Off the Chain: The 12 Best Wireless Speakers

Deciding to go wireless with your speakers is a great choice, but it can feel a little like going to Disneyland or the Playboy Club. There are so many options that it is easy to get overwhelmed. Before your head explodes, know that we are here to help guide you through this difficult time.

The first decision to make when it comes to wireless speakers is whether you want it to connect through Apple’s AirPlay, Bluetooth, or run them over a Wi-Fi network. This alone will narrow your options. Then you need to decide whether you want it to work indoors, outdoors, or both. Finally, you choose if you want it to be very portable or to sit in one spot. Select your budget range and your choices will quickly become clear. To get you started on your quest, we’ve compiled the 12 best wireless speakers for any kind of user.

Acoustic Research ARAP50

Acoustic Research ARAP50

Interface: Wi-Fi/AirPlay
Best For: Stationary indoor use.

Bargain Bin: Take heed. The ARAP50 is not a wireless speaker that is going to land you in the finals of any soundblasting contest. If you are hoping to annoy your neighbors, rattle the windows, or tear the roof off this sucka, this cannot help you. Instead it offers very respectable quality that works with both your Wi-Fi connection or AirPlay depending on your preference. It is also dirt cheap, though easily the best choice for the cash. It is made with the intent that you will buy a handful of them, not just rely on one to get you through. The sound quality is very good and the connectivity is excellent so that you can place these throughout your home and they’ll never miss a beat. Ideal for outfitting kids rooms, dorms, bedrooms, and offices on a tight budget. Does need to be plugged into an outlet. [Purchase: $50]

Sonos PLAY-1

Sonos PLAY:1

Interface: Wi-Fi
Best For: Stationary indoor use.

System Builder: Nothing could be simpler, easier, or more flexible than the PLAY: 1 from Sonos. It works with your home’s existing Wi-Fi connection to play your music anywhere you want. The moisture-resistant body can even be put in the kitchen or bathroom for a little extra funk in the shower. The speakers are controlled through the Sonos app which turns any device into a remote control. The most useful part is that you can have as many or as few of these as you want to create a whole home system or a single room audio experience. You’ll need a Sonos Bridge to make the Wi-Fi connectivity work, but once it is hooked to your Wi-Fi router, your whole home is your audio stage. For sound quality, the Play: 1 uses two D class amplifiers, and a separate tweeter and mid-range. If you so choose, you can add in the Play: 3 or Play: 5 models for even more sound and better quality. [Purchase: $199]

Cambridge SoundWorks Oontz XL

Cambridge SoundWorks Oontz XL

Interface: Bluetooth
Best For: Stationary indoor/gentle outdoor use.

Budget Bluetooth: Trying to get a wireless speaker that can slide in under 100 bones and still give you great sound is a challenge that Cambridge happily accepted. The Oontz XL is powerful enough to give you quality mids and highs as well as push more bass than comparably priced mini speakers. The connectivity is good, not great. Expect a few skips if using the Bluetooth. It’s under two pounds with a battery than can run up to 10 hours at 2/3 volume so it can go out into the yard with you. The plastic body isn’t water or weatherproof, but it’s built solidly enough that it can take a little humidity without shorting out and breaking down. The sound could be louder, though they seemed to have limited it specifically to prevent distortion. Includes a USB port for charging other devices, but requires an AC adapter to recharge itself. [Purchase: $99]

TDK Life on Record A33

TDK Life on Record A33

Interface: Bluetooth
Best For: Stationary outdoor use.

Savings Under the Sun: Finding decent outdoor wireless speakers is almost impossible, unless you’re swimming in riches. Usually outdoor speakers are made as an afterthought, as if you won’t care that the sound is terrible the minute you go out to have margaritas on your deck. The A33 break many of the preconceptions about outdoor choices and prove you can get durability and high-quality sound. They use two 1.5-inch drivers in the front along with two 3-inch passive radiators bringing up the rear for sound reproduction that is as good as any speaker you would find lurking indoors. They are only about 3 lbs. so they can be used portably, but the weatherproof exterior is designed to survive in the elements. You’ll find since the sound quality is good, the battery life is usually about 6 hours. [Purchase: $137]

Braven BRV-1

Braven BRV-1

Interface: Bluetooth
Best For: Portable, rugged outdoor use.

Rough ‘N Tumble: This can be used to set a little mood music in the bedroom, but it isn’t made for such tame pursuits. The BRV-1 is meant to go where the action is. It has a rubberized exterior that can take a beating and an IPX7 water resistance rating that lets it work even when water from the pool or the cliff-diving lagoon splashes onto it. The 1,400 mAh battery gives an approximate 12 hours of playtime on the go or in your backyard. You can even charge a phone off of it in a pinch. It has a line-in option that works with headphone jacks if you would rather avoid using the Bluetooth. It has two channels pushing 3 watts each and a passive subwoofer for a little extra bass. Naturally you aren’t going to get big sound out of such a small package, but for taking your sound to the tough places, nothing stands up better. [Purchase: $104]

UE Boom

UE Boom

Interface: Bluetooth
Best For: Outdoor use.

Incredible Outdoor Sound: The cylindrical shape of the Boom is intended to pump sound in every direction while the water resistant and stain resistant body are clearly meant to spend time in the strangest of locations. Though it fits in the palm of your hand it can still throw out 88 decibels with impressive bass that fully utilizes the cylindrical design to create stronger resonance. It will quickly become clear that these are meant for power over refinement. If you intend on inflicting some opera or symphonies on the people around you, the sound will be a little on the muddy side and lack clean mids and highs. On the other hand, if you’re looking to crank a little dubstep or anything else where force trumps finesse, then the Boom will do ya proud. A little costly but also able to improve any backyard for years to come. [Purchase: $200]

Bose SoundLink III

Bose SoundLink III

Interface: Bluetooth
Best For: Portable use.

Best of the Bluetooth Portables: Among speaker choices, Bose is often the best. And among Bose’s options, the SoundLink stands out from the crowd. The whole purpose of this model is to offer audiophiles the ability to cart outstanding sound along with them wherever they go. The slim body is meant to slide into laptop bags or that lovely new clutch purse you’ve got stashed away. The battery will run for an incredible 14 hours before needing a jump start. The two most notable flaws in the SoundLink are the lack of a micro USB charging port, meaning you have to cart the AC cord around with you; and the weak-sauce bass. Mids and highs are rich and full, but if you are looking to get bumpin’, then Bose doesn’t have the woof you want. [Purchase: $300]

Marshall Stanmore

Marshall Stanmore

Interface: Bluetooth
Best For: Stationary indoor use.

Premium Bluetooth: This looks like something you once smashed your guitar over during your garage band days when you played nothing but Pandora covers. Marshall did that on purpose to help keep their brand’s street cred. Rest assured, this is a high-end, consumer grade Bluetooth speaker, not a refurbished amp. Inside is an 80-watt class D digital amplifier, two 0.75-inch tweeters, and a 5.25-inch woofer to give you rich, mixed sounds. The Bluetooth connectivity is surprisingly good with very few hiccups or dropped notes even at a distance. Though the exterior is tough, don’t try to take the Marshall outside. It does require an outlet to work and won’t stand up well against the elements. [Purchase: $399]

Libratone LT-300-US-1001 Zipp

Libratone LT-300-US-1001 Zipp

Interface: AirPlay
Best For: Portable use.

AirPlay Portable: Ever since AirPlay launched, designers have had a hard time creating a portable wireless speaker that could use the technology. Many have tried, most have failed. We had hoped to find a model that was both portable and budget friendly, but those are rarer than unicorn steaks. For AirPlay purists who must have something to take on the road or on the run, there is the Zipp. It has just enough power to fill a bedroom or get a whole car headbanging to Bohemian Rhapsody but using it outdoors is a joke. The Zipp has a bass inhibitor that prevents distortion, but also makes your music a little thin and wispy. It has no ability to use Wi-Fi or Bluetooth and costs as much as better speakers that can do both. The only allure is portable AirPlay. If that is worth hundreds of dollars to you, go with god. Otherwise, shop somewhere else. [Purchase: $400]

Harman Kardon Onyx

Harman Kardon Onyx

Interface: AirPlay/Bluetooth
Best For: Portable indoor/gentle outdoor use.

Stylishly Simple: The Onyx offers the ability for you to connect in nearly any way that you can imagine. It has a Bluetooth option which also includes NFC (near field communication) so devices in proximity can take control of it. It also has AirPlay for the Apple fan and DLNA (Digital Living Network Alliance) that syncs with Android and Windows devices. The small body is portable with a 6 hour battery that gives you the option of using the Onyx indoors or outside. It doesn’t skimp on musical power either, employing four total drivers with dual passive radiators to make every sound crisp and clean. The Harmon Kardon app turns any device into a remote with a very simple, intuitive interface. The price is hefty, and you’re certainly paying for both the name and the incomparable style of the speakers. [Purchase: $500]

JBL AUTHENTIC L8

JBL AUTHENTIC L8

Interface: AirPlay/Bluetooth
Best For: Stationary indoor use.

System Replacement: Even the best wireless speakers are usually only “good enough” and can’t do nearly as much as a full system does. JBL sought to change that and came as close as anyone could reasonably expect. Even more surprising, they managed to make this impressive feat for hundreds rather than thousands of dollars. The L8 puts out 120-watts of stereophonic sound through two mid-range drivers, a powerful 1″ tweeter, and a full bass woofer that pounds. The lows and highs are amazing, though sometimes the mid-range can go a little dark, but that is the sole flaw apparent in the L8. It can jump from AirPlay to Bluetooth to NFC to DLNA at a moment’s notice. Though expensive, this is still the model that gives you the most bang – or bump – for your buck. [Purchase: $600]

Bang and Olufsen Beoplay A9

Bang & Olufsen Beoplay A9

Interface: Wi-Fi/AirPlay
Best For: Stationary indoor/gentle outdoor use.

AirPlay’s Finest: If that winning lottery ticket is burning a hole in your pocket and you’ve alreay bought everything else that Apple has to offer, then you’d do well to drop a couple of grand on one of these B&O babies. We loved them when we reviewed the best AirPlay speakers and they seem to have only improved with time. They will work over a Wi-Fi network just as well (some would say better) than over AirPlay, so even if you aren’t part of the Apple club, you can enjoy the rich sound of the A9’s. They use 5 drivers including a 8-inch bass, two 3-inch midranges, and dueling 3/4-inch tweeters pushing 25,000 Hz which will give you outstanding sound even out of doors. They don’t have any weather or waterproofing, so don’t get too cocky. Since it stands about three feet high, it isn’t purely portable, but it’s relatively light and easy to move out to the patio and back. [Purchase: $2,700]

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