THERE ARE MANY DIFFERENT wireless audio systems available, using both open and proprietary standards. The two most common standards today are Bluetooth and AirPlay.
Bluetooth is universal and comes with almost every phone, tablet, and computer currently made. AirPlay is a proprietary Apple format that works over Wi-Fi with iPhones, iPads, and MacBooks. There are important differences between the two.
Bluetooth is a near-field standard, which limits communication between a mobile device and the speakers to no more than 30 feet apart (the ideal distance is 15 feet or less). Consequently, if you leave the room with your smartphone, the music will start to skip or drop out completely. While Bluetooth works well if you are going to be in the same room as your music source, it’s not a good choice if you want a multi-room audio setup.
Moreover, Bluetooth is a lossy streaming format, much like MP3, which can impact the quality of the music. If you are listening to streaming audio, you may not pick up on the fact that it’s lossy, but you cannot enjoy full CD-quality audio by using Bluetooth.
Bluetooth also can only connect to a single output speaker at a time. There are stereo Bluetooth speakers. The options are either a single box with both channels built-in, like a soundbar, which provides inadequate stereo separation, or a pair of stereo Bluetooth speakers that must be connected with a cable, which makes the solution no longer completely wireless.
AirPlay is a proprietary standard from Apple that sends music over Wi-Fi. It can send full CD-quality audio up to 16-bits and 48kHz without any compression. However, because AirPlay uses Wi-Fi, its range is determined by your home’s existing Wi-Fi network. If your network is finicky your wireless speakers will be, also. You can stream music to several AirPlay speakers at once from a single device, but only if it’s running iTunes for Windows. AirPlay doesn’t currently support streaming from an Android phone or tablet.