Should I go for the real deal? – we say yes!
I realize that not everyone is like me and there are those that put convenience and simplicity ahead of sound quality when it comes to their listening needs –blasphemy in my opinion! That said, given the increasing price of many new “high-end” wireless all-in-ones the fact remains that you will always get far more sonic value from a simple integrated amp and a pair of quality bookshelf speakers. For those that are considering a serious wireless speaker for their core home system, like a Naim Muso, Sonos 5, or perhaps something else north of $500, then you should think again about a simple two-channel stereo setup, which can still easily be made wireless through a variety of cheap and easy options.
A sound coming from a small single box is always going to be limited when it comes to bass response and presence. Of course, larger units can achieve bigger, fuller bass and sound, but will still always have a harder time creating a wide engaging and convincing soundscape since all the sound emanates from one single point (unless you buy a wireless pair, but now you’re just inching closer to a full setup anyway!). This makes an enormous difference no matter how good the speaker. Another fact is that it simply costs more to make smaller components to fit everything in one small package, so you end up getting less for more in many ways. Finally, separate components are not only easily upgradable, but always sound and work better. Again, Wireless all-in-ones have their place, but treat yourself to the way music was intended to be heard when it comes to your core home system!
One of the bigger problems as I see it is intimidation when it comes to buying separates, they’re bigger and not always as “cute” and small like their wireless-all-in-one counterparts, and take a bit of knowledge to connect, but once you hit play the decision usually becomes an easy one. I’m not nocking wireless all-in-ones whatsoever –they definitely have their time and place like bathrooms, bedrooms, the beach etc., but there’s no substitute for a simple two-channel (two stereo speakers) setup! Just try any of the recommended carefully integrated amps below, and match with a great small bookshelf speaker and you will knock the pants off any wireless-all-in-one –even ones costing many times more! Even a good old vintage integrated amp or receiver is a great choice like a 70’s Marantz etc. I avoid modern receivers as most are focused on surround sound and generally sound like crap as they focus on features vs. sound.
TIP – Getting an integrated amp with a buit-in DAC is a big plus (Read our article on “WTF is a DAC” if the letters D-A-C made your eye’s go cross-eyed). Many of these have them built in. You can always buy a stand-alone, but hey, we don’t want to scare you back to an All-in-one by getting too complicated! If you want to know if an amp has a built-in DAC, it will say, or just look at the inputs –if you have any “digital in’s” like optical or coaxial, then it has to have one!
Here are a variety of carefully selected integrated amps and speakers we found on Amazon that can for a tight budget and sound amazing. The NAD and some others have built-in wireless –a great feature so you don’t need adapters shown below, but not a big deal if not.
Recommended Integrated Amps:
Use one of these options to stream your wireless music into it unless it has a built-in wireless option –most don’t. And DON’T use anything that does not send a digital feed to your stereo (unless your stereo as no built-in DAC), otherwise, you will be using the likely inferior DAC in the wireless receiver adapter. My preference is to use an Airplay the way we outlined here in our article “How to use an Airplay to Stream Wireless Music the Right way“.
Have questions? We’ll answer your comments!