What Hi-Fi (UK) - - Multi-room Speakers -

With so many tal­ented play­ers in the multi-room game th­ese days, you have to work hard to win. And th­ese speak­ers do

Four­teen speak­ers, seven multi-room so­lu­tions: it’s been a brawl. But count­less app set-ups, sev­eral rooms and umpteen hours of lis­ten­ing later, we have a win­ner – and it’s one no­body should be sur­prised by. Sonos has not so much cleaned up as de­fined the multi-room mar­ket, and with im­prove­ments over the years through both re­designed hard­ware and soft­ware up­dates, stays at the cut­ting edge of the multi-room game. We still wish it would give in to hi-res (that’ll be the day), but for as lit­tle as £320 (the price of two Play:1s), it rep­re­sents ex­cel­lent value for money. The Play:1 and Play:5 are suc­cesses in their own right and, nat­u­rally, even stronger in num­bers.

It wasn’t an easy de­ci­sion. Blue­sound took our multi-room Prod­uct of the Year gong – as a com­plete speaker/amp/ streamer/server/cd rip­per/app fam­ily it re­mains num­ber one – and its wire­less speak­ers make for for­mi­da­ble ri­vals, not least for bud­ding hi-res mu­sic col­lec­tors.

Blue­sound just misses out

The new Mini Pulse is a re­fined, ar­tic­u­late and in­sight­ful lis­ten, and the big­ger Pulse – one of the only orig­i­nal prod­ucts from last year’s first-gen­er­a­tion range that re­mains – adds size and power to that fruit­ful for­mula. How­ever, its low-end could do with more taut­ness and, in light of the Sonos Play:5, strug­gles to jus­tify its higher ask­ing price.

Want some­thing more af­ford­able than Blue­sound or the op­tion of off­line stream­ing via Blue­tooth (not in Sonos’s reper­toire)? Then Bose proves its home-fill­ing worth not just with two con­sis­tently good-sound­ing (al­beit not class-lead­ing) per­form­ers, but with a com­pet­i­tive fea­ture list and a great app.

Apps are the crux of the multi-room ex­pe­ri­ence – the glue that holds the whole thing to­gether – and this con­cept is some­thing Li­bra­tone and Sam­sung have also nailed with their slick, in­tu­itive of­fer­ings. Sam­sung makes a good case for say­ing “pick me” with its bal­ance, clar­ity and 360-de­gree spread of sound too.

We’d take the smaller R6 over the R7, al­though both need tighter bass re­sponse and more at­tack to move up the peck­ing or­der. We are al­ready fans of the new Li­bra­tone Zipp, and the im­pres­sive (and rather cute) Mini is a car­bon copy – just smaller-sound­ing.

While there’s more to multi-room than sound qual­ity, per­for­mance is still king, and this is where Min­istry of Sound and Yamaha need to up their game. The Min­istry of Sounds need greater clar­ity, de­tail and dy­nam­ics to make a mark, and it’s equally hard to plump for the Yamaha ISX!80’S thin, largely un­ex­pres­sive sound. The baby Yamaha, how­ever, of­fers slightly bet­ter value thanks to more body and de­tail.

The days of trail­ing cables ev­ery­where around the house and car­ry­ing sound sys­tems into dif­fer­ent rooms are gone – and good rid­dance! Now sound can fol­low you around the house wire­lessly and at a touch of a but­ton.

Multi-room speak­ers have well and truly taken off, and like ev­ery trend there’s the good, the bad and the ugly. And in the case of Sonos, the down­right bril­liant.

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