Remember wires and docking stations?
It is a question that music lovers will not-so-wistfully ask themselves this year as they link their smartphones and tablets to wireless speakers. But as 2013 begins, there are decisions to make—namely, whether to adopt AirPlay or Bluetooth as your technology of choice.
The answer was obvious until now. AirPlay, the brainchild of Apple, led the charge, its technology featured in many high-fidelity products from respected audio manufacturers. Bluetooth, on the other hand, was historically a tool handy for data and voice transmissions. Today, thanks to a codec called aptX, it is getting a technical infusion.
This raises the bar for Bluetooth, giving it (practically speaking) the same CD-level sound quality as AirPlay. The abilities of the new Bluetooth wireless speakers, such as Monster’s Katana model, are breathtaking. And this newfound excellence couldn’t come at a better time. Most electronics makers have abandoned wires and ports in the wake of the Apple iPhone 5’s Lightning port, a development that effectively rendered many non-Apple products that relied on hard-wired connections or docking stations obsolete.
The main difference now between AirPlay and Bluetooth is range. AirPlay links to a WiFi network so you can transmit music to any AirPlay-equipped speaker in the house. It is particularly convenient if you use a computer as a music source: Sending tunes simultaneously to different rooms is a capability that feels nearly god-like to inner geeks everywhere. Bluetooth, meanwhile, has an effective range of about 30 feet—better when using a smartphone or tablet as the music source while in a single room.
Either option is musically satisfying, although AirPlay does have one caveat. In our experience its effectiveness is only as good as the signal strength of your WiFi network—fluctuations tend to induce dropouts that interrupt the steady stream of sound.
Here’s a look at some of the newest AirPlay and Bluetooth wireless speakers, a survey that ranges from all-in-one systems like the McIntosh McAire to a well-designed, one-pound, Kickstarter-funded speaker from Hidden Radio that is easily transportable. Listen up….