Wireless Wi-Fi streaming as an alternative to Bluetooth have proliferated over the last few years. One of Wi-Fi's biggest selling features is the ability to control music in a environment, with the added bonus that almost all via , Google Assistant or Apple's Siri. The advantage to this? You can request a song and it plays back on the same, great-sounding speaker. For more on this, don't miss .for the home has been with us for some time, but speakers that use
If you don't want voice control, you don't have to have it -- all of the speakers here will work just fine without it, either because they lack mics or you can physically shut them off. Either way, you don't need to spend very much; a fantastic "dumb" multiroom speaker like the Ikea Symfonisk Bookshelf starts at $120. There are a number of standards though, and if you're filling a house with them you want to make sure they'll work together. So, to make sense of it all, keep reading for the best Wi-Fi speakers for your needs.
At under $200, and with both Amazon 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 this compact speaker with another Sonos One and Apple AirPlay 2 for a flexible, high-quality some theater speaker system which responds to voice commands for less than the price of the Play:5. Don't want voice control? Get the Sonos One SL -- it's virtually identical, but lacks the microphones.
For $120 there's a number of excellent smart speakers to choose from, including 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 sound system, it also makes a great kids' room or garage speaker.
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.
The Sonos Roam is a portable Bluetooth speaker on steroids -- it can be used out-and-about or it can be used as part of a Sonos multiroom system. It's affordable (for Sonos, that is) and it sounds better than other products of its type. It also comes with a choice of voice assistant to make choosing a song even simpler.
We also tested
- ($180): The Link Portable is a larger-size competitor to the Sonos, being both Wi-Fi and Bluetooth compatible, and it can play louder and with weightier bass. In his , reviewer David Carnoy says he preferred the sound and build quality of the Sonos and would buy it over the JBL.
- SoundTouch products. The 300 appears to be out of production but is still available at many places. Read CNET's review of the Bose Home Speaker 300. ($200): If you're after a responsive smart speaker, the Bose Home Speaker 300 is both snappy in operation and lovely to look at. In terms of audio quality, however, it doesn't measure up to its competitor, the cheaper Sonos One. In addition, the onboard Bose Music multiroom system is not compatible with existing
- ($500): A smaller brother to the flashy Formation Wedge, the Flex is still quite stylish and boasts an open-hearted sonic signature. There's plenty of competition at this level though, including the Sonos Five, which is capable of a much bigger, party-ready performance.
- review of the Sonos Move. ($399): If you want a wireless speaker model that's (kinda) portable and water resistant, the Sonos Move offers great sound in a very large box. If you need to power a tailgate or large party this would be great, but for most people the Sonos Roam is both cheaper and more pocketable. Read CNET"s
- Amazon Echo Studio is a quarter of the price. ($800): Where are people supposed to put large speakers like the Sony SRS-RA5000 and the McIntosh RS150? A dressing table -- like, a really big one? The Sony is over a foot tall but adding to its potential awkwardness is its 360-degree playback, making the "best" place to put it at the center of a room. The sound is fine, but if you want to hear 3D audio, the
- RS100 had the fabled McIntosh blue meter this update misses a trick by replacing it with LEDs. The competitive is more compact and offers excellent performance for the same price. ($1,200): The massive McIntosh RS150 has some great things going for it -- namely Chromecast built-in, Roon Ready and Spotify Connect capabilities. Nonetheless, the sound wasn't as clear as I'd expected and the unit offers no EQ controls to compensate. In addition, while the previous
How does CNET test Wi-Fi Speakers?
CNET follows a rigorous, unbiased evaluation process for all of our audio testing. We test Wi-Fi speakers ranging from simple bedside speakers all the way through to high-end systems. Our audio lab includes a Roon server running on a Synology NAS, Google Nest and Amazon Echo speakers, plus both iOS and Android devices. Similar speakers are compared side by side in a living room environment with different styles of music and utilizing multiple streaming platforms when required. We grade the sound quality of each by evaluating clarity, dynamics, bass response and stereo imaging (if applicable). If the speaker comes with a proprietary app we will compare that to other competitive controllers.
Wi-Fi Speaker FAQs
Is Bluetooth better than 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.
How do multiroom speakers work?
Mutliroom enables users to play from one or multiple speakers anywhere in the house at once, with most systems able to support up to a dozen or more different zones. 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.
How do I connect my WiFi to my music?
Most speakers come with a dedicated companion app for iOS and Android which is used for both setting up and controlling your system. It goes without saying that you'll need a internet connection to use a Wi-Fi speaker and most speakers support at least 2.4GHz connections or even 5Ghz. Check your documentation for the name of the app you need and make sure you also have your Wi-Fi password handy. Most apps use a simple step-by-step process and you should be listening to music in a matter of minutes.
- 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.
- 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.
What are the different Wi-Fi music 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 don't always work with other ecosystems. Here's a look at the major Wi-Fi systems out there today.
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 support as many platforms.