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Bluetooth wireless speaker buying guide
Get better sound from your smartphone or tablet
Bluetooth speakers can enhance game and video soundtracks.
If you own a smartphone, you’re probably aware that your device isn’t just a phone – it’s a portable entertainment center. Albeit one with very tiny speakers. But Bluetooth, the wireless technology that connects your smartphone to your wireless headset can also let you enjoy the audio from your device through much better speakers. (And remember -- not just smartphones can take advantage of all the convenience Bluetooth offers. Tablets, portable game consoles, and even laptops can use Bluetooth to wirelessly connect to audio devices.)
Bluetooth vs. AirPlay®
First off, a little clarification: there’s some confusion about Bluetooth and AirPlay, the two common ways to stream audio content wirelessly from a smartphone or tablet. There are some distinct differences:
- Apple AirPlay is only broadcast from select Apple devices: iPhones®, iPods®, iPads®, and Macs®. Bluetooth is found in both Apple and Android™ smartphones and tablets, as well as many other portables and computers from various manufacturers.
- Apple AirPlay uses Wi-Fi® to steam a signal up to 300 feet. Bluetooth uses its own wireless technology to stream a signal up to 30 feet.
- Apple AirPlay can be streamed simultaneously from a single computer to multiple AirPlay-compatible speaker systems. Bluetooth can only be streamed from a single device to a single Bluetooth-compatible system. (AirPlay streamed from an iPhone, iPad, or iPod can also only be sent to a single compatible speaker system.)
And there’s one important similarity: Apple portables and laptops also have Bluetooth built in. So while you can only use AirPlay-compatible systems with Apple products, you can use Bluetooth-compatible systems with just about any portable – including Apple products.
Ultra-portable Bluetooth speakers might be small enough to slip into a pocket, yet they can produce surprisingly full sound.
Different speakers for different uses
The best way to determine which Bluetooth-enabled speaker system works for you is to consider how -- and where -- you want to enjoy better audio through your handheld device. Would you like a small speaker system to slip in your pocket so you can share your music with friends on the go? Like to hear the soundtrack of the video you're viewing on your tablet play through your home theater system? Do you want a system that can play high-quality sound files accurately? Do you need something sturdy for some rough-and-tumble activity?
Water- and shock-resistent Bluetooth speakers are great for outdoor adventures.
Bluetooth On the Go
There are many different ways to enjoy audio on the go. Some portable systems are designed to be as compact as possible. Although some are about the size of a large candy bar, they're designed to deliver high-quality sound.
Several also incorporate a microphone to enable hands-free conversations as speaker phones. And for those who are really on the go, there are models designed for active use, with shock-resistant and water-resistant casings. There are even models with solar panels for all-day recharging.
A high-fidelity Bluetooth speaker system's performance can approach that of a component system.
Bluetooth in the home
Increasingly, there are small, compact Bluetooth powered speaker systems designed for home use. They're not portable, but are quite easy to set up. And they're designed to deliver superior sound quality. Many accept apt-X® high-fidelity audio streaming, a form of Bluetooth that delivers a more detailed signal. But all are compatible with standard Bluetooth, ensuring that whatever version your portable device uses, you'll be able to play your music through the system.
Some portable Bluetooth speakers also perform well as home speakers.
Just want something simple for the bedroom, den, or office? You'll find plenty of quality systems to choose from.
Most laptops also come with Bluetooth capability. This can be a distinct advantage for the home office. Of course your laptop can use any of the systems mentioned above, but there is another class of products adopting Bluetooth technology — the computer speaker.
Rather than cluttering up your desktop with wires running from your computer to speakers, these speakers wirelessly connect to your laptop, letting you enjoy all the stored music, Internet radio, and online resources you can play through your PC.
Some Bluetooth systems have two seperate speakers, connected to each other by a power/audio cable.
Some systems feature two separate speakers for a more spacious stereo image. One speaker has a built-in amplifier and supplies power to the second via a cable. There are also single-unit systems that only use a power cable.
Either way, you can place these systems anywhere in the room, keeping your laptop untethered and free. Work on the couch and let the music play from the speakers on the bookcase.
And remember, just as you can use your Bluetooth-enabled laptop with any of the systems we've outlined above, you can also use your other portables with these Bluetooth computer speakers. So you can play music from your smartphone or tablet through those same bookshelf speakers after you're finished work.