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Wireless speakers to avoid

These poor-performing Bluetooth and Wi-Fi speakers are anything but music to your ears.

wireless speakers to avoid with red cross
Last updated: 16 September 2021

Whether you're at home, at the beach, having a backyard BBQ or travelling away from home, a wireless speaker is a great way to enjoy your music exactly where you want it. 

But while good tunes are essential for a great party, a tinny-sounding speaker can really kill your buzz.

If you love your music, these are the wireless speakers to avoid buying.

How much do wireless speakers cost?

Depending on what you're after, you can opt for a: 

  • portable speaker with a Bluetooth connection directly to your smart device and a battery so you can take it with you
  • home speaker that has a Wi-Fi wireless connection to your home network so you can stream music over it – but it's powered, so you can't take it to the beach
  • smart screen with voice assistance and a display, which is perfect in your kitchen or bedroom for watching recipes explained or the morning news on a podcast.

The speakers we've tested range from $29 for a small IKEA speaker through to $1475 for a top-of-the-line Naim Audio speaker. 

Two of the top performers in our test cost just $99 and $149, proving that you don't always need to spend a fortune for good sound. 

How we test wireless speakers

To make sure you get the best bass for your buck, our panel of experts listen to a range of music (jazz, classical, rock and pop) and radio broadcasts to assess the sound quality of each speaker. They also test how easy each speaker is to set up and operate. 

Listening performance contributes to 60% of the CHOICE Expert Rating and ease of use contributes to 40%. 

We also test battery life for speakers that have one, so you know how long the speaker will run when you're out and about.

Read more about how we test wireless speakers

house of marley no bounds em ja015

House of Marley No Bounds (EM-JA015).

1. House of Marley No Bounds (EM-JA015)

  • CHOICE Expert Rating: 36%
  • Pop music score: 12%
  • Price: $79

This portable speaker falls at the cheaper end of the market – and unfortunately in this case, what you pay is what you get. (Although there are plenty of other reasonably priced speakers that perform well.)

It produces decidedly ordinary sound overall, across a range of genres – classical, jazz and pop – scoring less than 20% for each genre, and just 15% for speech (so it's rubbish for radio and podcasts too).

"Small, portable models like this are designed with functionality in mind, rather than top-tier sound," says CHOICE's resident audiophile Peter Zaluzny. "But even within that context, Marely's No Bounds speaker has pretty poor sound quality."

It produces decidedly ordinary sound overall, across a range of genres

Our expert testers noted a few positive things about it: it has an IP67 rating, so it should be comfortable at the beach or by the river, a line input, and it supports hands-free phone via Bluetooth. And it's super light, weighing just 160g. 

Plus the battery lasts 10 hours, which may not be a good thing considering how poor a sound it makes – you'll be stuck listening to it for longer than you might've liked!

You don't necessarily need to spend more to get a better portable speaker: for the same price, you could pick up a model that scored 74% overall in our tests and is recommended by our experts. 

Read the full House of Marley No Bounds review

lenovo smart clock

Lenovo Smart Clock.

2. Lenovo Smart Clock

  • CHOICE Expert Rating: 38%
  • Pop music score: 6%
  • Price: $59

Pop-music lovers, this one is definitely not for you: it scored an ear-bleedingly bad six percent for pop music. It wasn't much better for other types of music, scoring just 10% for classical music and 13% for jazz. So regardless of your taste in music, you're not going to have a good time with this speaker. 

Regardless of your taste in music, you're not going to have a good time with this speaker

The cheapest smart screen speaker in our test, the Lenovo Smart Clock is also the worst performing, with our experts describing its overall sound quality as "very poor". 

On the plus side, it supports both 2.4GHz and 5GHz Wi-Fi, but that's where the good news ends. It might still be OK as a smart alarm clock, but this is one speaker that shouldn't be anywhere else in the house.

Read the full Lenovo Smart Clock review

jbl pulse 4

JBL Pulse 4.

3. JBL Pulse 4

  • CHOICE Expert Rating: 42%
  • Pop music score: 20%
  • Price: $329

For this price, you can do far better than the JBL Pulse 4. All but three of the top 10 portable wireless speakers we tested cost less than this, but perform far better. 

"The Pulse pumps out some eye-catching lighting effects from the speaker, which may look great, but speakers are supposed to sound great," says CHOICE smart home expert Denis Gallagher. "There are better JBL options available if you like this brand."

There are better JBL options available if you like this brand

Denis Gallagher, CHOICE smart home expert

Rated IPX7, it will withstand water splashes, so it's fine to use at the beach or by the pool. But with sound quality this ordinary, you may be tempted to chuck it in the deep end. 

Jazz lovers, look away now: it scored just 17% for jazz listening, and wasn't much better for pop music, scoring just 20%. It did ace the setup test, though, scoring a perfect 100%. 

Our experts say it's excellent for everyday use, and has very good battery life (it runs for 14 hours). But the app is not much chop and the sound quality overall is very poor. 

Read the full JBL Pulse 4 review

ruark audio mrx

Ruark Audio MRx.

4. Ruark Audio MRx

  • CHOICE Expert Rating: 44%
  • Pop music score: 34%
  • Price: $799

It may look good, but this Ruark portable speaker is all style and no substance. For nearly $800, it'll deliver ho-hum sound and not a great deal else. 

Our testers found that it offers very good setup, but on every other test it was scored as 'Poor' or 'Borderline' at best. 

It may look good, but this Ruark portable speaker is all style and no substance

"Speaker style can be very important," says Peter. "There's nothing wrong with seeking out a speaker that matches your home decor or design, but sound quality must always come first. If anything, it's worth making some stylistic sacrifices in the name of superior sound."

One of the top-scoring wireless home speakers in our test costs $50 less but was rated 'Good' or 'Very good' for listening by our experts – you'd be much better spending your money on that one.

Read the full Ruark Audio review

sonos one gen 2

Sonos One (Gen 2).

5. Sonos One (Gen 2)

  • CHOICE Expert Rating: 45%
  • Pop music score: 42%
  • Price: $299

This is the least terrible speaker in this lineup – but that doesn't mean it's particularly good. It did at least perform consistently across most of our tests, scoring in the low 40%s for classical, jazz, pop music and speech. 

Our expert testers couldn't find much that was positive to say about it, except that it can be used as part of a surround sound system. 

As for bad points, there were quite a few: poor overall sound quality, poor power score, poor setup, no Bluetooth and single band (2.4GHz) Wi-Fi only. 

The One (Gen 2) shows that you should always do your research, even when it comes to reputable brands

Peter Zaluzny, CHOICE audio expert

Sonos was one of the very first companies to move into the wireless speaker area. It has recently released a raft of new models that we've tested and much prefer to the One (Gen 2), so even Sonos must know it can do better.

"This is another classic case of inconsistencies within particular brands," says Peter. 

"Sonos makes some very good speakers so it's not unreasonable to think that everything under that name will sound nice. But the One (Gen 2) shows that you should always do your research, even when it comes to reputable brands."

Check our wireless speaker reviews to find a better product. 

Read the full Sonos One (Gen 2) review

We care about accuracy. See something that's not quite right in this article? Let us know or read more about fact-checking at CHOICE