Wireless Speakers: Home Network Streaming or Mobile Device Streaming

When selecting your wireless speakers or wireless music system, you generally have two choices when it comes to your music source: direct streaming from the home network or streaming from your mobile device (smart phone or tablet). Users and manufacturers have their favorites, but there’s good reason to consider, and use, both.

Here we’ll take a look at the pros and cons of home network and mobile streaming.

Yamaha NS-F901In the network streaming model, the music comes from the home network, either via the internet or from connected network drives or computers. Several popular wireless music systems use this method for the majority of their audio content. Often these products use a central gateway or network bridge, though that’s not always required.

One thing that is required, however, is the manufactures’ own app. Because most of those systems use a proprietary network connection (usually over WiFi), in order to get any music to play through the speakers, you need the company’s special app. If that app doesn’t have the music services you like, then you’re out of luck. Let’s say, for instance, that you’ve spent a lot of time building your Spotify playlists, and you’re most comfortable with how Spotify works. If the wireless music system you want doesn’t include Spotify on its control app, then you can’t use it.

Heos 7With a mobile device wireless connection users can stream music directly from their smart phone or tablet to the speaker. That way any music files or music service app you download on your iPhone, for instance, can be played on your wireless speakers. Those speaker systems may use Bluetooth or some other wireless technology, such as SKAA, DLNA, AirPlay, Play-Fi, Allplay and WiSA (though each of those technologies works a little differently). One downside of this method is that if your phone or tablet leaves the general area (depending on the range of the system) the music will stop.

Direct streaming to speakers via Bluetooth, SKAA or similar wireless technologies is great for single room uses and for speakers that can be mobile. If you want to take your music with you, just pack the speaker and the smart phone-many portable speakers run on rechargeable batteries, making them especially mobile.

Sonos Play1The drawback of the direct mobile wireless connection is that it doesn’t work well for whole-house audio applications. In addition, you can’t send different music to different speakers from the one mobile smart phone (or tablet).

A few wireless speaker systems use both a direct mobile connection and a network connection, so the user gets the best of both worlds.

If you have an installed music system, rather than stand-alone wireless speakers, you can still take advantage of the benefits that come from wireless speakers. Accessory dongles (Bluetooth dongles are the most common) or other wireless music components, can turn most any music system into a wireless music system, usually for a relatively small amount of money.