Best Speakers Buying Guide: Welcome to TechRadar’s round-up of the best connected speakers and speaker systems in 2018.
There was a time when if you wanted to listen to music in the comfort of your own home, then you’d need a whole host of bulky equipment including dedicated standalone speakers, a stereo amplifier and a CD player or turntable to provide your tunes.
However with the move towards digital music that started with music players like the iPod, and has continued with smartphones and streaming services such as Spotify, the need for a dedicated Hi-fi setup isn’t as great as what it once was. You can even buy some very capable portable speakers – which our guide to the best Bluetooth speakers is focussed on.
These days, so long as a speaker is capable of accessing your music from streaming services it should be able to handle most of what the average person listens to, though certain models are also able to access music stored on a home network in case Spotify doesn’t have your favorite tracks.
This movement towards streaming has been reflected in audio sales, with John Lewis recently reporting that 70% of its audio sales are now of wireless products rather than traditional Hi-fi.
So if you’re looking for a speaker that you can easily control with your smartphone to access streamed music then look no further than our guide to the best connected speakers you can buy today.
If you’re in the market for a cleanly designed, exceptional sounding connected speaker, you’ll find none better than the Sonos One. Offering the best of both Sonos’ multi-room speaker platform and Amazon’s smart home prowess, the Sonos One is the pinnacle of connectivity.
Want to hear your favorite song from Spotify? All you need to do is ask! Want every speaker in the upstairs to play the same song? Group them together via the Sonos app and you’ll have a house party in minutes.
While there are more powerful (and more expensive) speakers listed down below, for the vast majority of folks, the Sonos One is the best deal in 2018.
Read the full review: Sonos One
Sonos was one of the first companies to get into the connected speaker business, and as a result has one of the most seamlessly integrated speaker systems on the market.
The Sonos Play:5 is the company’s flagship, and has the
Unlike solutions which rely on Bluetooth or Google Cast, Sonos’ speakers are controlled directly from its own app, which has built in integration for a number of streaming services, including Spotify, Tidal, Apple Music, Deezer, TuneIn a whole range of smaller services.
Since this is a multi-room setup, you can also add additional speakers such as the Sonos Play:3 and Sonos Play:1 to built up a complete surround sound system, but if you want to keep it simple, then you should find the Play:5 to offer more than enough sound.
Read the full review: Sonos Play:5
The Pure Evoke C-F6 isn’t a flashy speaker – its modest (but refined) looks let it slip unassumingly into any decor, although it doesn’t boast the premium multi-room options of pricier competitors on this list.
But that’s also not really the point of the Evoke C-F6 – it’s positioning itself to be the one-room, one-shop stop for all your audio playback needs. There’s a dazzling array of audio source options on offer here, with the biggest draws being Spotify Connect, DAB, Internet radio, Bluetooth and old faithful CD playback.
With a solid app letting you control the speaker from across a room, and the Evoke C-F6 offering a warm and natural soundstage from its stereo speakers, it’ll take pride of place on whichever bedside table or living room shelf you decide to pop it on.
Read the full review: Pure Evoke C-F6
It’s a tough call between this speaker and the Mu-So Qb for the best looking music player on this list, but the Zeppelin is certainly the most striking.
But as with all these speakers, the proof is in the pudding, and the Zeppelin sounds absolutely stunning no matter what volume you play it at. Its bass is distortion free, and its mid-range is nice and punchy.
It’s also backed by a complete swath of connectivity options, so you’ll have no problem getting your more obscure apps playing through the speaker.
The only problem is its price: $699 (£499 / AU$999). But while the sticker price ensures that only serious audiophiles will give it some consideration, it’s a lot less pricey than the Mu-So Qb, and you get a similar level of sound quality.
Read the full review: Bowers & Wilkins Zeppelin Wireless
You might not have heard of it before, but Naim audio is a company that produces some of the most stylish connected speakers in the business, and we think the Mu-So Qb is the best they’ve put out yet.
It comes will a full suite of connectivity options including aptX Bluetooth, Spotify Connect and AirPlay, which means all of your music should be supported at its maximum resolution, no matter what device you’re using.
But even if you don’t have your phone in hand, the speaker is still controllable using its sleek touch-screen which allows you to access internet radio stations, for example.
It’s got a premium price, but if you pluck for the Qb then you won’t be disappointed.
Read the full review: Mu-So Qb
Ruark Audio is a company that started out by making radios, and this heritage is clearly visible today in its current speakers, which still keeps one foot in the world of radio with full FM,DAB and Internet radio connectivity.
The R2 is a great looking speaker, especially if you opt for the walnut finish, and it backs up these looks with an absolutely amazing sound, which is amazingly rich and full as we’d want out of a living room speaker.
We could have done with AirPlay or Google Cast support to help with streaming apps other than Spotify from an iOS device, but if you’re someone that relies on this streaming service, then it should be more than connected enough for your needs.
It’s control knob is also one of the neatest little bits of design in the business.
Read the full review: Ruark Audio R2 Mk3
If you’re looking for hi-res audio, then give the Denon Heos 5 a listen. It supports lossless FLAC files up to 24-bit/192kHz, and DSD 2.8Mhz and 5.6Mhz, which should satisfy all but the most hardcore of audiophiles.
Unfortunately its Bluetooth connectivity is limited in so far as it doesn’t support the more advanced aptX, but it’s app is solid, and it also supports Spotify Connect if you want to stick to apps that you know and love already.
The sound can sound a little stodgy at times, and the bass doesn’t achieve the lows achieved by the more expensive models in the range, but the Heos 5 is nevertheless a decent multiroom speaker.
Read the full review: Denon Heos 5 HS2
The BlueSound Pulse 2 is a fantastic sounding speaker, but its price means that other speakers on this list will represent a better choice for many people.
Nevertheless, if sound quality is your absolute priority, then the Pulse 2 is a great choice it supports hi-res files up to 24-bit/192kHz, although it unfortunately doesn’t offer support for the other hi-res file format, DSD.
It’s also lacking support for the streaming technologies DLNA and UPnP, meaning that it’s a little harder than it should be to stream music over a home network.
But if you’re looking for a speaker that doesn’t make any compromises when it comes to sound quality, then the BlueSound Pulse 2 is a great choice.
Read the full review: BlueSound Pulse 2
Of its trio of new multi-room speakers, the Marshall Stanmore is the middle child. However, that doesn’t mean it’s the unloved sibling.
While the larger Woburn is just a little too big for most rooms, and the smaller Acton has a number of connectivity issues, the Stanmore strikes a nice balance between the two with a sound that’s big and punchy, without straying too far into ‘overkill’ territory (although mark our words, it will if you want it to).
It features its own app for controlling it, but we were fans of how nicely it integrates with a host of other services including AirPlay, Google Cast and Spotify Connect, meaning you can stick to the apps you’re familiar with while still controlling your new toy.
But it’s the on-board controls that impressed us the most. You’re able to set presets from a number of different services, meaning you can happily switch between pre-defined Spotify playlists and internet radio stations with a twist of a vintage Marshall-styled brass knob.
It’s not got the most refined sound out of the speakers on this list, but the Marshall Stanmore is intelligently designed and simple to use.
Read the full review: Marshall Stanmore
If we only rated the Apple HomePod on the merits of sound performance, the HomePod would likely hold the top spot on this list. But, as a connected speaker, it has a long way to go.
Overall, it delivers rich, clear sound that will impress anyone who listens to it, and every facet of the way it’s designed and delivers audio has been well thought through. But there are still a few little bumps in there that remove some of the gloss – Siri not being able to search the web, a lack of Bluetooth streaming, or being able to control your Apple TV or iPhone directly from the speaker are omissions that many would like to have.
Once it builds out these features, we’ll definitely revisit it and possibly award it a higher spot on this list. Until then, however, it’s a speaker that only serves a niche audience – and even then not very well.
Read the full review: Apple HomePod
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