These days, more and more people are buying and listening to music in the form of digital downloads rather than CDs. Not only is this quicker and easier, but it also introduces the possibility of streaming your music wirelessly around your home from a computer, tablet or smartphone.
There are several different ways of doing this, including Bluetooth, AirPlay, or one of several multi-room systems. Don’t worry if this sounds too complicated. Agent Hall is here to give you a rundown of some of the different options available!
- Easy to set up
- No Wi-Fi network required
- Broad price range
- Audio is compressed so the sound quality may be reduced.
- Can only connect one device at once meaning you can’t stream to several different speakers
- Signal is only reliable over relatively short distances.
Bluetooth is by far the cheapest and easiest way of getting into wireless audio streaming. All you need is a Bluetooth device that can play music, probably a smartphone or tablet, and a Bluetooth speaker. You pair the two devices together in the same way you would pair a Bluetooth headset for calls and that’s it: you’re ready to stream.
Prices for Bluetooth speakers range from about £5 for a mini speaker up to £500+ for a full-size stereo system. As with most things, you generally get what you pay for in terms of sound quality, but there are a few budget bargains out there that sound pretty good.
There are a few downsides to using Bluetooth though. For one, while it’s simple enough to connect to a smartphone or tablet, if you want to connect to a PC or Mac then you may have problems configuring the system. Also, you can only connect one device at a time, so you can’t stream music to several different speakers throughout the house. Finally, Bluetooth uses audio compression technology so the sound quality can be lower than expected. Whether this makes much difference is down to the quality of the speaker and the music you’re playing, so you may not notice much difference.
- Higher sound quality than Bluetooth
- Stream to up to 6 different speakers at once
- Price to suit everyone
- Requires Wi-Fi
- Requires an iOS device or an iTunes music library
If you’re the proud owner of an Apple device, be it an iPhone, iPad or Mac, then you may want to think about getting an AirPlay-compatible device. AirPlay was developed by Apple specifically to stream music and video from iOS devices and Macs to various different devices such as TVs, amps or standalone speakers.
In some ways, it’s very similar to Bluetooth, but it does have a few key differences. First of all, Airplay requires a Wi-Fi connection to work whereas Bluetooth doesn’t. If you want something that will work in the middle of a field on a camping trip, for example, then this isn’t going to work. However, using Wi-Fi does have a few plus points as well.
The biggest advantage of using Wi-Fi is that the range of the signal is much better and more reliable. For example, this means that you can play music from your laptop on an Airplay speaker 2 floors away without much issue. With Bluetooth, you are generally limited to having both devices in the same room. You can also stream to multiple speakers throughout the house at once.
Another advantage of using Wi-Fi is that the speed and bandwidth of the signal is much higher, meaning that you can transfer much more data. Not only does this allow the transfer of album data such as track names and album artwork, it also means that the audio can be less compressed, so that the sound quality is higher than Bluetooth.
The only other issue with AirPlay is that of compatibility. If your music is stored in iTunes on a computer or you have an Apple iOS device such as an iPhone or iPad then you won’t have any problems. However, Android fans or those that don’t use iTunes will not be able to use AirPlay.
Prices of AirPlay speakers vary hugely from about £50 up to over £1000, so there should be something to suit pretty much any budget.
- Expandable – You can add more speakers to the system
- Stream different things to different rooms or the same thing to the whole house
- Different models to suit different situations
- Not cheap
- Systems are incompatible with each other – you have to stick to one manufacturer
Both of the options we’ve looked at so far are essentially designed to play music from one source through one speaker. If you want to get really serious about streaming music around your home, then there are several more sophisticated systems that allow you to play different music in different rooms or synchronize music playback around the whole house.
There are several different systems out there that allow you to do this, but here’s a quick rundown of 3 of the best:
SONOS is probably the biggest name in wireless Hi-Fi and was one of the first on the market. Over the years, its range has expanded from one wireless speaker to several different models to suit different room sizes – and even a surround-sound system for your TV.
The starting point of any SONOS system is the SONOS bridge. This is a little box that plugs into your wireless router and transmits a custom network that all your SONOS speakers can connect to. This is a completely separate network from your existing Wi-Fi network which only SONOS devices can use. This has several advantages, such as reduced interference, and makes connecting a speaker to the network as simple as pressing a button.
Once you have the SONOS Bridge up and running, you can then connect your speakers. Depending on the size of your room, you can choose from 3 different sizes of speaker ranging from £169 to £349. For even better sound, you can even pair 2 of the same model together in one room to give proper stereo audio.
For movie fans, SONOS also make a soundbar that sits under your TV and gives a separate centre channel and left and right speakers. This can then be paired with a SONOS Sub and a couple of rear speakers to give full 5.1 surround sound. The Playbar and the Sub are both £599 each.
The final 2 products in the SONOS range are a little different. The SONOS Connect plugs into your existing stereo system to turn it into a streaming system. If you already have some good wired speakers then the you can connect these up to a Connect: Amp and use these for streaming as well.
However you choose to configure your SONOS system, it can all be controlled from your smartphone, tablet or computer using the dedicated SONOS app. This allows you to stream your own music collection or tracks from a range of different online services, and lets you pick and choose which speakers are playing what throughout the house.
Pure is well known for producing fantastic digital radios, but it also has its very own range of wireless speakers called Jongo. This offers similar functionality to SONOS but uses slightly different technology and is significantly cheaper.
Unlike SONOS, which uses its own bespoke wireless network, Jongo uses a Wi-Fi and Bluetooth hybrid system called Bluetooth Caskeid. Basically, your music source streams music to a Jongo speaker using Bluetooth just like a normal Bluetooth speaker. However, this speaker then streams the music to all the other Jongo speakers on the network using Wi-Fi. This ensures that the music is properly synchronized throughout the house with no delay.
Pure has several different Jongo speakers to choose from depending on the size of your room, ranging from £79.99 to £199.99. There is even a water-resistant, 360-degree speaker specifically designed for parties to ensure everyone can hear the music. There’s no soundbar or sub available. but there is a wireless adapter so you can turn you existing stereo into a Jongo Wi-Fi system.
Bose has been around since the mid-‘60s and is well known for innovative, high-quality audio systems. Its Wireless SoundTouch system is relatively new but has a unique six-channel system that helps it stand out from the crowd.
Like Jongo, SoundTouch uses a standard Wi-Fi network for connectivity, to but it also has Apple AirPlay built in for easy set up. There are currently only 3 models: the SoundTouch 20 at £349.95, the 30 at £599.95 and the rechargeable SoundTouch Portable at £349.95.
As I mentioned, what sets SoundTouch apart is its six-channel system. Rather than using an app to choose what music to play and which speaker to play it from, you use the SoundTouch app to configure what is playing on each of the six channels. You can set each channel to play a single album or a full playlist or even an online radio station.
Once the six channels are configured, you just press the relevant number on each speaker to tune into this channel. This means that you don’t need to have access to your smartphone or PC to change what is playing in each room, making it quick and easy for anyone in the house to change what they’re listening to.
So that’s our guide to some of the main wireless music streaming options on the market. If you have any questions about this technolgoy, use the comments box below and we’ll try and answer them for you as soon as we can!