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Wireless multi-room audio systems

Sonos vs. the new challengers

By

Ralph Graves

Ralph Graves is one of Crutchfield's blog editors, and part of the company's social media team. He writes about home audio/video gear, specializing in Apple-related and wireless technologies. Ralph holds a master's degree in music composition, and his works have been released on various labels. He's served as product manager for an independent classical and world music label, produced several recordings, and worked extensively in public broadcasting. Since 1984 he's hosted a weekly classical music program on WTJU, and is also active as a blogger and podcaster.

More from Ralph Graves

A simple Bluetooth® speaker is fine for listening to music in one room or on the go. But if you want a more robust system with the flexibility to control multiple speakers from a single device, we recommend wireless multi-room speakers. They offer easy app control from your smartphone, and let you play different songs in different rooms, or the same song everywhere.

Sonos blazed the trail for wireless whole-house audio. And it’s still hugely popular with our customers. But now the trail is crowded with competing Wi-Fi® speaker systems. Before you start shopping, read on to get an overview of the different systems and what we think are the strengths of each one.

"Wait, are these speakers truly wireless?"

The term wireless can get a little confusing. When we say "wireless" we mean that these products let you stream music wirelessly from your smartphone or tablet (or computer, in some cases) to the speaker or component. The individual pieces within a specific system can also connect to each other wirelessly, so you don't need audio cables to connect them together. You will need to plug these speakers into a wall outlet for power. There are a few models with built-in rechargeable batteries, but they'll need to be plugged into a power source for recharging.

Questions to ask yourself as you start shopping

  1. How many rooms do you want music in?
  2. What size speakers do you want?
  3. How important is sound quality?
  4. What sources do you want to listen from (computers, smartphones, online services)?
  5. Do you want to use existing gear (speakers, home theater) with the system?

Check out our overview of the different systems below. Click on the links to get more details on specific brands and products.


Sonos Wireless HiFi System

Sonos

Sonos essentially invented the wireless multi-room category. Their products are a big hit with our customers and many of our employees.

The Sonos ecosystem offers:

  • Three sizes of powered wireless speakers
  • A sound bar
  • A wireless powered subwoofer
  • A player with a built-in amp that connects to your stereo speakers
  • A non-powered player that connects to your stereo or home theater system

Maximum number of rooms: 32

Wireless technology:

  • Wi-Fi for easy connection to your home network

Additional features we like:Powered Sonos speakers can be paired for stereo operation. Create a 5.1 wireless surround sound home theater system using the PLAYBAR, SUB, and a pair of Play:1 or Play:3 speakers. Some Sonos speakers can be wall-mounted with Flexson mounts. Flexson also makes vinyl skins for Sonos speakers in a variety of colors.

Bose® SoundTouch®wireless music systems

Bose soundtouch

The Bose® SoundTouch® wireless music system combines legendary Bose® sound with extremely simple setup and operation.

The Bose® SoundTouch® wireless music system:

  • Four sizes of powered wireless speakers
  • Five home theater audio systems
  • An AM/FM radio/CD player with Bluetooth
  • Two sizes of outdoor speakers
  • A player with a built-in amp that connects to your regular stereo speakers
  • A non-powered player that connects to your stereo or home theater system

Wireless technology:

  • Wi-Fi for easy connection to your home network
  • Bluetooth® in select components for wireless streaming from smartphones and tablets

Additional features we like: The speakers feature six top-mounted preset buttons for control without requiring a remote, smartphone or tablet. These can be programmed for any music source, including Internet radio stations, streaming music services, or home digital music library.

Bluesound

Bluesound

Designed with audiophiles in mind by the makers of NAD and PSB, the Bluesound system can stream high-resolution music files.

The Bluesound ecosystem includes:

  • Three sizes of powered wireless speakers
  • A player with a built-in amp that connects to your regular stereo speakers
  • A non-powered player that connects to your stereo or home theater system
  • A pair of stereo speakers and subwoofer
  • A player with a built-in 2TB hard drive and CD ripper

Maximum number of rooms: 8 with wireless connection; 34 connected via Ethernet

Wireless technology:

  • Wi-Fi for easy connection to your home network

Additional features we like: Designed with audiophiles in mind by the makers of NAD and PSB, this system can stream high-resolution 96kHz/24-bit and 192kHz/24-bit audio files. Speakers have high-resolution built-in Bluetooth aptX®. You can stream from your portable device to a compatible speaker, and the speaker can then relay the sound to the other Bluesound components in the system.

Yamaha MusicCast

Yamaha MusicCast

Yamaha has incorporated the MusicCast system into their 2016 line of home theater receivers, making their selection of compatible products the largest by brand.

The Yamaha MusicCast ecosystem includes:

  • Three sizes of powered wireless speakers
  • A sound bar
  • A wireless powered subwoofer
  • A player with a built-in amp that connects to your regular stereo speakers
  • A non-powered player that connects to your stereo or home theater system
  • All 2015-and-up model-year home theater receivers

Maximum number of rooms: 32

Wireless technology:

  • Wi-Fi for easy connection to your home network
  • Bluetooth for sending audio wirelessly from select devices to Bluetooth headphones or speakers

Additional features we like:  The Yamaha MusicCast system is built into a wide selection of Yamaha receivers. That means you can have a high-performance home theater system using a Yamaha receiver that's automatically connected to your whole-house MusicCast wireless system.

Denon HEOS

Denon HEOS

Denon HEOS speakers feature USB ports, making it easy to play songs from your — or your friend's — thumb drives.

The Denon HEOS ecosystem includes:

  • Three sizes of powered wireless speakers
  • A portable wireless speaker
  • A sound bar and wireless subwoofer
  • A player with a built-in amp that connects to your regular stereo speakers
  • A player with a pre-amp that connects to your stereo or home theater system
  • A HEOS wireless network extender

Maximum number of rooms: 32

Wireless technology:

  • Wi-Fi for easy connection to your home network

Additional features we like:  Each HEOS component has a USB port. You can play music from a USB thumb drive through it, and make selections using the HEOS app. You can also stream these songs to other HEOS devices for multi-room playback. HEOS 3 speakers can be paired for stereo operation. With a special attachment, you can convert the HEOS 1 speaker into a portable Bluetooth speaker, while keeping it part of the HEOS system.

Harman Kardon Wireless HD Audio System

Harmon Kardon Wireless HD

Harman Kardon takes a different approach with their speaker designs, making their Omni speakers attractive additions to the décor — as well as delivering robust, room-filling sound.

The Harman Kardon Wireless HD Audio System includes:

  • Two sizes of powered wireless speakers
  • A non-powered adapter that connects to your stereo or home theater system

Maximum number of rooms: 6

Wireless technology:

  • Wi-Fi for easy connection to your home network
  • Bluetooth in select components for wireless streaming from smartphones and tablets

Additional features we like: The Omni speakers have built-in Bluetooth. You can stream from your smartphone or tablet, and have the speaker send the music to additional Harman Kardon wireless speakers.


Play-Fi

DTS Play-Fi®

Play-Fi transmits uncompressed audio, allowing more of the detail in the music to be preserved. Many brands offer speakers and components with Play-Fi built-in. All Play-Fi speakers and components are compatible with each other, allowing you to mix and match high-quality components from companies such as Polk Audio, MartinLogan, Definitive Technology and more.

Polk Audio Omni

Polk Audio Omni


Polk Audio brings decades of audio speaker design to their Omni system. Their Omni powered speakers feature drivers that each have their own Class D amplifier for smooth, clear, well-balanced sound.

Polk Audio Play-Fi components include:

  • Three sizes of powered wireless speakers
  • A portable wireless speaker
  • A sound bar and wireless subwoofer
  • A player with a built-in amp that connects to your regular stereo speakers
  • A wireless adapter that connects to your stereo or home theater system

Maximum number of rooms: 8

Wireless technology:

  • Wi-Fi for easy connection to your home network
  • DTS Play-Fi allows compatibility with multiple brands of gear

Additional features we like: There are currently powered wireless Omni stereo speakers, including the rechargeable weather-resistant S2 for outdoor listening. Connect your wired home audio system to the Play-Fi network with a P1 adapter. The A1 music player features a built-in amplifier -- connect two speakers to make a wireless stereo system. The SB1 sound bar and subwoofer combination lets you add TV sound to your Play-Fi® network.

Definitive Technology Wireless Collection

Definitive Technology W9

Definitive Technology wireless speakers have a unique tri-polar design. Drivers on three sides of the speaker evenly distributing clear, accurate sound across a wide soundstage.

The Definitive Technology Wireless Collection includes:

  • Three sizes of powered wireless speakers
  • A sound bar and wireless powered subwoofer
  • A player with a built-in amp that connects to your regular stereo speakers
  • A non-powered player that connects to your stereo or home theater system

Maximum number of rooms: 16

Wireless technology:

  • Wi-Fi for easy connection to your home network
  • DTS Play-Fi allows compatibility with multiple brands of gear

Additional features we like: The Definitive Technology Wireless Collection features components with high-performance speakers for exceptional sound.The soundbar/subwoofer systems feature Dolby® and DTS® surround sound decoding.

Paradigm Premier Wireless Series

Paradigm Premier

Paradigm speakers have Anthem Room Correction technology built-in. This optimizes speaker's sound to room, adjusting for the room's reflections and other sound challenges.

The Paradigm Premier Wireless Series includes:

  • Two sizes of powered wireless speakers
  • A player with a built-in amp that connects to your regular stereo speakers

Maximum number of rooms: 16

Wireless technology:

  • Wi-Fi for easy connection to your home network
  • DTS Play-Fi allows compatibility with multiple brands of gear

Additional features we like: The speakers come with room calibration technology built-in. They also feature high-performance speakers and dampened cabinets for optimal audio. The AMP 2-channel amplifier features 100 watts RMS for each channel. All components have dual-band Wi-Fi receivers, to ensure interference-free reception of your streaming audio.

Phorus

Phorus

In addition to Play-Fi, Phorus wireless speakers also come with Apple® AirPlay®, high-resolution Bluetooth aptX® and DLNA built-in.

Phorus offers the following:

  • · Two sizes of powered wireless speakers
  • · A wireless adapter that connects to your stereo or home theater system

Maximum number of rooms: 8

Wireless technology:

  • Wi-Fi for easy connection to your home network
  • DTS Play-Fi allows compatibility with multiple brands of gear
  • Bluetooth for wireless streaming from smartphones and tablets

Additional features we like: Phorus speakers have dual-core digital signal processors and Class-D digital amplifiers built-in. Bluetooth streams can be sent to multiple speakers over your Wi-Fi network. And Phorus uses Bluetooth aptX® audio coding, an advanced type of Bluetooth wireless streaming that retains virtually all the detail of the audio signal it carries. The "Link" button allows you to pick up streams from other Phorus speakers or to send music to all speakers in the system.

Wren Sound Systems

Wren V5

Wren Sound Systems offers the V5 speaker. In addition to Play-Fi, some versions of the V5 include built-in Apple® AirPlay® and Bluetooth®.

Maximum number of rooms: 16

Wireless technology:

  • Wi-Fi for easy connection to your home network
  • DTS Play-Fi allows compatibility with multiple brands of gear
  • Bluetooth in select components for wireless streaming from smartphones and tablets

Additional features we like:  The V5's cabinet is made of MDF to minimize unwanted resonance. A silicone pad on the bottom acts as a cushion to keep the cabinet vibration-free. Wren's proprietary Digital Signal Processing circuitry ensures accurate signal decoding and lifelike sound reproduction. The system is powered by a built-in 50-watt Class-D amplifier.

Last updated February 06, 2016
  • Donna Sullivan from New York

    Posted on 5/6/2015 3:22:50 PM

    Help! My Dad loves to listen to music, he is a very simple man. Currently he enjoys listening to the music stations from his cable TV that he can play through out the house via a wireless speaker (from Rocketfish). This recently broke & I would like to replace this for him. Not sure if I should just get another RocketFish RocketBoost or if there is something better - I have SONOS & love it - but working something from an app or the computer is not for him. I'm trying to surprise him so any suggestions on what I should be looking for would be appreciated.

  • Jeff Miller from Crutchfield

    Posted on 5/7/2015 9:19:06 AM

    Donna, I sent your question to our sales team, and they'll be contacting you via email soon. They should be able to find the best wireless speaker or multi-room system for the job.

  • Don from Ny

    Posted on 6/17/2015 4:34:51 PM

    What about korus. They are great wireless speakers. Why weren't they reviewed?

  • Ralph Graves from Crutchfield

    Posted on 6/18/2015 9:22:12 AM

    Don: We agree. Korus V600 and V400 wireless speakers are great. When the article was originally written, Korus was just getting started. We'll be publishing an update shortly (many of the systems reviewed have expanded), and that will include Korus.

  • Jonathan Takiff from United States

    Posted on 7/16/2015 11:54:55 AM

    Hey Donna Sullivan. Your dad would be happiest with the Bose SoundTouch approach to powered speakers/internet radio receivers, offering six channel preset buttons on each device. Once the system's set up (via a phone/tablet/computer app), no additional controls are needed. Just tap a button on top of a Bose box and the station pops on - usually pretty fast (though BBC channels do take a few seconds to come on.) And for across the room control, the units come with a dedicated (RF) remote - also rare in the multi-room streaming audio species.

  • Alison Almquist from Albuquerque

    Posted on 8/22/2015 10:53:48 PM

    Wireless is awesome.

  • Greg

    Posted on 9/19/2015 3:36:01 PM

    Despite all these systems I'm not sure there are any that offer a complete set of features that I want. All seem deficient in some way. I've looked at: 1) Sonos is the obvious wifi audio choice but for some inexpliable reason, they don't offer bluetooth. Not being able to stream directly from devices is ridiculous. 2) Samsung was my next choice but doesn't seem to offer outgoing bluetooth connectivity, meaning while you can stream from PC, you can't use headphones to listen to servies streaded through the speakers. 3) The Yamaha MusicCast system seems to offer both these functions, but doesn't seem to offer a PC controller application (just mobile) like Sonos does. And as it's a new platform it doesn't seem to support as many online services yet. Additionally there aren't any reviews available yet on their entry level speakers. I'll just have to wait and see I guess. If Sonos would just offer bluetooth and a model with a battery they'd be perfect. It's mind boggling they don't support device streaming after all this time.

  • Constantine L.

    Posted on 10/8/2015 4:37:56 PM

    What about Apple's Airplay? I use a marantz receiver for each room, in-wall or in-ceiling speakres from definitive technologies. the source can be anything but usually tidal (the only lossless streaming service i know) through a computer. you can also use itunes. each receiver appears as a separate airplay device (best if you use ethernet but works just fine using wi-fi, the marantz receivers are wi-fi capable). each room will cost over 3k but the result is far superior in audio quality and flexibility than any of the above solutions... Sonos (which i tried for a bit) sounds like an AM station compared the the above... You can use a different equalizer setting for each speaker, different volume level for each speaker, Dolby Atmos if you want to, etc, etc. Your apple remote app can control itunes and the marantz app can control each individual room/receiver for advanced settings. You can also built an airplay multi-room system with just a small number of apple TVs (one per room) and legacy receivers/powered speakers, etc. quick, cheap and it works quite well... At some point Apple will make airplay support video broadcasting to multiple zones (currently only one) and then all of the above will be obsolete because you'll want your video broadcast in sync to every room too, from your iphone, ipad, computer, cable box, satelite, apple tv, etc. etc.

  • jonathan from winter park

    Posted on 10/12/2015 7:21:48 PM

    So I think the Definitive technology W9 has the best sound of the bunch but playfi DTS makes it virtually unusable..... Question 1..... Between bluesound pule 2 and denon heos 7 which do you guys think is best Question 2...... Do you think the devialet phantom are worth all the extra money, havent heard on that is well broken in but while the bass was incredible top end and mid range clarity didn't seem that great?

  • Raja from Monroe

    Posted on 11/2/2015 11:22:23 AM

    I have a new construction and in every room, I have kept extra electrical outlet closer to the ceiling (seeing if there are any speakers that would need power)... are there any wifi based speaker system that can be used for Audio transmission. Also, if there is a way that any of these can also be used as intercom (like Harmon Cardon). Lastly, if there is a way that I can also transmit the live input from a Mic to broadcast in every room?

  • Adam k

    Posted on 11/14/2015 1:12:35 PM

    What I would like included in a review such as this is some cross-comparison of the quality of the audio, and of course relative price.

  • Andy Thorpe from Richmond

    Posted on 1/3/2016 9:32:33 AM

    Sonos is likely still the gold standard I would imagine for a simple, clean, wireless audio system. The interface is just incredibly easy to use. However, I switched over to an AirPlay based system a while back (Sonos is just too expensive to scale up past a couple of zones). One can get four Apple TVs for the price of one Sonos player (and obviously they do more than hook up wirelessly to your PC/phone.) Also, there are many receivers and speakers that are AirPlay compatible. Alternatively one can connect an appletv/airport express to an amp and high end speakers for cheaper than a single zone combo with Sonos. The problem with AirPlay is easily playing music in multiple zones simultaneously. If one could sync between "zones" using AirPlay on a mobile device it would be perfect. You can currently only select multiple zones simultaneously when using a Mac Laptop.

  • putkowski from flatrock

    Posted on 1/8/2016 11:53:48 AM

    It's a real shame that SlimDevices' (Logitech) ecosystem has fallen off the map. I will continue to use it because it supports real stereos (rather than limited fidelity alternatives..)