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.