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Lead image

How to choose the best Wi-Fi speakers

Sonos vs Bose and other top brands

Wi-Fi® speakers are the building blocks for wireless multi-room audio systems. You can start with one speaker, and then keep adding more until you've filled your home with music.

You can use your phone to control the speakers. Play different music in each room or the same music in all rooms.

Sonos is the leading brand in multi-room audio but is by no means the only one. Bose, Yamaha, Denon, Bluesound, and SVS are just some of the audio companies that offer quality wireless systems.

Features to look for

Voice control: some systems have Amazon Alexa or Google Assistant built in. A few have both.

With Alexa or Google Assistant, you can not only control your multi-room audio system with your voice but also any compatible smart home devices.

DTS Play-Fi wireless audio technology: Play-Fi is a system used by several different manufacturers, such as SVS. It allows you to mix and match speakers and components from those brands into a multi-room audio system.

And there are Amazon Alexa-enabled Play-Fi devices, giving you voice control over your custom system. Our DTS Play-Fi article has additional information on how this setup works.

Apple® AirPlay® 2: If you own an iPhone® or iPad®, Apple AirPlay 2 lets you make them the center of your multi-room audio system The iOS device streams the music, and functions as the system's controller.

You can mix and match speakers and components that have Apple AirPlay 2 built in. If you have a subscription to Apple Music, you can ask Siri (through your iPhone or iPad) to select music with voice commands. Our article on Apple AirPlay 2 has additional information about this technology.

Google Chromecast built-in: This wireless system is controlled through the Google Home app. This app is a free download from both Google Play and the Apple® App Store. You can wirelessly stream the same song to one or more Google Chromecast built-in devices — even from different manufacturers.

Bluetooth®: Virtually all multi-room wireless systems feature some form of Bluetooth. Most let you stream music from your smartphone or tablet to one speaker. Some can take that incoming Bluetooth signal and distribute it to play through system speakers in other rooms.

Our top multi-room wireless systems

Sonos One wireless speaker

Sonos wireless hi-fi system

Sonos offers seamless and simple whole-home audio, and wireless surround sound, too. You can integrate your existing audio system (including a turntable) into the Sonos network. Trueplay automatically fine-tunes Sonos speakers to sound best in your listening rooms (Trueplay works with iOS devices only).

Gear choices:

Voice control: Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant built-in

Compatible with: Apple AirPlay 2, Bluetooth (with Sonos Move)


Bose Smart Home Speaker 500

Bose® Smart Home Family

The Bose® Smart Home Family brings legendary Bose® sound to wireless multi-room audio. The speakers feature top-mounted preset buttons. You can easily play music from your favorite sources — without needing a smartphone or controller.

Gear choices:

Voice control: Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant built-in

Compatible with: Apple AirPlay, Bluetooth, Google Chromecast


Yamaha sound bar detail

Yamaha

Yamaha MusicCast technology is integrated into a wide range of audio products, including home theater and stereo receivers. You'll have more options for system expansion. MusicCast products support Bluetooth, and they can send the Bluetooth stream to other rooms.

Gear choices:

•    powered speakers (can be paired for stereo)
•    receivers, preamps and processors
•    sound bars
•    streaming amp
•    streaming preamp
•    turntable with phono preamp built-in

Voice control: Amazon Alexa (through connected Echo device), Google Assistant (through connected Google Home device)

Compatible with: Apple AirPlay 2, Bluetooth


Denon Home 250 wireless speaker

HEOS built-in by Denon

HEOS built-in is the wireless technology found in Denon and Marantz products. This means you can use components and speakers from both in the same system. Some speakers have a USB port that can access high-resolution music from a flash drive. You can stream that music throughout the HEOS built-in system. A great option for sharing playlists from friends and visitors.

Gear choices:

Voice control: Amazon Alexa (through Amazon Echo device)

Compatible with: Apple Airplay 2, Bluetooth


High-fidelity audio streaming systems

Looking for a streaming solution that offers an even higher level of sound quality? The following multi-room systems are designed with your needs in mind. Do you subscribe to a high-resolution streaming service or have a collection of high-res audio files? Make sure the system you choose is compatible.

Bluesound sound bar

Bluesound wireless multi-room audio

Bluesound was made for streaming high-resolution audio files from your computer, media player, or online sources. Bluesound (from the folks who bring you NAD electronics and PSB speakers) can stream files with up to 24bit/129kHz without compression. The system also supports MQA (Master Quality Authenticated) audio technology.

Gear choices:

Voice control: Amazon Alexa

Compatible with: Apple AirPlay 2, Bluetooth

High-res file support: FLAC, MQA, WAV, AIFF


Bowers & Wilkins Formation Flex Wireless Speaker

Bowers & Wilkins Formation

The Bowers & Wilkins Formation wireless system was made for high-resolution audio. It can stream up files up to 23-bit/96kHz in full resolution. One-microsecond syncing between in-room speakers virtually eliminates latency for precise sound reproduction.

Gear choices:

Voice control: None

Compatible with: Apple AirPlay 2, Bluetooth

High-res file support: FLAC, WAV, AIFF, ALAC


McIntosh wireless speaker

McIntosh

McIntosh wireless multi-room audio components deliver audiophile sound quality. Their MB50 network audio streamer features analog and digital audio inputs, headphone jack, and balanced stereo XLR output. It can be used as the preamp for a high-end stereo system.

Gear choices:

Voice control: Amazon Alexa (through Amazon Echo device)

Compatible with: Apple AirPlay 2, Bluetooth, DTS Play-Fi

High-res file support: FLAC, WAV, AIFF, ALAC


Popular questions

Can I use my own stereo speakers in a wireless system?

Look for an amplified streaming component or player with the Wi-Fi link built in. The Sonos Amp and the Denon HEOS Amp are two good examples. Want to get your existing stereo system into the mix? Some brands offer streaming music players that can connect to the aux input of your receiver, such as the Bluesound NODE and McIntosh MB50.

Can I play my vinyl records through Wi-Fi speakers?

If you choose a speaker or component that has an analog RCA stereo input, you can connect a turntable (so long as it has a built-in phono preamp.) Then you can play your records through any or all of the speakers in your multi-room audio system. The Yamaha RX-V6A home theater receiver and the Sonos Port both have this feature.

Sonos Port with a turntable on top of a cabinet.

Use the Sonos Port to incorporate your turntable into your wireless multi-room audio system.

Will my home network support a house full of wireless speakers?

You’ll need high-speed internet and a pretty good Wi-Fi router — one that provides a strong wireless signal in every room you want to place a speaker in. To learn more, read our wireless router buying guide.

More questions?

Our expert Advisors can help. Contact us today for free, personalized advice. Free lifetime tech support is included with every Crutchfield purchase.

  • Sarah

    Posted on 11/2/2020

    Nice

  • Rajat Chauhan from CARY

    Posted on 11/13/2018

    Hi, first off, very nice writeup..good job there. Can you please recommend a replacement under 1500$ for my JBL L16. My use us for living room with occassional dance parties in an area of 30 * 15. I feel JBL lacks feel during such parties and sound feels insufficient, otherwise its a great speaker. So far, only Naim muso seems to be something with higher wattage (450 vs 300), but am curious if anything else is out there that I'm not aware off. And yes, it has to be a wireless(wirefree ) option. Thanks much

  • Sonny Canterbury from Glenwood Springs

    Posted on 9/9/2017

    My church is looking for a system that will get its feed from our Presonus sound board and be broadcast to powered speakers in various locations up to 300 feet away inside the building. Any suggestions?

  • David Taylor from Salt Lake City

    Posted on 7/24/2017

    This review seems incomplete with including Apple's AirPlay. It is a multi-room, multi-vendor option. I have been running it from a Windows 2012 Server with iHomeServer (a $50 software program that runs iTunes run as a service so it's always on and provides lots of other features for web interface, streaming, etc) going to Yamaha Aventage receiver, Denon N7, as well as AppleTVs and a couple AirPort Expresses for quick-n-dirty speaker connections.

  • Adam B from boston

    Posted on 7/14/2017

    My multi room audio journey has gone from: Airplay --> Sonos --> Bluesound over the past three years. Airplay was dropping out on me all the time, even when I'd set up additional Airport Expresses (by CAT5) to extend range, I couldn't get it to play reliably from the top floor of my townhouse. That brought me to Sonos, which was a BREEZE to set up and sounded quite good, but then I got into HiRes audio and MQA, which had me return my Sonos kit for Bluesound Bluesound is a pain to setup and the Apps to control music are not as intuitive as Sonos, BUT... the sound quality of their equipment is unmatched. They use audiophile quality DACs, they use PSB speakers and they use NAD amp technology. You really sound the difference AND you get to have the upward compatibility of HiRes/MQA. Right now I control the system with Roon, which is fantastic and should be considered by anyone with Sonos or Bluesound equipment. Perhaps within a year or so I'll be using Siri and HomeKit... I noticed Bluesound's logo associated with the AirPlay2 protocol. We shall see!

  • Juan Pablo

    Posted on 2/18/2017

    2 words... Chromecast Audio!

  • Steven from Philadelphia

    Posted on 1/6/2017

    I love Sonos - and the gen 2 Play:5 has great sound. It works so well and the app is easy to use and reliable. Before I tried Sonos, I tried PlayFi (had a Klipsch RSB-14 playbar, 2 "The Three" speakers and 1 Klipsch PowerGate for in wall speakers in my bathroom). It was a nightmare - constant problems with speakers not showing up, Spotify Connect speaker groups being separate from the other speaker groups (and disappearing every time you put your phone down and looked at the app again). Sonos on the other-hand has been working perfectly since day one. If you want to listen to music from many sources and want to create a whole house wireless system, I really can't imagine that you'd be disappointed with Sonos - especially if you pair it with a Spotify Premium account. Just waiting to pay down my credit card so I can add a couple more speakers and I'll be set for quite a few years.

  • Howard from Tampa

    Posted on 12/8/2016

    Started out with Squeezebox. Had it for 2 years. It worked some of the time... Broke down and got the Sonos. Never been happier. Three Zones, including outdoor lanai, running perfectly for three years. It just works.

  • Paul G from DC

    Posted on 10/23/2016

    Agree on both counts Robert Richter. I've just replaced my squeezebox setup running through a Musical Fidelity DAC with Bluesound Node 2 (purchased from Crutchfield). I had internet radio up and running in seconds but couldn't get it to read my lossless media library. The issue turned out to be I hadn't updated my Apple OS. Once I did that it has been seemless. The Bluesound quality is simply superb!!

  • Robert J. Richter from North Reading

    Posted on 10/23/2016

    first, Sonos did not invent the wireless music system, Squeezebox, later purchased by Logitech was way ahead of them at least a decade. Second, I would rate Bluesound as one of the best systems out there, and you do not even mention them.