Bluetooth Or Network Speakers

To Bluetoothor Not to Bluetooth? May not be the question you find yourself asking, but it is one that I have been asked often and as such have spent plenty of time thinking about.

The reason most people don’t ask the question is they are not aware that there is any other option.  Networking Speakers being the major competition.

So, what are the differences between Bluetooth and Networking speakers?  The most obvious is that Bluetooth is (originally) a one-to-one connection with your device (like your mobile device to your hands-free kit), there have been some upgrades to allow up to two devices to talk via Bluetooth.  Whereas Networking is multiple devices all talking to each other whilst they do separate things, the same things or nothing at all (like the computers, mobile devices, smart TVs, and printer in your home).

These separate connection types also bring different pros and Cons to their respective speakers:

Range: for both connection types, range is affected by the environment, house construction material, number of people in the area, interfering radio waves, etc:

Bluetooth: 30ft (10m) approx.

Networking: 150ft (60m) indoors (this can be extended depending on the computer network, or the speaker brand being used).

 

Portability:

Bluetooth Speaker: generally, all Battery powered, making them fully portable

Network Speaker: generally, requires mains power at all times to work.  Some are small and therefore easy to relocate however the new location will still require mains power which makes it difficult to label them “portable”.  The Sonos Move and Roam are the notable exception and will be discussed latter.

 

Extraneous noise:

Bluetooth: When connected to a phone or tablet any noises that the device makes will come through the speaker, email/SMS notification and ringtone etc, and will interrupt the music you are listening to

Network: Typically, these devices talk directly to the source, Spotify, Deezer, Net Radio, meaning that the phone or tablet becomes a remote control and therefore separated from the speaker.  Meaning no extraneous noise will be passed through.

 

Sound Quality:

Bluetooth:  Due to the connection type all audio passed between the Mobile device and a Bluetooth speaker needs to be compressed.  This will always compromise your sound quality.  The amount of compression required has been lessened in recent years with upgrades to Bluetooth versions.

 

Network:  Due to the Bandwidth available with modern networks compression is no longer required with Networking speakers.  This increased bandwidth, coupled with the cost of storage coming down, has led to a rise in uncompressed formats (FLAC (Free Lossless Audio Codex) and ALAC (Apple Lossless Audio Codex) and more streaming sources offering a lossless format.  Tidal, Qobuz, Deezer and Spotify for example.

 

This leads us to “Who?”  What brands do which? 

Bluetoothspeakers are available pretty much everywhere, with varying degrees of quality from SoundCast and Bose to UE Boom and “the one that came in the Promo pack for the new *enter any purchase you recently made where they gave you a promo pack*”. 

SoundCasthave been specialising in Bluetooth speakers for decades and have a very comprehensive range.  The Bose Soundlink range of Bluetooth speakers have also been a good quality unit for a long time. 

Network speakers are not as prevalent but are starting to gain traction with the introduction of the Google assistant (Nest) products (Google Nest Mini, Nest Hub, Nest Audio) and Amazon Alexa Range (Echo Dot, Echo Show), however there are many Hi-Fi manufacturers that have been doing this style of speaker for over 10 years.  There is the Yamaha MusicCast Range (MusicCast 50), HEOS(Denon Home 150 / 250/ 350).  Sonos have been making network speakers for over 15 years in the stand alone range they have the Play:1,Play:5, Roam, and the Move.  It is worth noting that both the MusicCast and HEOS products also have Bluetooth in, and that all three Brands mentioned here also have other products that can link to their stand-alone speakers for a multi-room system within your household.


The Sonos Move and Roam give you the best of both worlds, as they are a portable network speaker with Bluetooth.  This allows you to move them freely around your house and stream your music via your computer network and the Sonos App.  Then when it’s time to hit the beach or down to the park, you can switch them over to Bluetooth and stream directly from your phone.

 

Where does this leave us?  Well, as my Mum used to say, it's “horses for courses”.  If you need a speaker to use while you are outside away from your computer network, then you look at Bluetooth Speakers.  If you need it for around your house and aren’t planning on moving it too often, you look at a Network speaker.  If you are thinking you need both or are just unsure then you can look at the Sonos Move, or Roam.

 

As usual, if you wish to discuss this topic more, or have any questions in general please do not hesitate to get in contact.

 

 

 

 

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