WLAN speakers have advantages over Bluetooth boxes when it comes to wireless music streaming in the home. The WiFi signal has more bandwidth and copes better with walls, if necessary it can be amplified. Stiftung Warentest tested 26 WLAN speakers and assessed the sound, handling, and data protection. We will deal with the test results in more detail below. This article also provides general tips on buying a wireless speaker.
With wireless speakers, you are flexible in the apartment. Without a physical connection to the audio device, you can stream music and podcasts exactly where you want to listen. The Bluetooth speakers, which are very mobile with their compact size and long-lasting battery, are widespread here. However, the Bluetooth signal only has a limited range. WiFi speakers work wherever you have a connection to your home WiFi network. If this covers your entire apartment anyway, possibly with the help of repeaters, WLAN speakers are practical. You can also transfer larger amounts of data, i.e. stream music in better quality. Stiftung Warentest tested 26 larger WLAN speakers with and without voice assistants for sound quality and ergonomics but also took a look at data protection.
The result: none of the test devices failed in terms of sound, all WLAN speakers got a good or very good rating here. However, due to the fluctuating quality in the handling and protection of personal data, only nine of the 26 models also achieve the overall rating “good”. The testers rated the remaining 14 devices, including almost all loudspeakers with voice assistants, as “satisfactory”. There is no “poor” rating in any category, “sufficient” is the worst grade – it is particularly often given in the “data protection” discipline.
Test winner: Sonos Five
With the best sound of the entire comparison test, the Sonos Five effortlessly ranks itself as the best WLAN speaker on the market, according to Stiftung Warentest. In doing so, however, he does without a voice assistant, which in comparison earns him bonus points in terms of data protection. But although it also scores in other disciplines, the focus is definitely on the sound.
The loudspeaker has three powerful woofers and three tweeters. Those who connect their Sonos Five to an iOS device benefit from Trueplay, which automatically adapts the sound to the room acoustics. The sound convinced the foundation in every respect. It rains top ratings for the mono and stereo sound, the high maximum volume, and the absence of any background noise. The WLAN range also turned out to be excellent in the test environment. Overall, the rating “very good” is given here. If you place the loudspeaker upright and connect it to a second copy, you will also get a powerful stereo sound.
But not only the sound is impressive. The monochrome surface also makes the Sonos Five an eye-catcher, but with a weight of 6.36 kilograms, it remains mostly stationary. Due to its moisture resistance, it can also be placed in the bathroom, but the manufacturer does not recommend using it outdoors. In any case, the loudspeaker is only operated via a socket, there is no battery. Fans of wired connections will be happy about the 3.5 mm jack connection and the Ethernet port as an alternative to wireless WLAN Internet.
You can choose to stream directly via Apple’s AirPlay 2 or via the “Sonos S2” app. In addition to various settings and an equalizer, this also offers the management of other compatible Sonos devices such as the Sonos Beam Soundbar or the more mobile Sonos Move. A wide variety of streaming services such as Apple Music, Spotify or Deezer are also supported here – simply link to the existing account and start streaming. However, Bluetooth connections are not possible.
Touch control is provided on the device itself. This can be used to pause playback, skip the title or adjust the volume. The Sonos Five can also be accessed via Alexa or Google Assistant, but it does not offer a voice assistant itself. The Stiftung Warentest assesses the general handling as “good” but misses a classic instruction manual. The electricity consumption is classified as mediocre, which also applies to the amount of user data collected.
Best Price: Yamaha Musiccast 20
The Stiftung Warentest praises the strong performance for the small budget that users receive with the Musiccast 20 from the Japanese manufacturer Yamaha, which costs around 180 euros. The speaker is easy to use and versatile. Since it is comparatively cheap, we see it as a price tip. There was praise in particular for the extremely economical collection of user data, but the sound can also be heard.
Either stand-alone, as a stereo pair or as a surround system via a compatible receiver, the Musiccast 20 ensures a pleasant sound in the home. In the test, the sound was good in both mono and stereo mode, with no background noise, and only the relatively low maximum volume was disappointed. It is streamed either via Bluetooth or WLAN.
The Musiccast 20 is configured via an associated app. The MusicCast app can be downloaded free of charge and also offers a practical demo mode for those interested. Rooms can be controlled, favorites set or streaming services connected via the smartphone – e.g. Spotify, Amazon Music, Deezer, or Pandora are supported. Although the loudspeaker itself does not have a voice assistant, it can still be accessed via Alexa, the Google Assistant, and, thanks to AirPlay 2, also via Siri.
The device itself scores with its glossy surface and round design. On the top, there are four signal lights, each of which stands for WLAN, Bluetooth, an active alarm clock or simply the power status. The speaker also has a touch control surface. This includes three presets, the power switch, a pause/play button, as well as those for the volume and the alarm clock – useful when the smartphone is not at hand.
Top recommendation with voice assistant: Harman Kardon Citation 500
The fact that a loudspeaker with a voice assistant does not necessarily have to be an Amazon Echo, HomePod, or Google Home was again impressively demonstrated by a number of models in comparison by Stiftung Warentest. As expected, there was repeated criticism for concerns about data protection, which had a negative impact on the overall assessment of some models. Nevertheless, many of them offer a strong sound and a wide range of functions. The best speaker with an assistant is the Harman Kardon Citation 500, which costs more than 600 euros.
This smart speaker from the American manufacturer, which has been part of Samsung since 2017, scored particularly well in the test with its impressive sound. Its two tweeters and two woofers ensure a powerful, balanced sound for both mono and stereo playback with another copy, which also scores with a high maximum volume. Noise is once again not audible here, and the WLAN range when streaming is also pleasing.
The smart speaker equipped with the Google Assistant not only supports Google Chromecast but also accepts input from Apple users via AirPlay. However, the Google Home app for Android or iOS is required to set it up and a Google account is also linked. This also results in a significant devaluation on the part of Stiftung Warentest with regard to the deficiencies in data protection and the terms and conditions.
You can control playback and other functions on the device itself via the touch-sensitive LC display. Here you can also find presets that can be assigned specific playbacks for quick access. If you don’t want to be overheard by the speaker all the time, you can switch off the microphones by pressing a button. Aside from data protection, there were also complaints that internet radio is only accessible via voice assistant and that there are no analog audio inputs and a LAN connection. With a weight of 7.5 kilograms, the Citation 500 is also a real heavyweight.
Best price voice assistant: Bose Home Speaker 500
The device, however, was able to convince the Stiftung Warentest: The internal stereo loudspeaker is pleasing with its high sound quality, although the sound does not always seem completely balanced – the bass is booming a bit. Since the loudspeaker itself already has a stereo architecture, the Home Speaker 500 does not need stereo pairing with another speaker. The foundation is also convinced of the absence of any background noise and praises the WiFi range – the maximum volume, however, is likely to be higher.
With a weight of 2.2 kilograms, the aluminum housing is more compact than some of the previous recommendations. With its rounded design and large LC display, the home speaker also cuts a fine figure visually. The current playback is displayed on the screen, which can be controlled using the touch buttons on the top. Options are offered here for pausing/starting a track, skipping, adjusting the volume, switching to AUX input or switching off the microphones. Six assignable preset buttons allow quick access to certain playlists, stations, and Co.
But the speaker is not only controlled by pressing a button. Depending on your choice, the Bose Home is equipped with Amazon’s Alexa or Google Assistant. Thanks to eight microphones, the speech recognition works well, the functions are extensive as usual. The Bose Music app is used to make appropriate settings on the device or the sound – music services such as Spotify or Amazon Music can also be linked. iOS users are happy about AirPlay 2, but there is no wired Ethernet option for the Internet connection.
You can find smaller speakers with WLAN functionality in online shops for less than 50 euros, but a certain volume is required for room-filling sound. So unless you only want to cover one corner of the sofa with sound, you need a larger model. Stiftung Warentest set the limit for this at a device volume of at least four liters. You can find good offers in this area from around 100 euros. For the best sound quality, you have to invest a little more, powerful sounding WLAN speakers are available from around 200 euros. The real top-of-the-range devices cost twice as much, and you can only find the test winners from Stiftung Warentest from around 450 euros. However, you should note that although the WLAN speakers are stereo devices, you will only get real stereo sound from two sides if you couple speakers together.
How do WiFi speakers work?
The basic technology is the same for all loudspeakers: An electrical audio signal is converted into mechanical vibrations that are perceived as sound. There are differences in the transmission of the input signal. This can be done via an audio cable or by radio. In the area of wireless speakers, you get mainly Bluetooth and WLAN devices. Bluetooth is a special radio standard for data transmission over short distances, the main focus is on the greatest possible compatibility between the various devices such as headphones, smartphones, televisions and much more. The technical specifications are strict, transmission takes place in the narrowly limited frequency range over short distances and at a low data transmission rate: a maximum of 3 Mbit / s. This is sufficient for compressed audio signals. In addition, Bluetooth is energy-saving.
If you use your home WiFi network, you have much greater freedom. Of course, you don’t need as much bandwidth as WiFi networks offer for audio signals, but you can still transmit music to the loudspeaker in a significantly higher quality than with Bluetooth. WiFi has a greater range and signals amplification through walls is quite easy with WiFi repeaters. If you integrate the WLAN loudspeaker into the home network, you can also transfer music files from numerous sources to the speaker, from smartphones to notebooks to NAS servers. Compared to Bluetooth, however, the power consumption with WLAN is higher and battery operation is often not possible.
What types of WiFi speakers are there?
The volume of the WLAN loudspeaker largely determines its sound. You can fill your kitchen with sound with a small and compact speaker, and models with voice assistants, in particular, can be helpful when you request information via voice control. But the sound quality is rather mediocre. If you really want to enjoy the music – and in the whole living room, you need a model with a larger loudspeaker. Of course, two coupled WiFi speakers are even better for high-quality stereo sound from both sides.
A key difference is the presence of a voice assistant, so you can use voice control to select, start and stop music and access helpful Internet services. In most cases, however, this requires the use of a smart home system such as Amazon Alexa or Google Home. If you have data protection concerns because the assistant, and thus the provider, is constantly “listening in”, you should do without a wireless speaker with voice control.
What do I have to look out for when buying a wireless speaker?
Sound quality Good sound is always subjective and depends on the music. Some users prefer a powerful bass, others prefer clear voice reproduction. In general, however, the sound of the speakers should be balanced between treble and bass. As a rule, you can expect good sound quality from branded devices from well-known audio experts. If the online retailer is rather unknown, the user comments will help with the assessment. The loudspeaker models are technically stereo devices themselves, but since both systems are located close together in the same housing, you will not get any real stereo sound. This only occurs when you couple several wireless speakers and the music comes from two sides.
App & button
control You usually control the WLAN loudspeaker via the associated app; this can be tailored to the device itself, but in many cases, it is compatible with the entire product range of the manufacturer. You can use the app to couple boxes with one another, select streaming services or local sources for music files, and make settings. It is often necessary to set up a user account with the loudspeaker manufacturer in order to be able to use the full range of functions – it is gratifying when it works without it. In addition, physical buttons on the device enable basic control, i.e. volume control or song selection. Displays are rarely integrated.
Voice control & data protection
Wi-Fi speakers with voice control mostly use the common smart home systems, especially Amazon Alexa or Google Home. If the functionality is not already integrated, the WLAN speaker can usually be easily integrated into an existing system, i.e. it is recognized by the Amazon Echo device, for example. You can start and stop the music by voice control or ask for information such as the weather report. Data protection is problematic with these services. Personal data is transferred to the provider, i.e. Amazon or Google, and you usually have little control over what happens to it. Although you have a right to information, this is not pointed out well enough in many data protection declarations.
Interfaces & Connectivity
WLAN speakers establish a radio connection with the home router and can thus be controlled via the network. However, other interfaces on the device are advantageous. If a Gigabit network connection is available, you can connect the actually wireless device with a network cable if you wish. Analog audio inputs also allow you to connect peripheral devices to the loudspeaker without radio connection, e.g. turntables or CD players. Since the installation of a Bluetooth module is usually not a great effort, most WLAN devices offer this radio alternative. Other interfaces can come in handy as needed.
Functions & accessories
If several loudspeakers from the manufacturer can be coupled together, you can generate room-filling stereo sound. With the multiroom function, in turn, WLAN speakers can be controlled in combination, so you can play music in distributed rooms at the same time. The flexibility of the WLAN loudspeakers helps here, for example at a party you can distribute them throughout the apartment as required, but control them centrally. Many audio technology manufacturers also offer extra accessories for their loudspeakers, for example, wall brackets, speaker stands or rubber feet to minimize vibrations. Some of the features of mobile Bluetooth speakers such as a power bank or hands-free function are almost impossible to find in-home network speakers.
Battery & outdoor
Technically, WLAN speakers consume more power than Bluetooth boxes. Therefore, only the data transmission is really wireless, the power supply of the home network speakers is done via a power cord. A few WLAN speaker models have a built-in battery, but even this is not intended for continuous operation. After all, it is a practical extra: You can temporarily use the WLAN loudspeaker away from power sockets, for example in the garden. However, the home network speaker is not suitable as a real outdoor device; the manufacturers usually forego shock resistance and water resistance. Power-saving, compact, and robust Bluetooth boxes are better suited for mobile sound reinforcement. If you are still looking for a WiFi device for outdoors, you should pay attention to the protection class:
If the WLAN loudspeaker has a permanent place in the apartment, the weight of the box plays a subordinate role. But if you want to take full advantage of the wireless data transmission and regularly set up the speaker in different places, that’s a different matter. Voluminous models can weigh over 5 kilograms, usually, it’s more like 3 to 4 kilograms. The shape of the WLAN loudspeakers differs significantly from one another: They come with round, rectangular or oval devices, inbox, and cylinder shapes or with a completely unconventional design. Of course, the decisive factor is whether the speaker fits in the desired location, for example on the shelf or on the chest of drawers. The most massive boxes can be up to half a meter wide, while vertically aligned cylinder speakers can be 25 centimeters high.