Wi-Fi and Bluetooth Wireless Speakers: What’s the difference?

Understanding Wireless Speakers: What’s the difference? What’s the best?

One of Sonos' top wireless speakers placed next to a plant

by Harvey Isitt |
Updated on

Wireless speakers are the way to listen to music for those seeking the best speakers to start a home speaker system or take their tunes outside, whether at home or on the go. Unlike wired setups, wireless speakers can be operated hands-free and away from devices through an in-phone application or the more recent voice-assisted speakers.

As you may have noticed while perusing the internet, there are generally two types of wireless speakers: Bluetooth and wireless, or rather, Wi-Fi-enabled speakers; however, many speakers on the market are both Wi-Fi-enabled and Bluetooth-compatible. Despite their skyrocketing popularity, you may need some clarification on exactly what they are, their differences, and which type of speaker best suits you.

If that's you, read on to have all your questions answered.

Unsplash Wi-Fi and Bluetooth-enabled wireless Sonos speaker
Wi-Fi speakers are an excellent choice for starting and building a home speaker system. ©Unsplash / Tim Foster

What is a wireless speaker?

Wi-Fi speakers receive audio signals using radio waves as opposed to audio cables, as was the standard with wired speaker systems. Unlike Bluetooth speakers, they connect directly to your home network and thus deliver outstanding, often superior sound quality.

However, what they gain in sound quality, they lose in portability. Wi-Fi speakers operate on AC power, requiring an outlet, meaning their portability is limited to the length of their power cable. So, if you need to move your wireless speakers to a different location, they must first be disconnected and switched off.

Fortunately, these speakers typically feature a Smart System, which allows you to connect and control multiple speakers—perfect for growing a home sound system. And trust me, once you purchase that second speaker, you'll want one in every room. Having the coverage and multi-connectivity of a home speaker system is a game-changer and will remove the portability inconvenience of single speakers.

However, there is a catch. Due to these neat features and enhanced sound quality, Wi-Fi speakers typically start at a higher price point. But they are a worthwhile investment if you're willing to spend more money.

What is a Bluetooth speaker?

Now, let's talk Bluetooth speakers. These nifty devices connect to your smartphone, tablet, or other device. When you enable your device's Bluetooth feature, it sends radio waves to a small chip within the speaker. Once these radio waves "pair" the devices, you can stream to your heart's content.

Unlike Wi-Fi-connected speakers, Bluetooth speakers have some setbacks. Given their limited bandwidth, Bluetooth speakers can only stream highly compressed file types like MP3. Generally, this leads to lower sound quality and audio latency than Wi-Fi devices. (For those who don't know, audio latency means the time it takes for a signal to travel between devices; it takes, for example, from you clicking play on your device to when your speaker plays the song.) Likewise, the radio wave connection limits the distance between your device and speaker, although this entirely depends on your model's Bluetooth capabilities. Typically, it will have a maximum distance of about 20 to 30 feet.

Regardless, the main reason for buying Bluetooth speakers is portability. While wireless Wi-Fi speakers generally require an AC power outlet, Bluetooth speakers are chargeable and thus ideal for on-the-go listening. Whether you want music outside while in the garden during a summer barbeque or need some tunes at the beach, Bluetooth speakers will have you covered.

Bluetooth speaker resting on a park bench
Bluetooth speakers are great for outdoor workouts, whether at the park or in groups. ©Unsplash / Jason Leung

So, what's the best for you?

Deciding which speaker is best for you will depend entirely on your budget and how you intend to use the speaker. Bluetooth speakers are a great starting point if you're buying your first speaker or are after a budget-friendly option. If you're at home, you can take this around the house as you go about your day without any issues. However, Wi-Fi speakers' multi-room compatibility and better sound quality are unmatched for those wanting a broader sound coverage. This feature is also great because you can start with one and grow your speaker system at your own pace.

In other words, are you going to be out and about, and if so, do you feel this would be better with music? Well, if so, then Bluetooth speakers are for you. However, if you know that the only time you will use a speaker will be in the home, then Wireless Wi-Fi speakers are for you.

Overall, both options provide an easy-to-access audio experience. While Wi-Fi speakers offer better, more reliable sound quality and latency, Bluetooth speakers do not require an internet connection and are a game-changer in portability. However, you are much more likely to find budget-friendly Bluetooth speakers than wireless Wi-Fi speakers. As previously mentioned, many speakers are Bluetooth and Wi-Fi enabled.

Harvey Isitt is a Tech Writer and Reviewer for What's the Best. Harvey writes reviews, buyers and how-to guides, and listicles on a broad range of topics.

Besides writing, Harvey is an avid camera, turntable, and speaker enthusiast with a somewhat unhealthy obsession with movies. He is also a keen runner, cyclist, hiker, and swimmer.

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