(Pocket-lint) - Multi-room audio is as the name suggests, audio in multiple rooms. It's a concept that has been around for many years, with Sonos perhaps being the pioneer.
While the very idea of pumping music around several rooms in your home is now easier than ever, choosing the right system can be incredibly tricky. There are not only multiple companies offering various systems, but there are numerous platforms too, all offering different experiences and compatibility with different music services.
We've compiled all the best options available on the market to help you decide which multi-room audio system is for you.
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 either be able to play different songs in different rooms at the same time, the same music in all rooms, or just a couple simultaneously.
Music played across a multi-room audio system can come from streaming services such as Spotify or Apple Music, or your own personal music collection whether that be on a NAS (Network Attached Storage) drive, your computer, a CD or even vinyl - with the right setup.
Multi-room audio systems tend to be wireless and controlled using an 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.
How does multi-room audio work?
A multi-room system can comprise a series of speakers, whether they be conventional wireless speakers, a soundbar or soundbase, or even some other AV equipment. You can also add a link system to a current hi-fi setup with passive speakers, to turn it into a modern day musical marvel.
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.
Sonos uses a closed mesh network for example, which initially connects to your home Wi-Fi, but then creates its own network, so you're not using your own Wi-Fi when using it. Other companies such as Bose and Denon use their own mesh networks too, but also add Bluetooth into the mix, making them more versatile.
The vast majority of multi-room systems rely on Wi-Fi to work, but Qualcomm has recently announced a new feature that will be introduced with the Snapdragon 845 processor that will bring multi-room audio to Bluetooth devices. We've yet to see exactly how well it performs.
While multi-room audio has traditionally been dominated by hi-fi companies, such as Denon, Bose, Sony, Panasonic and Yamaha, the tech giants of Google, Amazon and Apple have now entered the fray too with their own speakers.
In the majority of cases, once you've chosen your multi-room system, you're tied into it. This means you can't mix and match various speakers and expect them to work with each other.
However some platforms, such as Apple AirPlay 2, will allow you to pick and choose whichever speakers you want (so long as they're compatible) and have them work in harmony with one another.
Whichever system you choose, once it's up and running you can use an app on your phone or tablet to control it, or you can even now use your voice thanks to Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant and Siri.
What multi-room system should I buy?
Multi-room music systems come in various shapes and sizes, so choosing the best one for you and your home can be a demanding task. We've compiled a list of the main players in the multi-room audio game, from the all-conquering Sonos, to multi-room smart speakers and even the little Google Chromecast Audio dongle. You're sure to find something to suit you.
Sonos is possibly the biggest and most well-known player in the multi-room audio market. Sonos uses its own Wi-Fi mesh network rather than Bluetooth, so the connection isn't interrupted by other people using your broadband.
You control everything via the Sonos app, compatible with Android and iOS - or the Sonos Controller app for Mac. Through the app, you can add new Sonos devices as well as sign into any music services you subscribe to.
Denon has its own multi-room audio system called Heos. It's been around for a few years now and while it has a similar speaker lineup to Sonos at its core, Heos as a platform is available across a much larger range of products from both Denon and Marantz.
Like Sonos, Denon Heos uses a mesh Wi-Fi network so you can only connect Heos-enabled products - which fortunately there are many of. Everything is controlled via the Denon Heos app, which is compatible with Android, iOS and Amazon.
Samsung started in the multi-room audio game with its M-series of speakers, but the company has since reinvented its offering with the R-series, which offers 360-degree sound output.
The R-series of speakers, which comprise the R1, R3, R5, R6 and R7, rely on their own mesh network to talk to each other and play music without being interrupted.
The R Series starts at £129 for the R1, £199 for the R3, £229 for the R5, £199 for the R6 and £219 for the R7.
Bose is a big player in the audio world, so it's no surprise that it too has a range of multi-room speakers. Falling under the SoundTouch name, Bose has three speakers, a soundbar and an all-in-one hi-fi system available, along with an amplifier and a link adapter to connect to your existing hi-fi system.
The SoundTouch products connect to Wi-Fi, but Bluetooth is also supported, something not all other systems in this list can offer. 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, Amazon Music, iTunes and Internet Radio. But with Bluetooth onboard, you can stream virtually any audio from a Bluetooth device.
- Bose aims at Sonos with SoundTouch 10 speaker, adds Bluetooth and Wi-Fi to next-gen multi-room speakers
Bang & Olufsen
Bang & Olufsen offers multi-room capability through both its own speakers and its B&O Play lifestyle arm. Speakers from both brands can work together as part of a system.
Bang & Olufsen has its own multi-room platform called BeoLink Multiroom. 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.
Google is very much a supporter of multi-room audio and its Chromecast built-in platform can be found on many wireless speakers. The tech giant also has its own Chromecast Audio dongle that can be plugged into speakers, whether they be Bluetooth or part of a hi-fi system via a 3.5mm connection, turning them into Wi-Fi enabled multi-room speakers instead.
The Chromecast built-in platform is completely open, so all compatible speakers will work with one another and the number of supported services is vast. You can mirror the audio from a web browser or YouTube too.
Apple AirPlay 2
Apple announced a new version of AirPlay 2 at WWDC 2017 and with it, introduced multi-room audio. Naturally, it's only supported by Macs and iOS devices and you can only stream the same song to multiple speakers and rooms, rather than play different ones around the home. Manufacturers have been quick to embrace the new technology, either updating previous speakers or releasing new ones.