How Bluetooth Speakers Differ From Other Wireless Speaker Systems
Wireless speakers come in many shapes and forms, but the primary difference lies in the wireless protocol used. Each type of wireless tech has its own unique pros and cons:
Bluetooth – As the most popular choice on the market, most of us are familiar with Bluetooth. Bluetooth chips are integrated into almost every smartphone, tablet, and computer on the market, making it the easiest to connect to. No network is required, simply the wireless Bluetooth signal. Connection takes seconds to establish and is highly reliable.
The Bluetooth signal requires less energy to power, which is why most Bluetooth speakers have a decent to good battery life. Older Bluetooth devices had poor audio resolution, but newer Bluetooth devices have solved that problem—producing sound quality on par with CDs.
On the downside, Bluetooth only has a range of 30 to 50 feet. You can't broadcast a Bluetooth signal over long distances.
NFC – Near Field Communication is used among wireless speaker systems intended for home use. It's used to simplify the Bluetooth pairing, which can be done simply by tapping the speaker and smartphone together.
On the downside, NFC has VERY limited range (like inches instead of feet!), and it's incompatible with wireless audio for iPhones.
Wi-Fi – Bluetooth may be more popular, but Wi-Fi is still the most reliable. Wi-Fi signals can transmit a higher audio resolution, meaning better sound quality. It's also much more versatile in the additional services/features it can offer, such as accessing media servers or NAS storage devices. It also has a broader range than Bluetooth, reaching up to 200 feet without disrupted connections. It's used by Alexa Echo, Apple Airplay, DNLA, and most other app-based multiroom speaker systems
On the downside, it's a pricier option, and one that tends to be more limited. Wi-Fi speakers MUST be connected via a network. They have to be connected to your home router/Wi-Fi network in order to receive data from your smartphone. That means the speakers won't work wirelessly if your network is down.
Things to Know Before Buying Bluetooth Speakers
With so many amazing devices available, it's tough to know which Bluetooth speakers are your top pick. Should you go for battery life, surround sound, sound quality, sound range, volume, easy connectivity, or any of the hundreds of other features?
Slow your roll! Here are the most important things you need to know before you buy any Bluetooth speakers:
- Audio quality is most important. When shopping for a speaker system, ALWAYS check the sound quality before buying. Pull out your phone or tablet, connect to the Bluetooth speaker, and play your favorite song. Listen closely for tinny highs, shallow lows, and weak mids. Not only will this allow you to test the Bluetooth connectivity with your devices, but you'll be able to test the sound quality. Crank up the volume, adjust the settings, and put the speaker through its full sound range. Audio quality is always the most important thing in a Bluetooth speaker.
- Battery life clocks in a close second. Most Bluetooth speakers are likely to be used in connection with your mobile device, making it a mobile sound system you take with you wherever you go. The last thing you want is to be charging the speaker all the time! You'll find the low-end of the battery life spectrum is 4-8 hours, with the high-end being20 to 40 hours.
- Look for durability. If you're carrying the speaker around with you, there's always the risk of damage to the speaker by water, dust, debris, and falls. Before buying, hold the speaker in your hand. If it feels like it's made of cheap plastic, move on to the next choice. If it feels solid and like it can take a beating, it's worth considering.
- Size and weight matter. The size and weight of the speaker affects its portability. Many Bluetooth speakers are designed to be carried in your bag, bike water bottle holder, purse, or even secured to your camping backpack. Think about where you'll be listening to music (poolside, at the beach, while camping, in your backyard, etc.), and buy a speaker you can take with you to those places.
- Always get an audio input. Bluetooth is great for your latest-model smartphone or tablet, but what about older devices (older iPhones, iPods, even MP3 players) that aren't Bluetooth-enabled? Find a speaker that has a 3.5mm audio input. A cable will cost you a few bucks, and all of a sudden you'll be able to use your Bluetooth speaker with literally EVERY music-playing device.
- Be aware of range. Most Bluetooth devices will have a range of 30 to 35 feet, though some can reach up to 50 feet. The farther away the speaker is from the source (smartphone, tablet, etc.), the less reliable the connection.
- Never settle for mono. Mono sound will be like the sound is coming from one position (the speaker directly in front of you). Stereo sound will be like the sound is coming from multiple locations (middle, left, and right). Stereo is a MUCH better sound quality, and it makes for a more well-rounded listening experience. If a speaker offers only mono sound, ignore it no matter how attractive the price tag.
- Look for nifty features. Some features to look for in your Bluetooth speaker include: remote control; voice recognition; streaming from online services (like Spotify, iHeartRadio, etc.); compatibility with Airplay, an integrated hands-free speakerphone; connector/dock to physically connect your iPod, iPhone, or iPad to the speaker; and optical digital audio output to connect the speaker to other speakers and subwoofers.
- Price is your last factor. When shopping for a Bluetooth speaker, price should always be the last factor to consider. Your main priority should be to get high quality sound, a reliable connection, and a durable, well-built sound system. It's worth paying a bit more for a speaker/sound system that delivers everything you want!
Bluetooth Pairing Made Easy
One of the main downsides of using wireless sound systems/speakers is trying to figure out how the heck to connect them. Bluetooth is the most popular wireless option because it's so easy to connect. It's a simple 3-step process:
Step 1: Turn on the Bluetooth-enabled speaker.
Step 2: Go into the "Settings" app on your smartphone and enable Bluetooth connectivity.
Step 3: Look for the name of the speaker (it can always be found in the instruction manual) and tap on it to connect.
Let's get one thing straight: pairing your Bluetooth speaker with your smartphone SHOULD always be this easy. However, there may be times when it's just not working, no matter what you do. Maybe the speaker isn't showing up in the list, or your device doesn't pair.
Here are a few of the most common Bluetooth pairing problems and their solutions:
Bluetooth device doesn't show up in your list of Bluetooth-enabled devices nearby. This could be one of three problems: 1) you need to press a button on the speaker to send out the Bluetooth signal, 2) your device's Bluetooth chip is incompatible with the signal from the speaker, or 3) it's connected to another device.
- To solve problem #1, read the manual to find instructions on pairing.
- To test for problem #2, try to pair the speaker with a different device. If it pairs with one device but not another, you know there's a compatibility issue.
- To fix problem #3, turn off the speaker to disconnect it from other connections, then turn it back on to pair with your device. Also, turn off any other devices that might be connecting to your Bluetooth speaker system.
Here's a real kicker: you actually bought a "wireless" speaker instead of a Bluetooth speaker. It could be that you're trying to connect via Bluetooth when your speakers are intended to connect via ANT+, Wireless HD, or some other wireless connection.
Connection is spotty. Maybe you can pair the devices together but the connection keeps dropping. This could be due to range problems, so you need to keep the device close to the speaker system.
Or, it could be the result of interference by walls, people, or other wireless signals.
It could also be the result of low battery on either device. Charging the battery on both your smartphone and speaker system should fix the problem.
Computer can't stream audio. While the Bluetooth chips built into computers are designed to connect with Bluetooth-enabled devices, they're usually intended for keyboards and mice, not speaker systems. Many computers cannot stream audio via Bluetooth. You're better off using your tablet or smartphone to stream audio to your speaker systems. Alternatively, if you want to stream from your computer, you can buy a special USB Bluetooth dongle specifically for audio streaming.
These three problems are the most common, but thankfully the fixes are pretty simple!
How to Get The Most from Your Bluetooth Speakers
You've spent good money on a great pair of speakers, so now it's time to make the most of them! Try these tips to get the most from your Bluetooth speakers:
Position them correctly. The ideal position for any good sound system is a few inches away from a wall. Placing the speakers near but not against the wall helps to improve the bass response and deepens the sound overall, without muddying the mid-range sounds. The hard wall will reflect the sound, redirecting it toward you for a better-rounded sound quality.
There are two heights to choose from: 8-10 feet off the ground (for surround, overhead sound) and 2-4 feet off the floor (for watching TV/gaming).
You should ALWAYS point the speakers at the place where you will be sitting—for example, on the couch in front of the TV, or at your gaming desk. However, pointing surround sound speakers at the center of the room could lead to uneven acoustics.
Never turn it up to 100. All speakers have a volume range of 0-100, but you should always keep the speakers at 80% volume or lower. The closer you are to 100% volume, the greater the strain on the speakers.
Be prepared to charge your batteries regularly. Whether your speakers use AA batteries or a built-in battery pack, you should always expect to get less battery life from the speakers than the manufacturer claims. For example, if the product insists it gets 8 hours of battery life, prepare for 6. This is because the battery is always draining (albeit slowly) even if the speaker is off.
Be smart and pick up an extra battery pack or two, or a few extra sets of rechargeable AA batteries. Keep at least one back-up set of batteries so you never run out of music!
Read the manual. Most guys will balk at this one, but it's SO important in order to use the speakers safely and efficiently. You can learn the simple tricks of pairing the speakers with your Bluetooth, adjusting the various settings, and taking advantage of the other features. Spend a few minutes reading the manual, and you may find your speaker had capacities and features you wouldn’t have discovered on your own.
Connect via cable. If you want really high quality sound, you're better off connecting to the speaker using a 3.5mm audio cable. Some audio quality is lost via the Bluetooth signal, though not so much that you'd notice with casual use. However, if you want to throw a house party with high quality sound, the physical cable guarantees the best quality.
Alternative: ensure your phone/tablet has the latest aptX audio codec installed. aptX allows for higher quality sound streaming via Bluetooth. Most devices (except for iDevices) will be aptX compatible, and installing the codec will be a great way to improve the sound from your speakers.