What characteristics to look for in designer speakers?
Bluetooth is the most common connection, and look for version 4.2 or better yet 5.0 which has a wider range and can handle more data. Depending on the streaming services you use, search for Airplay, Chromecast, Alexa, and Spotify Connect. But for multi-room streaming and high resolution, you’ll definitely need Wi-Fi connectivity.
Can I connect anything to designer speakers?
Some models don’t have ports for connecting a separate CD player or turntable, but if you need to connect peripherals, look for auxiliary and RCA inputs, or HDMI to connect to a TV.
Should I go for style or substance?
Looks and performance can go hand in hand, although they usually come at a price – one exception is the HomePod Mini. If you want an all-in-one system to replace your stereo, spend close to what you would with a traditional stereo. If you just need a nice accent room speaker, you are spoiled for choice.
The best design speakers
Best versatile design speaker
Bowers & Wilkins Zeppelin
When it launched in 2007, the original Zeppelin iPod Dock was the designer speaker of choice, and its bold design and fantastic performance inspired countless audio brands to try something other than boring cases. Well, the Zeppelin is back, and while there isn’t an iPod docking station (or inputs of any kind), the silhouette remains. Inside are five speakers, positioned to provide as wide a stereo separation as possible – there’s a 150mm subwoofer, two 90mm midrange speakers, and a few 25mm tweeters, powered by 240 Class D amplification watts.
Spotify Connect, Apple AirPlay 2 and high-resolution Bluetooth aptX are included, and the B&W app provides access to streaming services such as Deezer, TIDAL, and TuneIn. Alexa voice control is also included to complete the modern speaker checklist.
It’s not shrinking purple, but the Zeppelin’s showy appearance is backed up by a marvelous performance. Suitable for such a design, I got bold with my playlist: Verdi, Wagner, Bruckner, and Beethoven’s Daring were all treated with remarkable finesse and control. It’s realistic, nuanced, and surprisingly powerful, just like any good extrovert should be.
Best small streaming speaker
Apple HomePod Mini
Having sung that Apple HomePod Mini praised it before, I couldn’t leave them out of this roundup – it’s amazing how something so small can seem so impressive, but the HomePod Mini’s 360-degree 360-degree speaker does it. to be impactful, insightful and fun to listen to.
Available in orange, blue, yellow, black, or white, the Mini’s wideband down fire pilot projects surprisingly present sound around 360 degrees. Control is via Apple Siri voice control and AirPlay II, with compatibility for TuneIn, Amazon and Deezer. Spotify and Tidal users can stream using Airplay and you can create a multi-room setup or use two speakers in stereo mode.
Best mid-priced multi-room speaker
Audio-Pro C10 MKII
The C10 MKII may seem understated next to the Zeppelin, but it offers great connectivity and impressive sound quality. AirPlay 2, Chromecast and Audio Pro’s Wi-Fi app gives you three multi-room options, while an RCA input lets you add a turntable (with built-in phono stage). It can play Apple Lossless, AAC, MP3, and FLAC files, and the dual 20mm dome tweeters and 13cm woofer make the most of its modern versatility with marvelous level of detail and timing.