Wireless and Bluetooth loudspeakers have made enormous strides in the past few years and there is no shortage of high-end products to meet the budgetary needs of every music listener. Sonos have a commanding slice of the pie in this category and with the S2 app — it’s not hard to understand why. Consumers want usability and the best possible sound quality at a price that they can afford. Our selections for the best affordable wireless speakers offer both performance, flexibility, and a lot of value for the money.
Consumers want the ability to stream Spotify, Tidal, and Qobuz from their smartphones and tablets, and the process needs to be simple. Don’t tell people to pay $2,500 for your wireless loudspeakers if they need to use two apps to make it work. That doesn’t fly with consumers anymore.
Audiophiles are reluctant to go wireless unless the speakers can support Tidal Connect, Spotify Connect, Chromecast, or are Roon-Ready like the KEF LS50 Wireless II loudspeakers.
Sonos One SL
Sonos has made some serious improvements to the sound quality of its loudspeakers and it’s easy to understand why a lot of consumers consider them to be the best wireless loudspeakers. The issue with the Sonos One SL is that you’re not getting stereo sound with a single unit; we really don’t see the point of adding a Sonos-based system to your home if you’re not maximising their potential for better sound quality.
A stereo pair of Sonos One SL loudspeakers makes even more sense now with the announcement that you can stream hi-res (limited to 24-bit/48kHz) audio to them through the Sonos S2 app using Qobuz. Anything higher than that (24-bit/96kHz or 24-bit/192kHz) gets streamed at 16-bit/44.1, but there is a lot of new music available in 24-bit/48kHz and that’s a very positive step for Sonos. The One SL also work with Apple AirPlay 2. Sonos gets major points for having one of the best control apps of any wireless streaming product available.
The Sonos One SL will run you $398/pair and you can add a pair of dedicated stands for an additional $249. The Sonos One SL can also work as surround channels in a Sonos home theater system using the Arc soundbar as the front channels.
Vanatoo Transparent Zero
Vanatoo has flown under the radar for a number of years with its Transparent One Encore active loudspeakers, which are one of the best sounding active loudspeakers below-$1,000, but we really think that music listeners operating on a limited budget need to pay close attention to their Transparent Zero desktop loudspeakers which offer a lot more sound quality than you would expect for the price.
The Transparent Zero support Bluetooth aptX, include USB, optical, and analog inputs, and 4 x 48-watt per channel class D digital amplifier. The 4-inch aluminum woofer, 4-inch passive radiator, and 1-inch soft dome tweeter offer a full-range presentation with surprisingly deep bass response considering the size of the cabinet.
The angled baffle makes them work well on desktops and bookshelves and that should appeal to students or people who work remotely. The Transparent Zero are supplied with a remote control, magnetically attached grill covers, and isolation pads for your desk or credenza. The Vanatoo compete with Sonos in a very crowded segment and fall behind when it comes to the ability to control them with a dedicated app.
Bluesound Pulse Mini 2i
Bluesound’s range of wireless loudspeakers don’t get a lot of attention and that’s definitely a problem. PSB’s Paul Barton (sister brand) has always played an active role in the development of their wireless speakers and almost 50 years of engineering expertise is at play here with the Pulse Mini 2i.
The Pulse Mini 2i is almost the perfect wireless loudspeaker for a kitchen, office, or small bedroom because it’s so easy to setup, it delivers access to more steaming platforms than any other wireless speakers with the BluOS app, and it has a far more balanced sounding presentation than anything around the $500 asking price.
The desktop BluOS app is preferable to the one on my iPhone; the Sonos S2 app is still a better experience overall in that regard.
The Pulse Mini 2i can also be grouped with other Bluesound wireless speakers for a multi-room system and one can even use the Bluesound NODE network streamer as a hub if you want to run your home multi-room system that way.
DALI KATCH G2
Have you ever been so smitten by a component that you can’t stop listening to it? I’m currently dealing with that in regard to the DALI Katch G2 and it’s becoming slightly awkward. See our full review here.
The DALI Katch G2 supports Bluetooth aptX HD and includes a 3.5mm input jack for wired sources; including a phono preamp, CD player, or an external DAC.
The 30 hour battery life claim seemed a tad over zealous on the part of DALI but I’ve left it playing for days streaming from my both my MacBook Pro and an iPad with results that come very close to that number.
Has DALI outfoxed Bluesound, Bang & Olufsen, and even Sonus faber with the Katch G2? I think they have.
You can now pair two Katch G2 speakers to create a stereo pair and I dare to say that this might be the best portable wireless speaker right now below $1,000.
Q Acoustics M20 HD Wireless Speaker System
There will always be a market for high-end audio components but the future is clearly products like the Q Acoustics M20 HD Wireless Speaker System.
The $599 M20 HD Wireless Speaker system is similar in some ways to the Q Acoustics 3020i but with two big differences; more low end punch and a surprisingly larger sense of scale. Something that came in handy listening to Tchaikovsky, Dvorak, and Mozart.
The M20 isn’t designed for a huge listening space but it had zero difficulty filling my dining room, home office, and den with excellent sound; transparent, spacious, and stronger bass than I would have expected.
The Q Acoustics M20 offer aptX HD Bluetooth connectivity for wireless streaming of high resolution-quality audio from devices such as smartphones, tablets, laptops and network streamers; users can hear their favorite music streamed from popular music services such as Spotify, Tidal, Deezer, Apple Music, Amazon Music, Qobuz and YouTube.
The versatile M20 can also deliver sounds from a gaming console, TV, turntable, set-top box, CD player or even a DAP.
The M20 are powered by a built-in amplifier (class D) providing 130 watts of digital power, the 22mm tweeter is decoupled to minimize any internal vibrations that can adversely affect the audio, while the 125mm mid/bass driver and rear-firing reflex port in each speaker combine to deliver a fairly robust presentation.
PSB Alpha AM5
We’re huge fans of the passive PSB Alpha P5 (read our review) speakers and knew from the very beginning that the Canadian manufacturer would be adding a wireless active version in 2020. PSB, NAD, and Bluesound are all part of the same family and the PSB Alpha AM5 integrate technology from all 3 companies.
The Alpha AM5 is a powered two-speaker stereo system that features trickle-down acoustic technology from PSB’s most iconic speaker designs; the AM5 powered speaker includes a custom designed driver set with a ¾” aluminium ferrofluid-cooled tweeter and a 5 ¼” midbass woofer that together deliver a rich and detailed full-range sound. You can listen to vinyl with a built-in phono preamp, and stream music and playlists with high-quality Qualcomm aptX Bluetooth.
The 50 watts/channel Class D amplifier provides each loudspeaker with more than enough power for small to medium-sized rooms. The Alpha AM5 work really well with both music and movies and you can integrate one of the Alpha Series subwoofers into your system for a full-range stereo that doesn’t take up a lot of room. An excellent value and one of the best wireless speakers from a brand that makes some of the best high-end loudspeakers.
The Audioengine HD6 fly slightly below the radar because they compete against the Sonos One SL wireless speaker system, but there is no question that they offer better sound quality.
Support for Tidal, Spotify, and Pandora is at your fingertips with the HD6, and audiophiles who manage their music collection via Roon can connect an older Google Chromecast (which acts as a Roon-ready endpoint) to the HD6 via its optical input and stream high-res digital from their smart device. Offered in a multitude of finishes, including a beautiful looking walnut veneer, the HD6 include everything you need to get going in the box.
With support for 24-bit/192kHz digital audio, Bluetooth aptX HD, a subwoofer output, and handy remote control, the HD6 are a true powered wireless stereo system. If you plan on listening to vinyl through the HD6, you will need to add an external phono pre-amplifier as Audioengine does not include one internally. Once everything is set-up, the HD6 deliver an engaging listen with wide stereo separation, a transparent sounding midrange, clean highs, and a true sense of scale that no smart speaker can touch.
Kanto Audio TUK
Kanto has built a steady reputation offering affordable active loudspeakers that support both digital and analog sources like a turntable. The brand, however, faces stiff competition from its rivals over at Audioengine so it was only a matter of time before someone introduced a higher-end model designed to offer consumers a complete solution with few compromises below $800. Enter the TUK. Ribbon tweeters have been utilized in higher priced loudspeakers for many years, but there is a growing movement at the entry-level to integrate them into bookshelf loudspeakers as they offer a superior level of detail and airiness that conventional tweeters fail to deliver.
The TUK’s feature an AMT tweeter, and 5.25-inch aluminum midrange woofer that produce a very rich, yet detailed presentation. The TUK can play very loudly, but our listening suggests that the treble can sound a little hot when you do; they are particularly adept with electronic music, pop, and hip-hop. Kanto has wisely chosen to integrate a MM phono stage, USB DAC, headphone amplifier, and support for Bluetooth aptX HD making the TUK one of the most complete active loudspeaker packages available at any price. The optional stands should be considered mandatory, as well as the matte white finish which looks very sleek.
KEF LSX II
KEF introduced the original LSX as a more affordable alternative to the award-winning LS50 Wireless, and for many music listeners, the smaller design may be a smarter buy. The LSX II features a great visual design courtesy of Michael Young and the KEF Product Design Team.
The LSX II are now available in a wider range of finishes and are far less intrusive when it comes to set-up. What sets the KEF apart from almost all of its rivals is support for Roon, Tidal, Apple AirPlay 2, Spotify Connect, and one of the most intuitive control apps for iOS and Android-devices.
The LSX II Wireless system has a total system power output of 200 watts with separate amplifiers for the woofer and tweeter in each speaker controlled by crossovers. System frequency response is 49Hz to 47Hz (dependent on EQ Settings).
There is also a subwoofer preamp output, should you desire to enhance deeper low-frequency performance that the LSX II’s can provide (especially advisable for movie watching). You can use any powered subwoofer, but one option is the KEF KC62 space-saving compact sub.
One aspect of the LSX that is somewhat glaring is the omission of an internal phono pre-amplifier, so be prepared for the added expense of buying your own if you don’t already own one and want to listen to vinyl.
Since their launch, KEF has introduced a number of accessories including a desktop stand, wall-mount bracket, and pair of stands that improve their versatility, although that comes at a rather steep price for the stands which retail for $350.
Totem Acoustic KIN Play
Active wireless bookshelf loudspeakers are the future of high-end audio. It is the reality that loudspeaker manufacturers face going forward and not without some degree of trepidation. For high-end companies like Totem Acoustic, a Quebec-based manufacturer with a global reputation for building some of the most musical sounding passive bookshelf loudspeakers around, the KIN Play active wireless bookshelf speaker is a bit of a departure. Totem, as their name might suggest, build really inert loudspeakers. Your knuckles have not felt pain until you rap them against the side of a pair of Totem Sky or Signature One cabinets.
The KIN Play uphold the family tradition. Equipped with support for Bluetooth aptX HD for wireless streaming of high-res digital audio, the KIN Play support 16-bit/48kHz via a smart device, and 24-bit/192kHz through its optical digital input. The primary analogue input offers support for external devices such as an external DAC, or with the flick of a switch on the rear panel, an internal moving magnet phono pre-amplifier.
Powered by a 240-watt amplifier, the KIN Play push tone and detail about as well as any wireless loudspeaker we’ve heard yet; including the category leading KEF LS50 Wireless which win the fight overall on points if you are really keeping score. If the KIN Play are only the opening salvo from Totem, then the wireless category is headed in the right direction.
Where to buy: $1,299 at totemacoustic.com
KEF LS50 Wireless II
5 years have passed since KEF introduced the LS50 Wireless loudspeaker that left competing products in the dust. The LS50 Wireless was a game changing product that made any hi-fi system over $2,000 look over its shoulder in fear.
KEF decided to push the envelope even further by putting all of the electronics, streaming support, and accoutrement in one box – or two boxes in this case for under $2,800. The LS50 Wireless II deliver a high-end audio system that is upgradeable via firmware updates, support for all of the major streaming services, and are a Roon endpoint without the need for an external streamer.
Connect a turntable and phono pre-amplifier, download KEF’s control app, and you have a mostly wireless high-end audio system for the 21st Century that plays second fiddle to almost nothing. The LS50 Wireless II includes new driver technology, a better app (a major source of contention with the first model) support for Apple AirPlay 2 and Chromecast.
Everything we liked about the original LS50 has been improved; better resolution, improved sense of scale, and even more robust low end response. The LS50 Wireless II is one of the best wireless speakers at any price.
KEF have recently introduced the groundbreaking KC62 compact subwoofer that can extend the low end response of their wireless loudspeakers to almost 20 Hz. For under $4,000, KEF have created a three-piece hi-res wireless speaker system that can compete with most passive systems below $10,000. No small accomplishment there.