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17 best speakers 2016 UK | Best wireless speaker | Best Bluetooth speaker  May 25, 2022 – 07:26 pm

Looking for the best wireless, Bluetooth and wired speakers to improve audio for iPhone, iPad and Mac? Here's our selection of the best speakers available in the UK

What's the best wireless Bluetooth speaker?

There's a lot of choice when it comes to speakers and wireless speakers, and it's not always clear which will be the best speaker, or the best Bluetooth speaker, for you. Here, we bring you our pick of the 17 best speakers available and expert buying advice to help you choose from the selection. We've got the best iPhone speakers, best bluetooth speakers, best portable speakers and more.

The iPhone 7 and 7 Plus provide up to 256GB of storage, which makes them ideal for home entertainment and storing all your music and video files - even those with 16- or 32GB devices can stream the latest music through the likes of Apple Music and Spotify. With music becoming more easily available, you'll need a good speaker system to go with them, and you're really spoilt for choice these days.

There are dozens of speaker manufacturers fighting for a slice of the Apple pie, with speakers in all shapes and sizes, designed for both indoor and outdoor use. Many speakers talk the talk - but do they walk the walk?

In this article, we explain various features you should look out for when in the market for a new speaker for your device, including the compression technology used by the speaker, and '360 degree audio'.

Best speakers 2016 buying advice: Compression Technology

By default, every Bluetooth audio-capable device must be able to use an agreed basic compression system, known as SBC. Sub-band coding is a psychoacoustic lossy codec - that is, it discards music information deemed not so important to our ears, to greatly reduce the number of bits that must be sent in a digital music stream.

The quality of SBC varies and it runs at various bitrates, depending on how fine and deep the slices are made into separate frequency bands known as 'bins'. Actually quality depends on how the sending device has been configured by its maker. But SBC typically runs at around 200 kb/s, and has the subjective quality of MP3 at 128 kb/s - which is to say, not at all good.

Alternatives are now in use thankfully. Top dog is aptX, a British invention that forms the basis of DTS cinema sound. It's still lossy and compressed sound but amazingly nearly transparent to CD resolution at its fixed bitrate of 350 kb/s. Samsung invested heavily in current aptX licence holder CSR plc and now fits aptX compatibility into most of its Google phones.

Apple does not include aptX in any of its iOS devices, although Macs since Snow Leopard can use aptX Bluetooth audio. Instead, the iPhone and iPad will try to beam out Bluetooth audio using the AAC codec, which is part of the MPEG-4 standard. Results are always better than SBC, but not quite so good as aptX.

Best speakers 2016 buying advice: Amp classification

The second hindrance to Bluetooth speaker sound is the current reliance on low-fidelity amplification technology, in common with other budget consumer electronics. While natural sounding hi-fi amplifiers still use a linear system known as Class A or Class B (more typically both, to form Class AB), cheap and portable audio devices use a fast-switching PWM system to drive speakers, known as Class D.

Class D is a clever way to make amplifiers far more efficient, turning more precious mains or battery power into usable amp output power. That's particularly noteworthy in a mobile age dependent on batteries. Class D amps run cold so don't require massive heatsinks to vent unwanted heat. A complete powerful 20W amp module can be built around a small microchip, saving much space and cost. The technology has everything going for it - except sound quality, which is typically grainy, harsh, lifeless and stripped of the natural essence of music.

The smallest of speakers with a single midrange speaker and limited volume can hide some of these issues; the challenge for the designer is to make a full-range speaker system that makes you actually want to listen to it.

Best speakers 2016 buying advice: 360-degree audio

A popular feature of Bluetooth speakers is "360-degree audio" - but what is 360-degree audio? Generally speaking, speakers that offer 360-degree audio are usually cylindrical or circular in design and feature drivers facing every direction, opposed to the traditional front-facing speaker setup. This produces 'room filling audio' which waves goodbye to the audio 'sweet spot' that you'll find on traditional speakers, where audio will sound best when facing a certain direction. Though it's not a deal breaker, it's usually something we look for when in the market for a new speaker.

Best speakers 2016 buying advice: Battery life

What about battery life? While not too long ago, the standard battery life for a Bluetooth speaker was a slightly disappointing five hours, we've come along way with regards to Bluetooth accessory battery life and with many budget speakers offering upwards of 10 hours per charge, we wouldn't recommend buying a speaker that offers anything dramatically less. Also, it's worth keeping an eye out for speakers that double up as portable battery chargers, as it'll probably come in handy when using your smartphone to play music.

Best speakers 2016 buying advice: Wi-Fi connectivity

Some Bluetooth speakers also offer Wi-Fi connectivity, so which connection should you opt for? Traditionally, using a Bluetooth connection gives you a 10m range (although this may vary between products), which means that you'll only be able to play music from a speaker in the same room as you - any further and you'll probably experience the audio cutting out. However, Wi-Fi has a much wider reach, and could allow you to play music from anywhere in the house. With this being said, the Wi-Fi setup process can be quite stressful and require users to install a specific app on their smartphone in order to operate the speaker, whereas Bluetooth setup takes 30 seconds.

Libratone Zipp

In terms of design, the Libratone Zipp brings something a little different to the table. Why? As the name suggests, you can unzip the cover of the Zipp and swap it out with a different one, making the speaker more of a fashion statement than just a speaker. Although at £19 a pop, we don’t think we’d have too many spares laying around – but it’s a nice option for those a little more fashion conscious than ourselves.

The Zipp goes above and beyond the functionality of a standard Bluetooth speaker in some aspects, offering the ability to charge your phone via the built-in USB port. That’s not all though, as the Zipp boasts Wi-Fi capabilities alongside the standard Bluetooth offering, enabling Spotify Connect and AirPlay, along with the ability to stream internet radio. The built-in AirPlay functionality works well with iOS most of the time, although we suffered from occasional stuttering despite having a fairly strong Wi-Fi signal. The Bluetooth connection offered no issues for us, though.

The speaker provides excellent 360-degree sound from five drivers which are tuned for boomy bass rather than crisp highs, and lasts around 10 hours per charge. You can control things from the touch sensitive panel on the top which is easy enough to get used to, but a little confusing to operate at first. Our only complaint is that at higher listening levels the poise and balance of the audio is lost.

Acoustic Energy Aego 3

It's almost a decade since the original Aego M speakers picked up a rave review on Macworld, but there's finally been an update in the form of the new Aego 3.

In some ways, the Aego 3 does still look rather old-fashioned. It's a 2.1 speaker system with two small stereo satellites that are designed to sit on either side of a computer monitor, along with a knee-high sub-woofer that can go down on the floor beside your desk.


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