Wireless and Bluetooth loudspeakers have made enormous strides in the past few years and there is not 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.
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.
So what are the best wireless speakers? We think all of these will work for most people and in a number of different scenarios.
The Sonos One SL would certainly be the best wireless speakers for the kitchen or a smaller bedroom placed on a dresser or two night tables.
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 $358/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.
For more information: $358/pair at sonos.com
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.
For more information: $359 at vanatoo.com
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.
For more information: $599.99 at Amazon
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.
For more information: $899.99 at Amazon
KEF introduced the 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 are 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 feature KEF’s signature Uni-Q driver array with a 4.5-inch midrange driver, and .75-inch aluminum dome tweeter which are powered by a 100-watt power amplifier inside each loudspeaker. The LSX can be set-up as a wireless system, but we’ve discovered over time that they sound better hardwired to an Ethernet connection and tethered together with the KEF supplied cable.
That may sound like you are defeating the purpose of the system, but you may like the sonic improvements enough to experiment. 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.
For more information: $1249.99 at Amazon
Klipsch The Sixes
Music lovers looking to partake in a slice of the magic that is the Heritage Wireless series from Klipsch will find a lot to like in the Sixes, which pack a lot of technology into two rather large cabinets that are designed for either end of a media unit or placement on the floor. Both speakers feature a 1-inch titanium tweeter used with a Klipsch Tractrix horn, and a 6.5-inch woofer to create a very spacious sounding powered system. The right speaker houses two 100-watt power amplifiers that give the system ample reserve power should you decide to drive the system to very loud listening levels.
The connectivity options include a stereo RCA input that can also be used for a turntable as Klipsch has integrated an internal phono stage; our recommendation would be to use a warm sounding moving magnet cartridge from Grado Labs as we found the phono section to be slightly bright sounding.
The Sixes also feature Bluetooth and an optical digital input that can handle 24-bit/192kHz digital files. The real walnut veneer finishes off the package nicely. Klipsch loudspeakers are generally forward sounding and our advice would be to put some distance between the loudspeakers and your listening position; sit too close and you may find them too lively even though their overall dynamic capabilities are impressive.
For more information: $499.99 at Amazon
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.
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.
For more information: $1250 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 $2,500. 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.
Dali CALLISTO 2C
DALI (Danish Audiophile Loudspeaker Industries) is a relatively unknown brand to North American consumers, but with a new distribution deal placing them in the very capable hands of Lenbrook International (NAD, PSB, and Bluesound), this Danish loudspeaker giant is looking to make major waves on these shores. Dali has earned a reputation for building high performance loudspeakers that go head-to-head with its European counterparts at more affordable prices making it a viable alternative to premium brands like Dynaudio, and Focal.
With the CALLISTO 2C, DALI enters the active arena with a three-piece system (2 loudspeakers and Sound Hub) designed for stands or placement on a sturdy media unit. Powered by a 250-watt class D power amplifier, the CALLISTO 2C’s 6.5-inch woofer, and unique tweeter array which consists of a 1-inch soft dome tweeter, and hybrid ribbon module can fill a large listening space with ease. DALI has created a bookshelf loudspeaker that reproduces an enormous soundstage with one of the smoothest sounding tweeters we’ve heard in a long time.
The Sound Hub accepts digital and analog sources and transmits to the loudspeakers supporting up to 24-bit/96kHz playback. The system is also MQA-certified if you enjoy streaming from Tidal in that format. The Sound Hub is upgradeable making this system somewhat format-proof for the foreseeable future. Not an inexpensive proposition but a strong candidate for best wireless speakers.
For more information: dali-speakers.com ($4750)