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The best Wi-Fi speakers: Hi-fi, wireless listening

What is the best Wi-fi speaker? Our number one pick is the Bose Home Speaker 500. We tested and analyzed size, design, compatibility, and overall sounds quality.
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Written by Cynthia Bowman, Contributing Writer on

Going cable-free isn't new. Video cameras, phone chargers, headsets and security systems are just a few things that have nixed the cables. The trouble is, that you often compromise when you choose to stream wirelessly. However, you'll find that the best Wi-Fi speakers in this guide don't skimp on sound, making you wonder what took you so long to go W-Fi in the first place. 

Wi-Fi speakers are a great alternative to Bluetooth when you have the luxury of a home network to connect to. They're not as readily available, and you'll find that they're typically pricier than their Bluetooth counterparts. There's a reason -- the best Wi-Fi speakers are built to deliver high-fidelity sound since streaming music through a wireless network doesn't compress the audio as Bluetooth speakers do.

ZDNet's picks for the best Wi-Fi speakers are the perfect choice for the audiophile who expects nothing but the best from a sound experience. 

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Amazon

Specs: Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Google Assistant and Alexa-compatible | ‎4.31 x 6.68 x 8.01 inches | 4.65lbs | 50W output | Black or silver | 3.5 mm AUX port |

Bose delivers when it comes to a relatively affordable, beautiful tabletop speaker that produces potent stereo sound. It's multifunctional -- eight microphones make it possible to use the Wi-Fi speaker to answer calls or make requests through Google Assistant or Alexa. Pairing the speaker to your home network is a fairly simple process. Once you're online, you can control the speaker using your voice, the touch presets found on the speaker's top, or a smart device installed with the Bose Music app.

Pros:

  • The sleek design delivers high-quality stereo sound
  • Sync with other Bose speakers using Bose SimpleSync
  • A 3.5 mm AUX input makes it possible to connect other peripherals such as a turntable

Cons:

  • Not compatible with other speakers
  • Voice control only works with Spotify Premium
Sonos Five
Amazon

Specs: Wi-Fi | ‎8.03 x 14.33 x 6.06 inches | 14lbs | Black or white | 3.5 mm AUX port |

Wi-Fi speakers are all about premium sound quality. Otherwise, you could opt for a portable, inexpensive Bluetooth speaker and save yourself the money. If you're going to upgrade to a Wi-Fi speaker and can afford to invest in one, the Sonos Five is pricey but may be well worth the cash outlay.

It's tuned by the well-known British music producer, Giles Martin, who remastered Sgt's 50th anniversary Beatles release. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, as well as the White Album and Abbey Road, to name a few. The speaker is relatively compact but powerful -- it has three high-excursion woofers for deep bass, and two angled side tweeters to deliver rich, crisp stereo sound.

Pros:

  • Integrated with three woofers for deep bass
  • Premium sound in a small package
  • Can be added to a Sonos home theater setup using Sonos Playbase

Cons:

  • Requires Sonos 2 or Sonos 3 app to control
  • Relatively expensive
Sony SRS-RA3000 360 Reality Audio Wi-Fi / Bluetooth Wireless Speaker
Amazon

Specs: Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, wired, Chromecast | ‎8.63 x 8.56 x 15.19 inches | 5.5lbs | Black or light gray | Alexa, Google Assistant |

Although this guide is meant to showcase the best Wi-Fi speakers, we have to give Sony a shout-out for producing a well-designed speaker that can handle high-fidelity music through Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, line-out cabling and Chromecast streaming. Wi-Fi or wired audio will deliver the best sound quality, but it's good to know you can still stream through alternatives if your home's network is down. 

Thanks to the manufacturer's proprietary calibration, Sony's 360 Reality Audio is an immersive experience. Stereo tracks are processed in a manner that fills a room with crisp, rich sound, specifically adapted for the room the speaker is located in. The surround sound design is set up so that the beam tweeters can spread sound or music vertically within a space while an Omni diffuser delivers horizontal audio to fill a room. In addition, deep bass is achieved by two passive radiators, all neatly housed in a stylish oblong speaker.

Pros:

  • 360 Reality Audio sound creates a surround-sound effect for full audio immersion 
  • Humidity-resistant for bathroom and kitchen use
  • Chromecast integration allows you to tap a button to stream audio and video

Cons:

  • Sony 4K TV and Apple TV 4k devices are only available using Bluetooth
  • 360 Reality Audio is only available for premium streaming subscriptions
Audio Pro Addon C10 Speaker
Amazon

Specs: Wi-Fi, | 7.09 x 12.6 x 6.5 inches | 8.8lbs | Black, gray or white | 3.5 mm AUX port |

Some Wi-Fi speakers make it tricky to connect to a home network successfully. Sweden-based Audio Pro has been well-known for producing speakers since the 1970s that deliver superior sound quality, and the C10 speaker makes connecting wirelessly as simple as possible. In most cases, all you need to do is plug the speaker in, choose the network and connect. The C10 will remember the network, so you don't have to pair the device again. Plus, you can set up your favorite content using the Wi-Fi preset buttons by pressing one down while playing the content you'd like to save. 

Besides Wi-Fi connectivity, Spotify Connect, Airplay and Bluetooth are also available to stream your favorite media. You can even connect a turntable or CD player through the AUX port, and the speaker will broadcast what you're playing to other C5 or C10 speakers in other rooms that are connected to the same home network. 

Pros:

  • Integrated top strap for carrying
  • Add more C5s or C10s for a multi-room streaming experience or play them separately
  • Can stream content from one connected device such as a CD player to all speakers on the network

Cons:

  • The speakers are pricey -- especially if you intend on buying several
  • Pandora and Amazon Music are not supported
Naim Mu-so Qb V2 Wireless Music System
Amazon

Specs: Wi-Fi, 3.5mm stereo analog | USB, Ethernet, and optical digital | ‎8.58 x 8.35 x 8.27 inches | 15.95lbs | Black | 300W output | Streams 24-Bit/192kHz | Remote control |

Most audiophiles will not think twice about spending nearly $1,000 for Naim's high-fidelity wireless speaker. The small cube design packs a powerful punch and was clearly designed to deliver the best possible listening experience over a Wi-Fi network. What makes the second generation of the Mu-so QB unique (and flawlessly gorgeous in sound) is connecting to a home's Wi-Fi network using an ethernet cable. Doing so will deliver playback as high as 24-bit/384kHz in resolution as opposed to a mere (but still impressive) 48kHz when using a wireless network connection.  Most audiophiles will remark that the sound quality is deeper and more authentic than rival versions from Sonos or Audio Pro. 

Each cube is designed to play independently with the ability to access and play files from your home's network as well as stream using Apple AirPlay 2, Chromecast, Tidal Connect, Spotify Connect, Roon Ready, internet radio and other options via Bluetooth. The second-generation Mu-so Qb isn't able to play well with other V2s yet, but there are enough options that lessen the compatibility drawback.

Pros:

  • Clean, understated design works in all rooms
  • Motion-sensitive touch screen
  • Connect via Ethernet cable for the highest-quality sound

Cons:

  • Multiple V2s are unable to pair and play music or content simultaneously
  • Home network setup can be complex
Echo Studio
Amazon

Specs: Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Alexa voice control | ‎6.9-inch diameter x 8.1 inches high | 7.7lbs | Black | Up to 330W output | Streams 24-Bit/100kHz | Toslink or 3.5 mm or mini-optical line in |

Amazon's Echo Studio is the cheapest Wi-Fi speaker of the ones we reviewed, pricing at $199.99 at full retail price and sometimes available for less based on the current sales and promotions. The Echo Studio's sound quality won't be as rich and layered as the Naim Mu-so Qb V2, but you can stream stereo Wi-Fi audio featuring an immersive level that, for most ears, is impressive.

Five speakers are pointing in multiple directions inside the compact shell that produce a decent midrange, crisp and clear high notes and a deep bass you won't miss. The device automatically senses a room's acoustics to adapt playback for optimal listening. The Echo Studio uses Dolby Atmos tech for the utmost in spatial audio depth and clarity. You'll be able to stream Amazon Music, and Amazon Music HD, Apple Music, Spotify, Tidal, FireTV and Pandora, plus you can use the Echo Studio as an intercom once it's connected to the same home network your other Amazon devices share.

Pros:

  • Can sync with multiple Echo devices for multi-room sound
  • Works as a smart-device hub
  • Can play audio mastered in Ultra HD and spatial audio without losing sound quality

Cons:

  • It only pairs with Echo Subs or other Echo Studios as a stereo group

How did we choose these products?

Choosing the best Wi-Fi speakers may require a little technical knowledge. Luckily for you, we did most of the homework, so you can rest assured any of the models that made this best-of guide will serve you well. We chose the best wireless speakers based on several factors:

  • Wi-Fi compatibility: We reviewed technical spec sheets and customer reviews to get a grasp of how successfully each Wi-Fi speaker connects to a home network. Dealing with networks can be complicated enough -- finding the right speakers that require minimal effort to join is essential. In addition, we looked for companies that provided good customer support for technical issues in case you were unsuccessful at connecting. After all, you're paying more for a Wi-Fi speaker than you would be for Bluetooth connectivity. It's important you get your money's worth. 

  • Sound quality: It goes without saying that a Wi-Fi speaker's most important asset is the sound it delivers. We chose models capable of outputting high-fidelity stereo sound. Models with multiple speakers, including tweeters and woofers, topped the list to provide a deep, clear and rich, ambient experience.

  • Pricing: Believe it or not, we looked at Wi-Fi speakers that provide the most value. With the cheapest Wi-Fi speaker reviewed retailing for $200, you probably think cheaper options must be available. However, Wi-Fi speakers are often more expensive based on the build and sound quality they output. It's not unusual to spend several thousand dollars for just one wireless speaker.

  • Compatibility: We preferred speakers that are integrated with the most popular streaming audio apps such as Spotify, Amazon Music, Pandora, Tidal, Apple Music and more. Compatibility with platforms such as Apple AirPlay and Chromecast was a bonus.

Which Wi-Fi speaker is best for you?

If you're just delving into the world of superior sound, Amazon's Echo Studio may be all you need, with crisp notes and powerful bass. Plus, you get the functionality of Amazon's smart home devices and support. The Bose and Sonos Wi-Fi speakers are a step up in quality, but be prepared to spend nearly double or more. For the ultimate listening experience, the Naim Mu-so Qb V2 is worth the splurge. However, once you get used to its supreme output, it's hard to go back to a basic speaker.

What is the best Wi-Fi speaker?

The best Wi-Fi speaker is the Bose Home Speaker 500, due to its design, compatibility, and rich sound quality.

What's the difference between a Wi-Fi and Bluetooth speaker?

There are several notable differences between Wi-Fi vs. Bluetooth speakers. A Bluetooth speaker can connect to devices that broadcast a Bluetooth signal and don't need to be connected to an internet network. However, they tend to quickly drain the devices' battery while operating in Bluetooth mode. 

Wi-Fi speakers typically output better sound since they don't compress the audio file as Bluetooth playback would. The drawback is portability and price. Wi-Fi speakers are significantly more expensive. Plus, they need to plug into an electric power source. Bluetooth speakers can operate using batteries, making them the best choice for travel and flexibility.

How do you control a Wi-Fi speaker?

Wi-Fi speakers often require an app installed on a phone or tablet. The app will help you find the network and log in with the password. In addition, the app often allows you to adjust the speaker's EQ, as well as stream audio. 

Can you connect multiple Wi-Fi speakers?

Depending on the speaker manufacturer, you may be able to connect multiple speakers to a home network. Most Wi-Fi speakers can only be paired with the same model or others within the company's same system. You may want to connect multiple Wi-Fi speakers to a network by creating a same-room home theater system, streaming the same (or different audio) in multiple rooms, or using the Wi-Fi speaker as an intercom. 

Alternatives to Wi-Fi speakers

Wi-Fi speakers can deliver music and audio seamlessly using your home's network. However, there are times when you may need an alternative. Bluetooth speakers are a good alternative. 

Some Bluetooth speakers worth checking out include:

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