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The best Wi-Fi speakers for 2021: Apple, Sonos, JBL and Polk

From portable speakers to soundbars, there's a great-sounding Wi-Fi speaker for everyone. Here are our favorites.

Wireless audio for the home is nothing new, but the past few years have brought a proliferation of speakers that use Wi-Fi streaming as an alternative to Bluetooth. The ability to control music in a multiroom environment is one of Wi-Fi's biggest selling features, but almost all Wi-Fi speakers also offer voice control via a voice assistant including Amazon AlexaGoogle Assistant and Apple's Siri

It's a challenge to find a budget speaker that doesn't have microphones onboard, but they all come with mic switches or you can opt for a "dumb" speaker like the Sonos One SL, if you have privacy concerns. Keep reading for our breakdown of the best Wi-Fi speakers for your needs -- and don't miss CNET's guide to the best smart speakers.

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For $100 there's a few excellent smart speakers to choose from, such as the Amazon Echo, Nest Audio and HomePod Mini, but the Symfonisk is bigger than all of them. Bigger cabinets usually mean bigger sound. While this speaker is best as part of a Sonos surround system, it also makes a great kids' room speaker.

Read our Ikea Symfonisk Bookshelf WiFi Speaker review.

 

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At under $200, and with both Alexa and Google Assistant as well as excellent sound quality, the Sonos One is the smart speaker to get and will please any music fan. Pair it with another Sonos One and you have a flexible, high-quality speaker system which responds to voice commands for less than the price of the Play:5.

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Best lifestyle speaker

Ikea Symfonisk Lamp

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The problem with most Wi-Fi speakers is they don't fit in with the rest of your decor. They're boxy and they're usually black. The Ikea Sonos speaker literally thinks outside the box and delivers a Sonos-compatible lamp that sounds better than most speakers at this price. It's not smart, but the device will respond to Siri, Google Assistant and Alexa commands.

Read our Ikea Symfonisk Table Lamp with WiFi speaker review.

 

Sarah Tew/CNET

Google may offer a lot of speakers, including the Nest Audio, but the one that was truly great with music -- the Home Max -- has been discontinued. It's surprising then that the list of affordable-yet-good-sounding Chromecast built-in speakers can be counted on the fingers on one hand. And of those, the JBL Playlist is the best I've heard, with a generously sized speaker and enough volume to fill a typical room. It also has Bluetooth and an auxiliary input to expand its flexibility. It may not be "smart", but if you want a system that can be controlled via an existing Google Assistant speaker, this is the one to get.

Read our JBL Playlist review.

 

If you want a wireless speaker model that's portable and water resistant, the Sonos Move offers great sound in a very large box.

Read our Sonos Move review.

 

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Featuring a compact bar and excellent sound, the Polk MagniFi offers almost everything you need in a streaming TV speaker, including Chromecast built-in. We picked the MagniFi over the Yamaha YAS-209 because it offers a robust multiroom system, but if you want Alexa built-in, the Yamaha is an excellent speaker.

Read our Polk MagniFi Mini review.

 

Mark Licea/CNET

The Apple HomePod is a lot more competitive with other Wi-Fi and multiroom speakers. It's one of the best-sounding all-in-one wireless speaker options with plenty of spaciousness and deep bass. However, the company discontinued the standard HomePod in March 2021 to focus on the HomePod Mini.

Read our Apple HomePod review.

 

Bluetooth vs. Wi-Fi

Both of them can be termed as wireless speaker system. Wi-Fi delivers the same basic convenience as Bluetooth: using your phone's Wi-Fi connection to play music over an external speaker or sound system. Just like speakers that use Bluetooth connectivity, it can work with a subscription music service app such as Spotify (via Spotify Connect) or Apple Music, a radio service like Pandora or TuneIn, or your own music collection. Here are the best reasons to get a streaming Wi-Fi speaker:

  • A Wi-Fi speaker sounds better than a Bluetooth speaker due to its higher bandwidth.
  • Wi-Fi has better range.
  • Wi-Fi doesn't take over your phone's audio channel -- so you can take a call without interrupting the song, for example.
  • It also works great for multiroom audio, allowing playback from multiple speakers all over the house via your Wi-Fi network, all controlled by a single phone app.

What are the major multiroom standards?

When you buy a Wi-Fi speaker, you're also investing in an ecosystem -- a family of products and apps that work together, but usually don't work with other ecosystems. Here's a look at the major Wi-Fi ecosystems out there today. 

  • Sonos: It's kind of expensive and a little exclusive, but Sonos still offers some of the best home speaker hardware available. The company is moving away from the megalithic single app in favor of supporting third-party music services natively (Spotify Connect, Apple AirPlay 2). Considering the exacting sound quality and the bomb-proof build, Sonos is still the premium Wi-Fi system to get. The release of Ikea's Symfonisk range also makes the system more affordable.
  • Apple AirPlay/AirPlay 2: The reach of Apple's AirPlay 2 will continue to grow alongside its Music streaming service -- with its most intriguing feature being multiroom -- but there are plenty of speakers out there that still support the original AirPlay. Great for iPhone users.
  • Built-in Chromecast: For the cost of entry and ease of use and setup, Chromecast built-in is our current favorite Wi-Fi music system. There are no new apps to learn -- just press Cast in a compatible app and music will play out of your speaker(s) of choice.
  • Amazon Multi Room Music: The speaker market has been upended by Amazon's Echo speaker family, which combines wireless audio with voice control and home automation. MRM has been slow to take off, however, in part because third-party device support is scarce.
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The $30 Google Chromecast will let you stream audio to devices with HDMI inputs.

Sarah Tew/CNET

There are a number of other Wi-Fi systems, some open and some specific to the single manufacturer. These include: Yamaha MusicCast, Denon HEOS, Bowers and Wilkins Formation, Bose Music and Bluesound. There are plenty of systems that have largely been abandoned or replaced, whether it's in favor of a newer version or competition from more popular protocols. These include All-Play, LG MusicFlow and Samsung Multi-Room. 

If you want to play a song in "house party mode," for example, where it blasts from multiple speakers throughout the house simultaneously, all of those speakers have to share the same ecosystem. For Sonos and other proprietary systems, all of those speakers will have to be Sonos (or connected to a Sonos device). For Chromecast, all of the speakers regardless of brand, will need to be Chromecast-compatible. And so on. 

Most Wi-Fi speaker products support streaming services such as Pandora and Spotify, but double-check first to be sure. Is your music stored in iTunes, Google Play Music or Amazon Music? You'll still be fine with a Sonos (for instance), but other products may offer less than perfect support.

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