Skip Navigation

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® SoundTouch®, Bluesound, Denon HEO, 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. Call, email, or chat with us today.

  • Luvo from Cape Town

    Posted on 3/15/2018

    So when you stream your music via Bluetooth, is the sound output from your speaker the one from your smart device? Is there no possibility that the smart device (e.g. a phone) may push the audio file to the receiver to play?

  • lexie

    Posted on 12/12/2017

    The primary role of technology mainly evolved in improving the home audio quality. The primary advantage of Bluetooth over other wireless devices is that Bluetooth can be used for a valuable distance.

  • John from Erie

    Posted on 6/19/2017

    I have a blue tooth connection to a Bose speaker that is 10 feet away and still sometimes I lose sound of I'm standing in the way. Blue tooth range stinks in my experience.

  • jim miller from ferndale

    Posted on 5/22/2017

    this dose not help most of that are nearing the 60 mark and over.

  • Alex from philadelphia

    Posted on 1/12/2017

    the answer is clear in the specs mentioned. WiFi has wider bandwidth and greater bit rate. These add up to better fidelity. however, if you're happy with bluetooth, go for it.

  • Jared from Nashville

    Posted on 12/17/2016

    Amazed that they didn't answer the question that is the title of the article!

  • Charlie from Pitkin

    Posted on 11/29/2016

    I tried a nice quality Bluetooth speaker system on a PC with my digital music collection along with my wifi home network. Found that there apparently is a conflict problem between the two because wireless network activity caused the Bluetooth sound to break up and become jerky. When I hardwired the same speakers the problem went away. This seems to me to be a serious drawback to Bluetooth sound.

  • chloe from bentile

    Posted on 11/29/2016

    I need more info you didn't give much but thanks for that.

  • chloe from bentile

    Posted on 11/29/2016

    I need more info you didn't give much but thanks for that.

  • David Gatzen from North Hills

    Posted on 11/24/2016

    Under Bluetooth you wrote "Data transmission: 1-way - can receive data" This is not correct, because many Bluetooth devices like headphones have both speakers, and a microphone. The speakers receive data, and the microphones transmit data to your phone, or other device.

  • Simon S. from Delray Beach, FL

    Posted on 10/25/2016

    You can try with the chromecast audio, it only costs $35 and it will get the job done.

  • Spectrewriter from Portland, OR

    Posted on 9/25/2016

    Not a word said about the quality of the sound transmission or even what factors come into play?

  • Michael Hoffman from Port Saint Lucie

    Posted on 6/10/2016

    Galen; Go with USB. That will do a direct lossless transfer of the file you have on your player VS worrying about the pre-amps in your 1/8th inch output. Best!

  • rob vazquez from Chicago

    Posted on 5/31/2016

    Flash drive IMO more storage and if someone steals drive no lost.A ipod or even putting music on a phone your taking up storage on that device.

  • Galen from Las Vegas, NV

    Posted on 5/19/2016

    I have a new car with USB and Aux ports. What would be the best device to use to play music libraries? Flash drive, Ipod touch, cell phone? Thank you

  • George Ragovis from Washington

    Posted on 5/12/2016

    There are also receivers which can stream through Bluetooth and may have a large number of connected speakers

Great Gear Giveaway

THE

GREAT GEAR GIVEAWAY

Ask an expert advisor

No pressure, no commission — just lots of good advice from our highly trained staff.

Find what fits your vehicle

 
 
 
 

Can't find your exact vehicle?