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Choosing speakers for your iPhone or iPad

Bluetooth, Apple AirPlay, Wi-Fi and wired

Ralph Graves is one of Crutchfield's blog editors, and part of the company's social media team. He writes about home audio/video gear, specializing in Apple-related and wireless technologies. Ralph holds a master's degree in music composition, and his works have been released on various labels. He's served as product manager for an independent classical and world music label, produced several recordings, and worked extensively in public broadcasting. Since 1984 he's hosted a weekly classical music program on WTJU, and is also active as a blogger and podcaster.

More from Ralph Graves

Cambridge Audio Minx Air 100

There are many ways to get the music, video soundtrack, or gaming sound effects from an Apple® iPhone®, iPad®, or iPod® touch to play through a speaker.

You could get a speaker with dock that connects your device to the speaker and charges it. If you’d rather not confine your wireless Apple device to a dock, there are home and portable wireless speaker systems.

Which option is for you? Read on.

At home

iPod speaker systems tend to be quite compact, making them a comfortable fit for just about any space. However, there are a few design features that make certain models better suited for some rooms.

Home office or den

Whether you're doing some serious telecommuting or just balancing the checkbook, music can make the task easier. A simple shelf system and your Apple portable are a great choice for a den, home office, or workshop. Most speaker docks fit comfortably in an office — on your desktop, bookcase,or filing cabinet. Shop speaker docks

Bose SoundDock XT speaker

The Bose® SoundDock® XT speaker keeps your iPhone charged even as it plays.

These systems are compact enough to fit on a side table or credenza, but offer full, clear sound. While some of the smaller speaker docks are best for "near field" listening, the larger and more powerful high-fidelity speaker systems can fill a whole room with sound.

Family room or living room

For the family room, a larger wireless powered speaker system may be what you need to fill the space with music. Some feature Apple AirPlay, which uses your home Wi-Fi® network. With AirPlay (see below), you can wirelessly stream music to the compatible speaker system from your iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, or your computer's iTunes music library. Shop AirPlay wireless home speakers.

Many powered wireless speaker systems have Bluetooth® built in (see below). With these speakers, you can stream wirelessly from your Apple portable, as well as an Android™ smartphone or table. It's a great option if both iOS and Android devices are regularly used in your home. Shop Bluetooth wireless home speakers.

If your family uses both Apple and Android portables, you still have choices. Some wireless home speakers come with both Apple AirPlay and Bluetooth. Shop wireless home speakers with both AirPlay and Bluetooth.

Bowers & Wilkins Zeppelin Wireless

Some powered home speakers, like the Bowers & Wilkins Zeppelin Wireless, have both AirPlay and Bluetooth built in.

Throughout the home

Virtually all multi-room audio systems let you stream music from your Apple portable. They also all offer free control apps so you can make your iPhone or iPad the remote control for the system. With a multi-room audio system, you can choose where the music plays. So you can stream music to the speaker in your room while a family member listens to something different in another room. Or you can have all the speakers play the same music — or select just the downstairs speakers to stream your iPhone's music to while upstairs housemates stream music from their own portables to their own speakers.

Sonos PLAY:1

Multi-room audio systems, like Sonos (pictured), let you use your iPhone or iPad as the system controller.

Shop multi-room audio systems

On the go

Power and playback time

Most portable wireless speakers have built-in rechargeable batteries. A few models are even solar powered for easy recharging at your next family picnic, beach trip, or other daytime adventure. Fully charged, most models will provide between five and ten hours of playback time. Some models can also provide backup power for your iPhone or iPad.

Bose SoundLink Mini Bluetooth speaker II

The Bose® SoundLink® Mini Bluetooth® speaker II and your iPhone is all you need for great sound just about anywhere.

Size and weight

Portable wireless speakers come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes. Some are truly tiny and weigh a pound or less — easy to toss in a purse or backpack for impromptu music on the go. Others are larger and more ruggedly built, and may weigh up to ten pounds or more. These models are great for providing music for a party, as they create a wide soundfield.

Larger systems often provide better sound quality and more bass than smaller models. And they usually have higher volume levels than ultra-portables.

Shop portable Bluetooth speakers

Connection options

ipod iphone ipad connections

Go Wireless

Apple AirPlay makes it a snap to listen to music stored on your device. It uses home Wi-F® network to let you access your computer's iTunes library through your iPhone or iPad, and stream selections from it through a compatible speaker. See our Intro to Airplay for more info.

Bluetooth is another wireless technology that's built into Apple portables. Unlike AirPlay, Bluetooth doesn't require a Wi-Fi network, making it ideal for on-the-go listening. Some Bluetooth-capable models also feature “talk” buttons, so that you can use it as a high-quality speakerphone system.

Comparing AirPlay and Bluetooth in iPod speaker systems




The range of your Wi-Fi Network

30 feet

Device compatibility

Apple devices only

Any mobile device that has Bluetooth audio streaming capability (A2DP)

Sound quality


Fair to good


Some models can be easily carried around the house, but most aren't small enough to take on the road

Some models are small enough for easy travel

Dock It

Some speaker systems include dock connectors that can accommodate your iPhone or iPad.

Use the headphone jack

Although it may not seem as high-tech as the other connection routes, using your device’s headphone jack opens up some additional options, such as hi-fi desktop speakers. These systems are primarily designed for use with desktop computers and laptops. Usually these systems can be connected to the computer through its headphone jack. And you can connect your Apple portable to such a system the same way. You’ll likely need to provide your own stereo minijack cable to connect your device.

Audioengine A2+

Computer speakers, such as the Audioengine A2+can connect to your laptop, iPhone, or iPad through the headphone jack.

These systems can offer true stereo separation for better imaging — placing the speakers a few feet apart creates the illusion that the band you're listening to is playing right in front of you. Plus, if you own an older iPod or iPod touch that doesn't have wireless capability, you can still enjoy great audio with your device. Shop computer speakers.

Last updated March 17, 2017

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