The Best Smart Wireless Multiroom Speakers

Photo Credit: The Verge

Multi-room speakers are becoming more popular, thanks to wireless technology and the high cost of speakers, amps, keypads, and switching devices due to the expense of snaking wires. Now music fans can stream the same song to every room in the house, or a different song in each room.

Not only are multi-room speakers convenient, they negate the need to run a whole bunch of wires around your home. The ability to control music in a multiroom environment is one of Wi-Fi’s biggest selling features, but almost all Wi-Fi speakers also offer voice control via a voice assistant including Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant and Apple’s Siri.  

Sonos is probably the best known maker of multi-room speaker systems but it’s facing stiff competition, with rivals offering simple-to-use controls and great sound quality. Tech giants Amazon, Google and Apple have got in on the action too.

Buying Guide

What Is the Best Multi-Room Speaker?

So where do you start? You’ll want a speaker that supports your preferred music streaming service. If you’re a fan of Tidal, you might want support for hi-res audio streaming.

You don’t have stick to one brand of speaker, but if you mix and match, check that the speakers have the same streaming tech built in (AirPlay 2 or Google’s Chromecast, for example). 

Also keep in mind some eco-systems, such as Sonos, allow you to stream multiple sources to multiple devices and rooms. Whereas AirPlay 2 and Chromecast only allow streaming of one source to multiple devices and rooms.

Those seeking a cheaper entry into multi-room, wireless music, probably do not need to be told that Sonos is quite a big player in this market and its Sonos One is the outstanding ‘gateway drug’ to multi-room speakers and home cinema. As well as Sonos’ own wireless system it’s also compatible with everything from Apple AirPlay 2, to Spotify, to Tidal. It also happens to incorporate Amazon Echo’s Alexa and, more recently, Google Assistant, to work as your digital PA.

Selecting the One that Works for You

Decide what type of streaming you want to employ. Apple fans may favour AirPlay 2. Google lovers may want Chromecast compatibility.

Obviously if you’re a subscriber to Spotify, Tidal, Amazon Music Unlimited, Qobuz or one of the myriad other subscription-based streaming services, you’ll need compatibility with that, but note that these can also be piggy-backed over Chromecast or AirPlay. Apple fans: while AirPlay 2 supports multiple speakers from your mobile, original AirPlay speakers only allow this via your PC or Mac.

Some of them also support Bluetooth, either because there is consumer demand for big, expensive speakers that support the format or because brands just feel obliged to chuck it in as a backup.

You’ll also want to consider what size of room you want to use it in. Each speaker is able to fill – small (offices, kitchens, bedrooms); medium (larger bedrooms, most front rooms) and large (more palatial or open-plan spaces, combined kitchen/lounge type spaces, and so forth).

Bluetooth vs. Wi-Fi

Wi-Fi delivers the same basic convenience as Bluetooth: using your phone’s Wi-Fi connection to play music over an external speaker or sound system. Just like speakers that use Bluetooth connectivity, it can work with a subscription music service app such as Spotify (via Spotify Connect) or Apple Music, a radio service like Pandora or TuneIn, or your own music collection. Here are the best reasons to get a streaming Wi-Fi speaker:

  • A Wi-Fi speaker sounds better than a Bluetooth speaker due to its higher bandwidth.
  • Wi-Fi has better range.
  • Wi-Fi doesn’t take over your phone’s audio channel — so you can take a call without interrupting the song, for example.
  • It also works great for multiroom audio, allowing playback from multiple speakers all over the house via your Wi-Fi network, all controlled by a single phone app.

Major Multiroom Standards

When you buy a Wi-Fi speaker, you’re also investing in an ecosystem — a family of products and apps that work together, but usually don’t work with other ecosystems. Here’s a look at the major Wi-Fi ecosystems out there today.

Sonos: It’s kind of expensive and a little exclusive, but Sonos still offers some of the best hardware available. The company is moving away from the megalithic single app in favor of supporting third-party music services natively (Spotify Connect, Apple AirPlay 2). Considering the exacting sound quality and the bomb-proof build, Sonos is still the premium Wi-Fi system to get.  

Apple AirPlay/AirPlay 2: The reach of Apple’s AirPlay 2 will continue to grow alongside its Music streaming service — with its most intriguing feature being multiroom — but there are plenty of speakers out there that still support the original AirPlay. Great for iPhone users.

Chromecast built-in: For the cost of entry and ease of use and setup, Chromecast built-in is our current favorite Wi-Fi music system. There’s no new apps to learn — just press the Cast button in an existing, compatible app and music will play to the speaker(s) of your choice.

Amazon Multi Room Music: The speaker market has been upended by Amazon’s family of Echo speakers that combine wireless audio with voice control and home automation. MRM has been slow to take off, however, in part because third-party device support is scarce.

There are a number of other Wi-Fi systems, some open and some specific to the single manufacturer. These include: Yamaha MusicCast, Denon HEOS, Bowers and Wilkins Formation, Bose Music and Bluesound. There are plenty of systems that have largely been abandoned or replaced, whether it’s in favor of a newer version or competition from more popular protocols. These include All-Play, LG MusicFlow and Samsung Multi-Room.

The Best Wireless Speakers, Reviewed

To help you pick a multi-room speaker that suits your needs, we’ve compiled a list of the best options, rated according to performance, connectivity, build quality and value for money. Happy streaming!

Sonos One – Wallet Friendly Speaker

Photo: Techradar
Specifications
Connectivity: AirPlay 2, Alexa, Google Assistant
In-app Connectivity: Apple Music, Spotify Connect, Amazon, Tidal and a lot more, Wi-Fi, Ethernet
Room size: Small to medium
Channels: Mono
Features: Wi-Fi

Reasons to Buy
Amazing sound for size and price
Alexa built in
Attractive styling in white, black or limited ‘Hay’ edition colours

Reasons to Avoid
Sonos app is a bit sprawling

Rating: 9/10
Buy it Here

As the first multi-room player in the market, Sonos One offers a cleanly designed, exceptional sounding connected speaker. The One is one of the best multi-room speakers you can get.

Of course, you can pay more and get something that sounds even better, but whatever you pay, you are getting a hell of a lot of speaker for your money. The Sonos One genuinely delivers the tedious old speaker marketing claim of “room-filling sound from a small box”, but it’s not just loud; it serves up genuinely high quality audio.

The Sonos app is not the greatest thing ever invented. It offers so many connectivity options that it’s naturally quite unwieldy at times. However, a recent update has smoothed off some of the roughest edges, and it does offer support for just about every music service out there. You can do anything from the simple – sending the music on your phone to the speaker – to using all the streaming services you can think of, to pulling tunes from a NAS drive, and playing it on multiple Sonos speakers. You can also construct playlists on the fly that use multiple sources.

Arguably the real clincher in terms of VFM is the inclusion of Amazon’s Alexa AI. The old Play 1, which this replaces, was excellent value, and that was slightly less sexy, didn’t include Alexa and was the exact same price.

Now, to be fair, the Alexa implementation is not perfect. The array of mics in the Sonos One is sometimes not sufficient to actually hear your instructions, even when there isn’t music playing. There are other quirks like the way it cuts off every Sonos in your house to listen, when you speak to just one Sonos One.

That said, if you think of the Sonos as a superb speaker that happens to have Alexa built in as an extra – rather than an Amazon Echo with much better sound quality – it’s well worth the purchase.

Amazon Echo 4th Gen – A Superb-sounding Multiroom Speaker

Photo: BestBuy
Specifications
Connectivity: Alexa
In-app Connectivity: Amazon Music
Room size:  Multiroom
Channels:  Mono Channel
Features: Wi-Fi, Bluetooth V4.0

Reasons to Buy
Fine balance, detail and timing
Pairs with other Amazon products
Improved sound quality and powerful bass
Better smart home connectivity
Easy and quality stereo pairing

Reasons to Avoid
A bulky design
No revolutionary upgrades

Rating: 8.5/10
Buy it Here

The Echo boasts two important upgrades that should inform your decision to buy it or not: improved sound quality and smart home hardware.

When it comes to sound, the Echo represents a significant improvement over the third-gen speaker from 2019, likely in part to the fact that the third-gen Echo essentially copped its design almost wholesale from an older device.

Previous Echo products have appeared overly forward, brash in comparison with this now more sophisticated, insightful presentation. There are textures here – hisses, warbles and sweeps – that the Echo seems to enjoy exploring, organising them neatly across a soundstage with great depth and dimension.

If you’re already invested in Amazon’s eco-system or are building a multi-room system from scratch, this is superb choice. Though if your use of Alexa is likely to be limited, the Sonos One is the better all-rounder.

Amazon Echo Studio – The Best Echo Speaker you can Buy

Photo: The Verge
Specifications
Connectivity: Alexa
In-app Connectivity: Amazon Music, Apple Music, iHeartRadio, Pandora, SiriusXM, Spotify, and Tidal
Room size: Multi-room
Channels: 5.1
Features: Wi-Fi, Bluetooth

Reasons to Buy
Decent spread of sound
Clear, precise midrange
Hi-res audio support

Reasons to Avoid
Overcooked bass hampers timing
Hit and miss 3D audio

Rating: 8/10
Buy it Here

The Amazon Echo led the way as the original smart speaker, but despite all that innovation, there was one problem: The speakers didn’t sound great. But Amazon has improved the sonics of its speakers in recent years, and the Amazon Echo Studio is the best-sounding of all.

Featuring a deep and powerful bass, a clean midrange, and smooth trebles, the Studio is one of the very best-sounding smart speakers in the market. The Studio provides a spacious “soundfield” that can fill a room. But the “Stereo Spatial Enhancement” setting adds a bit of an echo, so switching it off is the best bet.

The Studio can be integrated with other Amazon Echo speakers as part of a multiroom system.  

Apple Homepod – The Smart One for True Apple Fans

Specifications
Connectivity: AirPlay
In-app Connectivity: Apple Music
Room size: Medium to large
Channels: Via AirPlay on PC/Mac only
Features: Wi-Fi

Reasons to Buy
Fantastic sound quality for the money
Easy setup, great looks as usual from Apple

Reasons to Avoid
No multi-room from mobile

Rating: 7/10
Buy it Here

A great-sounding speaker, and now fully multi-room ready thanks to AirPlay 2. If you’re not an iPhone or iPad user, probably move along.

Photo: Apple

The Apple HomePod finally entered the wireless speaker battle for your bookshelf in early 2018, and it’s still a great choice in 2021.

The obvious benefit of an Apple HomePod over an Echo or Google Home device is that it’ll play nice with your other Apple products. So if you’re a die-hard Apple fan the HomePod may be a no-brainer.

But it’s worth asking the same question you should always be asking yourself when you want to splurge on a new Apple product: how much of a premium should you pay for owning a device that fits only seamlessly into the Apple ecosystem?

The HomePod is excellent, as it boasts incredible sound and a very intuitive set-up. But Siri is middling in its implementation, and the fact that you’re not able to break out of the Apple ecosystem for many key functions also rankles.

Google Nest Mini – Best Budget Option

Specifications
Connectivity: Google Assistant
In-app Connectivity: Chromecast Audio
Room size: Multi-room
Channels: Micro USB
Features: Wi-Fi, Bluetooth

Reasons to Buy
Affordable Google Assistant
Chromecast compatibility
Fine sound for speech radio

Reasons to Avoid
Sound quality is average for music
No aux or Bluetooth output
Device support could be better

Rating: 7/10
Buy it Here

Google has done an admirable job of catching up its digital assistant in the sound race. If Alexa is your voice assistant of choice, you should go with the latest Echo Dot. It’s affordable and offers all the Alexa skills and smart home integrations you’ll need. 

Google Assistant now has almost as many capabilities as Alexa, making the Google Nest Mini a solid alternative to the Amazon Echo Dot if Google Assistant is your preference. Plus, Google Assistant is a little smarter voice assistant than Alexa. It responds more flexibly to voice commands if you can’t remember the exact name of your smart home devices, and Google’s grouped commands, called routines, work with more types of smart devices than Amazon’s similar routines. Google Assistant can recognize multiple voices, so it’ll give you and your spouse different answers if you each ask about your calendars, though Alexa can now do this too.

Sound quality is decent but nothing special. But then considering its dinky size and price you shouldn’t expect too much. Voices are nice and clear, and you won’t slum it sonically speaking when it comes to talk radio or voice answers (probably its primary uses).

Still, it sounds noticeably better than an Echo Dot. And if you want to build up a Chromecast multi-room system on a very tight budget, the Mini is hard to beat.

Overall, Google still has the edge in assistant intelligence, and the Google Nest Mini is a great, low-cost way to take advantage of those smarts.  

Bose Home Portable Speaker – A Great Sonos Move Alternative

Photo: Pcmag
Specifications
Connectivity:  Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant
In-app Connectivity:  AirPlay 2
Room size: Multi-room
Channels:   Mono
Features: Wi-Fi, Bluetooth

Reasons to Buy
Great design
Well-balanced sound

Reasons to Avoid
Expensive
Lacking in bass

Rating: 6/10
Buy it Here

There’s a growing market for portable smart speakers, and the Bose Portable Home Speaker is a great example, offering the smarts of Google Assistant and Alexa alongside Bluetooth connectivity.

The Bose Portable Home Speaker isn’t the brand’s first outdoor-friendly speaker, and it shows: gorgeous minimalist design meets weather-ready robustness, with a light build and handle that lends itself to listening on the go.

It doesn’t quite meet the sonic dexterity of the Sonos Move, or the value for its money – but if you love that Bose sound and build quality, this is the speaker for you.

6 thoughts on “The Best Smart Wireless Multiroom Speakers

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