So many music streaming options, and so many of them sound terrible.
Whether you listen to Pandora, Google Play, Rdio, Deezer, Wahwah, or something else, you may have noticed that the songs don’t always sound, well… especially vibrant. What’s the deal?
The first problem may be the KBPS, or the kilobits per second. That’s the data rate at which you stream music. A lower number represents more data compression, which means lower fidelity, says Wieslaw Woszczyk, Ph.D., an audio technology researcher at McGill University in Montreal.
Stick with 256 Kbps or higher. Pandora maxes out at 192, but premium services from Beats Music or Spotify offer 320.
Then there’s the issue of speakers. If you’re listening to music on laptop or smartphone speakers, well, there’s your problem right there. That’s like watching TV with a down comforter over the screen. Even if you’re using compact speakers, you’ve probably noticed that they sound like walkie-talkies. You shouldn’t have to settle for that.
And you don’t. We auditioned the latest wireless options and found three that aced our aural exam. And then you might be ready to DJ Your Own Party.
Marshall Woburn (pictured above)
Best For: Distortion Fans
Even at high volumes, the Woburn handles Jack White guitar licks exceptionally well. It also earns style points for the wood cabinet, vinyl casing, and throwback EQ knobs.
Plus, it gives you headphone, RCA, and optical cable input options, so you don’t have to toss your non-Bluetooth-enabled devices.
Best For: Audiophiles
No speaker we tested presented a more balanced sound. It’s even worth suffering through the tricky Wi-Fi setup.
Bluesound’s app won’t stream Pandora, but it does handle Spotify, Rdio, and the high-bitrate service Tidal. Sync with other Bluesound speakers, and you can rock every room in your house.
Denon Heos 7
Best For: Technophobes
Denon scores points for simplicity: Wi-Fi setup is painless, and the streaming app is intuitive.
Like the Pulse, the Heos 7 can sync up with other speakers, but the floorboard-rattling bass is its most impressive feature: This rig puts out a low end that’s far bigger than you’d expect from such a small speaker.