Wi-Fi, wireless and (often) multi-room speakers are quite literally the current big thing in audio.
Here, we're dealing with premium Wi-Fi speakers, from £200 to about £1,000. I've spent the last year trialling all the big hitters in my gracious home, long-term.
During that time I've formed strong opinions on which has the best sound quality, which can actually stay connected to your router for long enough to justify the word 'wireless', and which I'd give shelf space based on looks. We'll have no minging black plastic boxes here, thanks very much.
You're looking for small, portable, convenient, battery-powered Bluetooth speakers? Well go look at this list of portable Bluetooth speakers, then.
How to buy the best wireless speaker
Decide what type of streaming you want to employ. Apple mans may favour AirPlay. Google fam may want Chromecast compatibility. While Spotify Premium subscribers can probably make do with Spotify Connect.
Perhaps you're one of the seven people who use Tidal? Make sure the speaker is compatible.
It's worth noting that until AirPlay 2 arrives, Apple's system is only a multi-room one from your computer and not from your mobile (apart from on the Urbanears Baggen, which finds a way around that issue.)
I've helpfully indicated what each speaker is compatible with, to help you out, there. Some of them also support Bluetooth, which is insane in my opinion, but clearly there is consumer demand for big, expensive speakers that support a convenient but low-res format, so what do I know?
You'll also want to consider what size of room you want to use it in. Again, I've noted what size of space I think each speaker is able to fill – small (offices, kitchens, bedrooms); medium (larger bedrooms, most front rooms) and large (more palatial or open-plan spaces, combined kitchen/lounge type spaces, Donald Trump's toilet and so forth).
If you want to live the space-age, audiophile bachelor pad dream, you'll want multi-room. Again, I've indicated where this is supported.
Finally, although these are meant to be wireless, in some houses that's just not going to work, and you may have to revert to powerline AV and speakers with ethernet connectivity (again, check the specs).
- Looking for the best Bluetooth speakers? We got 'em…
- The best soundbars available to humanity
- Everything wireless: the best Bluetooth headphones
So, what is the best wireless speaker?
The best wireless speaker in terms of bang for your buck is the cuboid sensation that is the Naim Mu-so Qb.
If you've got more money to burn, the full-size Naim Mu-so is even better, but a totally scientific calculation of pleasure derived divided by money spent leaves it lagging behind its smaller, younger brother.
In the slightly cheaper space below those two, we'd recommend the Sonos Play 5 and Play 3 and the Denon HEOS 7.
To be honest, all of these speakers are very good, and pricing will play a large part in your buying decision, as ever.
But, painful though it is, if we must choose one wireless speaker above all others, we'd pick the Mu-so Qb for its mix of quality, VFM (though we're not saying it's cheap), versatile connectivity, looks and build quality.
The following speakers are all superb, and they're listed in approximate order of superb-ness. Where appropriate, we've noted what we feel each one is best at, too. You're welcome.
1. Naim Mu-so Qb
The best Wi-Fi speaker, pound for pound, you can get
Connectivity: AirPlay, Spotify Connect, UPnP, Tidal, Bluetooth, USB, optical digital, analogue, Wi-Fi, ethernet | Room size: Medium to large | Multi-room: Yes
No, it's not quite as great as Naim's full-size Mu-so, but the Mu-so Qb is about half the cost, more conveniently proportioned and sounds almost as good – you naturally lose a bit of presence and volume, but not as much as you might think.
It has the same, near comprehensive set of connectivity options, from Spotify and AirPlay to Bluetooth and Naim's own multi-room app.
The Qb also supports multi-room, although if having matching speakers throughout your abode is your main goal, we'd recommend a Denon or Sonos over a Mu-so. Multi-room works well over AirPlay here but is a bit fiddly on Naim's own app.
What really sets Naim's wireless speakers apart is that not only do they sound superb - whether turned up and really pumping it out, or serving up more winsome, acoustic, background fare - but they also deliver on the tech front.
Wireless connectivity is impeccably reliable, and there is also the nuclear option of ethernet if your house is one big Wi-Fi black spot. Bluetooth is very solid too, although you'd be nuts to pay this much, only to use the Qb as a Bluetooth speaker. Try one of these instead.
The range of music and streaming options is only missing one obvious big hitter (Chromecast), and the Mu-so Qb also works as an internet radio, as well as being able to stream from your own music servers.
That's via the Naim app, which seems to be widely hated online, but is fine in my book. It's not like you ever need to use said app anyway, if you're on iOS, iTunes, Spotify or Android (thanks to UPnP support).
The build quality is just fantastic, and although the look is decidedly industrial and boxy - it is called Qb (cube, get it?) for a reason - the subtly curved grille softens it a bit, especially if you shell out for a coloured one. You may think it resembles a Borg cube wearing a burqa, but I like it.
Multi-room performance is also excellent, although it is slightly more limited than rivals in certain respects. You can't multi-room AirPlay via Naim's system or anything attached via the analogue or optical inputs, but you can do so with Tidal, Spotify, internet radio and the USB input.
Interestingly, you can use AirPlay in a multi-room fashion from a computer (but not a mobile) via Apple's own system, but not Naim's.
Anyway, those kind of vagaries aside, the Mu-so Qb ticks just about every box, is a lot more affordable than its big brother, and gives arguably more bang for your buck. That's why it's number one in this list and in our hearts.
2. Denon HEOS 7 HS2
Ugly box, beautiful music: the Sonos rival that out-Sonoses Sonos
Connectivity: Bluetooth, Spotify Connect, Pandora, Deezer, Napster, SoundCloud, Tidal, TuneIn, analogue audio, USB, Wi-Fi, ethernet | Room size: Medium to large | Multi-room: Yes
The Beast to the Sonos Play:5's Beauty, Denon's HEOS 7 is a loud, thumping pointy-shaped powerhouse.
Actually, to be fair, the white version looks alright, but the black one that Denon sent for review is not an attractive thing.
Audio is full and forceful. It's not like the HEOS 7 is incapable of rendering speech or quieter music - in fact it's very good - but arguably the Sonos Play 5 is a better option if that's your bag.
If, however, you're after something that sounds thrilling and upfront, this is for you.
The HEOS 7 is also usually a fair bit cheaper than its American rival, and also offers a wider set of streaming options (they're listed above).
Admittedly some of these options are a bit niche, and the lack of AirPlay or Chromecast is an irritant, but for most users, Spotify and Denon's own mobile app will be just fine. You can also extract music from USB devices, NAS drives, and via Bluetooth.
Denon has a full range of HEOS speakers that roughly mirrors that of Sonos. Multiroom setup is just a matter of dragging 'rooms' on Denon's app on top of each other, and works very well.
3. Sonos Play 5
The best Sonos multi-room speaker
Connectivity: Sonos proprietory. Spotify, Amazon Music, Apple Music, Deezer, Google Play Music, SoundCloud, Tidal, TuneIn (and many more) via app only, analogue audio, Wi-Fi, ethernet | Room size: Medium to large | Multi-room: Yes
Trying to decide which you prefer out of the HEOS 7 and the Sonos Play 5 is a bit like deciding which of your children you love more. Except that one of the children is beautiful and refined and the other is really quite ugly, but cheaper.
I jest, of course.
The Sonos has a more 'accurate' and less aggressive sound than the HEOS 7, and looks way better, with a subtly curved white form that's a masterclass in modernist design (although also rather hard to keep clean, I've found).
Then there is TruePlay. This plays a series of tones while you walk around the room with your phone, using its mic to form a sonic map of the Play 5's surroundings, then optimising its output accordingly.
You feel like a right tit wondering about sweeping your mobile up and down while a speaker beeps at you, but the audible results are arguably worth it. If I'm being honest, I'd rather not be obliged to do it, but there we go.
It also just so happens that I prefer the more forward sound of the HEOS 7 – you might not; it's a free country – and Denon's competitor is also more than £100 cheaper than the Play 5, yet does multi-room and general connectivity almost as well.
The Play 5 also makes you do everything through it's app – Spotify is supported but not Spotify Connect, for instance – which can be a little irksome.
However, I don't want to seem overly negative here, as the Play 5 is still an exceedingly good speaker, and part of a whole suite of excellent Sonos products, straddling audio and home cinema.
I'd also highly recommend the compact Play 1, and even the now rather elderly Play 3, but the Play 5 is the pick of the bunch.
4. Naim Mu-so
The best premium wireless speaker you can get
Connectivity: AirPlay, Spotify Connect, UPnP, Tidal, Bluetooth, USB, optical digital, analogue, Wi-Fi, ethernet | Room size: Medium to very large | Multi-room: Yes
In a sense, you can ignore all the previous entries, because if you want the best Wi-Fi speaker there is for (just) under a grand, this is it.
In my view, you'd probably be better off getting two Sonos Play 5s, or a Baggen and two Stammens. Or perhaps two HEOS 7s, which would leave you change for a meal out.
But if you don't want multi-room, or are simply minted, the Mu-so is a stunning bit of hardware.
It looks elegant yet industrial, and that's what its sonic performance is like. It can play nice, and hand over very sweet vocals and instrumental performances, or it can remove the iron fist from the velvet glove and give your kidneys a good old sub-bass punch.
Although the list of steaming services supported isn't as epic as on the Sonos or Denon, realistically the majority of users will be served by what's there. Although really, Chromecast should be supported. That's the only glaring omission.
There are also digital, USB and analogue inputs (only 3.5mm, but better than nothing) as well as ethernet as an additional connectivity option
With superb sound, solid multi-room via AirPlay and Naim's own app, plus easy internet radio, again via the app, this is a near-perfect 21st century speaker.
5. Master & Dynamic MA770
Best ultra-premium wireless speaker
Connectivity: Google Chromecast (enables Spotify, Tidal etc), Bluetooth, 3.5mm analogue, optical digital, Wi-Fi | Room size: Medium to very large | Multi-room: Yes
Yes, this is about £1,500, is made of concrete and looks astounding. But if you're looking for advanced connectivity to go with that, you are out of luck with the MA770.
There's no ethernet for networking (the Wi-Fi has proved totally sound for me so far, to be scrupulously fair), no USB input, no AirPlay support for Apple ultras, no DLNA as such.
However, because the MA770 leans on Google's Chromecast, set up via the Google Home app, most people's streaming requirements probably are catered for, since that facilitates Spotify, Tidal and streaming from media servers.
And if you really want AirPlay you can always plug an Apple TV into the optical digital input. There's also Bluetooth and an analogue line-in for more basic connectivity.
So, all that out of the way, I will say this: this thing sounds fantastic with any decent source. That's everything from Echo Dot and an old Vestax turntable via the 3.5mm input, CDs via the optical input, and multiple streamed sources from MP3 to CD-quality Tidal to hi-res stuff over Chromecast.
The weight and heft of the MA770's construction is reflected in its sound, but it is more than capable of putting in a beautiful performance with piano and voice, if that's your thing.
Although, having said that, given the volume and power the MA770 is capable of I would, once again, recommend this more to lovers of rock, hip-hop and electronic sounds than to John Denver fans.
This speaker, incidentally, was designed by award-winning architect David Adjaye and is made from a bespoke form of concrete uniquely formed to optimise its acoustic qualities. The grill attaches magnetically, and as a result the front is seamless.
Its 1.5-inch titanium tweeter and brace of 4-inch Kevlar woofers are amplified by a 100W Class D amp with a discrete channel for each speaker.
I was so impressed, I actually bought one, and I never buy anything. Why would I? There's always a new speaker coming through the door to review. The MA770 is, quite simply, a knockout blend of objet d'art and audio excellence.
The only thing I can compare Master & Dynamic's MA770 to is Phantom's Devialet Gold, but price-wise this is a steal compared to that. Love it.
6. Riva Arena
Compact, stereo box with the option of battery power
Connectivity: AirPlay, Google Chromecast (enables Spotify, Tidal etc), Bluetooth, 3.5mm analogue, DLNA | Room size: Medium | Multi-room: Yes
The Wi-Fi connected Riva Arena is a worthy successor to the brand's established line of Bluetooth speakers. It has a similar mix of slightly disappointing, anonymous design (particularly in the black finish) and really excellent sound quality for the price.
Most notably, whereas most of the speakers here – and all of the smaller ones – are in fact mono, this packs in drivers front, left and right to serve up a pretty compelling stereo soundfield. You can also buy and pair two for a more traditional approach to dual-channel audio.
As with the MA770, you set this up as a wireless speaker via the Google Home app, and then Chromecast to it, or use Chrome-compatible apps such as Spotify, Pandora and YouTube (albeit with variable results as YouTube often refuses to send audio only). There's also Bluetooth, an analogue line in, USB for charging and playback from drives, and compatibility with AirPlay, so that is pretty damn comprehensive, connections-wise.
Audio is better than on obvious rival products such as the Sonos Play 1, or Bluetooth speakers of similar dimensions, and as it's water resistant and there's the option of a £100 battery pack, you can take it to the bathroom, or the beach.
The battery is a bit odd. Yes, it provides 15-20 consecutive hours of music, but if you stop using it and leave it turned on, it'll be dead within a few days. So remember to remove the battery pack when not in use, would be my advice.
The Riva Wand app is a bit 'quirky', by which I mean 'bordering on crap', but you don't really need to use it, thanks to the wealth of compatibility with other peoples' apps, so that's alright.
In short, if Riva could put this in a more attractive casing, for a comparable price, the Arena would be an absolutely killer option.
One final thing: from what I have briefly heard of it, the same brand's newer, larger Stadium speaker could be a truly exceptional option, but the bastards haven't sent me a review model yet, so I can't be sure of that…
7. Urbanears Baggen
AirPlay, Spotify and Chromecast-powered Sonos for hipsters
Connectivity: Spotify, AirPlay, Chromecast, Bluetooth, 3.5mm analogue, Wi-Fi | Room size: Medium to large | Multi-room: Yes
Although the audio on this is very good for something that has the word 'Urban' in it, you couldn't say Baggen is out of the very top drawer, sonically.
However, this is a very fresh take on the wireless speaker, and I'm a big fan.
Firstly, it's unashamedly aimed at a cool, design-focussed market, with a minimalist "fabric-coated cube with knobs on" shape that is wittily undercut with some achingly stylish colour choices (and 'vinyl black', because some people are boring.)
It's a big cube, so if you lack space you might consider its baby brother, the 50s Braun radio-resembling Stammen, pictured in the front row here.
What's really clever about the Urbanears speakers is that they can be chained together with just a click of the volume knob on each.
Not only does this involve minimal hassle, it also means you can get multi-room audio from AirPlay, Chromecast and Spotify on your mobile; something that's normally limited to laptop/PC streaming.
A second knob lets you choose to instead use the 3.5mm line in, Bluetooth or access one of five internet radio presets, easily changeable via the Urbanears app.
The Baggen is more about volume and mass than subtlety or sweetness, but it has plenty of raucous charm. Get DOWN with the kids, I say.
8. Devialet Phantom Gold
Best ultra-ultra-premium Wi-Fi speaker
Connectivity: AirPlay, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, USB, optical digital, ethernet | Room size: Medium to very large | Multi-room: Yes
This appears to have arrived from the future. A future where speakers resemble pulsating, alien power orbs. And also a future where things are much more expensive: this was £2,189 last time we looked.
In my opinion, if you have that money going spare, the Devialet Phantom Gold is well worth it. For electronic music and hip-hop it is possibly the best speaker I've ever heard, in fact.
Devialet has employed advanced and unique amplification and driver technology. This, coupled with a ludicrous 4,000 Watts of power and a frequency range of 14Hz to 27kHz (ie: well below and above the usual human hearing spectrum) gives incredible power and a feeling of palpable excitement with bass-led, punchy, dynamic music.
Of course, it's also hugely capable with quieter sounds, but listening to Cat Stevens or something like that on this beast should really be a punishable offence.
The Devialet Phantom Gold is built to thrill, set to stun, and your neighbours will hate you for it.
9. Bowers & Wilkins Zeppelin Wireless
Connectivity: AirPlay, Spotify Connect, Bluetooth, analogue, Wi-Fi, ethernet | Room size: Medium to large | Multi-room: Via AirPlay only
The first truly wireless Bowers & Wilkins speaker (the others were docks) is great, sound-wise, but slightly hamstrung by dubious connectivity.
Although B&W know just about everything there is to know about speaker design – in terms of both engineering and aesthetics – it evidently still has a bit of catching up to do when it comes to Wi-Fi and app building.
Not to put too fine a point on it, Wi-Fi connectivity is poor. Not unusably so, but it certainly drops out far more often than any of the other speakers here.
The fact that the Zeppelin Wireless only supports AirPlay and Spotify Connect obviously reduces the potential user base, too. Yes, there is Apt-X/AAC Bluetooth, but it just feels weird to pay £500 for a Wi-Fi speaker and then use it as a Bluetooth one.
The lack of additional connectivity grates a bit as well, given the cost.
All that said, Apple and Spotify users who don't mind plugging the Zeppelin in via ethernet (use Powerline AV) will find the sonic performance of this beautiful-looking speaker is hugely impressive. It's right up there with the Naim Mu-so Qb, and even better than the Sonos and Denon.
Personally, I could just sit and look at the white model all day, too.
10. Raumfeld One S
Best wireless speaker for bathroom
Connectivity: Raumfeld proprietary, ChromeCast. Spotify and TuneIn via app, USB, Wi-Fi, ethernet | Room size: Smallest to medium | Multi-room: Yes
Raumfeld is my insider multi-room tip: it's obscure as hell and has next to no presence in the UK anymore, but it's actual the premium arm of German audio giant Teufel and it makes great speakers.
That's especially true if you're into electronic music and rock. That makes sense, as all Germans are into techno and metal, and the biggest ever bands from that country are Kraftwerk and The Scorpions. It is perfectly serviceable with less Teutonic sounds, though.
The S is actually part of a whole range of multi-room speakers, all of which share the same Bauhaus look and sturm und drang sound. The magnificent Stereo M shown here, for instance. Hello, big boys!
Anyway, the ace up the One S's sleeve is that, thanks to sealed ports and a 230v two-prong plug, it can work in your bathroom. Although not, obviously, too near the bath as it's humidity-proof, not waterproof, and you don't want to be killed.
The One S doesn't really need to go too near the bath, thankfully, as the 50W Class D amp puts out a fearsome, yet distortion-free, racket that also sounds highly involving in non-bathroom settings.
The Raumfeld app supports Spotify and TuneIn, as well as pulling music from your phone or a NAS drive. It is not the greatest app you'll ever come across, but thanks to recently-added Chromecast support, Android and PC users in particular need never touch it again.
11. Ruark R2 Mk 3
Best retro radio with streaming support
Connectivity: Spotify Connect, DLNA, Bluetooth, analogue audio, FM/DAB radio, internet radio | Room size: Medium | Multi-room: Two can be paired
Ruark's retro system is a jack of all trades and a master of several.
You should think of it more as a really-great-sounding radio with streaming bolted on, rather than a Wi-Fi speaker like the others here.
It's beautifully made, encased in a hand-crafted wooden cabinet with a crisp OLED front display and robust 'RotoDial' controls on top. These are intuitive for the radio, not so great for network audio. There is also a blister-button remote, but it is… not good.
Still, it's easy enough to use Spotify Connect (or DLNA from your phone or PC), and braver users can even link two R2s together in the world's smallest multi-room system.
The main selling point of the R2 is its sound, which, like its look, has a retro – or, more accurately, timeless – quality.
It's almost the diametric opposite of the Raumfeld, being competent in all areas but much happier with lighter sounds and – no surprise given Ruark's radio heritage – the human voice, both speaking and singing gaily. Tra-la!