Sounding out the experts
When you're in a store looking to buy a wireless speaker, sound quality is obviously an important consideration. Ease of connectivity and how much electricity consumption should also be top of the list of things to look for when buying your next wireless speaker. Some models double as speakerphones or can be used as impromptu battery packs that can recharge your smartphone or tablet – are these features of value to you?
Following is a break down of how we test wireless speakers. Our rigorous testing lets you make an informed buying decision.
A panel of experts listens to musical passages across various genres, including classical, rock and pop. The experts assess the overall quality of the speaker's performance, sitting approximately two metres away. Our experts assess:
- Bass: impact, presence and defined low-end, rather than flat dynamics that are overly boomy, or those that show evidence of distortion.
- Mids: clear mids with broad dynamics, particularly in vocals, that gives each layer of sound its space in the mix (the opposite of muddy).
- Highs: clarity and quality. Speakers with harsh, tinny highs and evidence of distortion score poorly.
Our range test reveals how well a Bluetooth speaker works in different environments. We place each speaker in an identical position and then measure when the signal between it and a smartphone/tablet begins degrading, right up to the point when it disconnects.
- The total score is the average of three test results. The first measures the signal strength without any interference; for the second we obstruct the signal with three closed doors; while the third measures the range once the signal has passed through a brick wall.
- Most of the Bluetooth speakers we test connect wirelessly with a smartphone or tablet via Bluetooth.
- We do test the range of Wi-Fi multiroom speakers, but we don't include these results in our findings as all models scored the same result.
Our ease of use testing determines how easy/difficult it is to take advantage of the features included in a wireless speaker.
- Our testers assess the set-up process for all wireless speakers.
- For Bluetooth speakers, we assess how the speaker deals with an incoming phone call while the music is playing, and any physical controls on the speaker.
- For Wi-Fi multiroom speakers, we assess how well music can be played back over one speaker, as well as a network of three speakers and a soundbar. The tester then splits the network in half and plays different songs over the two separate zones.
- Wi-Fi speakers are designed to be controlled from a smartphone, and so our testers assess the design, functionality and performance of each brand's Apple and Google smartphone app. Finally, we assess each speaker's ease of use.
The overall score for Bluetooth speakers over $100 is made up of:
- Listening performance (70%)
- Range performance (15%)
- Ease of use (15%).
The overall score for Bluetooth speakers under $100 is made up of
- Listening performance (60%)
- Battery life (20%)
- Ease of use (20%)
Bluetooth speakers (under $100) are scored differently because they're powered by a battery, and because range is unlikely to be as big an issue as with wireless speakers – to get the best from these speakers you need them to be close by.
The overall score for Wi-Fi multiroom speakers comprises:
- Overall system sound quality (60%)
- Ease of use 30% (Google app – 12.5%, Apple app – 12.5%, speaker – 5%)
- Standby energy score (10%).
Ready to buy?