Portable Speaker Interfaces – Which is Better to Choose

Portable speakers are rapidly gaining popularity: people listen to music in nature, on sports fields and more. When buying such a gadget, it is useful to know about the existing interfaces, because the list of connected devices will directly depend on this. We will cover the most common wired and wireless interfaces in portable speakers.

AirPlay
It is Apple’s proprietary technology for streaming photos, videos and music. The list of supported devices includes not only the manufacturer’s proprietary equipment (iPhone, iPad, AppleTV, Mac, HomePod) – other companies also buy licenses. You can easily find portable speakers with AirPlay support from JBL, Philips, Pioneer, Sony, Yamaha and other companies on sale. With iOS 11.4, AirPlay 2 appeared, which acquired support for playing music on several gadgets.

The technology uses Wi-Fi for data transmission. AirPlay is capable of operating in point-to-point mode, in the mode of direct connection to the server, and also supports the transfer of metadata. If we talk about broadcasting music from a smartphone to a portable speaker, the point-to-point mode is used.

The range directly depends on Wi-Fi – the strength of the transmitter, frequency and other parameters. AirPlay’s key advantage over Bluetooth is uncompressed streaming. The quality of the track depends only on the source. Many AirPlay 2-enabled speakers allow you to clip the entire track to the clipboard, eliminating clipping.

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Bluetooth
An alternative wireless data transfer method is Bluetooth. Data transmission via Bluetooth is more common – users can easily connect the speaker to devices based on iOS, Android, Windows.

Wireless transmission capabilities are directly dependent on the Bluetooth version used. In modern speakers, you can find versions from 2.1 to 5.1. To use the maximum potential, we recommend looking for speakers with Bluetooth from version 4.1.

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Bluetooth version Speed Radius of action (in open space) Other features

Despite its widespread prevalence, Bluetooth has one major drawback. The data is compressed (encoded) during transmission, after which decoding is performed on the portable speaker. The sound quality is largely determined by the audio codec used. The higher the bit rate, the higher the playback quality: it can vary from 320 to 990 kbps.

 

We talked in more detail about bluetooth codecs and their features in another article.

Accordingly, when choosing a portable speaker, you should pay special attention to the Bluetooth version and the supported codecs, and on the source device as well.

NFC
This is another wireless transmission technology, but is not commonly used for streaming audio in portable speakers. The main task of this interface is to quickly pair devices with each other. Users just need to bring a smartphone or other mobile gadget to the speaker, after which both devices will be paired via NFC.

 

The radius of the NFC is about 10 centimeters. The presence of this interface in a portable speaker is not a priority, but it greatly simplifies the connection of the device. Relevant if you often connect various smartphones to the speaker.

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Wi-Fi
If your speaker doesn’t support AirPlay, you can still connect it to your local network. In this case, the device must support Wi-Fi.

Connecting via W-Fi has a number of advantages over Bluetooth – data is transmitted without compression, it is possible to create a wide coverage area with a high-quality signal. However, such a connection is relevant only on a local network, so the coverage area and data transfer speed directly depend on the capabilities of your router. Accordingly, you won’t be able to use a Wi-Fi connection outdoors.

 

To get the best signal quality, check out our material . To expand the coverage area, you can always use additional equipment – repeaters, old routers or mesh systems.

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AUX input
A classic and familiar wired connection. This port is capable of receiving signals with an amplitude of 0.5-1.8 V. Many gadgets are equipped with AUX connectors, so it is easy to connect the speaker regardless of the operating system. A wired connection provides the lowest latency compared to wireless, but you won’t always be able to tell the difference.

 

Since AUX works with analog signals, the sound quality is highly dependent on the connecting cable used, as well as the ADC / DAC in the speaker and source device. If you intend to listen to music via AUX, be sure to buy shielded wires to minimize the effects of interference.

USB ports
Due to the analog signal, AUX cables can already be considered obsolete – a USB connection is actively replacing. Most portable speakers are necessarily equipped with a standard USB Type A. It is used for both charging and data transfer. Accordingly, you need a USB-microUSB cable to connect your smartphone. Also, many speakers support playing music directly from a flash drive. Less common is the built-in micro / mini-USB.

The presence of a USB port does not yet guarantee that music playback is possible through it.

The latest speaker models are equipped with the latest USB Type-C. This provides several advantages: ease of connection (the cord can be inserted either side), as well as high charging speed, since Type-C operates with high currents. Conditional minus – you have to buy a separate USB-USB Type-C cable.Memory card slots
Some models are equipped with a card reader – it allows you to directly connect SD cards, usually microSD, less often TF or SD. This option is more convenient when compared with a classic flash drive, since the SD card will not stick out of the case and take up much less space.

If you are going to buy a column with a card reader, be sure to find out what the maximum allowable memory card size is supported by the device.

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Ethernet
In the assortment, you can find portable speakers even with an RJ-45 (Ethernet) connector. In nature or on a trip, this interface will be useless. However, if you are going to equip your home network by connecting the speaker directly via Ethernet, you can use DLNA to share music files on your computer or laptop. This will ensure the highest possible connection speed, but you will have to pull a separate network cable to the speaker, which reduces its mobility to almost zero.

 

Ethernet speakers can come in handy for a smart home if you use voice assistants.

HDMI
Portable speakers with HDMI are rare. Typically, products with this interface are already classified as soundbars or are included with a 5.1 or 7.1 speaker system. If the speaker has HDMI, then you can connect it to your home theater or DVD player. HDMI provides not only high bandwidth but also high signal quality.Digital optical inputs (S / PDIF)
Optical inputs on portable models are also rare. They are more often found on paired speakers with a power of up to 100 W, which can already be used in conjunction with a computer or laptop. S / PDIF portable systems are usually the size of a DVD player and are used as a stationary system.

In fact, the digital S / PDIF input is useless for a portable speaker. In soundbars and speaker systems, in terms of its characteristics, it loses to HDMI. Why exactly, we told earlier .

XLR input
XLR cables were designed for connecting microphones and are doing the job well today. They are also used to transfer a line-level balanced signal between professional or Hi-End audio equipment. Usually the XLR input is found in portable karaoke systems.