Top MULTI-ROOM SPEAKERS: Room service

The latest multi-room speakers combine impressive sound quality with state-of-the-art technology, Cliff Joseph looks at six compact options

IN THE LAST year or so, multi-room audio has gone from being a niche concern, populated by a few specialists such as Sonos, to a mass-market product category. As prices come down, new technologies have come along that have prompted manufacturers to continually update their existing multi-room systems.

A good example is the revamped Sonos One, which is the first multi-room speaker to provide compatibility with the Amazon Alexa voice assistant. It would be easy to dismiss it as a gimmick if the Sonos didn’t also provide such impressive sound quality considering its decidedly diminutive dimensions. Other new technologies include the Chromecast support found in Harman Kardon’s Omni 10+, and support for Apple’s forthcoming AirPlay 2 in Libratone’s ZIPP Copenhagen.

Most manufacturers have several multi-room options in their range, but here we’re focussing on entry-level models. Once you’ve taken the plunge with your first speaker you can then pick and choose from a variety of larger and more powerful options as required. And, in most cases, you can link two speakers together to provide a two-channel stereo system.

There’s a variety of other features on offer too. Libratone includes a 10-hour battery that makes its ZIPP speakers highly portable, while Bluesound caters for those that want to build a larger system based around a networked media server. Read on to see which of our six contenders deserves a place in your home.

Group test verdict

Cliff Joseph says that choosing a multi-room speaker isn’t just a matter of sound quality, and reveals which ones offer the best device support too

MULTI-ROOM AUDIO IS a relatively new technology, and many manufacturers are still trying to find the right balance between sound quality and technical versatility. The cylindrical design of Samsung’s R5 Wireless 360 achieves a room-filling presence yet it’s not the most balanced of sounds, and the R5 is a bit temperamental about talking to devices outside its eco zone.

Denon mainly focuses on Android and iOS mobile devices, and while the four-drivers housed within the HEOS 5 HS2 allow it to create a wider soundstage than some of its more compact rivals, the speaker starts to lose clarity long before it reaches maximum volume.

Libratone’s ZIPP Copenhagen does a better job here, resisting distortion even as its powerful amp goes right up to maximum volume. It can’t separate dense arrangements, though, and although AirPlay support is great for owners of Apple devices, it leaves Android and Windows users out in the cold.

Harman Kardon’s Omni 10+ is the Android mirror-image of Libratone’s ZIPP, and its Chromecast capabilities are a bonus. It does also support Apple iOS devices and has good sound with most types of music.

In some ways the Bluesound stands out from this group, with the Pulse Flex providing very clear and robust sound quality for such a compact design, along with good app and hi-res support and an unrivalled set of wireless and wired connectivity options. The app is more complex than most, and Bluesound’s emphasis on do-it- yourself networking might deter some who are looking for more straightforward plug’n’play multi-room speaker solutions.

Winner

Sonos leads entry-level multi-room with its One speaker for its great sound with all kinds of music. It has some limitations, but you get unrivalled software support that works with all devices and access to an extensive number of streaming services at an attractive price.

Make/modelBluesound  Pulse FlexDenon  HEOS 5 HS2Harman Kardon Omni 10+Libratone  ZIPP CopenhagenSamsung  R5 Wireless 360Sonos  One
Combines attractive sound quality, hi-res support and the best connectivity of allCreates a rich sound and sense of space, but loses clarity at higher volume levelsA punchy performer with Chromecast onboard to widen streaming optionsLibratone’s ZIPP gets the party started, while AirPlay will appeal to Apple fansRoom-filling sound, but software lacks support outside Samsung’s eco zoneGreat price, attractive sound and the widest software support are a winning formula
Key features
Streaming24/192; MQA support24/192; DSD12824/19224/19224/19216/48
Control appiOS/AndroidiOS/AndroidiOS/AndroidiOS/AndroidiOS/AndroidiOS/Android
ChromecastNoNoYesNoNoNo
AirplayNoNoNoYesNoNo
BluetoothYes (aptX supported)YesYesYes (aptX supported)YesNo