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How We Tested Home Wireless Speakers

Thursday November 15, 2018

How do you find the best home wireless speakers? It starts with hours of research to find the most compelling products on the market. Then you buy the best ones, listen to every style of music imaginable until your ears are ringing. Then, to give the ears a rest, you try to connect every device under the sun to said speakers to test their connectivity and compatibility.

We divided all of our tests into four different testing metrics, assigning a different weighting to each based on each metrics importance to overall performance and user experience.

Sound Quality


The first thing you notice about any speaker is how good it sounds. Accordingly, sound quality comprised the lion's share of our scoring at 40%. To test sound quality we listened to a wide range of music, everything from bass heavy rock anthems and movie soundtracks to acoustic numbers to podcasts and talk radio, on every single speaker, one right after another. This allowed us to assess each speakers clarity, bass quality, and dynamic range in a comparable, side-by-side manner.

Our sound quality testing involved lots of side-by-side listening.
Our sound quality testing involved lots of side-by-side listening.

Sound quality is an inherently subjective thing, so it can be hard to quantify. We've tested a number of audio products (Bluetooth speakers and earbuds, wireless headphones, sound bars, turntables…) and through it all we've found that quality bass, good clarity and a wide dynamic range are the things that most people agree make something sound good. Therefore we focused our scoring on those characteristics. We also made a video of all of our speakers playing the same song, one right after the other, so our readers can make judgements for themselves as well.

User Friendliness


Outside of sound quality, the ease with which you can unlock your phone and get music pumping through a speaker is the most important and notable aspect of a home wireless speaker. This metric comprised 20% of our scoring, and was assessed through the 'wireless speaker olympics.' This involved having a number of different testers complete series of tasks with each speaker, including (where applicable) connecting via Bluetooth, connecting via WiFi, adjusting settings like bass and treble levels, and connecting multiple speakers into a single network. As each tester did this they kept careful notes as how easy/difficult it was to complete each task, and we turned those notes into scores. We generally gave speakers a bump up in scoring if they had capabilities that other speakers did not, unless those capabilities were particularly difficult to access or use.

To test user friendliness we examined every aspect of each speaker's user interface  right down to the remote control.
To test user friendliness we examined every aspect of each speaker's user interface, right down to the remote control.

Volume


For those that like their music played loud and proud, we also tested the volume capabilities of each speaker. This again comprised 20% of our scoring. To test this we first cranked each speaker as loud as they would go without compromising sound quality. Then we played the same 30 seconds of the same song on each speaker, holding a decibel meter 10 feet from the speaker. We then recorded the highest reading the decibel meter registered in that 30 second period for each speaker.

This was only a starting point, as we've found that decibel readings don't always correspond to how loud a speaker is actually perceived to be. Also, all of the decibel readings were fairly close to one another (all falling between 75 and 85) while we felt like some speakers sounded much louder than other ones. Therefore we did another more subjective experiment, where we had a number of different testers listen to each speaker in our 600 square foot testing room. Each tester than scored each speaker for how loud it sounded to them.

Speakers creating a wall of sound for our volume testing.
Speakers creating a wall of sound for our volume testing.

Connectivity


For this metric we simply rated each speaker based on how many different ways one can connect to it (Bluetooth, WiFi, audio jack, etc.). The more connection avenues, the more versatile the speaker, and the higher the score. This made up 10% of our scoring.