Wireless audio is one of the best ways to make a splash at your next get-together. Plus, we’ve all heard our neighbor’s systems, and they make us a little jealous. It’s time to rise above and show Mark next door that your taste in music is better than his.
- At a glance
- The best: Sonos One
- The best portable wireless speaker: Ultimate Ears Megaboom 3
- The best rugged wireless speaker: Outdoor Technology OT2800-B Turtle Shell 3.o
- The best sounding wireless speaker: Ultimate Ears Hyperboom
- The best wireless bookshelf speakers: KEF LSX
- The best wireless speakers for your home theater: Klipsch Wireless Reference Speakers
- How we test
- How to decipher wireless speaker terms
In all seriousness though, you don’t have to spend a ton of money these days to nab one of the best wireless speakers on the market. Features like Bluetooth and Wi-Fi connectivity, pulse-pounding sound, and a powerful battery are becoming more standard. With more choices for wireless audio than ever before, we’ve taken the liberty of putting together this roundup to help you choose the best wireless speaker for your home.
- The best: Sonos One
- Best portable wireless speaker: Ultimate Ears Megaboom 3
- Best rugged wireless speaker: Outdoor Technology OT2800-B
- Best sounding wireless speaker: Ultimate Ears Hyperboom
- Best wireless bookshelf speakers: KEF LSX
- Best wireless speakers for your home theater: Klipsch Wireless Reference Speakers
Who it’s for: Those who want a wireless smart speaker that has fantastic sound quality, and can become a key ingredient in a wide-ranging multiroom sound system.
Why we picked the Sonos One:
Sonos’ reputation as one of the best home audio companies is well-deserved. Its speakers not only sound great, but they are also amazingly easy to use, which is something that shouldn’t be under-appreciated. The Sonos One brings the best parts of the existing Sonos ecosystem, namely bulletproof Wi-Fi performance, super-easy setup, and wide compatibility with almost every music service on the planet. With the addition of Google Assistant to go alongside Alexa, the Sonos One is the only smart speaker that gives you a choice of voice assistants. Granted, like all Sonos speakers, the Sonos One lacks Bluetooth and hi-res music support, but one listening session with it and we think you’ll forget all about these omissions.
Even if we were purely judging the Sonos One on its sound, voice support, and music service compatibility, it would be worth the price of admission. But when you consider the Sonos app’s best-in-class user interface and universal search feature, we think you’ll agree: This is the best wireless speaker right now.
Why you should buy this: With 20 hours of battery life, the ability to withstand both dust and water, and sound quality that makes you forget it’s a Bluetooth speaker, the UE Megaboom 3 is an ideal portable companion.
Who it’s for: Those who need a portable speaker that can withstand the elements, yet still pump out tons of high-quality sound.
Why we picked the UE Megaboom 3:
The Ultimate Ears Megaboom 3 lacks a lot of features you might find in some other Bluetooth speakers, like the ability to take phone calls, plug in an external music source, or charge up your phone. So why would we pick it? Simple: The UE Megaboom 3 sounds better than any portable Bluetooth speaker we’ve tested — so good in fact, that we’d happily give up those extra features to get this kind of sound. Then there’s the weekend’s worth of battery life, and the Megaboom 3’s beach-proof construction. Add its attractive design and clever multifunction button, and you’ve got a Bluetooth speaker that will make any setting feel like your own private listening lounge.
Why you should buy this: It’s compact, it’s rugged as rocks, and boasts a 20-hour battery for all-day poolside performance.
Who it’s for: Anyone looking for a powerful 360-degree speaker that can withstand the elements, take a beating, and rock out all day.
Why we picked the Outdoor Technology OT-2800-B Turtle Shell 3.0:
With a clever and unforgettable turtle shell design, the Outdoor Technology OT-2800-B Turtle Shell 3.0 speaker will fill the room with dynamic tunes. Two full-range drivers and a bass radiator work together to create a rich and all-encompassing sound, with all three audio components housed in a rugged IPX7 casing that can float in a body of water.
This is one of the best compact options on our list, too. With 20 hours of battery, you won’t have to think twice about clipping this to your backpack and taking it with you on your next hike. If you’re hill-climbing with friends and need to stop for a break, you can fire up some music using Bluetooth from your paired phones, or using the included 3.5mm stereo connection (to accommodate your best pal’s cherished MP3 player that can’t wirelessly pair).
Best of all, there’s even a party feature for linking more than one OT-2800-B together for expanded sound. For less than $150, we can’t think of a better weatherproof speaker.
Why you should buy this: You’re looking for the biggest and best sound you can get, regardless of price point.
Who it’s for: Music lovers and frequent event hosts.
Why we picked the Ultimate Ears Hyperboom:
If you’re looking for a speaker you can chuck in your swimming pool, the Hyperboom isn’t the pick for you. But this IPX4-protected party monster is one of the best sounds you’re going to find outside of a dedicated stereo or home theater system. Under the armor, the Hyperboom houses precision woofers, passive radiators, and soft dome tweeters to achieve one of the best overall soundstages of any speaker on our list. This is also thanks to the Boom’s adaptive EQ. Indoors or outdoors, the Boom knows when it’s moved, and balances sound output based on the environment it’s placed in.
The pullout strap of the Ultimate Ears Hyperboom makes it easy to load and unload the speaker at your next gathering. This is also one of our favorite speakers for sharing. Four dedicated inputs mean you can have four devices all paired at once, so you can switch between devices and playlists with ease. The 24-hour battery guarantees undisturbed listening sessions no matter where you go and the USB charge-out port is a convenient add-on for giving your phone a quick battery boost.
Why you should buy this: Incredible sound quality mixed with wireless convenience for shockingly good value.
Who it’s for: Those who want it all — audiophile sound quality, gorgeous design, and all the benefits of a wireless system, without the insane price point.
Why we picked the KEF LSX:
KEF’s LS50 Wireless IIs are among the best sounding bookshelves you can buy for the money, and their wireless convenience makes them among our favorite speakers we’ve encountered. But what we love about KEF’s LSX is that they give you almost everything you’ll get with the KEF LS50 Wireless, for less than half the price. While the LSX don’t sound as big in either soundstage or velocity (the LS50 are among the loudest speakers we’ve tested that never incurred distortion), they offer the same incredible detail, dynamic expression, depth, and clarity we’ve come to expect from KEF’s best in a smaller and more minimalist package.
Like the LS50, the LSX not only deliver crystalline sound and impeccable balance, but they also offer nearly every conceivable option for extending and customizing that sound to fit your taste and room setup through a dedicated app. And with Wi-Fi and Bluetooth wireless connection, they’re also loaded with wired options like optical input, analog input, a USB connection for PC audio, and a subwoofer output.
That last option is a great way to raise their cinematic game, too. While the LSX offer impressive bass for their size thanks largely to KEF’s Uni-Q concentric tweeter design, they can’t get quite as low with authority as their larger siblings. In addition, they trade the gorgeous piano gloss cabinets of the LS50 for less opulent fabric jackets.
That said, the KEF LSX offer something the LS50 don’t — fully wireless connection, without the need of a connecting wire between the stereo speakers. With nearly all the other benefits of the LS50 Wireless, the LSX are an incredible value and a great compromise for those looking to keep their budget right around the $1,000 line.
Why you should buy this: You want premium surround sound for your home theater without the hassle of speaker wires.
Who it’s for: Those with a dedicated media room who value both simplicity and sound quality.
Why we picked the Klipsch Wireless Reference Speakers:
The Klipsch Wireless Reference Speakers look like the company’s much-revered line of traditional Reference home theater speakers and that’s by design. These speakers can be arranged in any configuration from the simplest 2.0 setup to a full 7.1 or 5.1.2 surround layout, but because they’re built on the WiSA wireless audio platform, all you need is power for each speaker. No speaker cables, and no A/V receiver needed.
Adding a $199 Axiim Link WiSA Transmitter, which you plug into any WiSA-compatible LG TV, lets you get up and running in minutes. You can then use your TV’s remote to control your entire home theater system. If you own an Xbox One, you can connect the Axiim Link to that device instead.
Other than the incredible simplicity that WiSA allows, the biggest benefit is its ultra-low latency and high bandwidth. Wireless speakers that rely on Bluetooth can sometimes suffer from synchronization issues. Sometimes this exhibits itself as audio lag from the source (creating dialogue that doesn’t match what people on-screen are doing). But more commonly, it creates sync issues between multiple speakers, causing nasty echo and other unwanted distortions.
WiSA is effectively lag-free and keeps perfect sync across every speaker in the room. It can also deliver uncompressed, hi-res audio to each channel — another thing that Bluetooth can’t do.
WiSA-based home theater systems are relatively new to the marketplace, but we think the Klipsch Wireless Reference Speakers are so far the best-sounding option. That said, they’re not exactly cheap. The front left and right (and surround) speakers sell for $799 a pair, while the center channel costs $574 and the subwoofer is $689.
We test wireless speakers the same way you would use a wireless speaker. No fancy measuring equipment, no anechoic chambers, just our ears, the speakers, and some of our favorite music sources. If the speaker is designed to go outside, we take it outside. If it’s waterproof, we throw it in a pool or the ocean. If it’s a smart speaker, we see how well it responds to our voice commands. Despite its casual nature, this process is highly comprehensive and includes checking out things you might not have thought about, like range, connection stability, and performance in areas with a lot of radio frequency interference (i.e., the Digital Trends offices).
Finally, we compare each speaker to some of our go-to models, both in their class and price point, as well as a level or two above, to find out if they can punch above their weight.
NFC: Shorthand for Near Field Communication, this oft-touted feature is actually quite limited when it comes to Bluetooth speakers, allowing select phones to pair with a speaker with a quick touch. Since pairing is often as simple as pressing a button, and speakers will be remembered by your device once paired, it’s not seen as a must-have feature.
AptX: Another feature limited to phones and devices outside of Apple’s periphery, AptX is a codec (or group of codecs) that allows Bluetooth streaming at “near CD quality” resolution. Apple products do not use AptX, but Android users may find it improves performance when paired with high-quality tracks and high-performance speakers. AptX HD is the latest and greatest version of this codec, but both the source device and Bluetooth speaker must support it for you to get any benefit.
Passive radiator: A passive radiator is a type of driver used to enhance bass in a speaker. In a sealed speaker enclosure (no portholes) a passive radiator responds to fluctuations in air pressure within the enclosure, creating sound. Since a passive radiator doesn’t have to be powered by an amp, it has no magnet or voice coil, and is, therefore, lighter and smaller than a traditional driver. This saves space and cost while increasing the speaker’s performance.
Pairing (or Bluetooth pairing): In the case of Bluetooth speakers, pairing is the act of making a wireless connection from a speaker to your wireless device via Bluetooth.
Stereo pairing: The ability to treat two individual wireless speakers as the left and right speakers of a stereo pair. This is usually accomplished using an app, and the speakers need to be compatible with the stereo pairing function. It’s currently only possible to set up stereo pairs if you’re using identical speakers.
Hi-res music: These are audio tracks that have been created from master recordings at much higher levels of detail and range than typical MP3 files. They contain up to four times as much information per song, and when played back through high-quality speakers that support them, they deliver more detail, less overlap between instruments and frequencies, and generally better sound when played at higher volumes. Hi-res music files require Wi-Fi, Bluetooth aptX HD, Sony’s proprietary LDAC wireless codec, or a wired connection from the source to the speaker, so not all wireless speakers are compatible.
Multiroom audio: The ability for a wireless speaker to become part of a centrally controlled, multispeaker whole-home sound system. In these systems, each speaker can play a different source, all speakers can play the same source in perfect sync, or you can combine the two. A good example of a wireless, multiroom audio system would be Sonos.
WiSA: An acronym for “Wireless Sound and Audio,” this standard for wireless audio eliminates excess audio cables for multiroom setups with up to eight speakers. Over 60 popular audio brands, including Klipsch, Bang & Olufsen, and Harman Kardon, offer WiSA products.
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