While the title of this article is “How to Make Wi-Fi Speakers,” people often have some confusion about the different types of wireless speakers, especially the difference between Wi-Fi and Bluetooth speakers.
Even if you are certain that you want to make your existing speakers into wireless speakers, you may very well want to know the answer to one of two different questions:
- How to Convert Normal Speakers into Wi-Fi Speakers
- How to Convert Normal Speakers into Bluetooth Speakers
So, despite the title, this tutorial on how to convert any speaker into a wireless speaker won’t be limited to just Wi-Fi connectivity but will consider Bluetooth connectivity as well.
We are actually going to discuss here a few different options for making normal speakers into wireless speakers, considering both active and passive speakers and both Wi-Fi and Bluetooth wireless systems.
We will also discuss the difference between Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, as well as the difference between active speakers and passive speakers, all to help you figure out what you are working with, what you might actually want to do, and exactly how to proceed.
What is a Wi-Fi Speaker?
A Wi-Fi speaker system is a system which will connect to your home’s Wi-Fi network and integrate with the other devices on the network – smart phones, PCs, music streamers and smart appliances, among others. Wi-Fi speakers are typically powered, or active, meaning they have an amplifier built in and they need to be plugged into an AC power outlet.
You can stream music, movies, podcasts or other audio to a Wi-Fi speaker that it set up anywhere in your home, as long as it is in range of the Wi-Fi network, and Wi-Fi speakers will also have a microphone built in which allows you to talk to them and do certain things on the smart home network, like turn a smart thermostat up and down, check weather over the internet, turn lights on or off, send messages or make phone calls.
What’s the Difference Between Wi-Fi Speakers and Bluetooth Speakers?
Many people get the terms Wi-Fi and wireless confused, and think that wireless speakers and Wi-Fi speakers are the same thing. In fact, a Wi-Fi speaker is always a wireless speaker, but not all wireless speakers are Wi-Fi.
The other main wireless speaker technology is Bluetooth, which is also an excellent choice for playing music wirelessly from a PC, smart telephone, tablet or other devices.
In fact, Bluetooth speakers are a bit easier to set up and manage, and will never require special apps or services to work. They connect wirelessly to a single device at one time, but are portable and often powered by a rechargeable battery, and so can be moved easily around the house (or outside) and used with any device that has Bluetooth built in.
Bluetooth speakers do not, however, allow for smart home integration or that kind of two-way communication of commands or queries. Bluetooth speakers also have much shorter range, and so must be close to the device from which you are playing music or movies – usually less than 30 feet.
In this tutorial on how to make any speaker a wireless speaker, we will be talking about converting normal speakers into both Wi-Fi and Bluetooth speakers. Most of these conversions work with active speakers – that is, a speaker with a built-in amplifier and a power cord for AC, like many desktop computer speakers – but we will discuss making this work with completely standard, non-amplified speakers as well.
What is the Difference Between an Active Speaker and a Passive Speaker?
This is a simple one:
- An Active Speaker has a built in amplifier to drive (amplify) the speakers to normal listening volume – these days, the most common type are desktop computer speakers, which can play at decent volume even from the very low level output of a computer’s headphone jack. An active speaker will have a power cord to connect to an AC outlet, and may also have a power light, an on/off switch and a volume control.
- A Passive Speaker has no amplifier, and will need a separate amplifier or receiver to provide enough power to bring it to normal listening levels. If you tried to power a passive speaker from a headphone outlet, you probably wouldn’t even be able to hear it.
We will first talk about how to turn an active speaker into a Wi-Fi speaker, then how to turn an active speaker into a Bluetooth speaker, and then how to do the same for passive speakers.
How to Convert a Normal Active Speaker into a Wi-Fi Speaker
This method will allow you to use any active speaker not just as a Wi-Fi speaker accessible from your home’s Wi-Fi network, but also as a part of an integrated smart home setup – which means you can also talk to the speaker and it will understand and act upon your commands or questions.
While it might seem impossible to turn an old-school loudspeaker into one that will recognize voice commands, as well as connect to Wi-Fi, it’s actually quite simple – just attach an Amazon Echo Dot.
The Amazon Echo Dot is itself a smart Wi-Fi speaker, which will play music (though not very well) and has a microphone built-in for voice commands. But it also has – and here’s the key – a headphone output jack, which can be used with a simple cable to attach the Dot to your active speaker. So, when the Echo Dot receives and plays music, or any audio, instead of directly playing the audio on its own limited little speaker it will send a high-quality audio signal to the active loudspeaker, which will play it instead.
Since the Amazon Echo Dot still has normal smart home functionality, and a built in microphone, it can be used for all other voice-actuated smart home functions – it sends music and audio to your active speaker, but still hears you talking to it. And the Echo Dot even has Bluetooth, so you can use it as a Bluetooth speaker too, by itself or with the active loudspeaker, and have the best of both worlds. Brilliant!
All you need to make this nifty conversion are the speaker and a cable:
Please note that this method works only with active speaker systems – that is, speakers with built-in amplifiers. The headphone output on an Echo Dot has plenty of power to drive headphones to a good volume, or to drive an amplifier’s input circuit, but nowhere close to enough for any normal passive speaker.
How to Convert a Normal Active Speaker into a Bluetooth Speaker
Again, the method just above – How to Convert a Normal Speaker into a Wi-Fi Speaker – actually provides both Wi-Fi and Bluetooth functionality, but if you aren’t interested in Wi-Fi, or smart home integration, and simply want to turn your active loudspeaker into a usable Bluetooth speaker, there are less expensive options – namely, the Bluetooth receiver.
I say “less expensive,” but actually we’re going to talk about two different levels – normal Bluetooth and audiophile Bluetooth.
- Normal Bluetooth compresses music files somewhat, making them smaller and easier to transmit. Nonetheless normal Bluetooth receivers are great for most music, especially MP3 files, for YouTube and most music streaming services, and for casual, non-critical listening, and they will make a good active loudspeaker sound fantastic.
- Audiophile Bluetooth receivers do not compress music, and offer what we call lossless audio quality, able to reproduce with full fidelity the most dynamic, rich and sweet sound. They use what is known as aptX HD codec to provide this uncompromising high fidelity sound quality, and are the default and necessary choice for any audiophile – but the good ones are more expensive (don’t assume, though, that just because a Bluetooth receiver has aptX it necessarily sounds good!).
In either case, you simply purchase a Bluetooth receiver, connect its audio output to the audio input of the active speaker system, and pair the receiver with whatever Bluetooth source device you want to play music from (for more information on how to pair Bluetooth devices, see our tutorial article HERE).
For a great sounding, very inexpensive Bluetooth receiver, we recommend:
A superb audiophile Bluetooth receiver with full 24 bit DAC (digital to analog convertor) and 5.0 aptX HD codec:
How to Convert a Normal Passive Speaker into a Wi-Fi Speaker
There is no getting around the fact that passive speakers need a separate outboard amplifier – whether it be a stereo receiver, a home theater receiver or a separate audio amplifier. Since we are planning to use a different source for music, like a PC, phone or streaming service, with our Wi-Fi speaker, there is no need to spend more money on any kind of receiver, and you can get an excellent quality and wonderful sounding stereo amplifier with no unneeded functions for a moderate price.
Indeed that’s all you need to do – simply follow the instructions above for how to turn an active speaker into a Wi-Fi speaker, but instead of plugging the Echo Dot into the speaker’s audio input you plug it into the audio input on the back panel of the amplifier, and then run speaker cables from the amp to your passive speakers – as easy as that and you have full wireless functionality and, with the right amp, incredible sound quality!
We recommend two basic amplifiers for this job, at two price levels, both offering great sound for the money, but the NAD, for a bit more, already something of a legend among audiophiles.
And, of course, you will still need the Echo Dot and a simple adaptor cable that we mentioned earlier in the article for full Wi-Fi connectivity.
And some good speaker wire to run from the amp to the passive speakers:
How to Convert a Normal Passive Speaker into a Bluetooth Speaker
As we discussed above, you simply must have an outboard stereo amplifier to make this conversion work, and we recommend the same two great amplifiers we listed just above.
Again, the steps for this conversion are identical to the section above on how to convert an active speaker to a Bluetooth speaker, with the one difference: instead of plugging the Bluetooth receiver into the speaker’s audio input you plug it into the audio input on the back panel of the amplifier, and then run speaker cables from the amp to your passive speakers.
For this conversion we recommend the same two amplifiers:
With the Amazon Basics amplifier you will still need a Bluetooth receiver – and it is a good enough amplifier to make the less expensive Bluetooth receiver sound great, but also to take full advantage of the better AudioEngine audiophile Bluetooth receiver.
But the NAD amplifier already has a brilliant aptX High Definition Bluetooth receiver built-in, and so all you need is a good audiophile speaker wire and you are all set for high fidelity Bluetooth connectivity and playback. This makes the NAD D 3020 v2 our preferred choice for converting any decent passive loudspeakers into Bluetooth-connected speakers.
And, again, some good speaker wire to run from the amp to the passive speakers:
Final Thoughts: Is it Worth the Time and Money to Convert Normal Speakers into Wireless Speakers?
When you understand the basic steps of how to convert an active or passive speaker to a Bluetooth or Wi-Fi speaker, it is not a difficult task, but it is still a bit of an investment and time and, even more so, money – a Bluetooth or Wi-Fi receiver, possible cables, even a new amplifier.
But if you have a good quality speaker system on hand – one that works well and sounds great – it is almost certainly worth the effort and investment to bring those speakers into the wonderful world of wireless connectivity. If, on the other hand, your speakers are tired, maybe don’t really sound that good, or were quite inexpensive anyway, you might well be better off investing in a new Wi-Fi or Bluetooth speaker system.
If you go this route, you may want to read our recent article which has more detail about how Bluetooth speakers work, with some recommendations for the best Bluetooth speakers on the market today.