So, you have a pair of wired speakers that are connected to a stereo receiver you love, or maybe you have a self-powered pair, or a 2.1 system that’s perfect for watching movies. But all of your friends are buying smart speakersthey can talk to, or at least stream music to, and you want to get in on the wireless revolution. We’re here to help. There are plenty of ways to introduce wireless connectivity to your current setup, most of which are relatively inexpensive and easy to accomplish.
Google Chromecast Audio
At just $35, the Chromecast Audio doesn’t come with a lot of accessories. The package includes just the Chromecast Audio itself, a USB cable, a USB power adapter, and a 3.5mm audio cable. If you want to hook it up through an optical connection, you need to get a 3.5mm-to-TOSLINK adapter. If you want to hook it up to a stereo pair of speakers, you need to get a 3.5mm stereo splitter that turns the single 3.5mm output into a pair of RCA stereo plugs. If your speakers have RCA ports, that’s all you need to do. If they only have 3.5mm aux ports and you still want stereo, you need to get RCA-to-3.5mm-mono adapters to connect the Chromecast Audio to both speakers.
As a Wi-Fi adapter, Chromecast Audio supports multi-room systems like many of the other Wi-Fi devices below. This means you can use several in different rooms and control multiple speakers around the house individually or all at once.
Amazon Echo Dot
If you want to control your speakers with your voice, the Amazon Echo Dot is the way to go. This puck-shaped device is itself a small speaker, but more importantly, it’s a Wi-Fi-connected microphone array that lets you use Amazon’s Alexa voice assistant. And it has a 3.5mm output for connecting it to a bigger speaker.
Like the Chromecast Audio, you can plug the Echo Dot into your powered speaker, or powered speaker pair with some adapters. With Alexa listening to your commands, this means you can ask for any music available through Amazon (or other Alexa-supported streaming services) and it will start playing through your speakers.
The Echo Dot also serves as a Bluetooth receiver, so you can stream music to your speakers from your phone. It isn’t quite as well-suited for multi-room speaker systems as the Chromecast Audio, though; you can assign different Echo Dots to different rooms and play music through voice commands, but just streaming from your phone will be point-to-point with Bluetooth.
Of course, these solutions will only work directly with powered speakers; if you want to use unpowered speakers you’ll need to set up an amp or use a receiver, and if that’s the case you might want to cut out the Chromecast Audio or Echo Dot completely and look at…
Bluetooth and Wi-Fi Amps
For Bluetooth streaming, we recommend a box like the $189 Audioengine B1 Bluetooth Receiver. You connect its RCA output to one of the inputs on your stereo receiver (or to your powered speakers), pair it with your mobile device, and you’re set. The advantage of a box like the Audioengine B1 is a high-quality Bluetooth stream aided by excellent 24-bit upsampling digital-to-analog conversion (DAC).
Some Bluetooth adapters like the Klipsch PowerGate feature more controls and connection options than the Audioengine B1. Like the B1, the Klipsch PowerGate streams audio to your speakers, but it also includes an internal amplifier—essentially eliminating the need for an integrated stereo receiver with its 2x100W amp and 24-bit DAC. The front face has a volume knob and a headphone jack; think of it less as a selectable source for your stereo receiver (like the Audioengine B1) and more like a replacement for the receiver. The PowerGate utilizes both Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, allowing it to function as a multi-room hub for your house (using the Klipsch Stream app), and it even has a phono preamp built in for when streaming isn’t the priority.
For pure Wi-Fi multi-room speaker systems, Sonos basically invented the game. The company doesn’t just make wireless speakers, either; the Sonos Connect:Amp does essentially the same thing as the other boxes we’ve mentioned. You can connect its output to your speakers, and it delivers 55 watts per channel. You can control it using the Sonos app, and the app will add your wired speakers to the list of your various listening zones (if you choose to buy into the Sonos world and get some wireless speakers for the rest of the house). Sonos uses Wi-Fi, not Bluetooth, as it claims that the audio stream is higher fidelity.
One of the more popular options for a budget setup is the Logitech Bluetooth Audio Receiver. It’s only $40, and it’s about as no-frills as you can get. You won’t necessarily be getting the same level of audio quality as you will from the above-mentioned options, but it’s a fraction of the price.
The No-Cables Receiver Setup
There’s also another route for those of you looking to eliminate even the speaker cables from your setup. There are options like the Outlaw Audio OAW4 Wireless Audio System—plug the RF transmitter into your stereo receiver, connect the receiver box to your speaker, and you essentially eliminate your speaker cables.
Technically, you’re still using a cable to connect the receiver to your speaker, but the included cables are short (rather than ones stretching across the room or traveling through walls), with the box sitting atop your speaker or hidden behind it. This system can also be used with a subwoofer—useful because the best placement for a sub can often be inconvenient in terms of running speaker cable to it.
Bring Speaker Docks Back From the Dead
And for those of you who wish you could still use your beloved 30-pin connector speaker dock from the early days of iPods and iPhones, there are even solutions for that. Though it’s hardly the only option available, Samson makes an affordable 30-pin adapter that essentially connects where your old phone or iPod would have, and once it’s docked, you can stream directly to it. And just like that, your obsolete speaker is suddenly churning out audio again.
There’s no reason not to make your current wired speakers wireless—there are expensive, high-end options, of course, but the basic route can be done for a low price and little effort. It’s also worth noting that the products we’ve mentioned are just some standouts that really only represent the tip of the iceberg—you have a plethora of options and a wide price range.
And if you find yourself really digging your new wireless setup and want to cut the cord through the rest of your home, check out The Best Wireless and Bluetooth Speakers we’ve tested.