Wireless Speakers: Ratings of Sources
CNET reviews a wide array of speakers and offers lists of top picks in various categories, including iPod/iPhone speaker docks, AirPlay speakers and Bluetooth speakers. Editors, including Moskovciak, test each product in the lab and report on its performance. Each review begins with a concise list of pros and cons and moves on to a more in-depth look at features, design and performance. There's also a three-minute video walk-through for each product.
PCMag.com organizes its speaker reviews into categories such as portable speakers, wireless speakers and iPod speaker systems. You can sort through the complete list of reviews to view all the products in specific categories and organize reviews by date or editor rating. Editors test each product and analyze both performance and design. Most of the products that earn the Editors' Choice award here are Bluetooth speakers, but no particular manufacturer dominates the ratings.
Of all our sources, DigitalTrends.com breaks down audio performance in the most detail. Editors put the systems through a variety of different musical styles and volume levels to test out the overall range and clarity. Reviews break out sound quality into bass, midrange and treble performance. Design and features are also evaluated. The biggest problem with this site is that many of the top reviews are several years old.
Which? magazine, a British counterpart to ConsumerReports.org, puts 44 speaker docks through a rigorous series of tests. A panel of four music experts evaluates sound quality by listening to seven different pieces while sitting at various angles from the speaker. Testers also evaluate features and ease of use. Seven speaker docks earn "Best Buy" recommendations, including five that were tested in the past two years.
Engadget.com has reviews for dozens of portable and wireless speakers, rated on a 100-point scale. Some products on this list receive only a rating and a brief write-up, while others have detailed reviews covering such aspects as setup, usage and sound quality. The site also provides a handy breakdown of the ratings each product has received from both professional critics and users on other sites, complete with links to these outside reviews.
Laptop magazine hasn't reviewed as many speakers as other publications. In the past two years, only two speakers have earned the Editors' Choice award. However, reviews are informative and detailed, covering design, setup, audio quality, features and battery life. Testers listen to several pieces from different musical genres, as well as audio for TV episodes. Each review ends with a summary verdict about who should and should not buy this speaker.
ConsumerReports.org tests the sound quality of wireless and Bluetooth speakers by measuring tonal accuracy with the speaker adjusted for balanced sound. They also evaluate ease of use and features, but unlike tech-centered publications, they don't consider appearance. The products tested comprise 16 speakers for home use and 24 portable models, including some that aren't covered by CNET and PCMag.com. Some models score much lower in ConsumerReports.org's lab tests than they do in computer publications.
Wired.com reviews a few wireless speakers each month. Reviews here are hands-on, but not quite as detailed as those at most other technology sites. Wired editors appear to have a steeper grading curve, as well; within the past two years, only half a dozen speakers have earned a rating of 8 points out of 10 ("excellent, with room to kvetch") or better.
The British publication What Hi-Fi? recommends five AirPlay speakers for 2014, based on its most recent product tests. Each speaker gets a few paragraphs summing up its features and performance, plus a link to a more detailed review. One of the recommended speakers isn't widely available in the U.S., however. The article also previews a new speaker from Dream Audio that's scheduled for release in fall 2014.
The Wirecutter, a technology blog, conducts extensive, hands-on testing of a variety of products. Reviews are comprehensive and go into detail about testing methods, but they have one big weakness: They focus chiefly on the single product The Wirecutter deems "the best," without much direct comparison between models. Categories include Bluetooth speakers and AirPlay speakers, but The Wirecutter has eliminated the category of "best iPod dock," claiming that "the future is wireless."
Speaker reviews on this site are sorted into various subcategories, such as Bluetooth, AirPlay and dock connection. Within each category, you can sort reviews by rating (in the form of a letter grade), date or title, as well as looking at reviews within a specific date range. Jeremy Horwitz walks through each product's features in detail, with lots of pictures and direct comparisons to other products, including earlier models from the same manufacturer.
BestBuy.com makes it easy to sort through speaker reviews. The site shows the number of reviews and star rating for each model, and the "top rated" link pulls out the top-rated models onto a single page. There aren't nearly as many reviews here as at Amazon.com, but most of the top-rated products are from well-known brands that are covered in professional sources.
We found a huge volume of user-written reviews at Amazon.com. There are thousands of portable speakers sold here, and many have hundreds of reviews, including several with ratings of 4.5 stars or better. One problem is that many of the top-rated portable speakers here do not show up in the "portable speakers" category; you must search for them by name to locate reviews.
Crutchfield.com, an online audio/video retailer, doesn't have a separate category for portable speakers. However, a search on the phrase "portable speakers" turns up about 60 products, including some with positive reviews from 25 or more users. Top-rated products are mostly from well-known brands like Bose, Bowers & Wilkins, and JBL. Reviews here tend to be fairly short, but they include a handy summary of pros and cons.