(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. While many rely on the Wi-Fi experience alone, some speakers also offer additional connectivity like Bluetooth, this is found on products like the Sonos Roam and Bose Portable Home Speaker.
While multi-room audio has traditionally been dominated by hi-ii 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.
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 traditionally uses its own Wi-Fi mesh network rather than Bluetooth, so the connection isn't interrupted by other people using your broadband. The exception here is the Sonos Roam and Sonos Move, which incorporates Bluetooth, while still integrating into the Sonos network.
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 Heos Home Speakers
Denon has its own multi-room audio system called Heos. It's been around for a long time 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. Denon's Heos enabled speakers are have been rebranded as Denon Home, but the underlying tech is the same, and they are still compatible with older Denon Heos models.
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.
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 Bose Smart Home branding, Bose has three speakers and a variety of home cinema options.
Bose Smart speakers 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 Bose Music app but there is voice control via Google Assistant or Alexa, 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.
Bang & Olufsen
Bang & Olufsen speakers no longer offer multi-room capability through BeoLink or the BeoMusic app, instead opting to include just AirPlay 2 and Chromecast for integrated multi-room.
Bang & Olufsen also typically includes Bluetooth and line-in so compatibility remains wide, but those looking for an all in one multi-room solution may want to look elsewhere.
Samsung doesn't have as much of a focus on multiroom these days but it previously offered the R-series, with 360-degree sound output, that proved very popular especially among Samsung devotees.
The R-series of speakers is now discontinued, but was comprised of the R1, R3, R5, R6 and R7. These speakers rely on their own mesh network to talk to each other and play music without being interrupted.
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 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 technology, either updating previous speakers or releasing new ones.