Best Wireless Speakers of 2020
Best Standalone Home Wireless Speaker
Bose Home Speaker 500
If you're looking for a single speaker that is stylish, sleek, and at the touch of a button can flood your main living areas with rich sound, the Bose Home Speaker 500 is the best of the bunch. It eschews most Bose speakers' relatively bass-heavy sound profile for exceptional clarity that beautifully renders every single note. At the same time, it retains enough bass heft to anchor that clarity in a soundscape that makes pretty much every kind of music sound spectacular. Backing that up with the convenience of Bluetooth and WiFi connectivity, along with Alexa built-in, we believe this is a platform that can easily handle all of your musical needs.
Apart from the high list price, our only real issue with the Home Speaker 500 is that it doesn't nest into a multi-speaker system nearly as easily as comparable Sonos models. While this speaker can link to many of the newest offerings from Bose, it probably won't work with any Bose products you've purchased prior to the last year. If you are lucky enough to have compatible products, we've still found the Bose app to be far less intuitive than Sonos offers to manage multiple speakers. It is our top choice if you're looking for a single speaker to fill up your main living space, but we wouldn't recommend this speaker if you're looking to build a multi-speaker system.
Read review: Bose Home Speaker 500
Best Multi-Speaker System Centerpiece
If you're looking for a beastly, behemoth to anchor your multi-speaker system, look no further than the Sonos Five. This recently redesigned speaker offered both the loudest sound and best quality in our testing, earning it top marks in fullness, bass power, and overall clarity. We also like how it nests perfectly within the Sonos ecosystem, the system that we feel is the best and most convenient platform for building and managing a multi-speaker system.
One downside is, like all Sonos speakers, this model lacks Bluetooth connectivity. Although this isn't a dealbreaker in most instances, it is somewhat frustrating that you can't wirelessly hook a laptop up to the speaker when watching Netflix (Apple users can work around this with AirPlay). Also, the top-shelf sound does come at a hefty price. Finally, this new speaker is one of the company's first that is not compatible with its older models. The only non-compatible devices are from the very early days of the company and thus shouldn't affect most customers, but if you do own older Sonos products, you'll want to check to make sure they are compatible with the new Five. Overall, if you are willing to pay a premium for best-in-class sound quality and can make do without a Bluetooth connection, the Five definitely deserves a place in your living room.
Read review: Sonos Five
Best Bang for the Buck
Sonos One SL
The Sonos One SL boasts exceptional clarity, direct WiFi streaming from music services, and decent bass power given its small size, all for a below-average price. Plus, it can seamlessly connect to the larger symphony of Sonos speakers that are currently available, which is, in our opinion, the best multi-speaker ecosystem currently on the market. That's not to say this speaker isn't great on its own. We found it to be a great standalone musical companion as well as plenty loud for the average apartment or living room. This speaker can also work in conjunction with Google Home and Alexa smart devices. If you want a virtual assistant built-in, you can upgrade to the Sonos One for just a bit more. This offers the same acoustics and aesthetics but with an array of microphones to facilitate all of your conversations with Alexa.
The lack of Bluetooth connectivity is the most obvious limitation of the One SL. Luckily for Apple users, it does offer AirPlay compatibility to easily beam the audio from Netflix binges or YouTube videos to the speaker over their WiFi network. Android users, however, will be limited to the streaming services that work within the Sonos App. While this includes most services on the market, the inability to play the audio from videos or locally stored mp3's may be frustrating for some Android users. Additionally, while not especially weak, the One SL's bass isn't exactly thumping either. However, overall we still think the One SL is one of the best and price-conscious ways to bring high-quality music into your home.
Read review: Sonos One SL
Best Bass Power for the Buck
Bose Home Speaker 300
In general, when you start to minimize a speaker's size and/or price, the first thing you lose is the bass power. The Bose Home Speaker 300 manages to buck that trend, boasting a compact stature and a relatively benign price tag but still pumping out a powerful and rotund low-end. This speaker's volume also belies its size — it had no trouble filling large spaces with thumping sound in our testing. To top it all off, you can play music via Bluetooth, over WiFi, through the auxiliary audio jack, or via AirPlay.
While in the broader world of smart speakers, the Bose Home Speaker 300 is on the cheaper end of things, it is still slightly more expensive than some of its more bass-impaired budget brethren (turns out you can't get the bottom end for rock bottom). Additionally, the Home Speaker 300 can only be paired with other members of Bose's pricier smart speaker lineup, not its more budget-friendly older offerings. However, these are minor downsides for those looking to get powerful bass without breaking the bank.
Best for Indoor/Outdoor Use
Once you become accustomed to the harmonious tones of a high-end home speaker, it can be a sobering disappointment that said speaker can't accompany you into the backyard during nice weather. We found the Sonos Move solves that problem with its internal battery that provides up to 10 hours of wireless listening enjoyment. It sounds great and looks handsome when sitting on its charging dock in your living room, and then can easily be moved into the backyard to provide a dulcet soundtrack for volleyball games and barbeques. It even sports IP56 water/dust resistance, meaning it can shed pool splashes and rain showers without harm. If your WiFi doesn't quite reach into your backyard, this is the only Sonos speaker that offers Bluetooth connectivity, allowing you to beam music directly from your phone to the speaker sans WiFi network. Plus, it has built-in Alexa and Google Assistant.
The price of the Sonos Move is the speaker's clear drawback — you'll have to pay more for its convenient indoor/outdoor abilities. The battery also makes it both significantly larger than comparable hard-wired speakers and relatively heavy — it tips the scales at 6.6 pounds. Therefore, while it makes the trip to the backyard with ease, it probably won't accompany you on any beach trips or picnics. For those that demand great sound in a speaker that can follow them outside, we think the best option on the market is the Sonos Move.
Read review: Sonos Move
Why You Should Trust Us
We consulted with audio recordist Palmer Taylor in designing the sound quality testing procedure for this review. Palmer has completed numerous audio recording projects, with most focusing on location audio. Since 2005 he has worked with a long list of impressive clientele, including Google, National Geographic, and Animal Planet, just to name a few. Serving as authors and testers for this review, Steven Tata and Max Mutter have led TechGearLab's audio reviews since early 2016. As a result, they've used and tested nearly 200 of the most compelling consumer audio products on the market.
We researched more than 50 wireless speakers for your home before selecting the most compelling to be brought into our testing lab. As always, we bought all of our speakers at retail prices. To ensure unbiased reviews, we never accept free samples from any manufacturers. We then put them through exhaustive, side-by-side sound quality tests. Once we'd found the most (and least) sonorous, we played music through each from every possible source, including over WiFi, via Bluetooth, and through audio cables to identify any user-friendliness issues. To the same end, for all of the speakers that support syncing within a multiple-speaker system, we used them as such in multiple configurations. We also used each speaker in numerous homes and various rooms to get a sense of how well the sound carries in different environments.
Related: How We Tested Wireless Speakers
Analysis and Test Results
The ubiquity of music streaming services has turned our smartphones into the main device for people to get their music. That being the case, people are mostly using earbuds or headphones to listen to said music. Home wireless speakers make it easy and seamless to fill your home with music beamed through your phone.
We scored these speakers according to four different weighted metrics: overall sound quality, volume, general user-friendliness, and how simple they are to connect to the mobile devices through which many people consume media.
For those that don't mind spending more money for high-end sound, we think the Bose Home Speaker 500 and the Sonos Five offer the best performance for use as single and multi-speaker systems, respectively. If you're looking for a more wallet-friendly approach, we think the Sonos One SL and the Bose Home Speaker 300 offer good values for those seeking clarity and bass power, respectively, on a budget.
The most important aspect of any speaker is how it sounds, which is why the sound quality is the most heavily weighted metric in our scores. Sound quality is an inherently subjective thing, but after testing numerous audio products, we've realized that bass and treble quality, dynamic range (the volume difference between loud and soft notes), and overall clarity are the things that most people respond to when evaluating whether something sounds good. Thus, our testing focuses on listening to a wide range of music on our speakers, one right after another, and judging those four qualities. In the end, all of these speakers sound good, and we think most people would be pleased with even the lowest-scoring model. However, if you're willing to pay a bit extra for one of the top-scoring models, you can get exceptional sound.
If you don't mind paying more for premium sound, you can't go wrong with either the Bose Home 500 or the Sonos Five. Both earned top scores in our sound quality metric. These speakers deliver superb clarity and deep, rumbling bass. The Five is a bit bigger (and more expensive) than the Bose 500 and, in our opinion, produces a bit more bass power and a slightly fuller sound. Still, neither of these models will have any trouble filling your main living area with exceptional sounding tunes.
Two speakers fell just behind the top scorers in this metric. Both the Sonos Move and the Bose Home 300 sacrifice a bit of the top-end bass power compared to the larger models but maintain great clarity and good separation. This level of quality is particularly notable from the Move, as its battery allows it to be easily taken outside. The Bose Home 300 is also notable because it is far more affordable than all of the other models that earned such a high score in this metric.
A small step down from the Bose Home 300, both in terms of price and sound quality, is the Sonos One SL. These speakers sound quite similar in most aspects, but the Sonos One SL lacks just a bit of that punchy bass power in comparison. However, this speaker still has plenty of low end to round out an arrangement and create a full, engrossing sound.
Sonos and Bose offer some of the most accessible top-tier sound quality on the market, in our opinion. Still, that's not to say there aren't other brands in this space that are worth listening to. For example, while the Marshall Stanmore II lacks the near-perfect balance of bass and clarity that the top models possess, its guitar amp pedigree grants a certain brashness that particularly flatters classic rock.
While home wireless speakers are overall simple devices, certain features can be easier to use than others. This is particularly true if you want to link multiple speakers together. Having a separate remote control can also help you connect the speaker to a smart device like Alexa or Google Home. That way, you don't have to yell, "Alexa, volume up," twelve times when your favorite jam starts playing. We tested user-friendliness by using, tinkering, adjusting, and playing with all of our speakers side-by-side while paying close attention to how easy it was to complete both basic and more advanced tasks.
Smart Home Compatibility
Any speaker with a physical line input can generally be connected to a smart home device, though you may have to wake the speaker up periodically to make sure it's still on when you talk to your smart home device.
All Bose and Sonos speakers offer Alexa and Google Home compatibility that allows them to work seamlessly with any associated smart devices. Additionally, the Bose Home series and the Sonos Move feature Alexa and Google Home capabilities built right in. There is also an Alexa/Google Home version of the Sonos One SL available, the Sonos One.
The Marshall Stanmore II has Alexa built-in. You can also plug an Alexa-enabled device into the original Marshall Stanmore to turn it into a smart speaker.
Multi-Speaker Systems: Bose vs. Sonos
While a few different manufacturers offer speakers that can be synced together into a single system, Bose and Sonos both offer more multi-speaker options than most. In our opinion, these brands have been the most successful at creating pleasant user experiences.
For those that want to build a multi-speaker system, or at least want the option to, we think Sonos is the easiest way to go. The Sonos app offers an intuitive and streamlined way to manage multiple speakers and to do more advanced things like connecting a soundbar to speakers to create a true, 5.1 surround sound system. Additionally, almost all of Sonos' speakers are compatible with one another, so you rarely run the risk of getting a new speaker and realizing it won't play nice with your current speakers.
Bose has definitely stepped up their app game recently. However, even with these improvements, we still find it considerably easier to manage multiple-speaker systems on the Sonos app. Additionally, Bose has multiple families of speakers, and generally, speakers from one family can only work in conjunction with other speakers from that same family. For example, many speakers we tested just a year ago don't work with the newest family of speakers that have been released. Sonos, however, offers compatibility between all of the speakers they've ever made. This makes things much simpler and lessens the chance that the expensive speaker you buy now won't work in conjunction with newer offerings down the road.
New Sonos Compatibility Restrictions
In May of 2020 **Sonos*e, released new speakers that are not compatible with some of its oldest products for the first time. These newer speakers (including the Five) can only run with the new and improved S2 app, and some of the company's older products don't have enough processing power to keep up with said app. These older products generally were not the most popular, so this change hopefully won't affect too many customers. If you do own one of these products Sonos is offering a trade-in program where you can send in your older products and get a 30% discount on their upgraded versions. Additionally, all products made from here on out will only work with the S2 app, and thus will not be able to connect with the oldest, non-S2 compatible products. Bottom line, if you own one of these older products, you'll either have to upgrade or not use any of the company's newest products (or create two separate Sonos systems in your home, but having two groups of speakers that can't talk to one another kind of negates a lot of what makes Sonos great).
Viewed through the lens of single-speaker systems, we give Bose the edge in user-friendliness. This is mostly due to the simplicity and versatility of all Bose speakers' Bluetooth connection. This capability is somewhat of a glaring absence in most Sonos speakers. Additionally, most Bose speakers offer remote controls, which can be nice for quick volume adjustments. The vast majority of their functionality can be accessed without making an account and download an app.
Controlling everything through the app means you're always streaming music over your WiFi network by default, which does off some distinct advantages over using a direct speaker-to-phone Bluetooth connection. For instance, your music will never be interrupted when your phone dings with an alert, and WiFi is generally going to provide a slightly higher quality stream than Bluetooth would. Sonos does not include remote controls for any of its speakers, again requiring you to rely on the app.
Maximum volume probably won't be a serious consideration for the majority of speaker shoppers. Unless you live in a palatial mansion, all of the models we tested will easily be able to fill any single room in your home with sound. However, if you're throwing a party in your house and filling that space with a lot of sound-absorbing humans, you might start to notice a difference between the relative maximum volumes of different models. Our volume testing involved objectively measuring each speaker's maximum volume with a decibel meter, and subjectively evaluating how much sound quality deteriorated at higher volumes and how loud each model made our 600 square foot testing room feel.
The Sonos Five is the loudest of the speakers we tested. Its large size and powerful drivers allowed it to get uncomfortably loud in our testing room without sacrificing any sound quality.
The Bose Home Speaker 500, the Sonos Move, and the Marshall Stanmore II all received comparable scores in our volume testing. All of these speakers easily filled our large testing room with sound, even when there were a lot of sound-absorbing bodies hanging out. We highly doubt any of these speakers will leave anyone wanting for volume.
We also found the Bose Home 300 to be quite loud despite its relatively small stature. The Sonos One SL is just a bit quieter, but not by much. Both of these models seem to be plenty loud to keep an apartment or living room full of people entertained.
The more ways you can connect to a speaker, the more versatile it is. Obviously, for wireless speakers, a Bluetooth or WiFi connection is paramount. However, it can often be nice to have a physical line input for smart home devices whose software may not play nice with the speaker, or for those days when mysterious atmospheric conditions mess with your wireless networks. Having an app that can communicate with your speaker also allows for more customization of settings.
The Bose Speakers we tested provide the most options for connections. They offer a standard Bluetooth connection, and the Bose Music apps let you stream music over your WiFi network. This app, however, is quite finicky. Unless you're trying to manage a multi-speaker system, we suggest just defaulting to the Bluetooth connection. All of Bose's home wireless speakers have a 3.5mm auxiliary input. The Bose Home series also supports Apple AirPlay.
Most of Sonos connectivity is based on the Sonos app, which acts as a remote control for streaming music from the likes of Pandora, Spotify, or Amazon Music directly to the speakers through a WiFi or ethernet connection. Those with Apple devices can also beam music or other audio directly to the speaker. Sonos speakers, however, lack a Bluetooth connection, so Android and Windows users will have trouble doing things like watching Netflix while sending the audio to their Sonos system. The Move is one notable exception and is the first Sonos speaker with Bluetooth capability.
A great home speaker, or better yet, a group of great home speakers, can add ambiance and entertainment to your main living space, imbue friendly gatherings with joy and frivolity, and make getting ready for work in the morning just a bit more bearable. We hope our testing results have helped you find the perfect speaker for your needs and budget, so you can let the music seep into your soul.
— Max Mutter, Michelle Powell, and Steven Tata