Connected speakers are a serious alternative to traditional hi-fi systems. They offer a simpler and more intuitive solution by directly integrating the amplification and connectors, but also by providing access to streaming. These speakers are intended to be used at home and therefore do not include a battery like portable Bluetooth speakers for which we have already published a guide: A comparison of the best portable Bluetooth speakers. Several types of connected speakers currently exist: Bluetooth connected speakers, smart speakers, multi-room speakers and hi-fi wireless speakers (stereo). Understanding the differences between these speakers is the key to making the right choice. In this comparative guide about the best connected speakers, we will give you all the information you need to choose a speaker that suits your needs.
Bluetooth connected speakers
Bluetooth speakers are often the most basic, but not the least powerful. Their main advantage lies in their ease of use. In practice, all you have to do is pair the speaker to the source and play your music. Bluetooth technology makes it easy to play any audio stream, smartphone or tablet in hand. Some Bluetooth speakers, such as the Muse M-1350 BTC, are intended for home use, while the most compact models, such as the Bang & Olufsen Beosound Level, generally have a rechargeable battery for mobile use.
However, Bluetooth technology has a few drawbacks, starting with the transmission range which is often limited to 10 meters. This makes Bluetooth speakers less than ideal if you want to stream music from one room to another in your home. The data rate of the audio stream offered by this type of connection also varies according to the Bluetooth protocol used by the speaker and the associated source. For example, the most standard Bluetooth codec is limited to 350 kbits/s, compared to near CD quality for the aptX and aptX HD codecs. Therefore, it is best to choose an aptX and/or aptX HD compatible speaker like the Elipson W35 to guarantee a high-quality transmission.
WiFi and Ethernet connected speakers
WiFi connected speakers feature a WiFi and/or Ethernet network controller. These models are the most powerful and comprehensive, integrating countless streaming protocols. You’ll be able to access various online music services such as Spotify, Deezer and Apple Music with speakers like the Sonos One and Yamaha MusicCast 20, but also Qobuz or Tidal with models like the Elipson W35 and Rose RS301. To make your choice easier, you can use the connected speaker filters to display only models that are compatible with your favorite music service.
Many WiFi speakers are also compatible with AirPlay or AirPlay 2 protocols. These allow you to easily stream any audio from an Apple device (iPhone, iPad, Mac, iPod Touch, etc.). If you have an Android smartphone, the equivalent technology is Chromecast. To make things simpler, speakers with AirPlay 2 often also have a Chromecast built in, ensuring optimal compatibility with any Apple or Android device. This is particularly true of the Braun LE03 and Bang & Olufsen Beoplay M3 connected speakers.
Among the other features of WiFi connected speakers, we can mention the DLNA protocol. Very popular, it allows you to play all the music shared over the local network. The ideal solution is to store all your music files on a NAS and use your smartphone or tablet as a remote control to sort and select the music to be played on the speaker. It’s very simple, powerful and intuitive. In this category, the Naim mu-so Qb 2 and the Cabasse The Pearl Akoya are a must with their modern design and high-resolution DLNA playback.
Multi-room connected speakers
This category includes all WiFi and Ethernet connected speakers that have the ability to be wirelessly connected to other compatible speakers or devices to create a multi-room system. Several wireless speakers can be linked together to play the same music from one room to another in the house or to create a stereo pair. Each multi-room speaker manufacturer uses its own transmission system to stream music in sync. Examples are the Yamaha MusicCast, Denon Heos and Bluesound multi-room speakers. It is important to keep this in mind, because once you’ve bought your first connected speaker, if it uses proprietary technology you’ll have to choose speakers from the same brand to create a multi-room audio system. The only exceptions are connected multi-room speakers that use Chromecast or Airplay 2 technology, which allow you to mix brands.
If you want to create a multi-room system with multiple speakers, we recommend Sonos connected speakers: the SONOS One SL, SONOS One, Sonos Five, SONOS Move and SONOS Roam. Their multi-room ecosystem is among the most successful and easiest to implement. They can be paired with other Sonos speakers, but also with any other AirPlay 2 or Chromecast compatible model. Sonos speakers can even be used as wireless surround sound speakers with a Sonos soundbar to create a true wireless home theater system.
Voice assistant connected speakers
Today, most connected multi-room speakers integrate Amazon Alexa and/or Google Assistant. These are called smart connected speakers. These are the easiest to use, allowing you to control the music vocally, once a free account has been created and the speaker has been associated. You just have to talk to the speaker and the integrated assistant will respond to your every request: play music, change the track, change the volume, put on the radio, play the same track on several speakers, etc. It is also possible to make countless requests and control other connected objects in the house.
However, not all smart connected speakers include a microphone for voice control. Some of them are only compatible with voice assistants and need to rely on the microphone of a smartphone or another smart speaker. So remember to check that the assistants are integrated and not only compatible if you want your speaker to include a microphone.
Wireless hi-fi speakers
A wireless hi-fi speaker is a connected speaker that necessarily works in pairs to provide stereo sound. These are the models that are closest to traditional hi-fi systems, minus the amplifier. They have the same features as the other ranges of connected speakers, including Bluetooth transmission, WiFi, access to streaming services or DLNA playback, depending on the model. Wireless hi-fi speakers are based on the same principles as classic hi-fi speakers and are available in compact (bookshelf) or floorstanding versions. Many manufacturers even offer a wireless version of their most popular hi-fi speakers. Examples of this are the Tangent Spectrum X6 BT Phono, Klipsch R-51PM, Elipson Prestige Facet 6B BT and KEF LS50 Wireless 2 connected speakers.
Using the same design criteria and acoustic elements as their passive counterparts, wireless hi-fi speakers ensure a high-quality sound reproduction. They are the best choice for the most demanding music lovers looking for a system that is simpler than a conventional hi-fi system, but just as powerful. Note that many wireless hi-fi speakers still require a wired connection between the two speakers. Very often, the amplification and connectivity are integrated in a single speaker, while the second is passive and needs to be powered by the “master” speaker. Some models like the KEF LS50 Wireless 2 or the Dali Callisto 2 C do not need this connection and communicate with each other wirelessly.
Connected speaker connectors
Although connected speakers are primarily intended to access streaming services and wireless transmission, they still offer physical connectors. They vary from one model to another, but there is usually a 3.5mm mini-jack audio input to connect an analog source such as a CD player or DAP. The more complete models offer RCA, optical, coaxial, USB or even HDMI ARC inputs. It is therefore necessary to think carefully about your sources in order to choose a connected speaker with the right connectors to meet your needs. For example, to enjoy the sound of the TV, it is necessary to opt for a speaker with an optical input or, ideally, an HDMI ARC input, such as the Naim Mu-so 2, Audio Pro A26 or Q Acoustics Q Active 200.
Connected speaker design
Connected speakers often benefit from more relaxed shapes and less parallel lines than passive speakers. Some models, such as the Elipson W35, Braun LE03, Naim Mu-so 2 and Pantheone I, are genuine decorative objects that can be proudly displayed. Therefore, it is easy to find a connected speaker that fits perfectly in your home. If you’re a fan of vintage design, the Marshall Acton 2 BT, Roberts Stream 67, McIntosh RS200, Tangent Elio Stereo CD and Klipsch The Sixes connected speakers are references in this field. Conversely, if your home decor is more contemporary, the Bang & Olufsen Beoplay M5 and Cabasse The Pearl Akoya are the speakers to choose.
Which connected speakers are the best?
Throughout this guide, we have compared the various types of connected speakers, as well as the characteristics to consider, to help you make your choice. Based on these criteria and numerous reviews, we’ve made a non-exhaustive selection of the best connected speakers for all budgets: under €300, €500 to €1000 and over €1000.
The best connected speakers under €300
- Tangent Spectrum W1 Google Cast: Chromecast multi-room, mini-jack input
- Sonos One SL: AirPlay 2 and MusicCast multi-room, streaming services, Alexa and Google Assistant built-in
- Yamaha MusicCast 20: AirPlay 2, Chromecast, multi-room, streaming services, Alexa and Google Assistant compatible
- Denon Home 150 : AirPlay 2 and Heos multi-room, streaming services, Google Assistant built-in
The best connected speakers from €300 to €500
- Bluesound Pulse Flex 2i : multiroom AirPlay 2 et Bluesound, services de streaming, DLNA
- Bose Home Speaker 500: streaming services, DLNA, Alexa and Google Assistant built-in
- Bluesound Pulse Flex 2i: AirPlay 2 and Bluesound multi-room, streaming services, DLNA
- Bose Home Speaker 500: streaming services, DLNA, Alexa and Google Assistant built-in
- Tangent Elio Stereo CD: Spotify Connect, DLNA, CD player, DAB/DAB+ tuner
- Denon Home 250: AirPlay 2 and Heos multi-room, streaming services, Google Assistant built-in
The best connected speakers from €500 to €1000
- Naim mu-so Qb 2: AirPlay 2, Chromecast and Naim multi-room, DLNA, streaming services
- Sonos Five: AirPlay 2 and MusicCast multi-room, streaming services
- Devialet Phantom II 95 dB: AirPlay 2 multi-room, streaming services
- Elipson W35: Elipson multi-room, DLNA, streaming services
The best connected speakers over €1000
- Naim Mu-so 2: AirPlay 2, Chromecast and Naim multi-room, DLNA, streaming services
- Ruark Audio R5: USB, DAB/DAB+ tuner, CD player
- Cabasse The Pearl Akoya: AirPlay 2 and Cabasse multi-room, DLNA, streaming services
- Devialet Phantom I 108 dB: AirPlay 2 multi-room, streaming services
- McIntosh RS200: AirPlay 2 and DTS Play-Fi multi-room, DLNA, Alexa compatible