Wireless Speakers, Piece by Piece
January 29, 2014 1:33 PM   Subscribe

I'd really like to get some wireless speakers I could plug my ipod or iphone into in and have it play throughout the house. Money is tight at the moment, which got me thing that one way to do it would to buy speakers piecemeal. To start, get one speaker that is portable. As money comes along, add more speakers to it. But I am afraid I have no idea what to look for when looking at speakers.

I've been trying to figure it out by looking at what's offered on amazon, and I'm at a loss. I have never paid much attention to stereo equipment, but these days I really want to fill the house with music. I'm hoping to keep the initial expense under $100, and ideally under $50. I've tried to figure it out on my own, but I'm afraid that I don't know what I'm looking for (which is really embarrassing, to be frank). I purchased a small $20 speaker that plugs in to the headphone jack and it's actually not half bad in a quiet room.

The problem it's not loud enough to hear in the shower or over the din in some rooms in the house that have air filters or am running fans. And it's too quiet for large rooms, it really has a 10ft radius for good sound. So one requirement is to be louder than a room with running water, and fans since those are the two places I'd like to use a speaker. I did see some shower speakers, but I don't think I want that; it seems to single purpose.

I'd also like something that would put out descent sound while on a boat with the motor running; I usually rent a boat a couple times a year. However the last one isn't a necessity, and might be something I could get later. Ideally that would work with the same system.

I looked into airplay as well, but it looks more expensive, and I didn't really see any speakers that did both airplay and plug into an audio jack (though, perhaps I just misunderstood what I was looking at). I'd only want to play directly from the mac once in a while; playing from the iPod and iPhone would be more important.

Ipod is an older model with the bigger charger, iphone has the lightening connector. I would also like to have one that can do bluetooth, but it isn't necessary.

I'm not an audiophile (because you couldn't figure that out from this post), I just want speakers with decent sound, no hiss and not too tinny or clipped.
posted by LANA! to Technology (13 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Do you currently have any wired speakers? Maybe for your TV? We use an airport express to stream music from (apple) phones and laptops to our TV surround-sound system and it works beautifully.
posted by anastasiav at 1:46 PM on January 29, 2014

i use the Sonos system. it's well over your price point (it looks like the cheapest component is the Play:1, at $199), but worth the investment if you can swing it. easy interface that can be accessed from an app on your iphone or computer. lets you play music from your computer library (i find that your computer must be turned on for this), or from pandora, internet radio, etc. you can add components over time. you can play different music in different rooms, or use "party mode" to play the same stuff throughout your house.

you can also get a Sonos component that will operate with your existing receiver and speakers (if you have them), but that's quite a bit more, at $349 (the "Connect").
posted by smokyjoe at 1:59 PM on January 29, 2014 [1 favorite]

Basic wireless speakers provide a way to play music from your device without attaching a wire to your device. Bluetooth is the cheaper implementation of that, Airplay is the somewhat better more expensive iOS and OS X version.

If you want a whole house system you're looking for something like Sonos which will give you a lot more flexibility but also be a lot more expensive.

A good place to read up and look at purchase options is The Wirecutter.
posted by alms at 2:07 PM on January 29, 2014

Check out the Pioneer A1.

It's $90 and thus under your budget.

Connectivity is flexible. You can connect through Aux In (wired, like headphone cable), USB (wired, via your iPod/iPhone connector cable) or AirPlay (wireless, if you have a wifi network) or an ad-hoc wireless network (a direct wireless network you set up between the A1 and the iPhone or iPod).

We have the Pioneer A4 model and it works well. As the Amazon reviews note, the initial setup (we use ours with our house-wide AirPlay network) is indeed a pain in the ass, but it works quite nicely afterwards. I would expect the setup process for the A1 would be similar, if not identical.

I like the sound from the A4, but I don't know how the A1 sounds. The A1 is cheaper probably because it has one fewer speaker and less bass. If you can find one in a big box store, that might be a good way to test it out with your music and ears.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 2:07 PM on January 29, 2014

Ah, sorry. I missed your boating requirement. You'd need to look at the Pioneer A3, which has a lithium rechargeable battery, but costs $150 and so is over your budget. The A3 looks like an A1, but adds a built-in battery and water resistance. Hope this still helps, though.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 2:17 PM on January 29, 2014

I got an HMDX bluetooth speaker for $20 at a Best Buy store. It works fine, ideal for using in the shower. Here's the Amazon page, although they are charging $24. It has a rechargeable battery which you charge by plugging it into any USB charger with the cable supplied.
posted by w0mbat at 4:51 PM on January 29, 2014

I got the UE Mini Boom, as recommended by the Wirecutter. It's crazy small, and puts out a surprising amount of sound for its size. It's bluetooth, but also has an audio-in jack.

The boat requirement is iffy, but I've never
posted by O9scar at 5:26 PM on January 29, 2014 [2 favorites]

"I've never cranked it that high" - not sure why that got cut off.
posted by O9scar at 9:56 PM on January 29, 2014

Response by poster: No receiver. I've been primary listening to music through headphones or a cheap pair of wired computer speakers. I only recently got this speaker, and it's pretty good within a 6ft radius and okay within a 10 food radius, but only if the room is quiet. But now that I have that speaker, I've started to realize how enjoyable it is having music when doing various tasks around the house. But that little guy requires me to carry it to the new workspace, and some spaces have a lot of white noise, which drowns out the speaker.

Initially I don't mind carrying around a speaker, but the goal would be to just have one in every room.

If it's too much based on my price point, then a speaker for the boat can wait. In a perfect world, I would be able to later get something that works on the boat that would also work on the same system I end up using at home. An example would be I get a moderately loud speaker that works in most rooms in the house and use it portably, and in the summer save up for a better speaker that can work with the first speaker, and place it in the biggest room in the house when not on the infrequent boating adventure.

I looked at a few speakers suggested already, such as the jambox and the mini boom, but they don't work together with other speakers, do they? When I'm done, I'd like to have a speaker in every room, so I can walk from one room to the next and have the same music playing. Is that possible to do in a piecemeal fashion?

I saw the Sonos but it is more than I can afford right now.

I failed to mention that my house is a 2 story house, and I'd ideally like reasonable sound in each room, 4 bedroom, 2 bath living room kitchen den and laundry room.

This is the speaker that started my search. I saw that it could be chained together, but using wires. I saw systems like the sanos that work the way I want a system to work, but I don't have the money for something like that, and from the little I can understand, I saw many people saying it's overpriced for what it is.

Perhaps one understanding I don't have is that my assumption is that I would use one speaker to connect the device through, either wired or bluetooth, and that would broadcast to the other speakers. And if I tried to pair blue tooth to a household full of blue tooth speakers that the music wouldn't sync up, or that a speaker that is on the opposite side of the house on a different floor than the device playing it wouldn't work. Plus, that would require bluetooth, which my older iPod does not have. I like using the iPod because it doesn't really have to think and I'm not worried about losing it or damaging it like I am my iPhone.

I am embarrassingly out of date. The last time I had a real stereo system was 20 years ago.
posted by LANA! at 10:02 PM on January 29, 2014

This reminds me that Logitech killed off a great product line... The Squeezebox... That did exactly what you want, at the price you want. You can still find the hardware on amazon and elsewhere, and the server software, which is terrific, is still supported by the community with ports to various oses and apps.

I just picked up a Logitech UE Mini Boom, and it's a pretty good solution. It's not a small piece of a growing system, however.
posted by notyou at 10:07 PM on January 29, 2014

Response by poster: Okay Okay, I finally got around to reading the wirecutter site. It does look like the Sonos is what I'm looking for with it's room by room expansion. :/
posted by LANA! at 10:24 PM on January 29, 2014

Keep in mind that Sonos is a lot more expensive than AirPlay devices. If you're trying to put speakers in every room on a budget, look at a $60 AirPort Express with a $30 Pyle amp and a $30-50 bookshelf speaker set. Sonos gear will run 2-3 times the cost per room.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 9:50 AM on January 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

I supported the Rocki on Kickstarter, if you want to approach things from a wifi perspective rather than Bluetooth. Basically you get one for every speaker, although it's preorder only right now, it might be the best affordable option.
posted by herbaliser at 4:54 PM on January 30, 2014 [1 favorite]

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