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Testing Ground

Top 10 Connected Speakers: Which One to Choose in 2021?

By Alban Amouroux |

The connected speaker has become a genuine music world phenomenon in recent years. Like the sound bar in front of your home cinema system, the small wireless speaker has replaced many large HiFi systems, boasting the undeniable advantage of an all-in-one format with a built-in appeal to a large audience. Just plug a single device into a power outlet and you can digitally access all the music your heart and ears desire. And forget the old infrared remote control: connected speakers can be controlled from a mobile application, or even by voice. The market offers so many options that we have compiled a Top 10 list of the best connected speakers available for your browsing convenience.

HiFi made an effortlessly natural shift into the realm of connected speakers, and small wonder, given their multifunctional assets and appeal to the music consumer: a single device, with built-in speakers and amplification, along with a network connection, Bluetooth and occasionally USB audio inputs to connect other equipment, if necessary. The connected speaker is the Ghetto Blaster of the 2000s, but offering even more quality and practicality.

The connected speaker has come to the fore thanks to the development of music streaming services. In the absence of a physical music collection, these speakers just need to access digital music files in some fashion. Whether connected via WiFi or wired directly to the box, they are designed to access music streaming services and platforms via an Internet connection.

There are two ways to play music from these all-in-one speakers. In all cases, you’ll need a mobile application for smartphone or tablet. Each speaker manufacturer offers its own app, requiring it to integrate streaming services like Qobuz. Alternatively, many of these speakers have one or more reception protocols or platforms independent of the streaming services: AirPlay, Chromecast, DTS Play-Fi or UPnP. This far more universal solution lets you control the connected speaker directly from the streaming application. All the speakers in this Top 10 List are therefore compatible with Qobuz, either natively or via a wireless audio protocol.

1. Apple HomePod Mini: low-profile sound for the entire house

Price : 99 €
Functions : WiFi, 360° audio, 1x 80 mm full-range driver, 2x passive radiators, power not specified, AirPlay 2, Siri vocal assistant

After discontinuing the HomePod speaker, Apple has unveiled a new version aptly named the HomePod Mini. Measuring under 10 cm tall and 8.4 cm in diameter, we’ve rarely seen a smaller connected speaker. However, the Mini still features the touch surface on top, as well as Siri voice assistant.

This is obviously not a HiFi unit. However, it is a great low-profile multiroom speaker for playing music throughout your house, at a bargain sticker price. With Airplay 2, you can use your iPhone to relay any music source to the speaker. Available in white or black, with the stereo-pairing option, the HomePod Mini is virtually indispensable.

Pros :
Minimal footprint
Siri vocal assistant
AirPlay 2

Cons :
Limited functions
Sound reproduction is decent but not really HiFi

   

2. Harman Kardon Citation One MKII: the compact alternative with a powerful sound

Price : 229 €
Functions : WiFi, Bluetooth, mono, 1x 89 mm woofer, 1x 20 mm tweeter, 40 Watts, Chromecast, Google Assistant

When it comes to this hotly contested price range, you may immediately think of other top names in the field. But let’s not forget Harman Kardon, a brand with a long history in the world of HiFi. The comprehensive Citation range offers the MKII version of the One model, a very simple entry point to the format.

All models in the Citation range come with the same finish – a cabinet covered in thick blended wool acoustic fabric, with this model offered in light grey, black, navy blue or pink. If you appreciate powerful sound and especially low frequencies, and have a medium-sized room to fill with music, then the Citation One MKII is your perfect match. Voice control is provided by the Chromecast protocol linked to Google Assistant.

Pros :
Choice of appearance and colours
Powerful sound
Chromecast

Cons :
Less faithful with radio or podcasts
Limited settings

3. Bang & Olufsen Beoplay M3: a small well-equipped connected speaker

Price : 299 €
Functions : WiFi, Bluetooth, mono, 1x 95 mm woofer, 1x 19 mm tweeter, 2x40 Watts, Chromecast, AirPlay 2, 1x input

Bang & Olufsen has always been a major player in the connected speaker market, with models at all prices, featuring outstanding design. The M3 is the smallest model in the range, boasting an exemplary finish, whether in black or light grey, and significant power, with a dedicated amplifier channel per speaker.

The sound signature is understated by default, in order to faithfully reproduce all styles of music, although you can calibrate the tone using the comprehensively effective app. On the connectivity side, you can choose between Chromecast and AirPlay 2. This is also one of the few small-sized speakers equipped with a line input that can automatically turn on the speaker upon detection of an audio signal.

Pros :
Universal sound signature
Connectivity
High-quality finish

Cons :
Model soon to be discontinued…

4. Bluesound Pulse Flex 2i: a mini-HiFi system in a mini connected speaker

Price : 349 €
Functions : WiFi, Ethernet, Bluetooth, mono, 1x 102 mm woofer, 1x 25 mm tweeter, 25 Watts, AirPlay 2, Roon Ready, 1x input/optical, 1x headphone output, 1x USB port

The price of the Pulse Flex 2i puts it in the upper category in terms of its size, mainly because it is packed with features to make it a perfect standalone unit. Despite the small format, the Pulse Flex 2i boasts dual analogue and digital optical input, as well as a headphone output and a USB port, to connect a key or a hard drive. Qobuz is integrated into the mobile application; there’s even an optional battery.

The Pulse Flex 2i features quality speakers combined with a bass-reflex port, showcasing the very best a small format can offer. Timbres are faithfully reproduced, with a silky midrange-treble and a proper bass level. This is a small HiFi speaker you can configure as a stereo pair to create a quality system to replace the classic mini-HiFi.

Pros :
HiFi quality
Complete connectivity
Qobuz integrated

Cons :
Bland design

5. Audio Pro C10 MKII: the most accessible connected stereo speaker

Price : 349 €
Functions : WiFi, Bluetooth, stereo, 1x 13 cm woofer, 2x 19 mm tweeters, 2x20W + 40W, AirPlay 2, Chromecast, 1x RCA input, 1x 3.5 mm input jack, 1x subwoofer output

Audio Pro started out offering Bluetooth speakers before moving on to connected models. The latest C10 MKII features a rectangular elongated shape, setting it apart from other models previously mentioned in this list. It offers a semi-stereo configuration with two tweeters but just one woofer.

The C10 MKII maxes out its wireless music access, with Qobuz integrated into its application, and compatibility with AirPlay 2 and Chromecast. A sophisticated finish comes in three colours: black, grey and white. As for the sound, it meets all expectations for most modern musical styles with a range that can drop down to 45 Hz.

Pros :
High-quality sound reproduction
Excellent connectivity
Qobuz integrated

Cons :
No USB port

6. Denon Home 250: the alternative to small-sized HiFi bookshelf speakers

Price : 499 €
Functions : WiFi, Ethernet, Bluetooth, stereo, 2x 10 cm woofers, 2x 19 mm tweeters, 1x passive radiator, power not specified, AirPlay 2, Roon Tested, 1x 3.5 mm input jack, 1x USB port

Denon offers three connected speakers, including their intermediate model, the Home 250. This stereo speaker is equipped with two full channels and a passive radiator to reinforce the low frequencies. The workmanship is excellent, with a front face covered with fabric and a reflective upper surface with proximity-sensitive keys that light up as your hand approaches the control panel.

Connectivity includes an auxiliary input mini-jack and a USB port capable of reading the contents of memory sticks and external hard drives. To access Qobuz, you will need to switch to AirPlay 2 or Roon. The Home 250 is the most balanced of the range, with an enjoyable HiFi signature, bringing its sound reproduction very close to a pair of small bookshelf speakers

Pros :
High-quality vocal reproduction
Complete connectivity
Appearance and finish

Cons :
Qobuz still not integrated

7. Sonos Five: the most versatile connected speaker

Price : 579 €
Functions : WiFi, Ethernet, stereo, 3x woofers, 3x tweeters, power not specified, AirPlay 2, Roon, 1x 3.5 mm input jack

The largest Sonos speaker enjoyed a little makeover a few months ago. The Five is a simple evolution of the Play: 5, with a little more power to better support future updates. The white version is now entirely white – including the logo. The interior still features six speakers operating in stereo mode.

The Five has plenty of internal volumes to deliver a meaty sound backed by bass-driven sound – guaranteed to appeal to electronic music aficionados. Auto-calibration via an iPhone resets the registers back where they belong, recreating a wide soundstage well beyond the confines of the speaker. Qobuz is integrated, and the analogue input is recommended for connecting a vinyl turntable.

Pros :
Soundstage
Trueplay audio calibration
User friendly

Cons :
No digital input or USB port

   

8. Naim Mu-so Qb 2: the most exuberant connected speaker

Price : 899 €
Functions : WiFi, Ethernet, Bluetooth, stereo, 1x woofer, 2x midrange drivers, 2x tweeters, 2x passive radiators, 4x50 + 1x100 Watts, AirPlay 2, Chromecast, Roon Tested, 1x 3.5mm input jack, 1x digital optical input, 1x USB port

Starting with its 21 cm-sided cubic design, English manufacturer Naim called on the expertise of Focal & Co. to somehow outfit this unit with seven speaker drivers. The finish is exceptional, a mix of acrylic, metal and fabric, and the large rotary volume dial on top is a real gem.

The Mu-so Qb 2 operates in stereo, although the woofer is shared between the right and left channels. The calculated angling of the drivers allows the unit to effortlessly fill large rooms with music. The Naim excels in the midrange as few connected speakers do – further proof of its HiFi lineage.

Pros :
Musicality
Materials and finish
Connectivity

Cons :
Limited bass frequency range

9. Devialet Phantom II 95 dB: the specialist in spectacular bass

Price : 990 €
Functions : WiFi, Ethernet, Bluetooth, mono, 1x full-range driver, 2x woofers, 350 Watts max., AirPlay 2, 1x 3.5 mm input jack, 1x digital optical input

Devialet recently reviewed its entire speaker range: exit the Reactor series, enter the Phantom II. Available in two power levels for a higher or smaller maximum sound level, the 95 dB version should satisfy most music lovers. The design that made the brand hasn’t changed: a front-facing driver takes care of the midrange / treble while two back-to-back woofers explore the bass frequencies.

This mini speaker still impresses in the low frequencies, with an impact and sub-bass layers that simply cannot be found in any other speaker in this format. In mono mode, the sound gathers in the centre but the soundstage remains wide enough to fill large spaces with music.

Pros :
Bass impact
Tiny format
Broad soundstage

Cons :
Better as a stereo pair
Qobuz not yet integrated

10. Cabasse The Pearl Akoya: the most realistic connected speaker

Price : 1 490 €
Functions : WiFi, Ethernet, Bluetooth, mono, 1x 13 cm coaxial with 25 mm tweeter, 1x 17 cm woofer, 2x300 + 400 Watts, AirPlay 2, 1x 3.5 mm input jack, 1x digital optical input, 1x USB port

The concept of the spatially coherent sound source used in Cabasse column and bookshelf speakers has been passed down to the Pearl Akoya. The brand's small-sized connected model, therefore, benefits from an advanced design, with three speakers aligned on the same axis. Tweeter and midrange broadcast forward while the woofer is installed in the rear. The considerable power of this speaker ensures that there is no distortion, even at high volume.

At a comfortable volume, these drivers deliver HiFi-level sound reproduction, with terrific sonic realism over the entire spectrum. Although it works in mono, the Pearl Akoya deftly separates and discerns each instrument in your music to make it all easily listenable. The ample connectivity complements Qobuz, integrated here in Hi-Res.

Pros :
Tons of presence
Powerful bass range
Connectivity

Cons :
A premium-priced speaker

Conclusion

HiFi has evolved in almost no time at all. The smart speaker has become the most popular and user-friendly device for anyone looking to enjoy a comfortable listening experience without sacrificing quality. While these speakers may be small, they boast capabilities far beyond their size and format.

Integrated amplification and digital audio signal processing are designed and tailored specifically for built-in speakers. Used alone in mono, the result is perfectly suitable for background music. However, more demanding listeners will go for stereo models, or choose a speaker that can be used in pairs. In view of that, we’re really no longer very far from a HiFi system composed of separate elements, with fewer cables, more simplicity via mobile applications, and competitive acoustic qualities. In which case, this Top 10 list of connected speakers is guaranteed to feature a model in perfect tune with your musical tastes!