The dock is dead: Best wireless speakers for the iPhone

Apple's decision to move from the venerable 30-pin iPod/iPhone port to the new, smaller -- and incompatible -- Lightning connector is a good excuse to ditch charging docks altogether. It's time to go wireless.

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John P. Falcone is the senior director of commerce content at CNET, where he coordinates coverage of the site's buying recommendations alongside the CNET Advice team (where he previously headed the consumer electronics reviews section). He's been a CNET editor since 2003.
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John Falcone
5 min read
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Watch this: Wireless music technologies

Since Apple's iPhone 5 became official on September 12, it's been an emotional roller coaster for tech enthusiasts. There have been plenty of highs -- It's so light! It's got 4G! Beautiful screen! -- but they've been tempered with some disappointing lows, too.

On the software side, Apple's decision to move to a Google-free maps app has been the biggest sticking point. On the hardware front, there's still grumbling about the death of the venerable 30-pin dock port, which has been a mainstay of iPhone (and iPod) design since the early days.

For many, the transition from 30-pin to Lightning has meant an express trip through the stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, and even depression. But now that the iPhone 5 is here, it's time for acceptance -- let's make the best of this.

Yes, your old 30-pin Apple docks and cables are no longer going to work with your shiny new iPhone. But wasn't it annoying to have to keep walking over to that speaker dock when you wanted to change songs, or switch to a different app? That's where wireless audio trumps all. Connect to a wireless speaker, and you can keep your iPhone where you want it -- in your hand. Use it as a remote to choose the music you want to hear.

Thankfully, there are several technologies to help you out, including Bluetooth and AirPlay. We list the best options below. Just make sure to pick up an extra Lightning cable, though, because these work great for streaming audio, but you'll still need to plug in your iPhone to recharge it, of course.

Note: all of the items listed below work with all iPhone models, not just the iPhone 5. Compatibility with iPad, iPod Touch, and even Android phones is listed where applicable.

The Bluetooth-enabled Soundfreaq Sound Kick has a rechargeable battery and retails for less than $125. Sarah Tew/CNET

Bluetooth speakers: Bluetooth is the go-to option for anyone looking for a (usually) cheap and easy wireless speaker. Bluetooth speakers are ideal for households that aren't strictly Apple-centric, since they work with all nearly all smartphones (Android, Windows Phone, BlackBerry) and many Android tablets, as well as all iPhones, iPads, and all iPod Touch models (except for the first-gen Touch). The only real downside is that audio fidelity is often a step down from the non-Bluetooth options listed below (but still much better than Bluetooth audio devices sounded just a couple of years ago). Note that many (but not all) Bluetooth speakers are designed with rechargeable batteries, so they can be moved from room to room with ease. Travel models are even smaller, and often include speakerphone functionality as well.

Shown above: Read the CNET review of the Soundfreaq Sound Kick

Check out best portable Bluetooth speakers under $100

The Belkin Bluetooth Music Receiver can be had for $25, and turns any stereo into a Bluetooth receiver. Sarah Tew/CNET

Bluetooth dongles: It's a little-known fact to many people that you can turn any stereo, boombox, or even an old pair of PC speakers into a wireless audio system. Just add a Bluetooth adapter. Two of our favorites are available for $30 or less.

Read the CNET review of the Belkin Bluetooth Music Receiver ($25)

Read the CNET review of the Logitech Wireless Speaker Adapter ($30)

The Logitech UE Air, pictured above, covers all the bases -- it has the old 30-pin dock, but it's also AirPlay compatible. Sarah Tew/CNET

AirPlay speakers and receivers: Bluetooth is compatible with almost every mobile device, but AirPlay is strictly Apple -- and thus only compatible with iOS devices, Macs, and Windows PCs running iTunes. AirPlay-compatible speakers and AV receivers connect to the source device via Wi-Fi, where tapping an icon allows any audio to stream effortlessly. The sound quality is generally better than the Bluetooth devices mentioned above, but most AirPlay-compatible audio products cost more, too.

Shown above: Read the CNET review of the Logitech UE Air

How to get started with Apple AirPlay

Use your iPhone as a remote with the Sonos Play:3. Sonos

Sonos: The Sonos family of products is in a category of its own. Designed from the ground up as a multiroom audio system, Sonos products use a proprietary wireless mesh network to communicate among one another. Rather than streaming audio from the iPhone (or iPad or iPod Touch), Sonos instead uses those devices (as well as Android phones) as a remote control. The audio source instead comes from "the cloud" -- Sonos works with nearly every service out there, including Mog, Pandora, Spotify, Sirius XM, Last.fm, Slacker, Rdio, Songza, TuneIn Radio, Rhapsody, iHeartRadio, Wolfgang's Vault, Aupeo, and Stitcher -- and it can also pull your iTunes library from a networked PC, Mac, or NAS drive. Unfortunately, it's not compatible with iTunes Match, but it will work with Amazon's similar Cloud Player -- if you want to take the time and effort to move your music collection there. Prices range from $299 for the Play:3 (with built-in speaker) to $499 for the Connect:Amp (add your own speakers).

Shown above: Read the CNET review of the Sonos Play:3

Read the CNET review of the Sonos Play:5

Read the CNET review of the Sonos Connect:Amp

The Apple TV delivers both audio and video streaming via AirPlay. Sarah Tew/CNET

Apple TV: OK, this is not a speaker, nor (really) an audio device. But it deserves mention here because it's just $99, and it's the only product that can handle AirPlay video (mirroring some video apps from the iPad and iPhone, and all desktop video from 2011 and 2012 MacBooks). Of course, it also handles audio streaming from those devices as well. So, if your Apple TV is connected to an AV receiver or a TV, you can send any iPhone audio to the big speakers in your living room. (You could also connect a pair of powered speakers, so long as it has an optical audio input, such as the Audyssey Media Speakers). Alternately, you could go with the Apple AirPort Express -- that $99 product doubles as a router, wireless bridge, and print server, but it won't stream video.

Read the CNET's Apple TV review

Read the CNET's AirPort Express review

Sarah Tew/CNET

The kitchen sink: Sony's STR-DN1030 AV receiver: Don't want to have to choose among Bluetooth, AirPlay, or Wi-Fi? Sony has a perfect solution with the STR-DN1030 AV receiver. This puppy has all three wireless technologies built-in, so you can mix and match as you see fit. It's also an excellent all-around AV receiver.

Read the CNET review of the Sony STR-DN1030

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Watch this: Wireless music technologies