A Bluetooth speaker is a speaker that will connect wirelessly to a computer, phone, tablet, music player, or other music sources, using the Bluetooth wireless protocol.
Bluetooth is extremely simple and easy to use and has been built into all computers and phones, tablets, iPods and other music players, and most other gadgets, for many years now. If you have even a single good quality Bluetooth speaker, you can make it play music, movies, podcasts, or any audio from pretty much any and all of your gadgets, and with brilliant sound quality.
Even though we have had wireless technologies of one sort or another – radio, television, wireless telephones, Wi-Fi, and more – for decades now, there is something about Bluetooth that still mystifies lots of people, and many still have little idea what it is or how it works.
This brief article will explain, in simple terms, some basic but important concepts:
- What Exactly is Bluetooth?
- How Does Bluetooth Work?
- What is a Bluetooth Speaker?
- Do Bluetooth Speakers Sound Good?
- What are the Best Bluetooth Speakers?
- What is the Range of Bluetooth?
- Why is my Bluetooth Not Working?
What is Bluetooth?
Before we can talk about Bluetooth speakers, we need to provide a (very brief and very simple) explanation of what Bluetooth actually is.
Bluetooth is a wireless technology which allows certain devices to connect without the use of wires, and allows those devices to communicate with each other. These devices can work together (like a computer and Bluetooth mouse), they can exchange files (like photos from a phone to a computer), or they can stream data (like music to a Bluetooth speaker system) over the Bluetooth signal.
Bluetooth works only over relatively short distances, usually no more than about 30 feet (~ 9 meters), and so is called a “short-range” wireless communications technology. It works using radio waves around the 2.45 MHz radio frequency, using 79 different bands all together. When you are using Bluetooth, your devices will automatically hop randomly from one frequency to another, allowing you to use more than two gadgets at once and making sure the various gadgets don’t interfere with each other.
Bluetooth devices will connect automatically with each other if they are in range, and so setting up the connection should only be a matter of having both devices powered on and close enough to each other. There will be what is called a “master” Bluetooth device – often a computer or phone – and slave devices like speakers, headphones, printers, keyboards and others. A master can command and control up to 8 slave devices, and the ad-hoc network they create is known as a “piconet.”
Although this article will concentrate on Bluetooth speakers, Bluetooth is actually used for connecting lots and lots of different types of devices together. Some of the most common uses are:
- Connecting speakers to phones, computers or iPods
- Connecting headphones to phones, computers or iPods
- Connecting wearables – smart watches, smart glasses – to phones
- Connecting keyboards and mice (mouses?) to computers
- Connecting printers to computers
- Connecting phones to cars
What is a Bluetooth Speaker?
If you are thinking about buying a new speaker system for your home, you may well be wondering “should I buy a Bluetooth speaker?” or even “what exactly is a Bluetooth speaker?”
A Bluetooth speaker is simply a speaker system with a Bluetooth receiver built into it, which allows your computer, phone, music player, television or other devices to play music, movies, podcasts or other audio on the speaker without any wires. The source or “master” device just needs to be turned on and it will “discover” the Bluetooth speaker and “pair” with it, and you’re ready to go.
These days, the way we play movies and music is so very different from how it was a couple of decades ago, and people generally want to play them from many different sources. You may have a computer, a phone, a tablet, a game system, a television, a cable or satellite system and even more, and at one time or another want each of them to play through great sounding speakers. To have a speaker system for each would be a nightmare – expensive, confusing and a potential house-wide salad of copper wires!
But one good quality Bluetooth speaker system can play music, movies or other audio from each and every one of those sources, if those sources all have Bluetooth capability built in (and pretty much all gadgets do these days). This makes things much easier and tidier, and potentially saves you enough money that you could purchase a really nice sounding Bluetooth speaker system! (See below for our recommendations.)
How are Bluetooth Speakers Different from Wi-Fi Speakers?
While Bluetooth speakers connect directly to a single device using the Bluetooth wireless protocol, Wi-Fi speakers (often also called smart speakers) instead connect to your house’s Wi-Fi network, and are easily available to any computer, phone or other source on that network.
It is commonly said, on various internet guides to Bluetooth speakers versus Wi-Fi speakers, that Bluetooth audio just doesn’t sound as good as Wi-Fi audio, but this is definitely not always the case, and hasn’t been our experience at all.
If you are playing MP3s, normal Bluetooth audio will be totally sufficient to fully reproduce those MP3s and make them sound as good as they can possibly sound. And if you are playing high resolution files, like lossless FLAC files, there is actually a new Bluetooth standard – aptX HD – and this new standard provides true lossless high fidelity audio – even with full 24 bit audiophile studio masters.
But it’s our experience that, even with the older Bluetooth standard, a good Bluetooth speaker will sound incredible with any kind of music file and any kind of music, and better than a similarly priced Wi-Fi speaker. This may be because Wi-Fi speakers are more designed with various criteria in mind – styling and looks, compatibility with other smart devices and more – while Bluetooth speakers seem to be engineered primarily to sound good. And the best Bluetooth speakers really do sound fantastic!
So you don’t need to choose Wi-Fi speakers just because they have better sound, since new Bluetooth speakers can, and do, sound just as good. It is better to concentrate more on the functional differences between Wi-Fi speakers and Bluetooth speakers to figure out which is best for you.
Wi-Fi speakers usually need to be plugged into an AC power outlet, and so are not as portable. You can purchase several Wi-Fi speakers and put them in rooms all throughout the house, each accessing and visible on the Wi-Fi network, but many people find it is easier, cheaper, and simpler to have one more portable Bluetooth speaker and carry it to wherever in the house they want high-quality audio.
Wi-Fi speakers are often two-way, while Bluetooth speakers are not. This means that you can talk to Wi-Fi speakers in order to access the internet, make phone calls or send messages, set timers, and alarms, control thermostats, and appliances – the whole “smart-home” idea. Bluetooth speakers are designed to play music and other audio but are not always the best listeners.
This second point does make Wi-Fi speakers seem a bit more appealing, especially if you are going to begin setting up a whole interactive smart-home system, but the portability and affordability, the simplicity of use, and the generally excellent sound quality and overall quality and reliability of the right Bluetooth speakers make them a much more popular choice, and right for lots more people – especially if they want great-sounding music not just in the kitchen or bedroom, but on the beach or in the park as well.
In fact, everybody we know who already has, or is building, a new, fancy, expensive multi-room smart home system, with lots of speakers everywhere, still has at least one really good Bluetooth speaker system as well, and seems to use it most often.
How do Bluetooth Speakers Work?
Using the wireless Bluetooth network protocol discussed above, a Bluetooth speaker will receive music, movies, podcasts or any audio wirelessly from any source device that has a Bluetooth transmitter built in. This includes the following devices and more:
- Smart phones
- iPods or other audio players
- Gaming systems
- Stereo or home theater systems
Bluetooth speakers often also have audio jacks for regular wires, and can be connected this way as well, which can be convenient for various reasons and allows you to use a Bluetooth speaker system with equipment that doesn’t have a Bluetooth transmitter built in.
Using Bluetooth for wireless audio with a Bluetooth speaker couldn’t be simpler. You just turn on the Bluetooth on your computer, phone or other device, turn the speaker on, make sure they’re in range, and they should find each other and automatically connect. You then play music on that source device – computer, phone etc. – and it will come through the Bluetooth speaker with great sound quality. You can control the volume of the audio either on the speaker itself or at the source.
How far away do Bluetooth speakers work?
Typically a Bluetooth speaker will have a range up to around 30 feet. Anything beyond that and your music or audio signal may cut in and out, or the speaker might not even connect with the source device in the first place.
How do Bluetooth ceiling speakers work?
A Bluetooth in-ceiling, or for that matter, in-wall speaker works just as any other Bluetooth speaker works, its Bluetooth receiver pairing with a nearby Bluetooth transmitter (for example, in your computer, phone or music player) and playing music, movies, podcasts or other audio.
While these Bluetooth ceiling speakers are still quite convenient, most people would rather have, again, a portable Bluetooth speaker which they take from place to place. Anyway, a wireless Bluetooth (or Wi-Fi) speaker will still probably need at least one wire, for AC power, or you will need to replace its batteries – not quite as easy as replacing a bulb in a ceiling light fixture!
How do Bluetooth speakers work with an iPhone or iPad?
Connecting a Bluetooth speaker with an iPhone or iPad is simplicity itself. Just follow these easy steps and you’ll be up and running:
- Open Settings on your Apple
- Go to Bluetooth Settings and turn Bluetooth on
- Make sure your Bluetooth speaker is in range and turn it on
- If necessary, make sure your Bluetooth speaker is “discoverable”
- When the speaker appears on your Apple’s screen, tap it to pair them
- Play music and, if desired, dance!
And if you’re wondering how Bluetooth speakers work with Android phones or tablets, you follow literally exactly the same steps as outlined above.
How do Bluetooth speakers work with computer?
Again, it is so simple to pair a Bluetooth speaker with any computer, by using the following steps:
- Click on “Start” (the Windows icon at the bottom left of the screen) or “Search” (the magnifying glass just to the right of Start
- Type in “Bluetooth”
- Select “Bluetooth Settings”
- Turn on Bluetooth
- Make sure the Bluetooth speaker is turned on, discoverable and in range
- On the computer screen, select the Bluetooth speaker
- Click on “Pair”
And, just like that, you’re good to go!
User Tips for Making your Bluetooth Speaker Work
Getting your Bluetooth Speaker to Work – Problems and Troubleshooting
As simple as the above instructions on how to make your Bluetooth speaker work with Apple or Windows are, some people still seem to have problems getting the whole thing working. But don’t worry – problems with Bluetooth may happen when you are first setting up (though very rarely these days) but they are simple to figure out, and once you do it is the easiest and most reliable system we know of.
So here are a few basic troubleshooting suggestions. If you have followed the instructions above, and there is no discovering, pairing or actual music happening, try one or more of these:
- First, make sure the Bluetooth speaker is in range (normally 30 feet, but with some speakers maybe less)
- Make sure the speaker is fully charged, turned on and “discoverable” – if you’re not sure how to do this, consult the speaker’s owner’s manual
- Make sure Bluetooth is turned on on your computer, phone or other master device
- Make sure volume is turned up at least enough to hear (always start out with low volume, though!)
- Make sure that you are actually playing music on the computer or other device, and that if the device’s music player has a volume control it is also turned up
- Make sure no other Bluetooth master devices are paired with and playing music to the speaker
- If it’s still not working, turn your computer, phone or other master device’s Bluetooth off and on and, if necessary, restart your master device and speaker
Getting the Most from your Bluetooth Speaker
Bluetooth speakers these days sound absolutely great, but there are a couple of things you can do to make them sound even better.
- Play around with positioning – closer to the floor or walls, or in a bookshelf, your speaker may have more bass. Raised, or on ear level, it may have more highs and a brighter, more detailed sound
- Make sure your Bluetooth speaker is in range, close enough to work without the sound cutting in and out
- Make sure your Bluetooth speaker is fully charged
- Try different music players on your phone or computer – many audiophiles swear by free music players like foobar2000 or AIMP
- Try using a graphic equalizer to raise or lower high and low frequencies to your own preference
- Different file types sound different – an MP3 can sound really great, but a FLAC (or, on Apple, ALAC) “lossless” file format will sound better, a 24 bit FLAC even better still, and then the rarified levels of SACD, ISO, DSD
- Get the best Bluetooth speaker you can afford!
What are the Best Bluetooth Speakers?
This is meant to be an informational article, not a buyer’s guide for the best Bluetooth speakers, but still we thought it would be helpful to offer a very few recommendations for Bluetooth speakers we think really stand out, with incredible sound and overall quality for the money.