To begin with, ask yourself what this wireless speaker is for. Is it going to be your main source of music, replacing a big, unglamorous traditional hi-fi system? Does it need to become part of a multi-room system? Is it a secondary source, maybe for use in the bedroom or kitchen? Is it meant to be a travel companion, no matter if ‘travel’ means ‘down the garden’ or ‘halfway around the world’?
How you answer those questions will dictate the sort of price bracket you’ll need to operate it – because, of course, you need to have a budget in mind. When you buy something using the retail links in our stories, we earn a small affiliate commission. This does not impact the products we recommend.
You’re looking at £600+ for a serious ‘system’
If you’re thinking of using your new wireless speaker as your primary source of music, if – for all intents and purposes – it’s going to be your main ‘system’, then your budget will probably need to be reasonably serious. You should really consider £600 or so your jumping-off point if you want convincing sound quality and a full suite of features from your speaker – this sort of money puts very credible products like Naim’s splendid Qb2 (£779) within reach.
It’s possible to spend plenty more than £600 on a properly engineered, high-performance wireless speaker – we’ve reviewed both the remarkable Bowers & Wilkins’ Formation Wedge (£899) and the Naim Mu-so (£1,299) and found them to represent proper value for their considerable money. And when we reviewed the Linn Series 3 (£2,950) speaker we suggested it was the best wireless speaker available anywhere, at any price. Given that price is very nearly £3,000, it really ought to be.
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All four of those products – and virtually every rival – has a very similar feature-set. They can handle hi-res digital audio files, they can stream wirelessly via Bluetooth or your home Wi-Fi network, they can all form part of a multi-room system without too much aggravation. None of them are battery-powered or, consequently, portable. And while none of them are ‘smart’ speakers in the sense of having integrated mics and being able to answer your random questions, they can all be controlled by an Alexa, Siri or Google Assistant speaker on the same network. And they all, to a lesser or greater extent, sound the money’s-worth.
Apart from sound, the biggest differences between them are aesthetic. If you like the idea of a high-performance wireless speaker that looks like half a lampshade, head straight to your nearest Bowers & Wilkins showroom.
Go affordable for kitchens and bedrooms
If you have more modest expectations of this new speaker of yours, and are looking for a simple and convenient way to get some music into the kitchen or the bedroom, it’s possible to get very good audio results for a much smaller spend. And spending less money doesn’t automatically mean sacrificing features, either.
Amazon, Audio Pro and Sonos – to name but three – all have very capable speakers to sell you for somewhere between £100 and £250. They tend to be far more compact than the full-on system options discussed above and, while they’re not all capable of dealing with hi-res audio, they’ll do most of the stuff the more expensive speakers do. Voice control, multi-room connectivity and Bluetooth are generally pretty common.
As far as looks go, there’s an absolute plethora of choice at this sort of level. Kvadrat acoustic cloth (in a bewildering number of colours) has been a very fashionable finish for a while now, but you can also select speakers that look like little guitar amps (both Fender and Marshall can help here), or also work as lamps (thanks IKEA/Sonos)…
For garden parties, try UE or Sonos
For the keen traveller, the garden-party enthusiast or those folks who like a musical accompaniment while they take a shower, battery power is the way to go. Again, there’s no need to break the bank with Bluetooth speakers – Ultimate Ears, for example, wants less than £100 for its Wonderboom 2 (£70).
It’s small, properly portable, waterproof, has great battery life and sounds really decent for the money – and it’s by no means your only choice. The selection is so wide, in fact, that there’s no reason to choose something that isn’t water-, sand- and dust-proof and still come away with change from £150.At the other end of the battery-powered scale comes Sonos with its Sonos Move (£379) – it too has good battery life, plus it can be voice-controlled, and can join a wider Sonos multi-room system. And it sounds really energetic and enjoyable. By portable standards it’s quite big, though, so won’t be coming on holiday with you (unless you don’t want to take any other hand luggage).