Should You Get a Smart Speaker or a Bluetooth Speaker?

03 Jan.,2023


High Quality Indoor Bluetooth Speaker

Five years after the launch of the smart speaker and a decade after the Bluetooth speaker’s debut, many people still aren’t sure what the difference is or why they would want either one. Once they get a demo of what these devices can do, however, there’s a good chance they will want one. But which one? Both have advantages and disadvantages. The right choice depends on what you desire in entertainment, convenience, and portability.

What’s the difference between a Bluetooth speaker and a smart speaker?

A Bluetooth speaker, such as the UE Wonderboom 2 or Tribit XSound Go, simply plays whatever sound is coming from your phone, tablet, computer, or other portable audio device. For example, once you pair your phone with the Bluetooth speaker, whatever you play on the phone, in whatever app, will come through the speaker instead. No additional app is required. Basically, the speaker works like part of your phone and plays any sound your phone makes, including ringtones and notifications. Most Bluetooth speakers are small, portable, and battery powered, but larger and louder tabletop models are also available. Many have a microphone so that they can function as a speakerphone.

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A microphone-enabled smart speaker, such as the Amazon Echo or Google Home Mini, has a built-in, Internet-connected computer of its own, so it needs no help from other audio devices. That means you don’t have to pair it with an external source such as a smartphone (though smart speakers do require setup through an app), but you still have to add it to your home Wi-Fi network so that it can go out and find audio sources for you. At your whim and vocal command, a smart speaker can access music streaming services, Internet radio, podcasts, and other news and information sources. It can also convey your commands to smart-home devices such as lights, smart plugs, thermostats, and locks. Many smart speakers also include Bluetooth support, but few are battery-powered to take on the go.

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Why you might want a Bluetooth speaker

  • You need portability—something to take to the park, the beach, on a trip, on a hike, or just out to the backyard. You can find a ton of portable, battery-powered Bluetooth speakers but fewer portable smart speakers. That’s because it’s hard to stay connected to a Wi-Fi network when you’re out and about.
  • You’re mostly interested in music playback. With a Bluetooth speaker, you just select the music you want from your audio device and hit the play button. The syntax required for a voice command that will get a smart speaker to play the precise piece of music you want can be perplexing—for instance, “Alexa, play song ‘Tears of a Clown’ from album I Just Can’t Stop It by The English Beat from Spotify.” (Which still didn’t work for me.)
  • You love podcasts, which can be difficult to access and manage through voice commands.
  • You don’t trust having tech behemoths always listening in on you (even though smart speakers store only short snippets of what you tell them, and only when they hear, or think they hear, their wake word, such as “Alexa” or “Hey Google”).
  • You can’t stand the thought of having to load and learn a new app, which a smart speaker needs for setup.
  • You want other people to be able to stream to the speaker easily. Anyone with a Bluetooth-capable device can pair it with your Bluetooth speaker.

Why you might want a smart speaker

  • You listen to Internet radio. There’s no easier way to play your favorite station than to say something like “Alexa, play KNTU.” As long as you know the call letters or numbers of your favorite stations, you can listen to music from around the world.
  • You have (or are interested in) smart-home devices. Although setup can be complicated, it’s awesome to say “Hey Google, living room light off” or “Alexa, set heat to 72 degrees” rather than having to pull out your phone and open an app or to get up from your chair to adjust the device.
  • You want whole-house music—the same tunes playing in multiple rooms. It’s easy to group Alexa or Google Home speakers to play in sync.
  • You envy Iron Man’s ability to ask JARVIS questions without having to look anything up. With simple voice commands, smart speakers can tell you the time and the weather forecast, tell you how many tablespoons are in an ounce, set a timer or alarm, and much more.
  • You crave light amusement on occasion. Smart speakers can play Jeopardy, trivia, word games, and more.
  • You listen to high-quality streaming services such as Tidal, Qobuz, or Amazon Music HD and don’t want your music mangled by Bluetooth’s compression (even though the acoustical flaws in typical wireless speakers tend to conceal such subtleties).

The third option: Get both

Because smart speakers and Bluetooth speakers are available in many cheap but competent variants, you can always buy both. We recommend that you spend more on the type of speaker that’s more important to you and then go with a good budget model for the other type.

If a smart speaker holds more appeal overall but you occasionally need something for travel, consider a great-sounding speaker such as the Sonos One (which can work with either Alexa or Google Assistant) or the new Amazon Echo Studio, plus a tiny, inexpensive, portable Bluetooth speaker such as the Tribit XSound Go.

If you want a high-quality but portable speaker, get something like the JBL Xtreme 2 Bluetooth speaker. It sounds great both indoors and out, and you can easily tack on an Amazon Echo Dot or Google Home Mini when you’re using it at home. Both are fully functional smart speakers, and although their hockey-puck shape precludes playing them loud, both can beam a Bluetooth signal into your Bluetooth speaker, effectively turning it into a smart speaker.

Whichever way you resolve the Bluetooth speaker versus smart speaker question, you’re sure to get a lot of enjoyment out of your new speaker. You’ll be able to bring music into more rooms of your home, as well as to share your music with others instead of listening to headphones or using your phone’s tiny speaker.