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Wi-Fi vs. Bluetooth for streaming music

Which wireless audio format is best?

WiFi and Blootooth logos

For wireless home audio, there used to be two mutually exclusive options: Bluetooth® or Wi-Fi®. Each technology had its merits, each offering a different type of wireless streaming.

Increasingly, wireless home gear comes with both Bluetooth and Wi-Fi built-in. However, there are different flavors of Bluetooth. And speakers with Wi-Fi are definitely not created equal. Read on to discover what suits your needs best.

Bluetooth or Wi-Fi: what's the difference?

Here's the biggest difference: With Bluetooth, you stream music from your phone to a speaker. A Wi-Fi speaker accesses music from the internet, or from a computer on your home network.

You can control a Wi-Fi speaker with your smartphone. You just have to stay within range of your Wi-Fi router's signal. The music keeps playing if you take a call or wander into another room.

With a Bluetooth speaker, your phone (or other Bluetooth device) has to stay within the range of the speaker (just 30 feet or so with most speakers).

Bluetooth for simplicity and portability

Bluetooth makes a direct link between two devices. Wi-Fi requires a router to connect the devices. That makes Bluetooth ideal for wireless portable speakers.

Several bluetooth speakers, in assorted shapes and colors, beside a swimming pool.

Bluetooth speakers are easy to use. No network is required, so there's no log-in or setup procedure, just a simple phone-to-speaker pairing process.

Some Bluetooth speakers can be simultaneously paired with two or more devices. But those paired devices still have to take turns streaming to the speaker, which can only accept one signal at a time.

High-resolution Bluetooth: aptX® and Bluetooth 4.0

To meet the demand for better audio quality, new Bluetooth protocols were developed. These new protocols, under ideal conditions, can deliver near-CD quality sound. Both the streaming device and the receiving speakers use the same protocol. So, for example, both your smartphone and your speaker must have Bluetooth aptX built-in in order to enjoy its benefit.

If only one of the two devices has it, you can still stream via Bluetooth. The Bluetooth aptX device simply defaults to standard low-res Bluetooth. The same happens Bluetooth 4.0 devices.

Bluetooth audio adapter with home stereo system

Have powered speakers or a stereo system with no wireless capability? You can get a Bluetooth adapter.

The two most common types of high-resolution Bluetooth are aptX and Bluetooth 4.0. Bluetooth aptX can deliver near-CD-quality sound with a compatible speaker. It has a range of about 30 feet.

Bluetooth 4.0 delivers high-resolution sound in a different fashion. Bluetooth 4.0 devices can have a range of up to 98 feet.

These formats are often found in high-performance home Bluetooth speakers. They’re also used in high-performance wireless Bluetooth headphones.

Wi-Fi speakers

Wireless speaker systems offer a compact alternative or supplement to a receiver-based audio system. Some are even capable of playing high-resolution music files or streams.

Wi-Fi also serves as the backbone for wireless multi-room audio systems.

Wireless multi-room systems can play different songs in different rooms. Or they can all play the same the music. You can control the volume or music selection from anywhere in your home.

Many wireless multi-room systems are closed, meaning every speaker in your system must be from the same brand. You can mix and match speakers from brands that use the DTS Play-Fi system. Our article on multi-room audio systems gives you more detailed information.

Home theater receivers use Wi-Fi to let you stream music from your computer or media server. This gives your receiver access to high-resolution audio.

Wi-Fi speaker sitting under window in home

Most Wi-Fi speakers aren't truly portable. They plug into an AC outlet for power. But they're much easier to move about than a traditional stereo system.

Multi-room audio plus Bluetooth — where the lines blur

Many multi-room audio systems also have Bluetooth. This lets you stream music from your smartphone or tablet. The receiving device converts the Bluetooth signal to send it to other speakers in the system. You can find built-in Bluetooth in Bose®, Bluesound, Denon HEOS, and Yamaha MusicCast systems, among others.

Bose SoundTouch 10 on kitchen counter

This speaker has Wi-Fi and Bluetooth.

Questions?

Our expert Advisors can help you choose the Wi-Fi and Bluetooth speakers that best meet your needs. Contact us today.

  • Mike

    Posted on 5/6/2020

    its said to see that technology has changed/degraded the full on STEREO experience so much. MP3's were bad enough losing the bass and airy-ness but then you go push an mp3 through a bluetooth mono speaker and its a double whammy to the overall sound quality. I'll take an old boombox with a cd in it over all of the mono or supposed stereo mp3 speakers all day.

  • Mike from Rochester NY

    Posted on 5/6/2020

    its said to see that technology has changed/degraded the full on STEREO experience so much. MP3's were bad enough losing the bass and airy-ness but then you go push an mp3 through a bluetooth mono speaker and its a double whammy to the overall sound quality. I'll take an old boombox with a cd in it over all of the mono or supposed stereo mp3 speakers all day.

  • Beth Kearley from Johnstown PA

    Posted on 4/24/2020

    Is it possible to connect 2 portable wireless Bluetooth speakers to a stereo receiver , which is then connected to a phone to play an app like Sirius or Pandora? The receiver has Bluetooth and connect up to 20 things. The receiver is a Sharp CD-BH20 Micro component system. The speakers are OontZ Angle 3 ULTRA. Each plays and pairs easily with my phone but can't get the speakers to pair with the receiver.

  • Thomas Smart from Tallahassee

    Posted on 2/23/2020

    This article needs an ending or conclusion. Seems to end abruptly.

  • Alan Margossian from East Brunswick, NJ

    Posted on 10/5/2019

    I'm researching different portable speakers and torn between Bluetooth and WiFi I would like WiFi so I have future flexibility but one must have is Stereo. The Bose Revolve+ is Bluetooth and has Stereo capability with 2 speakers. I am considering 2 of the NEW Bose portable Home Smart Speakers with Bluetooth and WiFi . The problem is this brand NEW Bose Smart speaker does not have Stereo. Does anyone know why Bose would come out with a new speaker that has Bluetooth and WiFi but not Stereo if you invest in 2 speakers. This new speaker is supposed to be a step up from the Revolve+.

  • OB from Houston

    Posted on 8/20/2019

    There is an evident mistake in the description how devices are connected via Wi-Fi. You'll need a router only in you want to send data to another subnet and it is also no very difficult to make a point-to-point connection between a speaker and a phone. The most typical scenario is phone-switch-speaker.

  • Despard 4797 way from Adamsville 4846 pkwy

    Posted on 8/16/2019

    david 1186 st

  • TC from Aurora

    Posted on 3/21/2019

    in comparison of two items, use which one is better (the comparative ) ,,, if three or more in the comparison , use the superlative: best

  • SB20 from Naples

    Posted on 10/7/2018

    I think the biggest advantage of Bluetooth is portability. For home use, you use either and to most people, the sound is too close to discern the difference. If you need to place connected speakers throughout the house, then WiFi is King.

  • OceanDragon from Oxnard

    Posted on 9/24/2018

    One cannot just mix and match equipment, either with Bluetooth or wi-fi. Low end bluetooth speakers usually do not use bluetooth codec aptx, aptx-LL or aptHD. Both the sending and receiving devices have to be compatible. Most people think bluetooth is bluetooth. When paired properly it is possible to get near 100 ft range of near CD quality sound. Please do your homework prior to investing in just any speaker. Marketing is what will entice many. Even Amazon has a page of approved speakers to pair with the Alexa devices.