Music-everywhere devices are multiplying

Sonos wireless stereo products beat the competition in music-services selection.
Sonos wireless stereo products beat the competition in music-services selection.
Posted: December 20, 2013

MUSIC-STREAMING services grabbed more love from listeners this year, reports Billboard.

It's a trend sure to escalate in 2014, as new converts come to appreciate the virtual universe of music available via free and low-cost ($5-$10 a month) subscription services (with millions of selections) and the specialty Wi-Fi/Internet music players that nab and serve 'em up.

Hardware maker Sonos and retail giant Best Buy lead the charge this holiday season with instructive TV ads and store displays on these new-millennium digital "stereos" - most wireless, multiroom expandable and controlled by a smartphone or tablet app.

Market savvy Bose and Samsung will turn up the heat next year for their just-launched Wi-Fi audio systems. To keep you ahead of the curve, Gizmo Guy has already checked out a bunch.

Sonos

Laser-focused on streaming audio delivery, Sonos far exceeds younger rivals in system polish and the number of free and paid music services (more than 20!) you can pull down on its devices.

Sonos hardware creates a unique, "MESH" wireless network for ultra-stable signal relay throughout the house, to funnel the same or different music to specific room players. The brand's small family of products all feel and sound substantial, from the least expensive $199 Play 1 powered mono speaker to the $699 home-theater Playbar sound bar, which also functions as a music/radio streaming player.

Grade: A+

Bose SoundTouch

No surprise, Bose's first-ever Wi-Fi music system products are attractive, easy to use and built - priced - to last, be it the AC/battery-operated SoundTouch Portable, my fave at $399, louder and bassier SoundTouch 20 (also $399) or big room-filling SoundTouch 30 ($699).

Six preset buttons (and a wireless remote) call up favorite Internet radio stations from vTuner and Pandora. The companion SoundTouch control app lets you dig deeper.

At the moment, Bose systems don't support on-demand paid music services. "We want them to be push-button accessible," shared an executive.

But your iPhone or iPad music subscription can be wirelessly "thrown" to a SoundTouch via a tap of the on-screen AirPlay icon. SoundTouch gear holds true to Bose's big-sound-in-small-packages magic formula - with just a tad of midrange "bump-up" for romantic warmth and comfort.

Grade: B+

Pure

As one of Britain's leading digital radio makers, Pure's family of affordable music-streaming devices and service deliver good value. And just a little quirkiness.

The handsome, spunky Jongo S3 Wi-Fi and Bluetooth speaker ($199) is especially cool, running on rechargeable battery power (10 hours) as well as AC, with supertight sounding front, top and rear-firing speakers.

Also check out the Pure Wi-Fi/Bluetooth tuner (A2, $129), which delivers streaming music to an old-school stereo rig.

The unlimited Pure Connect music streaming service is a steal at $5 a month, spotlighting almost as many British artists as American and going way deep into catalogs. We counted 100 available Grateful Dead albums!

Grade: B+

Samsung Shape

Designed for vertical or horizontal placement (as is the slightly smaller Sonos Play 3), the weighty, wedge Samsung Shape M7 ($399) is a fine-sounding streaming music player - when it works.

Gizmo Guy had recurring problems (system lockups, lengthy pauses between tracks) with two early production samples, requiring rebooting. The control app for Android/iOS phones is pretty slick, and the first-gen product comes with a small but nourishing array of streaming options - Rhapsody, TuneIn Radio, Amazon Cloud Player and Pandora.

Also, a Shape M7 uniquely supports Samsung Sound Share tech built into some Samsung TVs, functioning as a wireless, kick-ass Bluetooth speaker for the television, too. A major impetus to buy, despite the software hiccups.

Grade: B-

Phorus

The promise here is ultra hi-fi, perfectly synchronized multiroom sound, using a "Wi-Fi Direct" communications approach called Play-Fi that's theoretically better than Bluetooth or Airplay (which are also supported in Phorus hardware).

But the improvements are impossible to detect on the modest, cone-shaped Phorus PS1 speaker ($199). And Phorus streaming content is paltry, just Internet radio (strictly through the Android app) and Pandora.

Grade: C-


Email: takifj@phillynews.com

Phone: 215-854-5960

Blog: philly.com/gizmoguy

Online: ph.ly/Tech

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