 5.0 is the latest update to the technology and it should fix most of these problems. Some smartphones are already using Bluetooth 5.0, but it isn’t available in any Bluetooth speakers yet - we expect to see speaker manufacturers adding it to their kit over the next 12 months.
Also known as smart speakers, they connect directly to your home Wi-Fi network and stream music from online services like Spotify, TuneIn Radio, Amazon Music, or iTunes. Wi-Fi speakers aren’t usually designed to be portable, and when you set up a new speaker, you’ll need to name it something like ‘Living Room’, or ‘Kitchen’ - it also needs to be connected to a power supply.
One of the main benefits of Wi-Fi is that it can carry much more data than current Bluetooth connections, meaning you’ll be able to listen to high-fidelity audio without any loss of quality. Wi-Fi speakers can also be linked to other smart speakers on the same network, and controlled using a smart assistant - say “Alexa, play Heroes by David Bowie in the Kitchen”, and it’ll do it.
Some smart speakers also come with programmable presets, so you can set them to your favourite Spotify playlists, or radio stations. This means you don’t need to use your phone every time you want to play your music - just hit one of the presets on the speaker.
Setting up a smart speaker for the first time can be a bit tricky. If it has trouble connecting wirelessly, you might need to plug it into your router using an ethernet cable - don't worry though, you can unplug the network cable when the setup is done. They all have apps to guide you through the setup, and when it’s connected, you’ll see it on your network as an ‘available device’.
Some Wi-Fi speakers also come with a Bluetooth option, which can be handy if someone who isn’t connected to your network wants to play music through the speaker.
So in summary, portable Bluetooth speakers are great if you want something to use while you’re out and about, the sound quality on some of the high-end speakers is outstanding too - even some of the more compact speakers sound great. The only issue is that Bluetooth technology can sometimes let you down.
If you want that fully kitted out smart home, Wi-Fi speakers are a must. They work with smart assistants like Google and Alexa, and you can get better sound quality through a Wi-Fi connection. On the downside, the initial setup can be a pain and they’re not portable. Also if the Wi-Fi in your home is a bit patchy, this can cause connection problems.
Hopefully, that’s helped you decide which option is best for your needs. If you need help with anything else, you can contact one of our Team Knowhow experts here.