Sonos is undoubtedly the current king of the hill when it comes to wireless multi-room digital music systems, with their wildly popular lineup of products. The Sonos Play:3 is their medium-sized speaker, and with a price tag around $300, it makes a good entry point to creating a larger multi-room set up.
This wireless speaker can be used either by connecting it directly to your home router (any additional Sonos speakers would then connect wirelessly to the hardwired unit), or by purchasing the Sonos Bridge (around $50) to create a dedicated and robust network for your entire Sonos system.
The Play:3 is simple to set up, with the option of setting up the unit vertically or horizontally on its side. Set up requires downloading the free Sonos App onto your smartphone/tablet/PC which allows for control of every room with a Sonos speaker from any of the devices with the installed app. The Play:3 can play music from up to 16 devices (directly from iTunes on your PC, for example), and also comes with pre-loaded Internet radio and streaming music sources such as Pandora.
It’s important to note your phone or tablet doesn’t need to be the audio source as it can be used simply as the controller, via the app. Sound quality is excellent for casual listening, with three custom drivers and dedicated amplifiers to create sound that fills the room. The Sonos Play:3 offers good connectivity for both iOS and Android devices alike, making for an excellent starting point to building a multi-room system.
The Samsung Shape M5 is a relatively new entry to the wireless multi-room digital music system market, marking Samsung's efforts to build up their lineup of products to serve this space. This wireless speaker features a stylish design and the ability to be set up either vertically or horizontally, offering big sound for its compact size.
The Shape M5 is designed to be flexible, with multiple connectivity options using Bluetooth, built-in WiFi, DLNA, and can even connect with NFC-enabled devices. This speaker works well with both iOS and Android devices, thanks to the free app which can access music stored both locally and on DLNA-capable device on the network. The Shape M5 can even connect with a Samsung TV and used as a simple wireless speaker.
To create multi-room setup, you'll need to purchase a Samsung WAM250 Hub (around $50) and connect it to your home's router. From there, the set up process is simple, with the intuitive app featuring an easy-to-use design. Sound quality is very strong for its size, with clean output sufficient for relatively large rooms. Although Samsung is still in the midst of building up their multi-room system offerings, the Shape M5 is a strong entry to the market.
Bluesound Powernode N150 BK
The Bluesound Powernode doesn’t include speakers, acting instead as a streaming music player with a built-in amplifier. This allows the Powernode to act as a hub or base for building a larger, customized wireless multi-room digital music system. Two stereo speaker outputs and a subwoofer output allow for hooking up speakers, while multi-room capability is achieved by adding more Bluesound devices to the system.
Unlike most of the current competition in this market such as Sonos which delivers a maximum of CD quality sound, the Powernode can handle high-resolution, 24-bit music files. Although its support for digital music streaming sources is not as extensive as others, it includes a USB port for connecting an external hard drive or even a Bluetooth dongle for expanding connectivity.
The Bluesound lineup currently has five components, all of which can be controlled using the iOS or Android app. The app is streamlined and easy to use, and set up is simple. For those who want to create a wireless multi-room system without sacrificing sound quality, the Bluesound Powernode is an excellent starting point.
The Bose SoundTouch 20 differs from the competition by creating a wireless connection via your home's WiFi network thus requiring no computer, tablet, or smartphone to stream music. WiFi is built-in, allowing the SoundTouch 20 to pair with your existing home network without needing additional equipment. Music can be sourced from any AirPlay device, Internet radio and other music services, as well as your own music library.
Setting up the SoundTouch 20 is simple, although it is worth noting Bose has focused on compatibility with Apple devices in particular. Android users may experience more frustration when trying to get everything hooked up. The SoundTouch 20 includes an AUX input and USB port for added connectivity, and a remote control allows for controlling the unit without needing to use any outside devices. A multi-room system can be created easily by adding additional devices from Bose's lineup.
This model focuses on excellent sound quality and ease-of-use, impressive bass response, and clear and strong sound for its size. Small touches such as the ability to set up presents to quickly access favorite channels enhances usability. As a stand-alone wireless music system or part of a larger, multi-room set up, the Bose SoundTouch 20 is a solid choice that delivers above-average sound quality and excellent user-friendly features.
The Denon HEOS 5 is a newcomer to the wireless multi-room digital music system space, but already fits nicely into Denon's ever-expanding ecosystem. It’s their mid-sized speaker in the lineup, with an included carrying handle for portability. The HEOS system has multiple parts that can be added to create an extensive multi-room system, using your home's wireless network rather than a proprietary system like Sonos' Mesh network.
HEOS devices work on both 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz bandwidths, although this can create some concerns for those with less secure home networks or heavy WiFi congestion. However, Denon is confident that this is adequate and in most cases it should be fine.
This speaker uses four dedicated amplifiers, two tweeters, and two mid-range drivers to deliver strong and clean sound that can fill the room. Although this device has some issues with deep bass output, sound quality overall is good for the size and price. Like every other multi-room system, the Denon HEOS 5 uses a free downloadable app (iOS and Android) to control the system, which is simple to set up and use.
An AUX input and a USB port are included that can be used to play music off a hard drive filled with music; if connected this way, any speaker on the same network will also be able to access that music. The HEOS 5 supports multiple streaming music sources, such as Spotify and Pandora. Overall, this wireless speaker is a solid starting point for building a wireless multi-room digital music system.