Most people want their speakers to be wireless.

What this really means is, they want to play music on their phone and have it come out of the speakers.

To make it easy to understand I created this quick guide.

By the end of this guide you will understand:

  • The difference between Wireless, Bluetooth and WiFi.
  • The pros and cons of each (speed, sound quality, etc.)
  • How to know if a speaker is wireless or not.
  • How to make any speaker wireless.

Let’s get to it.

  • What is “Wireless” audio?
  • What does “Streaming” actually mean?
  • What’s the difference between Bluetooth and WiFi?
  • How do I know if a speaker is wireless or not?
  • How do I make a speaker wireless?
  • What does a wireless system look like? (Real example)

What Is “Wireless” Audio?

You often see audio products on the market that are called “Wireless.”

It could be a single speaker that runs off a battery. It could be a single speaker that needs to be plugged into a power outlet. It could be a PAIR of speakers too…

The fact is, this term is currently used to describe any audio product that you can STREAM music to.

There are two totally different technologies used to do this: Bluetooth and WiFi.

So when you are shopping for a wireless audio product, make sure you know up front if you want Bluetooth or WiFi connectivity. (Some products have both.) Then make sure the product you’re looking at has the one you’re after!

What Does “Streaming” Actually Mean?

On the surface, it’s fair to think that “Streaming” means playing wirelessly.

But that doesn’t really cover it… Streaming is a particular way of playing wireless media.

Streaming means your device is downloading the audio and/or video in chunks and playing them at the same time.

So imagine when you hit PLAY your device downloads the first chunk of media then plays it for you. While it’s playing the second chunk is downloading. And if all goes smoothly, the second chunk will be ready by the time the first one finishes.

You won’t notice any transition. So the audio or video appears to play through as if you had it downloaded to begin with.

This is a super efficient way to provide media on demand through the internet.

It’s also why you sometimes have to deal with buffering…

Because when your connection is slow, your device can’t download the next chunk fast enough. It won’t be ready when the current chunk finishes playing — and your media blocks up on you like a clogged toilet swirling around and around!!

(This as you probably know is pretty frustrating.)

As internet connections improve however, you can expect old Mr. Buffering to grab his things and hit the road.

I recommend streaming for music and video media. It’s the most convenient and cost-effective choice.

You can access an infinite amount of content for a fairly low price. You don’t have to keep a library of discs in your home. And you can switch media instantly using your mobile device. Absolute cake.(Not to mention the physical media formats probably won’t be supported much longer.)

What’s The Difference Between Bluetooth And WiFi?

Bluetooth and WiFi are two different wireless technologies. They both use low power radio waves to send and receive data between devices. But the way each type of device operates is very different.

To stay on topic, we’ll focus on Bluetooth and WiFi for use in audio and video.

Here’s an infographic to break this down for you:

Now I want to point out a few quick things in case you want more information.

With WiFi you can only play media that’s written into the app!!

The most common issue with this is YouTube audio. If you want to watch a YouTube video and hear the audio from your WiFi system, you may not be able to.

The exception to this is Apple Airplay — which uses WiFi to stream audio.

Check any WiFi products you want to buy to make sure they will accommodate all the media sources you want, like YouTube or Tidal.

Bluetooth is improving but you’re still tetheredThere are a few ways Bluetooth is improving.

For one, many audio systems (speakers, amps, headphones) allow you to connect multiple phones at the same time. They’re less common. But if you have one you can pick a song or change volume on another device and it’ll override the first one.

I find this is a concession at best. You still have to be careful when your device is attached to the speaker — whatever you do will take over whatever is playing.

WiFi is still a better option with this.

The second way Bluetooth is improving is through higher bandwidth “codecs.”

If you’ve heard of aptX, aptXHD, or LDAC…

Those are higher bandwidth codecs that allow higher audio quality. You just need to make sure they’re available on BOTH the sending device and the receiving device.

There’s a common connection issue with Bluetooth

Phones and mobile devices try to “remember” Bluetooth devices and this can backfire horribly. It can feel like your Bluetooth device has stopped working altogether.

You have to learn to troubleshoot devices that do this constantly.

You do this by “forgetting device,” reentering pairing mode and reconnecting fresh.

It’s not a HUGE deal… but when you have this issue it’s disappointing.

WiFi allows as many controllers as you want

Any device with the app installed can control a WiFi system.

That means someone in bed can reach over and turn the music down without getting up to holler at you.

WiFi bandwidth is a lot better, too

You have WAY more than enough media bandwidth for high res. audio.

You’re getting the full audio signal your source offers.

Actually… even 4K video can be streamed over WiFi so audio is not even an afterthought.

So between the two…

My recommendation is that you go for WiFi

If you have a network at home and you don’t need the speaker to be portable, then this is the better option BY FAR.

I consider the audio quality boost to be a bonus. The fact that you can pick a song then throw your phone out the window without stopping the music is bliss!

I kid. But seriously… if the app is good, the experience can’t be beat. It’s the best thing since flushing toilets as far as home audio is concerned.

Imagine walking through your front door, tired from a day of work. A couple quick flicks on your phone and some warm tunes are playing before you can plop down on your lounge chair.

Walk into the kitchen to snap open a cold drink, phone in pocket, and there’s no obnoxious Bluetooth dropout.

Make your way back to the lounge and relax!

If you’re into home design you can take this system up a notch too. Imagine if your incredible wireless system is nearly invisible, pre-installed into your walls where you never have to worry about it!

How Do I Know If A Speaker Is Wireless Or Not?

If there’s no mention of wireless, Bluetooth, or WiFi in the product description, then it’s not wireless.

In fact, most speakers that you’ll find in the marketplace are what’s called “passive.”

Passive speakers don’t have powered electronics inside them. They require an amplifier (or AV receiver) to operate.

They tend to sound better per dollar than speakers with extra electronics built in. But you need to buy the electronics to make them work.

You CAN make them wireless, however (see below).

The best sounding wireless systems are often passive speakers with a wireless device playing to them.

How Do I Make A Speaker Wireless?

You can make a speaker wireless by adding a Bluetooth receiver or streaming device to it.

If it’s a passive speaker, then you can make it wireless by connecting it to an amplifier with Bluetooth or WiFi built in.

Most name brand AV receivers have both wireless options already. Denon, Marantz, and Yamaha are a few that have good apps.

But what if you already have an amplifier and it’s not wireless?

That’s OK too… you can buy a device to make it work.

To get Bluetooth look for a “Bluetooth receiver”

These are smaller and cheaper than WiFi streamers.

You will need to connect a cable between the Bluetooth receiver and your amplifier’s input. Then you can select the correct input on your amp.

Some Bluetooth receivers are battery powered and some need to be plugged into the wall. For a home system the latter is often more convenient.

WARNING! A “Bluetooth transmitter” is different! These allow you to SEND music from a device that otherwise needs a cable (for example your turntable will be able to send Bluetooth audio to a Bluetooth speaker).

To get WiFi look for a “network streamer”

These all need to be plugged into power and your amplifier’s input. You also need to get it set up on your network.

But once it’s set up, that’s it. It will be there ready to play when you open your mobile app.

The most important thing to watch out for when shopping a network streamer is…

Make sure the app is good!

A confusing, not-user-friendly or SLOW app will drive you totally bananas. Look at reviews. Even better, try to ask for honest opinions from people who’ve played with the devices.

You might also want to make sure the streaming services you’re subscribed to (Spotify, Deezer, Tidal, etc.) are available on the device.

Since WiFi is software based, your service of choice HAS to be compatible to work.

What Does A Wireless System Look Like? (Real Example)

To give you an idea on the kind of WiFi controlled system I’d recommend, I offer the following example.

For a complete, working system you’ll need speakers, a receiver, and a TV for visual media.

Speakers—> Jensen Elite-303 in-wall (front) & Elite-203 in-wall (back)

Since the Elite-303 speakers have the “perfect centre speaker” technology, that pair covers all three front speakers. Adding the Elite-203’s gives us 5 speaker surround sound.

(You’d also want a Jensen EHT-707 subwoofer to give subsonic bass.)

AV Reciever —> Denon AVR-X1600H

This receiver offers a good amount of power AND WiFi control — all at a decent price.

TV—> Sony X80H Smart TV

This is a decent quality smart TV option. It will help cover streaming of movies and shows.

Add in speaker cables, power cables, and an HDMI for the screen… and you’re in business!!

So with this system…

When you want to watch a show, movie or video clip

You pull up the Netflix or Youtube app on your phone and browse for something you want to see.

When you find it, you hit “cast to screen.” The name you give your Sony TV will pop right up.

Click on it and the video starts playing on the screen. Your receiver will switch on automatically and start playing the audio through your built-in speakers.

And if you’re watching a movie on Netflix, you’ll be getting proper Dolby 5.1 surround sound!

When you want to listen to music

You pull up the free HEOS app on your phone.

Touch the “Music” tab at the bottom of the screen. You can instantly browse all the streaming services, mp3 files or radio stations you added to the app. (You add these once when you set it up.)

When you find a song, playlist, album, or whatever you want to hear you hit “Play Now.” Your receiver will turn on, switch to the HEOS input, and start playing your selected song through your in-wall speaker system.

Simple! You can browse media, select what you want, turn everything on and change the volume… all from your mobile device. No need to dig through a pile of remotes.

That about sums it all up.

You now know every practical piece of info you need about wireless audio, without getting unnecessarily technical.

Hope it helps you in your audio journey!