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Never miss a beat when you stream your music with a multi-room audio system

BY Joe Supan | Mon Jul 29, 2019
Never miss a beat when you stream your music with a multi-room audio system

It wasn’t long ago that a multi-room speaker setup was something you’d only see on Cribs.

Wireless technology has obliterated that. You can now set up a sound system that connects every room of your house without breaking the bank. Whether you already have speakers you want to use or are ready to invest in a brand new setup, assembling a multi-room audio system has never been easier.

What’s more, most modern speakers are exceedingly simple to set up — no more running wires from room to room or installing complicated equipment.

Whether you want to blast Old Town Road through every room of your house at once, or just listen to a podcast in the kitchen while the kids dance in the other room, multi-room music streaming will make your home feel ready for an MTV camera crew.

How do multi-room audio systems work?

Multi-room audio systems work one of two ways: They either create their own mesh network or utilize your home’s Wi-Fi.

Multi-room speakers like Sonos form a mesh network. Once one of its speakers connects to your internet, all of the speakers in your home then create their own internal network. This is typically more reliable than connecting each speaker to your Wi-Fi individually, which also affects your network’s bandwidth.

No matter which type of system you’re using, you’ll need to download the speaker company’s app to control your system. That doesn’t necessarily mean every speaker in your setup needs to be from the same brand — more on that below — but it certainly makes things easier.

Should you use the same brand of speakers in every room?

Speaker companies generally want you to keep it in the family when you’re building your multi-room audio system. Unless you already own speakers you’re attached to, this is by far the simplest option.

In most cases, mixing and matching speakers severely limits your system’s capabilities. If you want to combine a Bose and Sonos, for example, you won’t be able to play different songs in different rooms. The whole house will essentially be limited to one song at a time.

What speakers are best for multi-room audio?

  • Sonos: One of the first companies to bring high-quality wireless audio to the masses, Sonos boasts one of the simplest systems to set up and use. Best of all? Each speaker costs about half as much as many of its competitors. The Sonos Play 5 ($499) received top scores in Consumer Reports’ testing, but the Play 1 also fared well for only $149. And because Sonos is a neutral player in the tech world, it also has impressive versatility. You can use Amazon’s Alexa, Apple’s AirPlay 2 and Google Assistant on all of its speakers. No matter what equipment you already have (or might get in the future), you can be sure that Sonos will play nice.
  • Amazon Echo: Smart home hubs haven’t always been known for great sound, but the latest version of Amazon’s Echo Plus has earned impressive reviews for its sound quality. Audio website WhatHifi? even described the speaker as “a splendid sonic performance.” The latest version is also equipped with Zigbee smart home integration, so you’ll be able to use it with a variety of home automation devices. That said, if sound quality is more important than smart home capabilities, you’re better off going with a dedicated speaker company. 
  • Apple HomePod: Devotees to the Apple ecosystem will find the HomePod to be the simplest way to introduce multi-room audio to their home sound system. It also boasts some of the best audio quality around, with Consumer Reports giving it a “very good” rating in their testing. If you have two or more HomePods in the same room, you can even pair them in stereo for pristine, room-filling sound. The only downside is the price — HomePods start at $299, double what you’ll pay for an Amazon Echo Plus or Sonos Play 1. 
  • Google Home Max: The first voice assistant to distinguish itself as a standalone speaker, Consumer Reports called Google’s Home Max the “best-sounding smart speaker” around. Like Apple’s HomePod, you can also pair two or more Home Max’s in stereo for supremely well-balanced and room-filling sound. Unfortunately, it also has the HomePod’s price tag, starting at $299. That said, you can supplement your system with cheaper Google Homes ($99) and Google Home Minis ($49) in rooms like kitchens and bathrooms that don’t benefit as much from fuller-sounding speakers.
  • Denon: Like Sonos and Bose, Denon makes dedicated wireless speakers, so sound quality is a little stronger than what you’ll get from Google, Amazon and Apple speakers, which double as smart home hubs. The best of these is the Heos 7 ($399), which came in as the top-rated wireless speaker in Consumer Reports’ testing, but there are smaller and cheaper models as well. Unfortunately, not all of Denon’s models are voice-enabled, so you may have to use your phone to control the music in some rooms. 
  • Bose: One of the most venerable names in sound, Bose has been producing high-quality audio equipment since 1964. As a dedicated audio company, Bose also gives you more options to customize your multi-room speaker system, allowing you to mix and match the perfect equipment for your home. The biggest drawbacks are price and voice assistance. At $500, the SoundTouch 30 is one of the most expensive speakers on this list. Bose’s speakers don’t come with voice search built-in, either, but you can pair them with an existing Amazon Echo or Google Home device. 

Can you adapt wired speakers for multi-room audio?

If you already have wired speakers you want to use in your new setup, it’s pretty simple to turn them wireless. PC Mag goes into the solutions in more detail here, but the Google Chromecast Audio is the simplest (and cheapest) solution for $35. It plugs into the AUX input of your speaker or receiver and connects it to Wi-Fi. From there, you can simply use your phone or tablet to play audio like you would with any wireless speaker.

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