woh aWireless technology has made whole-of-home audio systems easy. Sonos discovered this in 2005 and had the market pretty much to itself for years. Then Bose came along with SoundTouch and now there’s such a flurry of activity that two more systems were announced while I was writing this.

Sonos has always been a good product but now, thanks to all this competition, it’s better. It used to need its own transmitter, called a Bridge, adding $75 to the order and necessitating a hardwired connection to you home wireless router. All it needs now is an app and existing owners don’t have to upgrade, they just download the app and their old stuff will work on the new system. Makes you wonder why Sonos didn’t do this years ago.

Last week they sent over a pair of Play 1 speakers ($299 each) that can be used anywhere in the house where there’s a power point, and I had them operating in ten minutes. And that included opening the boxes and reading the quick start guide.

woh 3Samsung has entered the whole-of-home market with a range of speakers that enjoy a significant price advantage over equivalent Sonos offerings. The Samsung software is finicky and less intuitive, and the speakers themselves don’t feel quite as well made. And you need a transmitter, just as with the old Sonos system. To my hearing this system doesn’t have the accuracy and depth of sound of the Sonos products, but you can’t argue the pricing. And a big plus is that some Samsung smart televisions, soundbars and home theatres link in with an additional piece of equipment.

The big hitter in this market is Bose. Its SoundTouch system comes at a premium price but it’s beautifully made, sounds terrific and the software is fast, reliable and simple to operate. But older Bose equipment won’t work in and to get stereo sound from a pair of speakers you’ll need to buy an additional amplifier and find a place to put it.

woh 2Put two Sonos speakers in one room and they can be set up as stereo pair with a few clicks of the mouse. Finding the right place to click took me a while and I got absolutely no help from the instruction manual or from the on-line help menu. Had I not known the feature existed I wouldn’t have gone looking for it. Two Samsung speakers can also give you stereo.

There are some points to remember when shopping for a whole-of-home system. Check compatibility. Most work with both Mac and Windows, but a Windows phone may not work.

Check the services available. Sonos has a wide range including Pandora, JB Hi Fi Now, Mog, Rdio, and Spotify while Bose is more limited, listing Pandora, Deezer and Spotify. With Samsung there’s Pandora, Spotify, Deezer, 8 Tracks and Rdio. They all do internet radio.

Check compatibility with music you have stored electronically. If you’ve stored high-definition music in FLAC format make sure the system can handle the quality level you’ve used. Also check the features you want, such as Bluetooth and near-field communication.

Make sure the speakers in each room can present different music programs at different volume levels when wanted, or present one program of music playing throughout the entire house.

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Sonos: $299 to $599 per room, twice that for stereo. The best range of services, sounds good and is well made, but the software is not intuitive. The best all-rounder.
Bose: $549 to $899 per room, $1699 for stereo. The easiest to set up and operate, beautifully made and the best sound quality here, but services are limited and it’s the most expensive.
Samsung: $269 to $499 per room, twice that for stereo, plus $89 for a single M2 transmitter. The best priced, sounds good until it goes back-to-back with the Bose. Good services but the software can get perplexing.

As I went to press LG announced a whole of home system much like Samsung’s, while a high definition wireless whole-of-home system was unveiled called Bluesound. We haven’t seen or heard either yet.

Bluesound needs a transmitter (two are available, one with amplification and the other not) and at least one speaker in each room. Two speakers can be set up as a stereo pair. $1648 to $2498 per room, $2498 for stereo.

LG’s system is called Music Flow. $79 for a transmitter plus $249 to $549 per room, twice that for stereo.

Panasonic has a system coming called AllPlay.

Published October 2014

 

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