The impact of Bluetooth technology on our lives is undeniable. Since products featuring this wireless capability hit the market in 2000, Bluetooth has become part of how we work and play in homes, offices, cars, and more. As the technology has spread out into more areas, it has also gotten better at doing more things well. But when it comes to audio quality, many audiophiles remain unconvinced.
Are Bluetooth speakers as good as wired? Bluetooth is just one of the wireless technologies available for headphones and other wireless speakers. It is popular due to its versatility, but the things that make it an attractive option also limit its potential for audio quality. The technology has gotten better since its inception. Many feel that it has reached the point to where it rivals wired speakers.
If you are a true audiophile who demands the best from every link in the chain that delivers music to your ears, then you know good ears can be both a blessing and a curse. Most listeners don’t even notice the subtle differences between good speakers and better speakers. They’ll only spot the gap between bad speakers and good speakers. Bluetooth started out with some serious sound quality issues, but they’ve made a lot of progress over the last two decades. Read on to learn more.
Bluetooth Speakers: To Buy or Not to Buy
Sometimes perfect audio reproduction is the most important feature to consider in a set of speakers, and other times it is not. Whether you’re looking for a set of headphones, bookshelf speakers, floor speakers, stereo surround for your home theater system, or indoor/outdoor speakers, it’s often the case that audio quality is only one of many factors that you need to take into account.
When you know enough about the options that are available to you, it’s easy to find one that balances all of the factors that are important to you. While it’s true that wired speakers are still the best option for pure audio quality, they have a number of downsides when it comes to convenience and portability. Unless you’re paying top-dollar for high-end wired speakers and have the ears to appreciate them, you might find that it’s hard to tell the difference between wired, Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth.
Wi-Fi speakers are technically the next best option for audio quality after wired speakers, but they come with many of the same drawbacks as wired speakers. Since they have to be in the range of a Wi-Fi signal to work, they’re a good option for your home audio setup but less desirable for portable speakers and headsets. When you factor in the degree to which Bluetooth 5.0 has closed the gap on both Wi-Fi and wired speakers, it makes sense to include Bluetooth options in your search for any application.
Since Bluetooth technology has caught up to wired and Wi-Fi technology in the area of audio quality, the question of which one to go with is likely to come down to other factors that relate to the specific uses you have in mind. Your budget and your plans will have as much to do with identifying the best option for you as the technology that delivers the sounds from your player to your ears.
The History of Bluetooth Speakers: How Did We Get Here?
The original idea behind Bluetooth technology was to allow businesses and business people to make office equipment wireless. From the initial idea of connecting computers to printers and telephones to headsets, we’ve arrived at a point where smart devices connect everything in our homes, and we get to move between home, car, and office without interruptions. The idea that we’re even discussing whether Bluetooth speakers can compete with wired speakers on audio quality is a testament to the improvements in the technology.
In the late 1980s, engineers at Ericsson and IBM began collaborating on short-link radio technology that could support a personal area network that would connect laptops, phones, and headsets wirelessly. By the late 1990s, the technology was ready to go to the market, and it was named Bluetooth in reference to a 10th-century Danish king who united disparate tribes in the way the technology sought to unite individual pieces of business equipment.
By 2004, Bluetooth 2.0 had made it possible to begin experimenting with stereo headphones. Over time the amount of power needed to run Bluetooth connectivity went down, and the amount of data that could be transferred and speeds of transfer both went up. Still, at the start of the last decade, audiophiles were vehemently turning their noses up at Bluetooth headphones for their audio quality.
Even as late as 2013 and 2014, Bluetooth headsets were being panned in reviews found in publications like C|net, and Wired. But in 2016, Bluetooth came out with version 5.0, which brought together the best codec features available and increased the speed and bandwidth of data transfers. This brings us to the present moment where we have to listen very closely to try to discern any differences between Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, and wired speakers.
Bluetooth Speakers: Good, Better, Best
At the end of the day, thanks to the advances in Bluetooth technology over the past decade, the quality of the audio from your speakers is likely going to be determined more by the other components than by the delivery system. At any given price point, with the exception of high-end wired speakers, you will probably find that the sound quality differences between Bluetooth and other technologies are minimal.
With that being said, there are some instances where paying more for additional quality in your audio experience will be worth the investment. At the same time, there are numerous applications where convenience, affordability, and portability will tip the scales firmly to the side of Bluetooth. So, the best way to approach shopping for speakers is with an eye toward the intersection of your intentions and the speaker system’s comprehensive list of benefits and drawbacks.
In some areas, Bluetooth speakers are good, and it will be up to you to determine if that is good enough. In other areas, Bluetooth speakers are better than other available technologies due to their advantages in versatility, convenience, and affordability. That means that sometimes they will be the best option. Let’s look at specific ways that we use speakers and the different types of speakers that can meet those demands.
To separate the good, the better, and the best—this article breaks down the competition between Bluetooth speakers and alternative options in a couple different categories. First, there is the type of sound that you’re trying to transmit: voice, multimedia, or music. Then there is the setting: home, office, outdoor, portable. Finally, there is the type of speaker set-up: portable, indoor/outdoor, smart device, home entertainment surround sound, and stereo.
As the history of Bluetooth technology pointed out, there have been drastic improvements in the quality of the sound that comes through a speaker. This is due to fundamental improvements in Bluetooth’s ability to move more data faster and to the development of important codecs that add to the quality of the sound reproduction. If you listen to music on Compact Discs, MP3s, or other electronic files, then you will be able to find a Bluetooth speaker option that delivers “good” audio quality.
The most common complaint that you’ll hear about the audio quality of Bluetooth speakers is that they fall short on either bass or treble. In many cases, Bluetooth speakers can also be hard-lined into a music player in addition to using the Bluetooth function. When that is the case, many reviewers find that budget and mid-range speakers do a better job of reproducing the full audio spectrum when connected by a wire than when transmitting over a Personal Area Network (PAN).
With all of that in mind, the consensus is that Bluetooth speakers are a good option for your home stereo. There are other options that will deliver better sound quality at a more affordable price. If you are looking for floor speakers or bookshelf models to use with your home stereo, it is a good idea to include wired and Wi-Fi options in your search. That way, you’ll be sure to find the option that will work best for you, your listening habits, and your budget.
For those of us who don’t have a dedicated stereo system and listen to our music through the same entertainment system that we use to watch movies and television, the importance of a versatile speaker system that delivers quality audio can’t be overstated. Fortunately, there are great surround sound systems available that can deliver all of the sound quality that we need at reasonable prices.
It’s worth taking a closer look at Bluetooth speaker systems if this is how you consume music and other entertainment in your home. If you own your house, you might be okay with drilling holes and running wires to make spreading a surround system out in a room a possibility. But if you tend to rearrange your furniture frequently or you rent a house or apartment, this isn’t as attractive an option—if it’s an option at all.
While this might sound like a perfect situation for Wi-Fi speakers, it’s probably worth your while to take a careful look at Bluetooth options as well. Going with Bluetooth will allow you to push sound through your surround system from multiple devices without connecting any wires. That’s one way to make your media room a movie theatre when you need it to be while easily switching to tunes from your laptop or smartphone for when you’re cleaning, cooking, or just relaxing with a book.
Just as Bluetooth speakers work best with Compact Discs for music, you’ll find that they do their best when they are used with Blu-ray Discs and DVDs through your entertainment center. Most of the models on the market will do a good job of reproducing sound from television programs, streaming video from the internet, and video chats as well.
Thus far, the focus has been on situations where Bluetooth technology is good but not great or better than some options but not necessarily the best. It’s time to turn our attention to situations where Bluetooth is the best option available to you. There are a number of listening situations where your search for the perfect speakers should begin and end with Bluetooth technology.
Anytime you need your speakers to do double (or even triple) duty, it’s a good idea to focus your search on Bluetooth speakers. Home audio and home entertainment have already been mentioned. As was pointed out, the potential for mixed-use of a home entertainment system makes Bluetooth a strong contender in that category. But what about other situations where you’ll be pushing sound from multiple sources through a single set of speakers?
The ways that Bluetooth technology can combine with speakers to make your home more modern and convenient are numerous. From a smart speaker like an Amazon Echo, Dot, or Google Home to a fully integrated smart home that can make all of your technology work together, Bluetooth is the platform that you’ll want running it all.
Bluetooth works well to tie a large number of devices together, but it also works well when you’re stepping away from home base and need speakers that are ready, willing, and able to go with you. Consider the following examples:
Maybe you want to have the music that is playing inside your home make it out to the patio, front porch, or backyard. Bluetooth technology makes it easy to make sure that everyone can hear from anywhere in or around the house. It’s a great option if you host a lot of get-togethers or spend a lot of time working outside. The fact that there are no wires makes it easy to put them up and take them down when the seasons change or inclement weather is forecast.
When you combine Bluetooth speakers with a smart device for your home or certain apps for your smartphone, you get a lot of great options for controlling the audio all across your home without having to drop what you’re doing and head to the console. This also means that you can play tunes from your laptop for a bit and then switch to an app on your phone without any hassle at all.
Home Office/Remote Work
If you work from home or use shared workspaces, then you have the option of using speakers rather than a headset. Many people prefer this option as they don’t like the way headsets feel. Having a compact set of Bluetooth speakers means that you won’t have to worry about winding wires or sacrificing lots of desk space. But you’ll still get the quality audio reproduction that you expect.
If you find yourself going from home to car to office frequently or otherwise on the move, then Bluetooth technology will allow you to go from your desk speakers to headphones or a car audio system without missing a beat.
There are numerous brand names clamoring for consumers’ attention in the portable speaker market. Depending on your budget, you might be able to find a portable speaker that you like better than anything else that you have in your home, office, or vehicle. But a portable speaker without Bluetooth would be missing the point.
Most portable speakers give you the option of docking your device for a direct connection. Many offer the additional option of connecting the speaker to the device via a wire. You might even find that the portable speaker that you are considering gives you the option of connecting wirelessly via Wi-Fi or Bluetooth. But Bluetooth is the only option that will give you the convenience of being wireless and the confidence to go anywhere without worrying about a Wi-Fi signal.
The question that we set out to answer was whether Bluetooth speakers are as good as wired speakers. This article has looked at all of the ways that you can make that comparison in an effort to assist you with finding the right questions to ask relevant to your particular situation. In the process, it was revealed that Bluetooth is always a good option, and in many cases, it is at least as good an option as Wi-Fi or wired speakers. We also found that, in some instances, Bluetooth is the best option available.
Every technology is designed with a specific purpose in mind. That means that any set of speakers is going to be good for some situations and not so great for others. That makes it all the more impressive that a technology originally designed for use in business settings for phone calls and other voice communications has progressed to the point where it can compete with the best options available for audiophiles looking to get quality, convenience, and affordability in one package.