Which features should you look for in designer speakers?
Bluetooth is the most common connection, and look for version 4.2 or, better still, 5.0 which has wider range and can handle more data. Depending on the streaming services you use, look for Airplay, Chromecast, Alexa and Spotify Connect. But for multi-room streaming and hi-res you’ll definitely need Wi-Fi connectivity.
Can I connect anything to designer speakers?
Some models don’t have any ports for connecting a separate CD player or turntable, but if you need to connect peripherals, look for aux 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, if usually at a price – an exception is the HomePod Mini. If you want a one-box system to replace your hi-fi, spend close to what you would on a traditional stereo. If you just need a good-looking spare room speaker, you’re spoilt for choice.
Best designer speakers
Best all-round designer speaker
Bowers & Wilkins Zeppelin
When it was launched back 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 boxes. Well, the Zeppelin is back, and while there’s no iPod dock (or inputs of any sort) the silhouette remains. Inside are five speaker drivers, positioned to give as wide a stereo separation as possible – there’s a 150mm subwoofer, two 90mm midrange drivers and a couple of 25mm tweeters, powered by 240 watts of Class D amplification.
Spotify Connect, Apple AirPlay 2 and aptX hi-res Bluetooth are included and the B&W app gives access to streaming services such as Deezer, TIDAL and TuneIn. Alexa Voice control is also included to complete the modern speaker’s ticklist.
It’s no shrinking violet, but the Zeppelin’s showy looks are backed up by a wonderful performance. Befitting such a design, I went bold with my playlist: Verdi, Wagner, Bruckner and the boldest of Beethoven were all handled with a remarkable amount of finesse and control. It’s lifelike, nuanced and surprisingly powerful, like any good extrovert should be.
Best small streaming speaker
Apple HomePod Mini
Having sung this Apple HomePod Mini praises previously, I couldn’t leave them out of this round up – it’s astonishing how something so small can sound so impressive, but the HomePod Mini’s downward-firing 360-degree full-range driver manages to be punchy, insightful and enjoyable to listen to.
Available in orange, blue, yellow, black or white, the Mini’s full-range downward firing driver projects audio of surprising presence around 360 degrees. Control comes 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 set-up, 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 own Wi-Fi app gives you three multi-room options, while an RCA input means you can add a turntable (with built-in phono stage). It can play Apple Lossless files, AAC, MP3 and FLAC, and the dual 20mm dome tweeters and 13cm woofer make the most of its modern versatility with a wonderful level of detail and timing.
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