Home / Opinions / The ultimate multi-room audio guide: Sonos vs the rivals

The ultimate multi-room audio guide: Sonos vs the rivals

Andrew Williams

by

Multi-room
Multi-room

What is multi-room audio? You'll find out in our ultimate guide

Multi-room speakers let you play conductor from your phone, changing what plays across your house as long, as you’re connected to your home Wi-Fi. It used to be something only the rich could afford, but today you can get tooled-up for very little cash.

We’re going to look at the various options you have when buying a multi-room setup, but first let’s deal with how they work.

Related: Sonos tips and tricks

Sonos Starter Set

How does it work?

Most multi-room systems work using your home Wi-Fi. You’ll teach each speaker your router’s password using a setup wizard (or WPS), and then control playback using a phone app.

Easy. As with anything that involves a router, you may stumble into a few issues, but multi-room systems aren’t designed just for tech geniuses these days.

Each system has its own app, because there’s no standard protocol for controlling six or more different wireless speakers built into Android or iOS yet. Don’t just look at the speakers themselves. You also need to consider which multi-room setup has software you’ll be able to get on with.

As the tech develops, though, multi-room systems are becoming less closed-off. For years Sonos speakers would only work with the Sonos app, for example, but now you can fire Spotify tunes to a Sonos speaker right from the Spotify app.

A new, smarter kind of multi-room is starting to appear too. With an Amazon Echo you can control a bunch of speakers around your house, with a phone or with your voice. This isn’t a full multi-room solution yet, but you can bet something like this is where we’ll end up with multi-room. This is one of the best-reasons to choose a long-standing, frequently-updated system like Sonos.

Can I use my old hifi?

Most people interested in multi-room head right to buying new speakers rather than converting their existing hifi, but you can buy adapters for your older equipment too.

If you have a good amount of money to spend, the Bluesound Node 2 (£499) and Sonos Connect (£249) attack the problem in style.

The Bose SoundTouch Link adapter is more affordable at £129, and there are a few cheaper options too. At £20-25, the Pure Jongo A2, Neet adapter and Bayan StreamPort are worth considering. We found the Pure Jongo A2 and StreamPort fiddly to connect (we haven’t used the Neet), so prepare for possible headaches if you go for the cheap route.

Related: Google Play Music tips and tricks

Jongo

How much do you have to pay for multi-room?

In a moment we’ll take a quick look at some of the best multi-room options out there. But how low is the entry point?

It’s much lower than it was a few years ago. We’ve already talked about a few £20-odd hifi adapters that will get you connected, and there are some low-cost fully integrated multi-room speakers too.

The Jam Rhythm costs £99.99, as does the Philips Izzy BM5. Samsung’s R Lite Audio 360 pillar speaker sells for around £85.

Of course buy one and you don’t have a multi-room system, just a wireless speaker. Before signing up for the cheapest option, consider whether you’ll actually want any of the other models. Different multi-room systems cannot talk to each other as they effectively speak different languages, even if they all use Wi-Fi.

Should you even buy a multi-room system?

Before you get the credit card out, you also need to consider whether you really need multi-room functionality, rather than plain old wireless. After all, then you open your options up to include things like the Bowers & Wilkins Zeppelin and more expensive speakers like the Naim mu-so, which might encourage you to spend more cash on a single-piece setup.

The USP of multi-room is that (in most systems) it lets you control multiple zones of speakers throughout your house, sending different content to different rooms. If you’re simply going to be moving from room to room, you may well be just as happy with a single portable speaker to complement an older hifi system.

In other words, just make sure you've considered your options rather than just assuming muti-room is the best choice.

What are the main multi-room systems?

So which are the killer multi-room systems? We’re going to take a quick look at some of the most popular options out there, going from some of the cheaper ones to those at the more, well, premium end of the scale.

Sonos

Special skills: great software, great sound quality

Starts at £179

Here’s the option you probably know already. Sonos was the first big name in multi-room audio, and it has done a great job of maintaining dominance.

How? The last two small-ish speakers it released are bloomin’ great. First there was the Sonos Play:1, an excellent kitchen or bedroom speaker.

Then it upped the ante with the new Play:5, one of the best-sounding wireless speakers we’ve heard. Its units don’t have Bluetooth, or batteries. They're not portable. If you’re willing to spend big, though, you can even make a surround system out of Sonos, using a Sonos Playbar, SUB and a couple of Play:1s.

Bluesound 9

Bose SoundTouch

Special skills: Bluetooth and Wi-Fi

Starts at £179

Hot on the heels of Sonos is Bose, with its SoundTouch series. The speakers on offer roughly mirror Sonos’s offerings. There’s the small SoundTouch 10 (£179), the mid-size 20 and the large SoundTouch 30.

The entry-level model doesn’t quite match up to the sound quality of arch rival the Sonos Play:1. It is a bit more flexible, though, with Bluetooth as well as Wi-Fi.

Bose’s latest top-end hifi and surround sound systems also support SoundTouch, so if you’re thinking of buying one of those it’s definitely one to consider.

Bluesound 11

Samsung multi-room

Special skills: funky designs, clean sound

Starts at £149

Samsung packs multi-room abilities into many of its gadgets, including TVs and surround systems. However, there are several standalone speakers on offer too. The ones to check out first are the Samsung R1, R3, R5 and R7, seen in the image below.

These are mains-powered speakers with '360-degree' sound, intended to sound great wherever you put them. The Samsung R7 is also one of the most eye-catching multi-room speakers available, and sounds great, although the lower-end models don't beat Sonos's speakers on sound quality.

Samsung R3

Bluesound

Special skills: Audiophile’s choice


Starts at £269

If pure sound quality if what you’re after, Bluesound is where you look. It has easily the best Hi-Res audio chops of the multi-room systems. While you can get Sonos-a-like speaker sets, the range extends into gear that looks like full-on hifi equipment. It’s serious stuff.

With the higher-end boxes you can stream the ‘holy grail’ for wireless, 192KHz, 24-bit streams. Where Bluesound is a little weaker is the software interface, which still needs a bit of work to reach Sonos grade.

Bluesound Pulse mini

Jam Audio

Special skills: Low price

Starts at £99

The budget buyer’s pick for multi-room, Jam Audio offers two multi-room speakers, the Rhythm (£99) and Symphony (£179).

Their software is bit quirky at times and sound quality doesn’t match that of Sonos’s gear. But the £99 Rhythm is the equivalent of the £180 Sonos Play:1 and the Symphony the £400 Play:5. They're much cheaper.

We’re happy to recommend these if you’re cash-strapped, but have to admit we’d go with a Sonos or more expensive alternative if the spare cash was available.

Jam Audio Symphony

Philips Izzy

starts at £99.99

Philips’s crack at multi-room is the Izzy series, and it’s a little different to everything else out there. Its main connection is Bluetooth rather than Wi-Fi, and the Izzylink connection is designed to group five speakers rather than a whole army. Simplicity is the aim.

The series starts with the Izzy BM5, which we didn’t love at review. However, the Izzy BM6 and BM50 look a lot more promising.

Bluesound 5

Roberts Radio/UnDok

Starts at £100

Most multi-room systems are designed to be used only by the manufacturer’s gear. But there is an alternative way, UnDok.

This is a multi-room platform that a handful of speaker-makers use. With any luck a (most likely) Google or Apple-made version of this is where multi-room will end up. Wouldn’t it be nice if you could connect a Sonos Play:5 and your kitchen Wi-Fi ‘radio’ using the same controller app?

Speakers/radios that use UnDok include the Roberts Radio R100, Goodmans Heritage radio and Ruark R2.

Roberts R100

Pure Jongo (2013-)

Special skills: Low prices

Starts at £20 (£109 for speakers)

Pure is one of our favourite radio-makers. But these days it makes loads of far techier audio stuff too. In 2013 it introduced Jongo, a family of wireless, multi-room speakers.

There’s a whole range on offer, from the ultra-cheap Jongo A2 hifi adapter and the portable, battery-operated Jongo S3X speaker to the much larger T6X and T4X. These are intended to replace your old speaker system. Even the biggest one only costs £200, which is cheaper than some companies’ cheapest multi-room boxes. Bargain hunter? Check Jongo out.

These speakers have Bluetooth too, so you're not locked into using an app. However, they can be fiddly to setup.

Bluesound 7

Which is the multi-audio set-up for you? Let us know in the comments section below

MattMe

December 16, 2015, 1:19 pm

One of my favourite features of my multiroom setup (Synology NAS, DS Audio and Airplay Express) is that my phone works as a controller and all the traffic is sent directly from the NAS to the airplay devices. This has several benefits, such as no need to be within signal range of any of the devices, no battery drain on my phone, can still use my phone to do other things.
It's just a simple DLNA implementation, but I'm aware not all products work in this manner.

I'd be good to know if this feature is available on any of the above.

Tom Carter

December 16, 2015, 1:40 pm

Slightly surprised that LG Music Flow didn't get a mention since at time of writing the review of the LG HS8 soundbar is front and center on the review section!

Currently looking at LG music flow mostly because its the only set up that I am aware of that has a clever wireless 5.1 surround sound system option as well as all the usual multiroom support - Essentially if you have a soundbar then in the app you can assign two other speakers as the rear speakers for a 5.1 surround system (not everyone wants those rear speakers permanently there!), and the LG H4 is perfect for that as it is a speaker that can be plugged in most of the time, but has a built in battery so when you are ready to watch a movie you can collect and place the speakers for the rear - Very neat and clever

Steve

December 16, 2015, 7:23 pm

One of the features of Sonos - and perhaps other systems? - is that you can build a system without using their speakers

I have a couple of Zoneplayers - one connected to my Hifi in the living room and another to a pair of Philips DS9800W Fidelio in the kitchen

I did experiment with the Play 5 in the kitchen but ultimately found the sound a little lacking - it's a big room

The DAC seems pretty good too - comparison of FLAC vs the original CD left me unable to discern any differences

James Webster

December 16, 2015, 8:13 pm

What about Yamaha MusicCast?

LeeTronix

December 16, 2015, 8:18 pm

Not sure how Sonos is restrictive? You did not even care to expand on that comment? Anyhow it produces a very nice sound, but everyone will have their type of preference. How is Bluesound an Audiophiles choice? If you want ultra high end you do not use any of the above. For me out of the list here, the Sonos is my favourite, and that is based on sound, versatility of music management and ease of use among the core reasons.

Russel

December 17, 2015, 2:34 am

Bluesound is the "audiophile's choice" because they support playback of hi-res audio files, which Sonos do not. Whether hi-res is actually worthwhile on these speakers is, of course, open to debate.

Jason Almeida

December 17, 2015, 10:44 am

Personally I went for a Samsung setup because of Price/Speaker types/features. I got 2 M5s and a 4.1 sound bar (hw-j650) for 550 which is a bargain in comparison to Sonos.
The app could do with a little work (it still doesn't work with Google Play music so i have switched to spotify) but the combination of the above 3 needs made it the best selection.

Now they seem to have the budget M range and the more premium R range along with a host of soundbars that can be used so you're spoilt for choice

snaxo

December 17, 2015, 12:35 pm

The audiophile's choice is, surely, Naim's Mu-So system?

Prem Desai

December 17, 2015, 6:51 pm

For me, it's quite simple - it has to be Sonos.

It's an incredibly flexible system. Ridiculously easy to use.

Also, multi-room audio is all Sonos do - their existence depend on it.

Unlike companies like Philips, Samsung, etc who tend to pull out of the market if things don't do their way.

There might be cheaper options out there or they may do 1 or 2 things a little better, but Sonos is still the complete package.

Nick Hair

January 8, 2017, 7:20 pm

For me it simply has to be Sonos, I have had Sonos in my home for over ten years and the sounds quality is fantastic, perfectly balanced sound can be used for listening to the radio to a very loud New Year's Eve party. The app is incredibly easy to use and I can play all my music from my PC. Everyone else including Bose don't compare to the build and sound quality of Sonos, if your caught in two minds let me make the decision for you, if you buy Sonos you will be happy with the choice you've made for years to come.

comments powered by Disqus