Multi-room audio is one of those buzzwords that's been kicking about for a couple of years. It's a word that ultimately refers to what you might expect - audio in multiple rooms - but don't be fooled into thinking that's all there is to it.
The simple phrase multi-room audio masks a subject that is far from simple. There are not only multiple brands offering various multi-room systems, but there are numerous platforms too, all offering different experiences and compatibility with different music services. We told you it wasn't simple.
Don't worry though, if you're in the market for a multi-room audio system or you're just trying to figure out what it actually is and what it offers, you've come to the right place.
This feature explains everything you need to know about multi-room audio from what it is and the different platforms various systems use, to which systems are out there.
What is multi-room audio?
Multi-room audio, put simply, is the ability to listen to music in several rooms. Depending on the system you choose, you'll be able to play different music in different rooms at the same time, or the same music in all rooms, or just a couple simultaneously.
Music played across a multi-room audio system can be from streaming services like Spotify or your own personal music collection whether that be on a network drive, your computer, a CD or even vinyl - with the right setup.
Multi-room audio systems tend to be wireless and controlled using some sort of app, so aside from ensuring a power supply is nearby and you have your smartphone ready, speakers can be positioned wherever you like in your home. Naturally, you'll need at least one speaker in each room you want to hear music in.
What's the difference between the multi-room audio platforms?
Different systems adopt different platforms and these platforms not only determine user experience and how each multi-room system works, but they also dictate which speakers and systems work together and which don't.
Some companies use standard platforms like Qualcomm's AllPlay or Bluetooth Caskeid, while most other companies like Sonos and LG have their own closed platforms that work on a mesh network using Wi-Fi. What this means is that if you start with a Sonos speaker, you'll need to expand your system with Sonos speakers as they won't be compatible with a Panasonic speaker for example.
If you opt for a system that uses AllPlay or Caskeid however, you can create a multi-room audio system with different brands and speakers. Going down this route could mean a slightly less seamless experience when compared to a company that uses its own platform, but you potentially get more choice.
There are several standard platforms around including the previously mentioned Qualcomm AllPlay and Bluetooth Caskeid, but you also have the likes of Spotify Connect and Google Cast. There are also many closed systems that piggy back off your home Wi-Fi network, such as Sonos, Bang & Olufsen and LG.
Platforms like Qualcomm AllPlay and Bluetooth Caskeid support a number of different speakers and brands and many have Google Cast and Spotify Connect on board too, allowing you to essentially throw music from your phone or tablet to your speaker. If you want to combine different speakers or brands in your home, look for which brands support which platforms a little further down this feature and pick ones with the same platform.
Google Cast also supports Chromecast and Chromecast Audio devices with Chromecast Audio allowing you to create a multi-room setup.
What multi-room system should I buy?
There are numerous multi-room systems available from various brands, some of which have been instrumental in making multi-room audio mainstream.
As we mentioned, different systems run on different platforms, but they also offer different features such as high-resolution support, different sizes, different music service compatibility and different prices.
Below are some of the main players in the market and what they offer in brief. We haven't detailed the specifications of each speaker or soundbar but you will get an idea of price, what each company's portfolio offers, the platforms they use and the services they are compatible with.
Sonos is one of the biggest and most well-known players in the multi-room audio market. The Sonos system uses a Wi-Fi mesh network rather than Bluetooth, making its own platform. Therefore, as we said, if you start with Sonos, you'll need to stick with Sonos when expanding your multi-room line-up.
Everything is controlled through the Sonos app, compatible with Android, iOS and Windows. Through the app, you can add new Sonos devices as well as sign into music services. Sonos supports a huge number of services from Spotify, Deezer, Amazon, Napster, Google Music and Apple Music, to Blinkbox Music, Rhapsody, Tidal and Shuffler.fm, with plenty more on the list.
Sonos's devices include the Play:1, Play:3, Play:5, Playbar and Sub along with the Connect and Connect:Amp. The latter two of these devices turn your stereo or home cinema into a music streaming system or your wired speakers into a music streaming system.
The Play:1 is the smallest and costs £170, the Play:3 costs £260 and the Play:5 jumps up to £430. For the Playbar and Sub you'll pay £600 for each, while the Connect and Connect:Amp will set you back £280 and £400 respectively.
Denon announced the beginning of its multi-room portfolio in 2014, expanding it in 2015. The current HEOS line-up is similar to that which Sonos offers but it offers one extra speaker and the ability to make its smallest speaker portable.
Like Sonos, Denon uses a mesh Wi-Fi network so if you start with the HEOS system, you'll need to carry on with it. Everything is controlled via the Denon HEOS app, which is compatible with Android, iOS and Amazon.
In terms of compatible music services, HEOS supports Spotify, Deezer, Tidal, TuneIn, SoundCloud and Rdio. The speaker line-up comprises the HEOS 1, HEOS 3, HEOS 5, HEOS 7 and HEOS HomeCinema. There is also the HEOS Go Pack that adds portability and water resistance to the HEOS 1 and the HEOS Drive, HEOS Link and HEOS Amp.
The Denon HEOS 1 is the smallest and cheapest speaker available costing £200, with the HEOS 1 Go Pack for the portability adding a further £80 to the price. The HEOS 3 costs £250, the HEOS 5 costs £300 and the largest speaker - the HEOS 7 - costs £430. The HEOS HomeCinema which is a soundbar and subwoofer costs £600, while the HEOS Drive is £2000.
Last but not least, the HEOS Amp for turning any speakers into a wireless zone will set you back £400 and the HEOS Link for turning a stereo system into a wireless zone is £300.
Pure is a company that has been dabbling in the multi-room arena for a while with its Jongo range of speakers that use a technology called Bluetooth Caskeid, a combination of Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. This technology is open, allowing other manufacturers to use it too, although the only other one at the moment is PEAQ.
Bluetooth Caskeid connects the Jongo speakers to your Wi-Fi network but it then sends the music you choose to the speakers using Bluetooth. Wi-Fi is then used again to sync the music across other Jongo speakers. The speakers are controlled via the Pure Connect app, which is compatible with Android and iOS and compatible music services include Spotify, SoundCloud, Google Music, Deezer and Rdio.
There are four Jongo speakers available comprising the T2X, T4X and the T6X, along with the portable S3X. There is also a HiFi adapter called the A2 that turns your existing HiFi into a wireless multi-room speaker.
The Jongo T2X costs £100, the T4X costs £150, the T6X costs £200, the S3X costs £130 and the A2 adapter costs £70.
Samsung has been in the multi-room market for a while, albeit not as long as some others on this list. Like Sonos and Denon, it too uses its own wireless network with control of its systems done via the Multiroom app. There is also support for Bluetooth.
There are two series of multi-room speakers - the M Series and the R Series - with the latter being the newest. Spotify, Deezer, Napster, Rdio and Tracks are all supported streaming services but like the others, you'll also be able to access tracks from your smartphone, computer and tablet.
The M Series consists of the M3, M5 and M7, while the R Series offers 360-degree sound and consists of the R1, R3, R5, R6 and R7. There is also a Link Mate and Wireless Audio Multiroom Hub for the M Series available and a tripod stand for the R7.
In terms of cost, the M Series is the cheaper of the two ranges. The M3 starts at £160, the M5 costs £230 and the M7 is £330, while the Link Mate costs £280 and the Hub is £45. The R Series starts at £170 for the R1, £250 for the R3, £350 for the R5, £330 for the R6 and £430 for the R7.
LG joined the multi-room market a couple of years ago with its MusicFlow range of devices and like Sonos and Denon, it also uses its own platform in the form of a Wi-Fi mesh network.
Multi-room functions are once again controlled via the MusicFlow app, which is Android or iOS compatible, but LG also supports Google Cast and Spotify Connect and there are a few other features on board too. High-res 24bit/192kHz is supported and the range all support NFC and Bluetooth. Compatible music services include Spotify, TuneIn, Napster, Deezer and Google Play Music.
LG offers the MusicFlow HS9, HS8, HS7, HS6 all of which are soundbars and subwoofer pairs. The H7, H5, H4 Portable and H3 are also available, offering a variety of different-sized speakers. The Network Bridge R1 is an optional device that will help boost Wi-Fi capability for a smoother experience in households that need it.
The LG MusicFlow HS9 starts at £600, with the largest speaker - the MusicFlow H7 - starting at £275 and the smallest - the MusicFlow H3 - costing £100.
Bose is a little newer to the multi-room market than some others listed in this feature, but it certainly isn't new to the audio world. Its multi-room offering comes in the form of the SoundTouch range of speakers, all of which connect to your home Wi-Fi network like Sonos, LG, Samsung and Denon.
Bluetooth is also supported however, unlike some other systems, and the speakers are controlled via the SoundTouch app but there is a remote too, as well as physical controls on the speakers themselves. Compatible music services include Spotify, Deezer, iTunes and Internet Radio.
When it comes to speaker choice, the options comprise the SoundTouch 10, the SoundTouch 20 and the SoundTouch 30. There is also the Wave SoundTouch Music System IV, a compact system that includes a CD player and DAB/FM/AM radio tuner, along with the SoundTouch Stereo JC Series II Wi-Fi Music System.
Price-wise, the stereo system will set you back £1000 while the compact system will cost you £680. The speakers start at £170 for the SoundTouch 10, moving up to £350 for the SoundTouch 20 and £500 for the SoundTouch 30.
Bang & Olufsen
Bang & Olufsen offers multi-room capability through its BeoLink Multiroom system. Like many others, it uses its own closed platform and your home Wi-Fi network to deliver a seamless multi-room experience from TV and soundbar to speaker.
The BeoMusic app, available iOS and Android devices, is the control hub. It pulls in music from your smartphone, music services including TuneIn and Deezer and your home content, along with adding new speakers or BeoLink devices. Google Cast is also now supported.
The Bang & Olufsen portfolio comprises the Beovision Avant and BeoVision 11, both TVs along with the BeoPlay A6, the BeoPlay A9 and the BeoSound 35. There is also the BeoSound Essence, which is a wall-hung music control and the BeoSound Moment, which is a wireless music system that integrates your music and streaming services into one. The BeoLink converter will connect new Bang & Olufsen systems to your existing installations allowing them to become part of the BeoLink Multiroom system.
The Bang & Olufsen BeoLink Mutiroom system is one of the more expensive systems out there. To give you an idea, the BeoPlay A6 speaker costs £800 and the BeoPlay A9 costs £1700.
Sony announced its entry to the multi-room party at the beginning of 2015, releasing its portfolio in May. The line-up includes everything from wireless speakers and soundbars to TV base speakers, AV receivers and Micro Hi-Fi systems with its main selling point being high-res support.
Like other companies, the Sony multi-room devices use Wi-Fi to deliver music to you with everything controlled via the SongPal Link app, although there is a separate remote too. Through the app, you'll be able to access compatible music streaming services like Google Music, Deezer, TuneIn, as well as a USB and your home network if you wish. Sony's multi-room system also supports Google Cast and Spotify Connect.
There are five wireless speakers all with very catchy names including the newer SRS-ZR7 and SRS-ZR5, along with the older SRS-X99, SRS-X88 and the portable SRS-X77. All these can then be connected to the HT-ST9, HT-NT3 or new HT-NT5 sound bars, the HT-XT3 TV base speaker, STR-DN1060 and STR-DN860 AV receivers or CMT-SX7B Micro Hi-Fi System.
The Sony multi-room system doesn't come cheap though. The SRS-X77 speaker will set you back £260, the SRS-X88 will cost £350 and the SRS-X99 will cost £600. The HT-ST9 soundbar costs £1300, while the HT-NT3 costs £500. Some of the newer products haven't had prices detailed yet.
Philips is also in the multi-room market, although it has a little less choice than some others. There are two speakers available - the SW750M and the SW700M, both of which support Spotify Connect only.
The speakers connect to your home Wi-Fi like the majority on this list and they are set up via the Philips SpeakerSet Multiroom Manager app, which is compatible with iOS and Android. Music is controlled using the Spotify app however so a little different to other systems. The Philips app is where you add speakers and create groups for multi-room functionality, but it isn't where playback is controlled.
The larger SW750M speaker costs £130 and the smaller SW700M speaker costs £90 so a little cheaper than other systems but not as much flexibility.
Panasonic offers its ALL series when it comes to multi-room audio. This system runs on Qualcomm's AllPlay platform which means they can be connected to other speakers using the same protocol no matter what manufacturer. Some of these include Monster SoundStage, Musaic, FON and Hitachi.
Like others, Panasonic's ALL series uses your Wi-Fi network to deliver music and an app is used to control the speakers, or add more. In this case, the Panasonic Music Streaming app is where the party is at, allowing users to play stored music, as well as stream music services including Spotify, Napster, TuneIn and Rhapsody. The Panasonic multi-room system also supports Spotify Connect.
The Panasonic ALL range includes the SC-ALL3, the SC-ALL8 and SC-ALL2EB speakers. There is also a Hi-Fi system called SC-PMX100BEB, an all-in-one audio system called SC-ALL5CDEB, the SC-ALL70TEB audio system and the SH-ALL1C that makes existing audio systems compatible.
The Panasonic SC-ALL3 costs £180, the SC-ALL8 costs £200 and the smaller SC-ALL2EB costs £130. The SC-PMX100BEB will set you back £550, the SC-ALL5CDEB will cost £300 and the SC-ALL70TEB will cost £450.