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How to tell if a bluetooth speaker is any good

3 July 2018

There are a myriad of Bluetooth speakers on the market now, from very cheap to very expensive, but how can you tell if they are any good?

The sheer range of Bluetooth speakers on the market today is staggering. But it wasn't always this way - there was a time when Bluetooth wasn't really an option for music lovers. Those were the days of poor sound quality, rapidly draining batteries and a minuscule product marketplace.

Since then, both software and hardware have improved by leaps and bounds. New versions of the Bluetooth protocol and have brought with them higher resolution streaming. Newer models are better engineered for sound quality, promising longer battery lives and tough, stylish designs.

Is Bluetooth finally up to the audiophile's standard? We think so. But how can you tell if a speaker is actually any good or not? Well, if audio quality is your priority, we can help.

Planning

What's your budget? You could spend anything from around £10 to well over £500.

If you're looking around £10, you're probably not going to get the quality of sound you want, and if you're thinking of putting down £500,you could over-spend.

It may sound obvious, but a Bluetooth speaker you plan to place in a café will require different attributes to the one you take hiking with you. One model cannot possibly do everything.

Try before buy (if possible)

A little 'window shopping' for models goes a long way.

Test out different models with a bass heavy song that you know very well. Does it sound clear? Is the bass coming through? Turn the volume up, does it distort? Does the bass force the unit to move around the table? Compromise on sound now and you might regret it later.

Then look at the unit itself. Does it look and feel solid enough? Does the design agree with you? Trust your sense of style and your ears.

General rules

If you've already had long running, previous positive experience with a brand's speakers, there's a higher likelihood that the production quality of the model will meet your standards.

Better yet, look to see if they back your purchase with a warranty or no qualms returns policy, giving you a week or so to really put it through its paces at home. Just don’t do anything that would invalidate the warranty - that can be a costly mistake.

Also, don't just read the ad copy; check online review sites to get an idea of what other, impartial users make of the speaker.

1. Size vs audio quality

Whilst smaller speakers sound better and better these days, the old rule of thumb says that you trade off portability for audio quality.

2. Compare frequency responses

Frequency response is the range of sound that a speaker can reproduce. It’s usually given in a figure like ‘100Hz – 20,000Hz’. The larger the range of sound quoted for the speaker, the better.

3. Essential features

Since audio quality is your first priority, here are some technical features that relate to great sound. But, to reiterate our previous point, there really is no substitute for testing out a prospective speaker first.

4. Multiple speaker drivers

Some smaller Bluetooth speakers have only one speaker driver - which means that they cannot produce stereo sound. If you want to enjoy stereo recorded music properly, this is no good.

Make sure your prospective speaker has at least two drivers. This is usually not a problem for home speaker systems - which almost always contain multiple drivers, but can crop up with smaller, portable models.

Additional speaker drivers also help to minimise sound distortion as you raise the volume.

We'd be remiss not to give our Airsound technology a mention here. Unlike conventional stereo, where there is only a small 'sweet spot' in which you experience proper stereo, Airsound creates a perfect stereo image wherever you are.

We do offer Bluetooth enabled speakers; specifically the incredibly versatile all in one ONE P70W.

5. Subwoofers

And don't forget about the subwoofer - or indeed, the lack thereof.

Speaker units that don't have a dedicated subwoofer unit often fail to provide convincing low end, and whilst they may not sound 'tinny', they won't probably won't provide as much bass as you'd like.

6. Durability

Durability is important, whatever the use - but it is especially important if your speaker is going places. If you want 'hardy', look for tough materials, the use of shock absorbing materials such as rubber and silicone, and reinforcement around vulnerable areas, such as corners.

As well as the physical design of the device you can look out for the unit's Ingress Protection rating 'IP rating'.

An IP rating consists of two numbers. The first gives the unit's resistance to dust, the second, its resistance to water. The highest grade in the former is 6, the highest grade in the latter is 9. A unit theoretically rated at IP69 would be very, very tough indeed, whereas a unit at IP00? Not so much.

Optional features

Once you've established your device has the right sound for you, it's time to consider other features. Such other features, of course, will come down to what you want to actually use the speaker for.

Built in microphone / speakerphone function

If you're going to stream music from your phone, the ability to take calls on your Bluetooth speaker may come in very handy - especially if it's the kind of call you don't want to miss and you can't get to your phone.

Some speakers offer integrated controls, which allow you to answer and end a call on the speaker itself.

Battery life

Again, if you plan to take your speaker places, you want a reliable battery life. Some models last only a few hours, some claim to last up to a day.

When comparing battery life, it is best to use the model's estimated playing time, as oppose to the battery capacity (often given in milliampere hours or MaH). Some units will simply burn through battery faster.

Aux/3.5mm capability

Yes, you buy a Bluetooth speaker for its wireless capabilities, but aux capability as a backup is very useful for those times that Bluetooth fails you. Batteries are low, or you want to use a sound source that doesn't support Bluetooth.

Hopefully this will have given you some direction when considering a bluetooth speaker’s quality. We’re big fans of high fidelity sound here, so if you want to find a little more information on how to get the most out of your speakers, feel free to check out our articles here.

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