Bluetooth and AirPlay essentially do the same thing: transmit audio wirelessly. How they go about it, though, is quite different. Bluetooth is a short-range, low-power transmission. This is great for portable devices, easy connectivity, and long battery life. However, in most implementations, it's not able to transmit the same amount of data as AirPlay. Meaning? Worse sound quality. "Bluetooth compresses the data, which compromises the audio," says audio expert Brent Butterworth. "You may not notice this with very compact systems, but with better equipment, it's quite noticeable." AirPlay uses a WiFi connection, which allows bit-for-bit identical transmission of all digital tracks. In other words, your music will sound more like it did in its initial recording and less like a reduced version of itself. Here are five systems we like best.
Best for the Design-Obsessed: Bang & Olufsen BeoPlay A9
Sure, some may think the A9 looks more like the spawn of a DirecTV dish and a bar stool than a speaker. But the fabric-covered, button-free device is designed to act as a piece of sonic furniture, a unique marriage of sound and sight (you can either stand the A9 up on its wooden legs or unscrew them and hang it on your wall). It delivers shimmering audio, with five speakers and amps cleaning up your tunes and polishing them to a high shine so you can hear subtleties. Though bigger and bolder than the McAire, the A9's sound is slightly less refined. Bonus: Its fabric cover is available in six showy colors. [$2,700; bang-olufsen.com]