Is a Bluetooth speaker's sound good enough for you?

If you're not all that concerned about sonic fidelity or owning great gear, a Bluetooth speaker will get the job done.

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Steve Guttenberg/CNET

I think about sound and sound quality a lot. Way more than the average person, but it's my job. Then again, even as a little kid I was obsessed with sound, fascinated by how the sound coming out of a speaker could be so realistic. How could a cone or dome speaker vibrating back and forth mimic the sound of a human voice, Miles Davis' trumpet, or a rock band? Never, ever 100 percent realistically, but sometimes the best speakers can get close, and that's the basis of my lifelong pursuit. Some guys are fanatical about sports teams, others go for cars, or hunting, for me it's all about sound and music.

Fact is, not everyone cares that much about ultimate fidelity or great gear, they just want to listen to music. Sound quality, or lack thereof, isn't a consideration. Judging by what I hear from the latest Bluetooth speakers, sound quality standards have never been lower. Bass quantity (not quality) is plentiful on some models, and the speakers can play fairly loud, but the speakers sound fuzzy and harsh, with bizarre frequency responses that bear no relationship to "accurate."

The worst offenders are portable (battery-powered) Bluetooth speakers -- that's understandable for the cheap ones, but most $300 models are almost as dreadful. If the long-dead speaker designers of decades ago were transported to 2014 and heard the best of these speakers they'd be horrified by the sound.

I don't review Bluetooth speakers, but I've heard a ton of them at the CNET New York office. To me they all sound awful, compared with a pair of dirt-cheap Monoprice 8250 speakers, powered by the even cheaper Lepai LP-2020+ stereo integrated power amp. Granted, the Monoprice/Lepai system isn't portable and it has wires, but it's a whole lot cheaper than some of the more expensive Bluetooth models. The Monoprice/Lepai system also produces genuine stereo imaging, a rare feat for Bluetooth speakers at any price.

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JVC Nanotubes headphones Sarah Tew/CNET

Now, sure, some Bluetooth speakers produce acceptable sound quality when the volume is at low, background-listening levels. They're fine for that. Then again, there's no shortage of inexpensive headphones that are distortion-free and produce genuine stereo separation. Still, people keep buying Bluetooth speakers, so I have to conclude that sound quality isn't a priority.

For that matter, a lot of contemporary recordings sound like they were mixed to sound passable on Bluetooth speakers. OK, but these recordings can make good speakers sound like Bluetooth speakers. So maybe we've come full circle; the record labels insist on mixes that sound "good" on the sorts of speakers they assume most people will be listening to their music on.

Hey, for some listeners Bluetooth speakers are a step up from the even cruddier speakers in their TVs, computers, or tablets. What do you think, are Bluetooth speakers a good-enough compromise?

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