After researching 22 Bluetooth speakers and checking out 11 contenders in detail with a listening panel, we think Peachtree Audio’s Deepblue2 is the best home Bluetooth speaker for anyone looking for a convenient unit capable of filling a home with gorgeous sound. The Deepblue2 provides full, rich audio that comes close to what you might associate with a home stereo system, without the wires and setup that come with owning a traditional stereo (or the high cost of investing in a multiroom streaming system). And according to our listening panel, it sounds almost as good as the Bowers & Wilkins Zeppelin Wireless, a Bluetooth speaker that costs hundreds of dollars more and takes up nearly twice as much counter space.
The Deepblue2 is a 440-watt speaker that offers deep bass response without skimping on high and midrange sound. No matter what we listened to on it, the Deepblue2 made our music sound great, offering excellent aural separation and a wide soundstage. In order to keep your music sounding great at any volume, the speaker automatically adjusts its EQ to correctly balance high, low, and midrange frequencies, keeping its overall sound natural.
Measuring 9.1 by 14.2 by 6.5 inches and weighing 16 pounds, the Deepblue2 is definitely not what you’d call portable (we have a guide for those smaller speakers, by the way). But it has a small enough footprint that it can sit on a bookshelf, side table, or countertop without looking cumbersome. For the price, nothing else can touch it.The Bowers & Wilkins Zeppelin Wireless is the best-sounding speaker we tested this year, but it’s big, expensive, and strangely proportioned. Our blind-listening panel awarded the Zeppelin a near-perfect score. In testing, it made well-worn favorites and fresh tracks that we’ve been digging of late absolutely crackle with life. That it also comes with the ability to function as an AirPlay speaker is icing on the cake. The speaker’s shape and size might not work for some people, but after a few weeks of using the Zeppelin Wireless, we stopped noticing its presence except when it was filling our apartment with gorgeous sound. The Zeppelin Wireless is definitely a luxury item, but if you want to spend around $700 on a wireless speaker, it’s worth the investment. If the Peachtree Deepblue2 doesn’t fit into your financial plans, we recommend—with some reservations—taking a look at the Marshall Acton. It costs just a little more than half the price of our main pick and can still kick out a very respectable amount of sound. In our tests at higher volume levels (or when playing songs that didn’t need as much bass as your average rock, pop, or hip-hop tunes require), it could sound a little muddy, even after we fiddled with its levels. But if you love driving bass, plan on listening to your music only at a reasonable to moderately loud volume, and can live with the Acton’s leather and brass stylings, you’ll likely love this thing.
Table of contents
- Why you should listen to us
- Bluetooth: The basics
- Bluetooth: Drawbacks
- Who this is for
- How we picked and tested
- The best home Bluetooth speaker for most people
- Who else likes our pick
- Flaws but not dealbreakers
- A luxury pick with AirPlay
- Our budget pick
- A note on battery-powered Bluetooth speakers
- About the Amazon Echo
- The competition
- What to look forward to
- Wrapping it up
Why you should listen to us
Seamus Bellamy is a seasoned tech journalist with experience testing a wide range of products from winter boots to breathalyzers. In addition, he knows music, having partially earned his way through university playing in pub bands on Canada’s east coast. He knows what sounds good and what doesn’t. Most important, he’s easily frustrated by poorly designed hardware, so he understands what might tick you off when using home electronics.
Brent Butterworth, who served as an editor and consultant on this guide, has been reviewing audio gear professionally since 1990. He’s published currently by websites such as About.com Stereos, Home Theater Review, and SoundStage! Xperience, and formerly in magazines including Sound & Vision and Home Theater. He has probably conducted more blind tests of audio products than any other journalist. Brent has reviewed somewhere between 50 and 100 wireless speakers, including a recent test of AirPlay speakers for The Wirecutter.
Bluetooth: The basics
Bluetooth has been around for a while, but that doesn’t mean everyone is familiar with it. So first things first: Let’s talk about what the tech can and can’t do.
All wireless audio streaming technologies come with quirks (we’ll talk about Bluetooth’s in the next section of this guide). Of the variety of wireless audio technologies available, Bluetooth is the least likely to make you want to rip out your hair.
Any Bluetooth source (tablet, phone, computer) will work with any Bluetooth speaker, so you don’t have to worry about the compatibility issues that arise with wireless systems like Apple’s AirPlay. The Bluetooth pairing process is simpler than the configuration process required for Wi-Fi–based systems. Unlike the proprietary streaming technologies employed by companies like Sonos, Bose, and Denon, Bluetooth doesn’t require you to install an app on your device in order to use it.
You can use multiple Bluetooth-enabled devices with one Bluetooth speaker. This makes it easy for anyone in your household to make use of your speaker. Just pair it and blare it. That a Bluetooth speaker can work with multiple devices provides it with a bit of futureproofing as well. No matter which kind of smartphone, computer, or tablet you buy down the road, it’ll likely work with your existing Bluetooth speaker. Most of the time things work as advertised, but occasionally handoffs between devices don’t happen as smoothly as they should.
Bluetooth is flexible, too. Any audio source on a connected device can play through a Bluetooth speaker. You can fill a room with music from Apple Music, Spotify, or your personal music collection on your tablet in exactly the way you would if you were listening through headphones. You’re never limited to certain streaming services the way you are with most Wi-Fi–based wireless systems.
Bluetooth audio is compressed, so Bluetooth speakers can’t compare in terms of pure sound quality to Wi-Fi–based systems such as AirPlay and Sonos. But it’s unlikely you’ll hear a significant difference with all-in-one systems like those we talk about in this guide. Our upgrade pick, the Bowers & Wilkins Zeppelin Wireless, includes AirPlay and DLNA wireless, so you can go with those if you want uncompressed audio (and thus better sound quality).
Bluetooth-only speakers generally won’t let you send music to multiple rooms simultaneously the way AirPlay and Sonos do. A few speaker models such as the Aiwa Exos-9 can be paired up for stereo sound or send the same signal to two speakers for sound in two rooms, provided both speakers are within range of the phone, tablet, or computer you’re using as a source. But at the time we last updated this guide, this was an exception rather than the rule.
When you’re using Bluetooth, you’ll usually have to keep the source device within 15 to 30 feet of the speaker. The presence of obstacles (such as the walls of your home or people) can limit the range even further. With Wi-Fi–based wireless audio, speakers in the system will work as long as your source stays within range of the Wi-Fi network, which is anywhere in the house for most people.
Last, if you’re a serious audiophile, these all-in-one products—Bluetooth or Wi-Fi—are unlikely to please you since none can match the sound quality of even a halfway-decent conventional stereo system. A good receiver and set of bookshelf speakers offers better stereo separation and a more enveloping sound, plus they typically don’t suffer from the negative acoustical effects of cramming a bunch of speaker components into a tiny box—specifically, reduced bass response and unnatural-sounding midrange and treble.
Who this is for
If you’re looking for an easy-to-use audio system that’s going to remain mostly in one place and deliver good-but-not-great sound quality (and you can live with the limitations that come with using Bluetooth), a home Bluetooth speaker is a great choice for you. Any of the speakers we recommend here will fill the room with robust, clearly defined sound that’ll make all but the most devout audiophiles happy.
That said, most of the hardware we profile here is far from what you’d call portable, and Bluetooth speakers this size generally aren’t battery-powered—you’ll need to plug them into an electrical outlet. If you’re looking for a Bluetooth speaker designed to be toted easily from room to room or thrown in a daypack, you’ll want to check out our guide to the best portable Bluetooth speakers.
How we picked and tested
Next to the mass of smaller, battery-powered units that absolutely swamp most electronics stores, gift guides, and online retailers, there aren’t as many home Bluetooth speakers, but we still had our work cut out for us when we set out to decide on which speakers to include in this guide.
We started by making a list of the hardware that had been considered in the last iteration of this guide and researching whether any of those models had been discontinued, replaced by newer versions, or plagued by issues in the time since we first considered them. We also paid mind to the hardware we tested in the latest version of our best AirPlay speaker guide, because many of the AirPlay products we tested are available with Bluetooth. We then scanned websites for anything else that could be considered a home Bluetooth speaker.
We decided to exclude anything with an internal rechargeable battery, which by definition would be considered portable. We decided to concentrate on a price around $400, which past experience has told us is the least you can reasonably expect to spend for a wireless speaker that produces decent bass and can fill a room with sound.
There were of course, exceptions to these rules: The Aiwa Exos-9 comes with an internal battery, but it’s so large no one could call it portable with a straight face.
Beyond this, we scanned the Internet for existing reviews. Anything that hadn’t earned at least a few enthusiastic reviews was rejected. And we were careful to note reviews that had a reasonable number of complaints about build quality or poor customer service related to them.
Through these measures, we were able to assemble a list of 23 different speakers from brands such as Sony, Harman Kardon, Wren, Fluance, B&O, Cambridge Audio, Marshall, Peachtree Audio, Bowers & Wilkins, Bose, and Riva. We asked to be sent samples of each of the 23 speakers on our list and were refused only two: the B&O Beolit 15 (our requests for a hardware loan were ignored, but given how expensive this model was, its chances of being a main pick were poor) and the JBL Voyager (that model was discontinued).
We used each speaker for a few days at a time, listening to the quality of the audio each speaker generated at a reasonable listening volume and while blasting at high volume. During this time we checked the build quality of the hardware, as well as how easy it was to set up and use as a day-to-day audio source.
Any speaker that didn’t make the cut during our initial testing was removed from the running. In the end, we were able to cut our test group down to the 11 Bluetooth speakers our listening panel judged, using a similar protocol to what we’ve used in the past. To determine which speaker would please the broadest group of listeners, our panel included four regular music listeners of varied backgrounds: Rebecca Boniface, an addictions counselor; Jackie Boniface, an accounting student; Stacey Quinn, a youth worker; and Sean Burridge, who works as a fiber technician.
We lined up all 11 speakers 3 inches away from our test area’s wall. Though this proximity boosted the bass, we felt this was a common real-world placement. The speakers were covered with a piece of acoustically neutral cloth so that our panelists could hear the sound of the speakers but not be able to identify which speaker was playing (or anything else about them).
In order to allow the panelists to score the sound quality of the hardware, each speaker was assigned a number. We seated our test group on a couch 6 feet away from the speakers—a reasonable distance that you might find in any living room—and set the sound level of each speaker to 85 decibels using a pink-noise MP3 file streamed from an iPhone 6 to each speaker.
To assess sound quality, we used the 3.5 mm line inputs of the speakers so we could switch more quickly between them and so we could use the music stored on a MacBook Pro to test the speakers without having to go through the Bluetooth pairing process for each one. To confirm that the units wouldn’t perform significantly differently with a wired connection than with Bluetooth, we compared the sound quality of all of the speakers using Bluetooth and playing back from an analog input before the test; in all cases the sound quality was roughly equivalent.
Our panelists listened to several pieces of music played through each of the 11 speakers. The panelists were told to assign each speaker’s sound quality a number value between one and five—one being gobsmacking terrible and five being wonderful. This meant that the maximum number of points a speaker could be awarded was 20. As we recorded the scores awarded by our panelists, we also elicited comments on the sound they were hearing to gain a better understanding of why the panelists liked or disliked a particular speaker.
Once all of the speakers had been scored, we asked that the panelists listen again to the top five performers and then to the final top three speakers in our test group. At this point, we revealed the names, makes, and prices of each of the speakers the panelists had been listening to. We did this so that we could see if the cost, brand, or aesthetics of the speakers would influence the scores that the panelists had awarded them.
A good home Bluetooth speaker like our eventual winners has bass, midrange, and treble in natural and roughly equal proportions. The sound should be full and satisfying, certainly more so than what you get from smaller $200 to $300 portable Bluetooth speakers. The midrange should sound smooth; voices should not sound unnaturally edgy or constricted, and neither male vocalists nor female vocalists should sound better or worse. The treble should also be smooth and extended enough that you can clearly hear high-frequency sounds like the breath of a flautist or the tap of a brush on a ride cymbal.
Volume counts, too. Considering that you might want to use your Bluetooth speaker to provide music for a small party, a home Bluetooth speaker should play loudly enough to fill a room with sound without a lot of distortion and without bass frequencies thinning out or compressing.
As far as other features go, dedicated controls are great to have. At the very least, we wanted a volume control. We also liked to see tone controls, either in a dedicated app or, preferably, in the form of physical knobs on the unit. Why do we prefer that instead of the numerous apps you can get for iOS and Android devices that let you adjust bass, midrange, treble, and more? Many such apps must be activated every time you want to use them, and the sound settings that work right for your Bluetooth speaker almost certainly won’t work right for your headphones.
The best home Bluetooth speaker for most peopleAfter considering 22 different speakers and conducting blind-listening tests of 11 with an expert panel, we feel that the Peachtree Audio Deepblue2 Home Bluetooth speaker is the best choice for most people. Our listening panel felt that it provided better audio clarity than the 10 speakers we pitted the Deepblue2 against. Other speakers came close to matching the score awarded to the Deepblue2 by our panelists—and one even scored higher than our pick did. But the Deepblue2’s combination of a reasonable price, excellent aural fidelity, and extras like an included IR remote, multiple auxiliary inputs, and the cables to make use of them won us over in the end.
The Deepblue2 is a 440-watt speaker that splits its power between five individual Class D amplifiers. They in turn push sound to the speaker’s two 1-inch soft dome tweeters, two 3-inch midrange-frequency drivers, and single 6.5-inch low-frequency bass driver. The wedge shape of the Deepblue2 aims those midrange and high-frequency drivers outward at 45-degree angles from the front of the acoustically sealed enclosure, providing a wider soundstage than some of its competitors. Can the Deepblue2 produce an enveloping stereo effect like a solid set of bookshelf speakers such as the ELAC B6 Debut? Nope. But the Deepblue2 offers a large amount of bass response and doesn’t skimp on high- and midrange-frequency detail. During our initial listening tests, the deeply detailed arrangement of Kila’s “Suas Sios” wasn’t lost in a swamp of sound as it was on the Harman Kardon Aura or the Aiwa Exos-9. John Bonham’s bass drum and cymbals punch right through Jimmy Page’s guitar and Robert Plant’s screeching vocals on Led Zeppelin’s “Black Dog.” And listening to ”I’m an Errand Boy for Rhythm” almost sounds like the John Pizzarelli Trio is in the same room with you. Any music you throw at the Deepblue2 will sound great.
During our blind-listening tests, our panelists gave the Deepblue2 a score of 17 points out of a possible 20. The only speaker that beat it was the Bowers & Wilkins Zeppelin Wireless, which got 19 out of 20. The panel told us that both speakers sounded clear and crisp, but the Zeppelin sounded perhaps “20 percent better.” But the Deepblue2 was rated significantly higher than another speaker that cost hundreds more, JBL’s L8 Two-Way Speaker System with Wireless Streaming, which scored a 15 out of 20. Compared with the Deepblue2, the JBL sounded “more muffled and muddy.” When the sound, cost, and design of our highest-scoring speakers were considered, the Deepblue2 came out on top as a unanimous favorite.
Oh, and if you’re worried about how loud this thing gets, let us assure you, it can kick out the jams. We know this; we were able to blast MC5’s ”Kick Out the Jams” at close to 101 dB (tested with a handheld decibel meter at a distance of 2 feet) with no audible distortion—although it did rattle the windows in our test space. So whether you want to use a speaker to alienate your neighbors or just keep a sizable dinner party grooving along, the Deepblue2 has your back.
At 9.1 inches by 14.2 inches by 6.5 inches in size and weighing 16 pounds, the Deepblue2 is far from what you’d call portable. But it is still small enough that you can set it on a bookshelf, side table, or counter to use without it getting in the way. When the time comes to move it to another part of your house, you’ll find a handle in the rear of the speaker’s black plastic enclosure. With the top and the sides of the cabinet finished in soft-touch silicone with a semigloss metal grill, it’s a handsome-looking piece of gear.
As its name implies, the Deepblue2 Bluetooth Music System is built for, well, Bluetooth. The speaker can connect to and remember five Bluetooth sources and is capable of handling aptX, the best-sounding of Bluetooth’s audio streaming protocols. During our tests, we found that pairing the Deepblue2 and switching between paired devices was quick and painless. The speaker accepts physical inputs, as well. Just below the handle in the back of the Deepblue2 are ports for connecting optical digital audio or 3.5 mm line-level analog audio. To ensure you’ll be ready to use it right out of the box, Peachtree ships the Deepblue2 with a 3.5 mm analog cable, a 3.5-mm-to-RCA analog cable, and an optical cable. Blissfully, the speaker is powered by a regular two-pronged power cord; there’s no external power source or wall wart to make a mess of your tidy home.
The Deepblue2 comes with an IR remote, and you can also control it with the row of capacitive buttons built into the top of its cabinet. The IR receiver for the remote is built into the top of the speaker’s grill. We found that it had no trouble receiving the remote’s signal from a distance of 6 feet away at angles up to 45 degrees. No matter which you use, you’ll be able to control the speaker’s volume/mute and bass levels, switch between the Bluetooth, auxiliary, and optical inputs, or power the Deepblue2 on or off.
Who else likes our pick
Our own Brent Butterworth wrote about the Deepblue2 for About.com, saying: “I think the deepblue2 is a great compact audio system, the kind of thing even a serious audiophile would be proud to use in the office or in a vacation home. Or in the garage. Or in a bedroom. Or anywhere you want great sound but a conventional stereo system isn’t practical.”
Tyll Hertsens of Inner Fidelity writes that the Deepblue2 “easily plays in the sound quality league of best Bluetooth speakers I’ve heard to date at any price, and on the strength of its amazingly taut and extended deep bass response, probably bests them. This is a great sounding Bluetooth speaker.”
Chris Martins at Hi-Fi+ calls the Deepblue2 “the best sounding Bluetooth speaker we’ve ever heard. Period.”
While it hasn’t gotten a lot of traction with Amazon shoppers, the Deepblue2 has garnered largely positive notice, earning a 4.5-star overall rating (with 80 percent of reviewers awarding it five stars) across 44 reviews by the time this guide was written. The reviews all seem detailed enough to be kosher, and running them through Fakespot didn’t yield any red flags.
Flaws but not dealbreakers
The only real complaint we have about the Deepblue2 is its style. While it doesn’t smack of the 1990s like the Aiwa Exos-9 does, the Deepblue2’s matte black case and glossy metal grill do feel a bit dated. At the very least, it looks cheap when compared with the Wren or Audioengine hardware we considered this year. But the Deepblue2 is not ugly; in fact, the speaker’s subdued looks make it possible for this model to blend into the background of any room, no matter how the room might be decorated.
Some people might take issue with the fact that the Deepblue2 includes a loudness control hardwired to its volume control. Once a popular feature on home stereo gear, this function changes the speaker’s tonality depending on how loud you play it to compensate for changes in how the human ear perceives quiet and loud sounds. If you reduce the volume of the speaker, you’ll find that high and low frequencies are emphasized over the midrange, simulating how people would hear louder playback and preserving details that would otherwise be lost when you turn the music down.
You can still hear everything with excellent separation. It’s just the emphasis that changes depending on the volume. It’s a neat trick that actually helps with overall clarity when the volume is down.
It is the kind of thing that may annoy audiophile purists, and experts who have reviewed the speaker, including Tyll Hertsens of Inner Fidelity, have noted it as well. (Though he was confused by it at first, once Hertsens figured out what was happening, he felt it contributed to the Deepblue2’s overall audio quality.) Most people won’t even notice this feature, but if you do, you may have to experiment to make sure you have the volume set correctly on your phone or tablet. Hertsens set his volume at around 75 percent of maximum, for what it’s worth.
A luxury pick with AirPlayIf we were picking a speaker based on sound quality alone, we’d be telling you why most people should buy a Zeppelin Wireless right now. Our listening panel awarded the Bowers & Wilkins Zeppelin Wireless an almost perfect score. But it’s expensive (close to twice the price of the Deepblue2), and its housing is so large and strangely proportioned that our panelists saw its design as a strike against it. But if price is no object and the Zeppelin’s design speaks to you, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a better-sounding Bluetooth speaker for under $1,000. The fact that the Zeppelin can also handle AirPlay and Spotify Connect is icing on the cake.
Underneath the Zeppelin’s shroud of black, acoustically neutral cloth, you’ll find two 1-inch double dome tweeters, two 3.5-inch midrange drivers, and a 6-inch subwoofer. In order to maintain the speaker’s clean lines, B&W placed the Zeppelin’s volume controls, Ethernet, and 3.5 mm auxiliary ports on the back of the device.
The Zeppelin Wireless doesn’t come with a remote like our main pick does, but it can be controlled via a free Android or iOS app if you’ve connected the speaker to your home Wi-Fi network. The app didn’t make life any easier for us, though, and we preferred to simply use our smartphone’s various apps over Bluetooth or AirPlay instead.
According to our panelists, the Zeppelin Wireless sounds perhaps 20 percent better than the Deepblue2. But after our blind-listening panel was done, we showed the panelists the Zeppelin (along with the rest of the speakers) and informed them about how much each model cost. They felt that at $700, the Zeppelin was not as good a deal as the Peachtree Audio Deepblue2, considering how similar the two models sounded. And none of our panelists were able to get past the Zeppelin’s shape or the fact that, at 27 inches wide by 7.5 inches around, it takes up so much space on a table or desktop.
Our budget pickThe Marshall Acton costs a little over half the price of our main pick but can still kick out a very respectable amount of sound, and its quality compares well to speakers that cost more, especially if you plan on listening to your music at reasonable to moderately loud levels. At higher volume levels, however, it can sound a bit muddy, even after you fiddle with its EQ. The Acton’s sound is suitable for the average rock, pop, or hip-hop tune; it may appeal to those who love driving bass and like the Acton’s badass guitar-amp-styled leather and brass aesthetic.
The Marshall is smaller than our top pick, measuring 6.2 inches by 10.4 inches by 5.9 inches, and that housing means it has smaller drivers inside, namely a single 4-inch woofer and two 0.75-inch tweeters. These split 40 watts of power between them. That’s a lot less power than you get from our main pick, but it costs a lot less money.
The Acton sounds pretty good. While it doesn’t have a wide soundstage, even for a wireless speaker, it offers great bass for its size. It’s just not as robust or lifelike as our main pick or the Zeppelin Wireless. But in a modestly sized bedroom or kitchen at a reasonable listening level, the Acton is aurally pleasing.
During testing, our listening panel awarded it 13 points out of a possible 20. That’s a middle-of-the-road mark, putting it in the same league as speakers like the Bose SoundTouch 20 and Marshall Stanmore and tying with the Audioengine B2—all speakers that cost considerably more than the Acton. Even the pricey and well-reviewed JBL L8 placed only two points higher, and you can buy three Acton speakers for what one L8 will set you back.
You should know, however, that at louder volumes we found that much of the treble and midrange was overwhelmed by the speaker’s bass. Turning the bass down helped to mitigate this problem but left the music sounding bland and soulless.
A note on battery-powered Bluetooth speakers
We categorized the speakers mentioned here as “home” products because they’re styled to look nice in a living room and because most don’t have rechargeable batteries (and thus require a nearby AC outlet). Of course, you can also use battery-powered portable Bluetooth speakers like the SoundLink Mini and Megaboom for home listening, and we often do. The advantage of using a battery-powered speaker in the home is that you can easily pick it up and take it into the next room, out to the backyard, or to the office.
The disadvantage of using a battery-powered portable speaker in the home is that the sound quality is almost always second-rate compared with that of the speakers featured in this article. Home Bluetooth speakers typically use larger speaker drivers, more powerful amplifiers, and a larger, more massive chassis, so they can play louder without distortion and deliver deeper and cleaner bass. Typically, a good home Bluetooth speaker will not distort when asked to fill a typical living room with sound, but many smaller battery-powered portables will.
If you’re willing to sacrifice some sound quality for the sake of portability, check out our current guide to portable battery-powered Bluetooth speakers, which includes our top picks in that category.
Meanwhile, if you really want a great-sounding battery-powered portable to use at home rather than one of the bigger, bulkier, power-dependent Bluetooth speakers featured here, we recommend the Riva Turbo X.
It won’t play as loudly as the larger AC-powered speakers here, but according to Brent Butterworth, “Its sound is clearer, livelier, more spacious, and more natural than its competitors. It gets you closer to the sound of a real stereo speaker system than any other Bluetooth portable we’ve tried, and it’s the only speaker among our picks that delivers enough volume to be heard over loud party conversation.”
Most of the latest soundbars come with Bluetooth, which the manufacturers include mainly so you can listen to music streamed from your smartphone. Soundbars offer some big advantages over most Bluetooth speakers: They’re wider, so they can usually produce a broader stereo soundstage, and they may play louder. Many soundbars include a wireless subwoofer, which will likely deliver far more bass than most of the Bluetooth speakers profiled here. Soundbars are, of course, meant to function as TV sound systems, and most include audio processing that simulates surround sound. Budget soundbars that include a subwoofer typically cost $200 to $300, so you’ll probably save money versus buying one of the home Bluetooth speakers featured here.
Most important, some soundbars sound pretty good playing music. We haven’t yet heard a low-priced soundbar that we’d prefer for music listening over the best of the Bluetooth speakers featured here, such as the Peachtree Deepblue2 or the Bowers & Wilkins Zeppelin Wireless, but the best of the budget soundbars can deliver satisfying sound for casual listening.
Our current pick for best budget soundbar is the Vizio SB4051-C0 40-inch 5.1 Channel Soundbar with Wireless Subwoofer and Satellite Speakers.
About the Amazon Echo
Amazon’s Echo is, among other things, a Bluetooth speaker for the home. It’s also an Internet-connected voice-activated assistant. If you’re looking for that type of device, read our piece that evaluates it as such.
Being able to ask the Echo to give you the weather, to add things to your shopping list or calendar, and to do other things is cool—but as a speaker, it doesn’t sound very good. Since in this case we’re looking for the best-sounding Bluetooth speaker for the home, we need to judge it first as such.
CNET writes, “The other issue with Echo is that, while it makes Alexa’s speech sound very good, it’s not a great speaker for music playback. It produces a fair amount of bass and projects so-called 360-degree sound, but it tends to distort at higher volumes (sometimes badly). For generating background music, it’s fine, but it’s not on par with a speaker like the $200 UE Boom.”
The Verge likes it even less for music: “Do not — I repeat, do not – buy the Amazon Echo as a Bluetooth speaker. It sounds good enough to make a robot-person’s voice audible, but music comes through shallow, tinny, and compressed. You can get a much better speaker for the price.”
But as a digital assistant that can also play music, the Echo works quite well. Amazon regularly updates the Echo’s software and cloud-based capabilities to add features and to improve existing ones. So the Echo is dramatically more capable today than it was at its debut, and we expect that trend to continue. If you think the voice-controlled features would be useful—and you’d rather use an always-on home appliance than the similar features on your Apple or Android smartphone—the Echo is a nifty and fun piece of technology. However, if you’re looking for the best Bluetooth speaker for the money, the Echo doesn’t seem to be it.
The Exos-9 represents much-loved 1990s brand Aiwa’s tentative step back into the North American audio market. It comes with a removable six-hour battery and can pair with a second Exos-9 for stereo sound. Unfortunately, we found it less than user-friendly: Its five-band graphic EQ features four presets, none of which did much to alter the sound of what we were listening to. You can also adjust the individual EQ bands manually, though we found the interface (which requires you to step through the bands with the right and left arrows) confusing to use.
The Audioengine B2 scored identically to the Marshall Acton; our listening panel gave similar feedback on its sound quality. We like the subdued looks of the B2, as well. Similar to the Cambridge Audio Bluenote 100, it comes with a knob on the back for fiddling with its bass levels. In the end, we picked the Acton over the B2 due to price; at the time we wrote this guide, the B2 cost roughly $75 more than the Acton did.
Bose recently introduced Bluetooth connectivity to its SoundTouch line of speakers. The SoundTouch 20 is likely a better option for individuals looking for a multiroom audio option than a single Bluetooth speaker, but our panelists ranked the SoundTouch 20 at 14 points out of 20. Their chief complaint about it was that, in comparison with the Deepblue2 and Zeppelin Wireless, it sounded “fuzzy” and didn’t match our top picks in producing clear, bright sound or separation of musical details.
We liked the fact that Cambridge Audio’s Bluenote 100 comes with an analog bass-control knob on the back of the speaker, making it easy to tweak this model’s sound without the need for an app. We didn’t like the fact that changing the volume on a connected Bluetooth device wouldn’t change the speaker’s volume. To do that, we had to use the Bluenote 100’s onboard volume controls. And when adjusting the volume, we found the speaker to be a little sluggish to respond. Looking beyond those shortcomings, we felt that the overall sound was one-dimensional and lacking clear separation.
The Fluance Fi50, the recent update to our previous budget pick, the Fluance Fi30, offered a little more aural separation than its sibling. The Fi50 costs $50 more than the Fi30 does but comes with a built-in display for navigating the speaker’s various functions, making it worth the extra cash. Despite its upgrades over the Fi30, the Fi50 was still panned by our listening panel. They said said it lacked bass and sounded tinny.
Despite its pedigree and the fact that it’s designed to pump out 360-degree sound instead of just firing in one direction like most speakers, we eliminated the Harman Kardon Aura from the competition early on. We found that it offered such a large amount of bass that music requiring less thump and clearer treble—bluegrass, classical, and even top-40 tunes—could sound pretty muddy. The Aura’s bold design is likely to make it a conversation piece in any room it’s placed in, which might work for some people, but not for those who think a speaker is better heard and not necessarily seen.
JBL’s L8 Two-Way Speaker System with Wireless Streaming gives users the option of choosing between AirPlay and Bluetooth streaming. It does other tricks, too: It comes with a built-in Qi wireless charging pad and can pair with smartphones or tablets via NFC, provided they have the capability, of course. Our listening panel awarded it 15 points, saying that it sounded “clear, crisp, and loud.” That’s lower than the Deepblue2, which costs hundreds of dollars less. It’s not a bad speaker—it’s just not as great as our main and upgrade picks are.
The Marshall Stanmore was last year’s top pick for this guide, but our listening panel felt that it produced tinny-sounding audio, with too much treble when its treble and bass knobs were left in a neutral position. It didn’t get any better when we fiddled with the bass, either. Considering how much more the panel preferred the sound of the Deepblue2, we had to kick the Stanmore to the curb.
The Marshall Woburn is capable of pushing out a fierce wall of sound that could easily get an apartment dweller evicted. That’s a compliment. Like the rest of the Marshall hardware we looked at this year, it’s decked out in leather with sturdy brass toggles and knobs that control pairing, power, bass, and treble; it’s easy to use, even for the most technologically challenged. But even with easy access to its bass and treble controls, our listening panel couldn’t find a way to listen to it that agreed with them. They gave it a score of 8.5 out of 20.
You can’t classify the Riva Turbo X as a home Bluetooth speaker. It is, in fact, our pick for best portable Bluetooth speaker. We wanted to see what the listening panel would think of it, compared with the larger and typically more powerful hardware in our test group. Earning 14.5 points, it scored higher than a number of the speakers we looked at. Unfortunately, it’s almost as expensive as our main pick and considerably more expensive than the Marshall Acton, which our listening panel liked almost as well.
Sony’s X-series speakers—the SRS X9, SRS X7, X88, and X99—are all carved from the same shiny slab of black beautiful minimalism and have the ability to fit in with the decor of most homes. They sound wonderful, too. We spent a few days listening to a wide range of music on each and liked the sound. But great sound isn’t the only thing we’re looking for. While connecting via Bluetooth to the X-series speakers was easy enough, using AirPlay was a sluggish nightmare. It took forever for the hardware to connect or change tracks. And once the music was playing, we experienced frequent dropouts. These are issues we didn’t have with the other AirPlay-equipped speakers in our test group. Sony’s SongPal remote control software for iOS and Android devices (which is required for using a group of X-series speakers as a multiroom system) was another sticking point—slow to connect and frustrating to use. The app offers built-in Pandora, Spotify, Deezer, and TuneIn radio controls, but the integration is hilariously bad compared with those services’ native apps. And their glossy surfaces were fingerprint magnets—it was impossible to keep the X-series speakers looking clean. No matter how good the speakers sound, these shortcomings keep us from recommending them.
The Wren V5BT Sound System with Bluetooth costs substantially less than our main pick. It’s also cheaper than the Acton. But our panelists described its sound as hollow and muffled. We took a pass on the Wren V5US, too; it sounds much the same as the V5BT but costs significantly more, largely due to the fact that it’s also AirPlay compatible.
What to look forward to
The Beolit 17 is Bang & Olufsen’s latest addition to its B&O Play line, following the Beolit 15 it released in 2015. For its current price of $500, the 17 has a similar leather strap and aluminum speaker grille to its predecessor’s, along with the same reported battery life of 24 hours. The Beolit 17 has a new, customizable connection button that you can set to one of four different modes in the Beoplay smartphone app, including an alarm clock mode and a mode to control playback. It’s available now, and we’ll look into it soon.
Oppo has released a new wireless speaker called the Sonica. Designed by Igor Levitsky, who also created Oppo’s PM-3 headphones, the Sonica features two wide-band drivers and a bass section with three separate bass drivers. In addition to Bluetooth, it offers Wi-Fi, AirPlay, and iOS and Android support via the Sonica app, where you can access and stream music through Spotify Connect and Tidal. The Sonica is available now, and we’re in the midst of testing it.
Wrapping it up
If you’re looking for a great home Bluetooth speaker at a reasonable price, get the Peachtree Audio Deepblue2. With its excellent aural separation and a wide soundstage, it sounds as good as speakers that costs hundreds of dollars more.
If price is no object, consider the Bowers & Wilkins Zeppelin Wireless. According to our listening panel, it was the best-sounding Bluetooth speaker we tested. In addition to this, it can connect to Apple hardware via AirPlay for a better listening experience than Bluetooth can manage.
Finally, if you’re looking for a less expensive way to fill a room with agreeable sound, the Marshall Acton is the way to go.
(Photos by Seamus Bellamy.)
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