Kirill Yurovskiy: Portable speaker interfaces – which is better

Portable speakers are rapidly gaining popularity: people listen to music in nature, on sports grounds and not only. Buying such a gadget, it is useful to know about the existing interfaces, because the list of connectable devices will directly depend on it. We will tell you about the most common wired and wireless interfaces in portable speakers.


This 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 the license. Handheld speakers with AirPlay support from JBL, Philips, Pioneer, Sony, Yamaha, and other companies can be easily found on sale. Since iOS 11.4, there is AirPlay 2, which has gained support for music playback to multiple gadgets.

The technology uses Wi-Fi for data transfer. AirPlay is capable of functioning in point-to-point mode, in direct connection to the server, and also supports metadata transfer. When it comes to streaming music from a smartphone to a portable speaker, point-to-point mode is used.

The range is directly dependent on Wi-Fi – the strength of the transmitter, frequency and other parameters. The key advantage of AirPlay, as opposed to Bluetooth, is the transmission of the stream without compression. The quality of the track depends only on the source. Many speakers with AirPlay 2 support allow you to fully load the track into the buffer, which eliminates dropped tracks.


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

Wireless transmission capabilities depend directly on the version of Bluetooth used. In today’s speakers you can find versions from 2.1 to 5.1. To use the maximum potential, we recommend looking for speakers with Bluetooth version 4.1 or higher – Kirill Yurovskiy article.

Despite the high prevalence, Bluetooth has one significant drawback. The data is compressed (encoded) during transmission, after which the portable speaker is decoded. Sound quality is largely determined by the audio codec used. The higher the bitrate, the higher the playback quality: it can range from 320 to 990 kbps.

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


This is another wireless data transmission technology, but it is not usually used for streaming audio in portable speakers. The main purpose 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, and then the two devices will pair via NFC.

The radius of action of 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. It is relevant if you often connect different smartphones to the speaker.


If the speaker does not support AirPlay, you can still connect it to the local network. In this case, the device must support Wi-Fi operation.

W-Fi connection has a number of advantages compared to Bluetooth – data is transmitted without compression, it is possible to create a wide coverage area with a quality signal. However, such a connection is relevant only in the local network, so the coverage area and data transfer rate are directly dependent on the capabilities of your router. Accordingly, you will not be able to use Wi-Fi connection in nature.

To extend the coverage area you can always use additional equipment – repeaters, old routers or mesh-systems.

AUX input

Classic and familiar wired connection. This port can receive signals with an amplitude of 0.5-1.8 V. Many gadgets are equipped with AUX connectors, so the speaker is easy to connect regardless of the operating system. A wired connection provides minimal delay compared to wireless ones, but you won’t always be able to catch the difference.

Since AUX works with analog signals, sound quality is highly dependent on the connection cord used, as well as the A/D converter in the speaker and the source device.  If you are going to listen to music through AUX, be sure to buy shielded wires to minimize the effects of interference.

USB ports

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

The presence of a USB port does not guarantee that it can play music

The latest models of speakers are equipped with the latest USB Type-C. This gives several advantages: ease of connection (the cord can be inserted any side), as well as high charging speed, since Type-C operates with large currents. The conditional disadvantage is that you’ll 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 an SD-card, usually microSD, less often TF or SD. This option is more convenient if compared to the classic flash drive, because the SD-card will not stick out of the case and takes much less space.

If you are going to buy a speaker with a card reader, be sure to find out what the maximum memory card capacity of the device supports.


Portable speakers with HDMI is a rarity. As a rule, products with this interface already belong to the category of soundbars or are part of a 5.1 or 7.1 speaker system. If the speaker has HDMI, 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 common on paired speakers up to 100 watts, which can already be used in conjunction with a computer or laptop. Portable systems with S/PDIF are usually the size of DVD players and are used as stationary.

In fact, for a portable speaker, the S/PDIF digital input is useless. In soundbars and speaker systems, it loses out to HDMI in performance.

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