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Wireless multi-room audio systems

Sonos vs. the new challengers

What distinguishes a wireless multi-room system from a collection of stand-alone Bluetooth® or Apple Airplay® wireless speakers? Convenience. You can control all the speakers in the system from a single remote — usually a smartphone or tablet app. You can play the same music throughout the house or choose different music for different rooms.

Below is the rundown of the various multi-room systems available. Sonos created the first viable wireless mult-room audio system. Now several worthy challengers are getting into the game. Which system is right for you?

Important questions to ask yourself as you shop

  1. How many rooms (or zones) do you want music in?
  2. What sources of music do you want to listen to?
  3. How do you want to control it?

Sonos Family

Sonos family

Sonos Wireless HiFi

Sonos currently offers a wide variety of components for different applications throughout your home. There are three powered speakers, a sound bar, a subwoofer, a powered player that connects to stereo speakers, and a non-powered player that connects to your hi-fi or home theater system. 

Maximum number of rooms: 32

Music sources: Internet radio, virtually all online music services, stored music on portable devices and computers, including iTunes®

Supported music file formats: MP3, iTunes Plus, WMA, AAC, Ogg Vorbis, Audible (format 4), Apple Lossless, FLAC, WAV, AIFF.

Control: Sonos Controller App for Apple and Android portables, Logitech® Harmony® Ultimate Remote

Wireless technology: Wi-Fi®, SonosNet wireless mesh network

Additional info: Powered speakers can be paired for stereo operation. Create a wireless surround sound system using the sound bar, subwoofer, and a pair of Play:1 or Play:3 speakers.

Some Sonos components can be wall-mounted with Flexson mounts. Flexson also makes vinyl skins for Sonos components in a variety of colors.


Bluesound

Bluesound ecosystem

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

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

Music sources: Internet radio, Rdio, Deezer, Slacker, Spotify, (Bluesound plans to include additional online music services), music stored on computers, USB flash drives. and portable devices (with Bluetooth® dongle, available separately). Vault player supports high-resolution downloads from HDtracks. Does not support Apple AirPlay.

Supported music file formats: FLAC, Apple® Lossless (ALAC) WAV, AIFF, AAC, WMA, MP3, OGG

Control: Bluesound control app for Apple® and Android™ smartphones and tablets. Bluesound Desktop Controller for Windows® and Mac® OS X computers (available as a free download from Bluesound).

Wireless technology: Wi-Fi

Additional info: Compatible with high resolution 96kHz/24-bit and 192kHz/24-bit audio files. Available in black or white.


Bose® SoundTouch™ Series II Wi-Fi® music system

Bose SoundTouch

The Bose® SoundTouch™ Series II Wi-Fi music system is super simple to set up and operate. There are six preset buttons on top of each unit for one touch access to your favorite Internet radio or Pandora® stations.

Maximum number of rooms: 6

Music sources: Internet radio, Pandora, Deezer, Spotify, iHeartRadio (Bose plans to include additional online music services), music stored on portable devices and in your computer’s iTunes® library. Supports Apple AirPlay.

Supported music file formats: MP3, WMA, AAC, Apple Lossless

Control: SoundTouch™ app for Apple and Android portables

Wireless technology: Wi-Fi with Apple® AirPlay®

Additional info: Three models available, including portable model with rechargeable battery.

Current Bose® LifeStyle® home theater systems come with an adapter to make them compatible with SoundTouch™ technology, so SoundTouch™ music systems can be integrated into them for an even larger multi-room audio system. Current Bose® CineMate® can be made compatible with an adapter (available separately).


Definitive Technology Wireless Collection

Definitive Technology wireless multi-room audio product family

The Definitive Technology Wireless Collection features components with high-performance speakers for exceptional sound. The system uses Play-Fi® technology developed by DTS. Play-Fi transmits uncompressed audio, allowing more of the detail in the music to be preserved. The soundbar/subwoofer system features Dolby® and DTS® surround sound decoding.

Definitive Technology W components DLNA support for streaming music from compatible networked computers and NAS drives Definitive Technology also offers an adapter for your wired home audio system, and an amplified player for use with passive speakers.

Maximum number of rooms: 16

Music sources: Internet radio, stored music on portable devices and computers, Pandora, SiriusXM for Android, (SiriusXM for iOS is arriving shortly).

Supported music file formats: MP3, M4A, FLAC, and WAV files; the system can stream sampling rates up to 48-bit/16kHz. 96/24 files can also be played, but are down sampled to 48/16 resolution.

Control: Operation is controlled through the Definitive Technology/Play-Fi® Controller App; system setup is done through the Definitive Technology/Utility app. Both apps are free downloads for Apple and Android portables.

Wireless technology: DTS Play-Fi® lossless wireless


Denon HEOS

Denon Heos multi-room audio family

There are currently three wireless speakers available, plus an adapter that lets you add an existing Home Theater or Stereo system to the HEOS network. There's also a HEOS amplified player for your passive speakers, a great option for in-wall/in-ceiling or outdoor locations.

Maximum number of rooms: 32

Music sources: Internet radio, stored music on portable devices, computers, and USB memory sticks, Spotify, Pandora, Rhapsody, and TuneIn.

Supported music file formats: MP3, WMA, AAC, FLAC, WAV, Apple Lossless

Control: HEOs Controller App for Apple and Android portables

Wireless technology: Wi-Fi®

Additional info:  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.


Harman Kardon Wireless HD Audio System

Harman Kardon Omni 10

Harman Kardon's wireless system uses both Wi-Fi and Bluetooth for music transmission. Their Omni powered speakers allow you to add music to any room, while the compact Adapt lets you integrate your existing stereo into the system.

Maximum number of rooms: 6

Music sources: You can play audio from any app on your Bluetooth compatible smartphone or tablet. The Harman Kardon Controller app offers built-in support for Deezer (coming soon to the US) and MixRadio. More services will be added in 2015.

Supported music file formats: Any format a source device can play can be streamed via Bluetooth. From the app, you can play the following file types: MP3, M4A, WAV (from Apple and Android devices; AAC, FLAC, WMA, and OGG Vorbis (from Android devices only).

Control: Harman Kardon Controller app for Apple and Android smartphones and tablets

Wireless technology: Wi-Fi and Bluetooth

Additional info: Bluetooth streams can be sent to multiple speakers over your Wi-Fi network. The "Link" button allows you to pick up streams from other Omni speakers or to send music to all speakers in the system.


Polk Audio Omni

Polk Audio Omni multi-room audio

The Polk Audio Omni family of wireless speakers uses Play-Fi® technology developed by DTS. Play-Fi transmits uncompressed audio, allowing more of the detail in the music to be preserved. Omni components include DLNA support for streaming music from compatible networked computers and NAS drives.

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 addf TV sound to your Play-Fi® network.

Maximum number of rooms: 16

Music sources: Internet radio, stored music on portable devices and computers, Pandora, SiriusXM for Android, (SiriusXM for iOS is arriving shortly).

Supported music file formats: MP3, M4A, FLAC, and WAV files; the system can stream sampling rates up to 48-bit/16kHz. 96/24 files can also be played, but are down sampled to 48/16 resolution.

Control: Operation is controlled through the Play-Fi® Controller App; system setup is done through the Polk Omni Utility app. Both apps are free downloads for Apple and Android portables.

Wireless technology: DTS Play-Fi® lossless wireless


Samsung Shape™

Samsung Shape wireless multi-room audio

Samsung's versatile Shape speakers can be oriented either vertically for 2-channel pairing, or horizontally for single speaker use.  A cool feature called NFC (Near Field Communication) is built-in. Just touch your NFC-compatible smartphone or tablet to pair it with the M7 and start streaming music right away. You can also sync an HW-H750 home theater sound bar with wireless sub or a HT-H6500WM home theater system to your Shape network.

Maximum number of rooms: 10

Music sources: Internet radio, TuneIn, Rhapsody, Pandora, iHeartRadio, Rdio, Amazon Cloud Player, stored music on portable devices

Supported music file formats: AAC, MP3, WMA

Control: Shape™ control app for Apple and Android smartphones and tablets

Wireless technology: Wi-Fi (for network), Bluetooth (for individual operation)

Additional info: Built-in Bluetooth® allows speakers to be used as stand-alone wireless audio systems for smartphones and tablets. Compatible with Samsung SmartTVs (2014 or later), Shape speakers can be used for music or for wireless home theater sound via a Bluetooth connection.


Wren V5PF

Wren wireless multi-room audio

The Wren V 5PF wireless speaker uses Play-Fi® technology developed by DTS. Play-Fi transmits uncompressed audio, allowing more of the detail in the music to be preserved. The Wren smartphone control app also lets you incorporate other Play-Fi enabled systems, such as the Definitive Technology, Polk Audio Omni , and Phorus systems. It also includes DLNA support for streaming music from compatible networked computers and NAS drives.

The Wren V5PF currently comes in either a rosewood or bamboo wood veneer.

Maximum number of rooms: 16

Music sources: Internet radio, stored music on portable devices and computers, Pandora, SiriusXM for Android, (SiriusXM for iOS is arriving shortly), Deezer, Songza and more.

Supported music file formats: MP3, M4A, FLAC, and WAV files; the system can stream sampling rates up to 48-bit/16kHz. 96/24 files can also be played, but are down sampled to 48/16 resolution.

Control: Operation is controlled through the Wren Sound systems control app. The app is a free downloads for Android portables..

Wireless technology: DTS Play-Fi® lossless wireless

Note: Wren speakers are also available with built-in Apple® AirPlay®. These versions are not compatible with Play-Fi®. 

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