WiFi and Bluetooth connected amplifiers allow you to listen to online music via numerous internet services as well as audio files shared over the local network and music played directly on iOS and Android smartphones and tablets. Many connected amplifiers are also multi-room compatible, allowing them to be paired with wireless speakers or multi-room speakers that feature the same technology or are made by the same manufacturer.
There are a multitude of different stereo amplifiers (2 speakers) and A/V receivers on the market, so choosing a model isn’t always easy. What features does a Bluetooth connected amplifier offer? Why choose a connected amplifier with an Ethernet port or WiFi connectivity? Should I opt for a multi-room compatible WiFi Bluetooth amplifier? What other features can I expect from a connected amplifier?
This comparative guide about WiFi and Bluetooth connected amplifiers will help you find the model best suited to your needs by answering these different questions and offering a selection of the best connected amplifiers in 2020.
Bluetooth connected amplifiers
Almost all connected amplifiers, both connected stereo hi-fi amplifiers and A/V receivers, feature a Bluetooth audio receiver as this technology is easy and inexpensive for manufacturers to integrate. First introduced in phones in 1999, Bluetooth is now systematically integrated in smartphones and tablets, whether they run an iOS (iPhone, iPad and iPod) or Android operating system, as well as most laptops. This means that all you have to do is pair the connected amplifier with your smartphone, tablet or computer to stream music wirelessly.
The main advantage of a Bluetooth connection is how simple it is to set up. No need to connect to the local network, the music source and the amplifier are connected directly.
Moreover, all of the audio content played by the phone or computer can be reproduced by the amplifier: music streaming apps like Deezer, Spotify, Qobuz and Tidal, music stored in the memory of a smartphone, videos played on YouTube, Netflix or Prime Video, video game soundtracks… Consequently, you don’t have to worry about the compatibility of a particular service with the amplifier: as long as it is accessible on your smartphone, tablet or computer, the amplifier can reproduce the sound via Bluetooth.
However, Bluetooth technology does have a few drawbacks. Firstly, its range is limited to about ten meters and the limited power of Bluetooth transmitters makes this connection very sensitive to physical obstacles. Any walls and furniture that are in between the smartphone and the connected amplifier can disturb or even block the signal.
In addition, the sound quality is affected by the relatively low speed of Bluetooth connections and the audio codec used. With a Bluetooth amplifier that only supports the standard audio codec (called SBC), which is limited to 350 kbits/s, the sound is highly compressed and therefore deteriorated. However, a Bluetooth-enabled connected amplifier compatible with the aptX audio codec will provide sound quality close to that of an audio CD. The aptX HD and LDAC codecs provide even better sound quality (up to 24 bits and 48kHz for aptX HD and up to 24 bits and 96kHz for LDAC). You can benefit from these codecs with the Elipson Music Center BT HD connected amplifier (aptX HD) and the Sony STR-DN1080 A/V receiver (LDAC).
Lastly, Bluetooth connections sometimes suffer from latency that causes a delay between the image displayed on the smartphone or computer and the sound emitted by the connected amplifier. This delay is more or less significant depending on the devices used for playback and the connected amplifiers they are connected to. To address this problem, Qualcomm, the company behind the aptX codec, has developed aptX Low Latency technology that significantly reduces this delay to the point where it is virtually imperceptible.
Note: for aptX, aptX HD, aptX Low Latency and LDAC connections to be functional, it is vital that both the smartphone AND the connected amplifier are compatible.
One of the best Bluetooth-compatible connected amplifiers available in 2020, the Tangent Ampster BTII amplifier offers excellent value for money and aptX HD compatibility. The Tangent Ampster BTII has also been awarded both the Best Buy and Editor’s Choice 2019 labels by the AV Forum website.
Bidirectional Bluetooth allows the amplifier to perform two roles: it is a Bluetooth receiver to wirelessly stream music played on a smartphone, as well as a Bluetooth transmitter to send music wirelessly to a pair of Bluetooth headphones or a Bluetooth speaker.
WiFi and/or Ethernet connected amplifiers
Connected amplifiers equipped with an Ethernet and/or WiFi controller can be connected to the local network and to the internet via the home network. This network is usually established by the Internet router to which you simply have to connect the amplifier using an Ethernet network cable or a WiFi connection.
Once connected to the local network, the connected amplifier can receive audio streams from numerous sources (computer, tablet, NAS, etc.), usually using a smartphone to access and control playback. An internet connection allows you to access online streaming services either directly via the amplifier’s interface, or using a smartphone app. Accessing your music and creating playlists is incredibly easy. It is also possible to control the volume, put the amplifier into standby mode and take it out of standby mode directly in the app. In a nutshell, a WiFi connected amp is a combination of an amplifier and a network media player. To access the different sources that share audio content over the local network, the connected amp uses the DLNA/UPnP protocol, the AirPlay protocol, or both.
DLNA connected amplifiers
The DLNA/UPnP protocol should be used if you want to listen to studio-quality audio files as AirPlay technology doesn’t support files encoded over 16 bits and 48kHz. Therefore, 24-bit/192kHz FLAC files and DSD 64, DSD 128, DSD 256 and DSD 512 files can only be played using the DLNA protocol.
This requires the installation of DLNA server software on the computer on which the files are stored (Serviio software for example). You can also choose to store your Hi-Res audio files on a NAS (Network Attached Storage Device) which is designed to share files over a network. NAS manufacturers even provide iOS and Android apps to view and play these files. An example of such an app is Synology’s excellent DSAudio app for iOS and Android.
Before purchasing a WiFi connected amplifier, it is important to make sure that it is compatible with the format of your audio files (FLAC, AIFF, WAV or DSD). Note that the DLNA feature works with both WiFi and a wired connection (Ethernet cable).
AirPlay connected amplifiers
A competitor of DLNA, the AirPlay protocol created and promoted by Apple also works with both WiFi and a network cable connection. It functions in very much the same way as DLNA/UPnP, but AirPlay is more responsive when it comes to pausing playback and changing tracks, for example.
Apple’s protocol is based on the iTunes software for Windows, MacOS and iOS for indexing tracks and albums. Moreover, AirPlay audio streaming is natively integrated in iOS apps, including the Safari web browser. It’s therefore easy to select any connected amplifier compatible with AirPlay as a wireless audio playback device via apps on an iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad or Mac computer.
Multi-room connected amplifiers
Popularized by Sonos, multi-room audio has been on the rise for several years. As a result, most Bluetooth WiFi amplifier manufacturers should have one or more models in their lineup that are capable of being added to a multi-room audio system.
With this function, it is possible to combine several connected amplifiers, network media players, soundbars and wireless speakers as long as they are all connected to the same local network and are compatible with the same multi-room technology. They can then play music simultaneously in different areas of the house. It can be the same music in every room, but it is also possible to play different music in each listening area.
Manufacturers of WiFi Bluetooth connected amplifiers generally implement their own multi-room technology. A dedicated app lets you control the music on each connected amplifier and multi-room speaker connected to the network via WiFi or Ethernet: MusicCast for Yamaha, Heos for Denon and Marantz, Music Center for Sony, BluOS for NAD and Bluesound…
Other brands use third-party technology to ensure that their connected amplifiers are compatible with one or more multi-room technologies. There are connected amplifiers that are compatible with DTS PlayFi as well as being Alexa, AirPlay 2 or Google Assistant certified. With the respective app, it is possible to combine them with other connected amplifiers and wireless speakers that use the same multi-room protocol.
Connected amplifiers: additional features
Some WiFi Bluetooth amplifiers are versatile and offer extra features that may be of interest to you.
Do you own a large CD collection that you haven’t digitized?
Do you enjoy listening to the radio?
You can opt for a connected amplifier that features a DAB+ radio tuner that offers better sound quality than FM. Examples are the Marantz M-CR612 and Elipson Music Center BT HD, as well as the Yamaha MusicCast R-N803D connected hi-fi stereo receiver.
Do you want to connect your TV to the amplifier?
Why not choose a WiFi Bluetooth stereo amplifier with several HDMI connectors or an A/V receiver?
Compact yet powerful with 2 x 125 watts, the Sonos AMP connected amplifier features an HDMI ARC port to receive audio from a TV and provides a very impressive virtual surround sound.
The Marantz NR1200 looks more like your average hi-fi amplifier, with five HDMI inputs and one HDMI output that are 4K Ultra HD compatible. Its 2 x 75 watt stereo amplification is just as effective with movie soundtracks as it is for streaming music from Deezer or Spotify.
Lastly, the Denon AVR-X2600H A/V receiver features 7 amplification channels, 7 HDMI inputs and 2 HDMI outputs, but also supports Dolby Atmos and DTS:X audio formats with Hi-Res Audio network (FLAC and DSD in particular), Bluetooth and multi-room playback to offer a maximum of possibilities.
Do you want to connect your turntable?
You can have a Deezer or Qobuz account but still enjoy listening to your albums in 33RPM format. If this applies to you, the Yamaha R-N602 and Yamaha MusicCast R-N803D connected stereo amplifiers will meet your requirements as they provide direct access to Deezer and Qobuz once they are connected to your internet router (via cable or WiFi) and they each feature a phono input specifically designed to allow you to connect a turntable. Note that the Marantz NR1200 and the Marantz PM7000N also feature a phono input.