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What Is a Bluetooth Speaker?

Sections: Audio, Home Audio, Portable Audio, Speakers

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This is the first in a new series of articles that provide primers for the average person about various emerging technologies.

bluetooth_logo-1When many people hear the word “Bluetooth,” they might immediately think of hands-free cell phone calling. In fact, that was the first widespread application of the technology. But over the years, Bluetooth has been adapted (and adopted) for many additional purposes.

And so we arrive at the increasingly popular category of Bluetooth audio speakers. The main utility of these is to untether your smartphone, laptop or other music-playing device from the speaker that amplifies the music for your enjoyment. That is, there are no wires or physical connections involved. It’s basically magic, usually within a distance of 10 yards or so between the music source and the speaker. The only requirement is that the device you are connecting to the Bluetooth speaker must be Bluetooth-enabled. Most of today’s relevant music-playing devices are.

Now if you’re an Apple person, Bluetooth speakers generally work with iPod/iPhone/iPad, but you’ll probably want to investigate AirPlay speakers too. Some say Airplay speakers have better sound quality than Bluetooth speakers, but there are fewer models available and they’re generally more expensive than their Bluetooth counterparts.

How do Bluetooth speakers sound? It depends on what your expectations are. They certainly don’t sound as good as a dedicated two-channel audio system, but who’s got the time, space or money for that? (If you do, congratulations! You’ve got hundreds of excellent options.) Bluetooth speakers ultimately are more about portability and convenience than audiophile quality. Don’t forget, too, that most of the streaming music you’ll be playing out of the speaker won’t even be CD-quality, so you’re not starting with the most pristine audio to begin with.

When researching Bluetooth speakers, you want a speaker that not only can give you high volume, but also does not distort when you crank it up to that high volume. Accept nothing less than smooth sailing at high volumes. If you’re looking for clear, well-defined bass, you’ll need to do some digging.

Bluetooth speakers are available in all kinds of shapes and sizes. Take for example, the Beats Pill:

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Or the JBL Pulse, which comes with its own light show:

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Or how about the bass-thumpin’ G-Boom?

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Many Bluetooth speakers also serve as Bluetooth speakerphones, which is a really nice extra bang for your buck.

CNET has a great guide to the Bluetooth speakers that are available right now. They’ve got AirPlay speakers covered too.

Check out Amazon’s best sellers right here.

What’s your favorite Bluetooth speaker? Have any questions for which we can hunt down answers? Tell us in the comments!

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