Now that the Presidential election is finally over, we can focus our attention on another national debate: Bluetooth vs. Wi-Fi. Most wireless audio systems use either Bluetooth or Wi-Fi, but which one of these standards for wireless communication is best for wireless home entertainment, and why? Let’s meet the candidates.
First up at the podium is Bluetooth. Developed in 1994 by telecommunications vendor, Ericsson, Bluetooth is named after a 10th century Danish King, Harald Bluetooth, who united Scandinavia (like how the developers hoped to unite different forms of technology through their product). Bluetooth has a transmission range of about 30 feet, so it’s best used with systems in close proximity. Therefore, wireless audio and entertainment systems that use Bluetooth won’t be able to cover more than one room at a time, let alone your entire home.
Bluetooth does not connect to any network, but rather, connects directly to your laptop, smartphone, or tablet (basically any music playing device). This isn’t too closed off a system, because most devices have Bluetooth capability, but remember, if you are using your smartphone as a source for your music, it must remain within 30 feet of your Bluetooth speakers. Additionally, if you happen to receive a call or text while your phone is connected to your Bluetooth speakers, your music will be interrupted and the speakers will amplify the text alert or ringing.
Bluetooth uses something called “lossy data compression,” which means that it encodes its data in inexact approximations and partial data discarding to represent its content. This can create poor sound quality and makes Bluetooth audio devices more vulnerable to dropouts.
On the plus side, Bluetooth is very easy to use: just turn on the Bluetooth receiver in your Bluetooth enabled devices (such as a speaker and your smartphone) and they should discover each other almost instantaneously.
Next up at the podium is Wi-Fi. Although researched and developed throughout the 1980’s and 90’s, Wi-Fi was officially released in 1997 and has been universally adopted into homes, offices, coffee shops, trains – basically everywhere you go. Wi-Fi has a much longer range than Bluetooth, roughly 100 feet inside, and up to 300 feet outside, so you can use one system throughout the entire home, extending into your backyard if you place your router in a central location. Not only can Wi-Fi connect to multiple speakers (which Bluetooth can not), it can also support multiple channels. This means that within your wireless home entertainment system, you can actually create a system of speakers, such as “left,” “right,” “center,” and “stereo.” You can also choose to play one speaker, multiple speakers, or all of your speakers at any given time, without reconfiguration.
The initial configuration of Wi-Fi enabled home entertainment systems are much more complex than Bluetooth, but unlike Bluetooth, your Wi-Fi systems will always remember your devices (if you are logged into the same Wi-Fi network.) Therefore, with Wi-Fi, you’ll never have to worry about pairing your devices before each use.
Audiophiles tend to prefer Wi-Fi systems due to its superior sound quality; Wi-Fi systems have a wider bandwidth than Bluetooth and uses a lossless codec, which Bluetooth does not. With this in play, Wi-Fi can support high resolution, lossless audio without significant lag.
So, there you have it. Both candidates, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, have their merits, but only one of them has proven itself to be the best choice for wireless home entertainment. While Bluetooth speakers are great in compact, portable form, Wi-Fi produces better sound quality, longer range, and has multi speaker/channel capability.
The choice is yours.