Music, music, everywhere on wireless multiroom speakers

Well, aren't they having a grand time listening to their Bose system?
Well, aren't they having a grand time listening to their Bose system?
Posted: August 01, 2014

BUILDERS USED to "wow" sample-house visitors with in-wall intercoms that could also simulcast a radio station to send music throughout the house. Seemed sexy at the time, though the sound was always tinny.

Today, a growing slew of wireless multiroom audio products achieve the same, music-everywhere effect with far easier installation, radically better sound and an insane variety of music options.

All you gotta do is plug a device into a power outlet (some run on batteries), link it via WiFi to your Internet service, then control the play with an app on your smart phone, tablet or computer.

Straight out of the box and for no additional charge, today's multiroom audio devices pull in thousands of Internet radio stations from around the world, many commercial-free, plus web versions of broadcast stations and semicustomized radio programming from the likes of Pandora and Songza.

With some doing, you can pull-in music stored on your PC, too. Easier, the devices play music loaded on and wirelessly beaming (via Bluetooth and Airplay) from your smart phone/tablet.

Best of all, for the cost of just one CD a month, you can rent all the music (any category) you have time and interest to hear from streaming subscription services like Rhapsody, RDIO, Spotify and Beats Music - the service and headphone company Apple recently valued as a wise buy at $3 billion-plus. YouTube is reportedly on the verge of launching a music streaming service, too.

Talk about a revolution!

During the first half of 2014, on-demand streaming music requests were up 42 percent (to 70 billion) from 2013, while digital download sales were down 13 percent, reported Nielsen recently.

WHAT'S NEW IN GEAR-LAND? Hardly a month goes by without a new hardware maker jumping into the wireless multiroom audio category, or expanding products and services. Futuresource Consulting forecasts gear sales will grow this year by 89 percent, to a tad under 2 million units.

Here's who's driving the train:

DENON: Just launched, Denon's line of three Heos tabletop powered speakers are easy to set up. Even the least expensive $299 Heos 3 sounds very good, fills a medium-sized room. Up to eight "zones" can dish different or duplicated music. And multiple smartphones or tablets can simultaneously enter song requests to a jukebox-style "queue."

Launch partners include Pandora and TuneIn radio, Rhapsody and Spotify subscription music services. And Heos is the rare multiroom system capable of handling super-hi-fi music formats, which indie music distributors like HDTracks are now offering for downloads (only) but Apple could stream through iTunes or Beats in a minute.

BOSE: Also introduced with three amplified speakers priced at $399 and up, Bose's SoundTouch multiroom range recently expanded with an ultracompact Wave rig that also offers CD and FM radio play ($599), and a SoundTouch wireless adapter ($99) to neatly upgrade current Lifestyle home theater systems.

Six preset buttons on devices and dedicated remotes make it super easy to tune in favorite Internet radio or Pandora channels. The snazzy, circular SoundTouch remote ($99), just out, is wall mountable.

Soon to come are at least one subscription music service and another Internet radio provider that likewise work with SoundTouch's preset buttons.

PURE: The British equipment maker's spiffy new Evoke F4 portable ($229, battery extra) combines an old-school piano-black wood case and ultramodern radio charms.

Start with its' bargain ($5 a month) Pure Music on-demand service, plus gazillions of free Internet radio stations and podcasts that the F4 will record to a USB memory stick. Also pulls Sirius/XM channels if you're a streaming subscriber, and broadcast FM, too.

Pure's other new upgrade across its multiroom product line is Caskeid, a technology combining Bluetooth and WiFi. Lets you "throw" music from a smart phone or tablet to one of Pure's speakers or radios, then hear it playing in synch on other Pure products, too.

Magic, when it works.

SAMSUNG: The maker's Shape wireless multiroom audio comes in two active speaker/players (starting at $299), a streaming adapter to your stereo system, a soundbar, two Blu-ray Home Theaters and one Blu-ray player, with at least one more product debuting momentarily.

Unique among its streaming music options is the newly introduced Spotify Connect. Lets you walk into the house and instantly switch the streaming of a Spotify playlist from a smartphone to your multiroom system.

SONOS: The targeted rival of all other wireless music distribution systems, Sonos doesn't have any new hardware to tout (its powered speaker lineup still starts at $199, undercut only by Pure). But for several months, Sonos has been fine-tuning the glossy, intuitive menus (and backbone) that steer the show on tablets and phones, achieving a control polish that's virtually perfection.

One new thrill - request an album, artist, song or show host and Sonos finds stuff instantly across 20-plus content services, by far the most alliances of any system.

The only downside? This new operating software is so advanced, it won't work on the original iPad or older iPhones and iPod Touches. Apple must be thrilled.


Blog: philly.com/GizmoGuy

Online: ph.ly/Tech

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