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After researching 27 Bluetooth speakers and testing 18 contenders, we think the Marshall Stanmore is the best home Bluetooth speaker for people who want a full-sounding compact audio system that’s intended to stay in one place rather than be carried around. The Stanmore’s ultrasimple operation and room-filling sound will appeal to lots of listeners.
The Marshall Stanmore has a big, powerful sound that can easily fill a living room. It has plenty of bass, which is often a weak point for compact audio systems. Voices and musical instruments sound clear and surprisingly natural for an all-in-one wireless speaker. Although the bass and treble tone controls mounted on top of the speaker make it easy to adjust the sound to your liking, we think the Stanmore sounds good enough that you probably won’t need to use those features much. We like its guitar-amp styling, but if you don’t, check out our runner-up.
The Harman Kardon Go + Play Mini is great, but its sound and style differ substantially from those of our top pick. Although both speakers sounded very good to our listening panel, the Go + Play Mini didn’t play as loud or have as much bass. What it does have is sleek styling that should fit with almost any decor. A handle and a built-in rechargeable battery rated at eight hours of run time make the Go + Play Mini convenient to move from room to room, but it’s not weather resistant, so you should keep it inside. This model is also one of the few in this category that include a speakerphone function.
The styling and features of the Marshall Woburn are almost identical to those of the Stanmore – the difference is that the Woburn is 49% larger, plays much louder and typically costs about 40% more. With two woofers to the Stanmore’s one, the Woburn also puts out a lot more bass. If you want a compact audio system that you can crank up for a dance party, or if you want loads of bass for listening to hip-hop or metal, this is the Bluetooth speaker to get.
Who should buy a home Bluetooth speaker
Bluetooth offers the easiest, most reliable way to play music wirelessly from a phone, tablet or computer. Bluetooth is included in all smartphones and tablets and in most newer laptops, so you don’t have to worry if your speaker is compatible. You don’t need to load an app onto your phone as you do with Sonos or DTS Play-Fi, and you’re not limited to certain streaming apps, as you are with Google Chromecast. Because you don’t need to connect the speaker to a Wi-Fi network, you’ll have no problem getting one of these speakers to work in places where network access is tightly controlled, such as an office or a college dorm. Your guests can easily pair their phones with your speaker to play their favourite tunes, too. (Whether that’s an advantage or a disadvantage is your call.)
The pairing process is usually simple and intuitive – I’ve tested close to 400 Bluetooth devices, and I’ve found only three for which I needed to consult the manual to pair them with my phone. This ease of use is why I do much of my home listening with Bluetooth speakers, even though I have all sorts of Wi-Fi-based wireless speakers on hand.
Because the speakers featured here are all-in-one designs, they don’t deliver the big, enveloping sound of separate stereo bookshelf speakers or computer speakers. But they also don’t require complicated, unsightly speaker cables or additional components.
The big downside of Bluetooth is that it was originally designed to work at close range, in only one room. You can find a few Bluetooth speakers that let you play sound from one phone on two speakers in adjacent rooms, but judging from our experience that feature is rarely useful. Although most Bluetooth speakers require you to keep the source device within about 30 feet of the speaker, two of our picks have enough range that the sound probably won’t drop out if you walk around the house with the phone in your pocket.
Another downside of Bluetooth is that, except in one rare case (Apple iOS devices transmitting to AAC-compatible Bluetooth devices, which are relatively uncommon), it degrades sound quality slightly. However, you’d probably need a good set of stereo speakers or some audiophile headphones to hear that degradation, and even then you might not notice it. If you want to hear exactly how much Bluetooth degrades audio signals, take the Bluetooth blind test on my website.
One final caveat: Bluetooth typically delays audio by about one-fifth of a second, so we don’t recommend using these speakers as sound systems to watch TV or play video games unless you use an audio cable to connect them.
If you want to create a speaker system that covers more than one room, check out our guides to the best multiroom wireless speaker system and the best Chromecast speaker. Another option worth considering is a Bluetooth-equipped soundbar. Although soundbars are long and thin, designed to sit under TV sets, many of them sound good with music. Their internal speakers are spread farther apart, so the stereo effect is better than with a home Bluetooth speaker, and many include a subwoofer, which may deliver louder and deeper bass than most home Bluetooth speakers can produce.
How we picked
Speakers designed for home use that have Bluetooth but no other wireless audio technology are getting rare these days, but a few new models have emerged since our last update of this guide. We started our research for this round by surveying online retailers, reviews, and product announcements to see what new models were available.
To be considered for this update, a speaker had to be designed primarily for home use – to stay mostly in one spot indoors. Only two of the models we tested had a rechargeable battery, an advantage if you occasionally want to lug your speaker into a different room without having to plug it into an AC outlet.
In the course of testing for the original version of this article and two updates, we’ve examined 27 different speakers. Since our previous update, we’ve seen a few models introduced, several prices changed, and our top pick discontinued. To come up with a new set of picks, we examined new models and also gave a fresh listen to some older yet still available models that had previously impressed us.
How we tested
I started by putting the speakers through a couple of days of casual use, just to make sure they didn’t have any annoying operational flaws that would prevent us from recommending them. I then spent several hours comparing them – first at matched levels, and then cranking them way up, turning them down, messing with their controls, and getting the full picture of what they could do.
I then conducted separate blind tests for our panellists – Lauren Dragan, Wirecutter’s headphone editor, and Dennis Burger, senior editor at Home Theater Review – playing all of the speakers at levels that I matched using the Dolby-mandated test noise signal recorded from a Denon receiver. This is a shaped noise tone that focuses mostly on midrange, and it does a great job of making speakers sound comparably loud even when some have more bass than others. The panellists used the test material of their choice: Dennis used his iPhone, while I streamed the music for Lauren and myself from my Samsung Galaxy S9. At the end of the tests, I polled Lauren and Dennis to get their preferences, after which I revealed the speakers’ identities so that the panellists could opine on the models’ design and controls.
We didn’t give extra points for features because, as we see it, the appeal of these speakers lies in their simplicity. However, we did encounter a couple of nice additional features that were worth noting, even if they didn’t make or break a speaker in our judgment.
We also decided not to give extra points for the inclusion of aptX, an optional Bluetooth codec found in some Android phones. We don’t think the standard version of aptX offers a significant improvement in sound, and because aptX is not available in Apple phones and tablets, a large percentage of the population doesn’t benefit from it at all.
Finally, I ran a few more tests to get an idea of each speaker’s Bluetooth range and maximum volume, although all of these speakers should deliver enough of both for most listeners.
Our pick: Marshall Stanmore
The best thing about the Marshall Stanmore is that, unlike so many other wireless speakers, it has a full, natural and satisfying sound, no matter the volume level or the type of music you play. It can fill a large living room with sound, and it includes bass and treble controls for people who want to personalise the sound. It has a large wireless range, so you don’t need to leave your phone next to it, and two additional inputs allow you to connect other music sources such as an Echo Dot or an old-school MP3 player.
When you turn the Stanmore all the way up, it plays loud while still sounding clean. Most wireless speakers start to blare and hurt your ears when they’re cranked to full blast. In our tests, at all volumes, the Stanmore presented a natural balance between bass, midrange, and treble, so kick drums didn’t overwhelm vocals, and trebly sounds like flutes and cymbals always came out clear.
The only tune I could find on which the Stanmore didn’t sound completely composed playing at full volume was Kanye West’s Love Lockdown, which has very deep, powerful bass tones. On that one, West’s vocals started to sound subtly rough. But almost all other wireless speakers I’ve tried are hard to listen to when cranked to full blast on this tune – the sound tends to thin out and distort, almost like a bad cell phone connection.
If the sound isn’t quite to your liking or if a particular tune needs a little touching up, the Stanmore has top-mounted bass and treble knobs. We love the simplicity and instant gratification of these controls. Just turn them until the sound suits your taste – there’s none of the repeated clicking of push buttons or fussing with the apps or displays that most wireless-speaker tone controls demand. (For the record, I liked the Stanmore’s sound best with the bass turned down half a notch.) As with the tone controls, the old-school volume knob allows for precise level adjustment, something that you don’t get with Bluetooth speakers that use up/down volume push buttons with large steps.
At 13.8 by 7.3 by 7.3 inches and 11.3 pounds, the Stanmore is considerably larger than most portable Bluetooth speakers, yet it’s compact and light enough to fit on most bookshelves. We measured Bluetooth range through one wall at 72 feet, which means that in a normal suburban house, the Stanmore will keep playing if you wander from room to room with your phone in your pocket.
The Stanmore includes two line inputs (one on a ⅛-inch jack, one on stereo RCA jacks) for direct connection to sources such as MP3 players, non-Bluetooth computers, and record players (although you’ll need to connect a phono preamp between the record player and the Stanmore if your record player doesn’t have one built in). It comes with a cool coiled cord to connect to your source. It also includes the standard Bluetooth aptX codec.
The Stanmore is available in black, brown or cream. It’s also available in a Wi-Fi version that adds Apple AirPlay and Google Chromecast, as well as a version that includes Amazon Alexa support, but both of those versions add considerable cost and complexity.
Who else likes our pick
PCMag’s Will Greenwald gave the Stanmore a rating of 4.5 out of five and made it the website’s Editors’ Choice for high-end Bluetooth speakers. Sound Vision Review gave it an 85% score, stating, “The sound is rich and articulate across the entire spectrum, from the deep and powerful bass, throughout the midrange and on to the highest highs.” Digital Trends’ Ryan Waniata liked the sound but didn’t consider the speaker to be a great value, although that was when the price was considerably higher.
Last time we checked, the Stanmore Bluetooth speaker had earned an overall score of 4.5 out of five stars across nearly 240 reviews on Amazon, with a grade of B on Fakespot.
Flaws but not dealbreakers
The one objection that some people may have to the Stanmore is its styling. We like the guitar-amp look, but we expect that some people won’t. Also, unlike the Harman Kardon Go + Play Mini, the Stanmore offers no handle to make it easy to carry from room to room.
Since the Stanmore has a single driver for the bass and midrange, it produces less of a stereo effect than a few large Bluetooth speakers would, and certainly less than a Bluetooth-equipped soundbar would. But we have yet to hear an all-in-one wireless speaker that delivers anything close to the stereo effect you can get with two separate speakers.
Runner-up: Harman Kardon Go + Play Mini
The Harman Kardon Go + Play Mini is a very different kind of speaker from our top pick. Its styling is sleeker, and its integral handle and internal rechargeable battery make it semiportable – at least portable enough to move easily from room to room. It doesn’t have the big, robust sound of our top pick, but as long as you’re not a bass fiend, you’ll probably like it.
The bass is still there – in our tests, the Go + Play Mini played the deep notes in the Kanye West tune Love Lockdown very cleanly. However, the speaker’s midrange and treble were stronger, relatively, so the bass tended to get overshadowed. Voices and instruments like guitar, piano, and saxophone tended to stand out more, so the sound was a little more lively than that of our top pick but didn’t seem as full and powerful. The Go + Play Mini offers no tone controls to adjust this effect, although you could use the controls built into many apps.
The Go + Play Mini also doesn’t play as loud as our top pick. Even though both speakers maintained a fairly clean sound when we turned them up all the way, the Stanmore typically played four to five decibels louder than the Go + Play Mini. That’s about the difference between talking at a normal level and raising your voice in an effort to be heard better.
In addition, the Go + Play Mini offers several features that the Stanmore lacks. It has an integral handle and a rechargeable battery rated for eight hours of play time (we got 10.5 hours in our tests), so you can disconnect it from its power supply, take it into another room, and play it all afternoon and into the night without having to reconnect the power. It also has a speakerphone function – something a home wireless speaker probably doesn’t need, but this one is excellent. When I called Lauren over the speakerphone, she said I sounded as if I were talking to her through my phone, even though I was standing about four feet away.
At 8.5 by 17.8 by 9.6 inches and 10.3 pounds, the Go + Play Mini is bookshelf friendly. A single line input on a ⅛-inch jack lets you plug in sources such as an MP3 player directly. We measured Bluetooth range at a staggering 108 feet through one wall, far enough away that it became hard to hear whether the Go + Play Mini was playing.
The Go + Play Mini hasn’t gotten many reviews to date, but What Hi-Fi rated it five out of five stars, calling it “the yardstick for £250 portable speakers.” (Note that this model is called the Go + Play 2 in Europe.) Trusted Reviews, another UK site, rated it four out of five stars and lauded its “clean and clear sound” and “super bass depth”. As of this writing, the Go + Play Mini had earned an overall rating of 4.6 out of five stars across more than 125 Amazon reviews, with a Fakespot rating of C.
Upgrade pick: Marshall Woburn
The Marshall Woburn is a bigger and louder version of our top pick, the Marshall Stanmore. It’s 49% larger by volume and has two 5¼-inch woofers to the Stanmore’s one woofer, so it can pump out even more bass – and clearer midrange, too. The Woburn actually plays louder than most people need – in my 390-square-foot living room, setting the Woburn’s volume on four was enough to make the level uncomfortably loud. But for people who have large spaces to fill or who really like playing their music loud, the Woburn is a great choice.
Our listening panel found that the Woburn offered the same sonic advantages as the Stanmore: a full, effortless sound, easily accessible bass and treble controls and a volume control that allowed fast, precise listening-level adjustments. The Woburn didn’t sound as clean and composed as the Stanmore did when cranked to 10 – voices started to sound a little raspy, as if the singer’s throat had gone dry. But even when turned down to eight, where it sounded much better, it still played about five decibels louder than the Stanmore, about the same difference in maximum volume between the Stanmore and the Harman Kardon Go + Play Mini.
The Woburn might be a little too chunky for some shelves, at 15.8 by 7.9 by 11.4 inches and 17.4 pounds, but it can sit on most tables or even directly on the floor. To the Stanmore’s two line inputs, the Woburn adds a Toslink optical digital input, which comes in handy if you want to connect it to a TV set. Relative to our other top picks, the Bluetooth range was a little disappointing at just 43 feet through one wall, but that’s still enough range that you can probably carry your phone into the next room without having the sound cut out.
Android Police’s David Ruddock calls the Woburn “as low-compromise a premium Bluetooth sound system as I’ve ever seen”. Last time we looked, across more than 170 owner reviews on Amazon, the Woburn had earned an overall rating of 4.6 out of five stars, with a Fakespot rating of B.
What to look forward to
Marshall has introduced new versions of the Stanmore and Woburn Bluetooth speakers. Both Stanmore II Bluetooth and Woburn II Bluetooth keep the same basic speaker configuration and design as our picks, but they use Bluetooth 5.0 and have updated digital signal processing technology.
Bluetooth will continue to be a common standard for the foreseeable future, but with audio manufacturers focusing so much effort on Wi-Fi and voice-command speakers, we don’t expect to see many introductions of Bluetooth-only speakers in the years to come. Fortunately, most Wi-Fi speakers include Bluetooth support too, so Bluetooth devotees will still have something to connect to, but it probably won’t have the appealing simplicity of our top picks here.
The Aiwa Exos-9 plays loud and has an internal rechargeable battery, but our panel thought it sounded somewhat light in the bass and not very clear on vocals. Its equaliser is cumbersome to adjust.
Although the Audioengine B2 sounded nice, it didn’t play as loud as, or deliver as much bass as, our top picks.
The Harman Kardon Aura got no love from our previous testing panel, who described its sound as muddy.
Klipsch’s The One was the favourite of one of our panellists, and we all loved its retro styling. However, two of us thought that its bass sounded somewhat boomy, and it didn’t sound clear when we played it loud.
Although Peachtree Audio’s now-discontinued Deepblue2 easily dominated the competition in the previous version of this guide, in our blind tests none of the panellists especially liked its successor, the Deepblue3 – we concluded that the bass and vocals didn’t sound as clear as on our top picks or the Deepblue2.