(Pocket-lint) - The Roberts Radio S2 - which is part of a whole new series of R-Line multi-room speakers - is one of the first products from everyone's favourite DAB radio maker. Alongside Pure Digital, anyway.
At £279 the S2 is a good deal more affordable than the Sonos Play 5 - the original multi-room company, which is now fighting harder than ever against the stacks of competitors - even though the Roberts can push out a similar volume of bass and raw power.
There are a few things that could be improved in a second-wave model, but as a first attempt the S2 is a good attempt - and one that's not scarily priced like some.
Roberts Radio S2 review: Design
That more accessible price ensures the Roberts Radio S2 is only nicely made, rather than a brick of pure luxury, though. The top plate looks like metal but is plastic, and the design is merely practical, rather than a ready-made lounge centrepiece.
A painted metal grille snakes around the sides of the Roberts Radio S2, the metal-effect plastic top and bottom end caps holding the thing together. It's a grown-up looking box, even if the R-line series logo looks a bit like it was nicked from a Honda Civic Type R.
This sort of design is going to get you good value: low on flash, but still well-presented.
Like most units of this size, the S2 is not a portable speaker. It needs to be plugged-in the whole time. The size and weight would make it a portability no-go anyway. You'd pay £50 in excess luggage fees just to squeeze it onto your EasyJet flight.
Roberts Radio S2 review: Software and features
This is not tightly locked-in speaker. Roberts may be trying to make its own multi-room empire, but it's a less intense one than Sonos's. First, there's Bluetooth streaming as well as Wi-Fi. You can also plug-in wired sources using the 3.5mm socket on the back. This is great news if you want to use the S2 to make your TV sound better.
The Roberts Radio S2 also uses an off-the-shelf wireless infrastructure rather than a bespoke one. It's called Undok, and is used by companies trying out the multi-room market. Goodmans uses it in its surprisingly effective Heritage radios, for example.
Unlike with Sonos, with Undok you can setup a multi-brand multi-room system. Sonos isn't going to start using it, but wouldn't it be nice if you didn't have to buy a whole set of speakers from one brand?
The Undok software isn't flashy, but makes setting-up the S2 a doddle. Such setups are rarely pain-free, but this one is. And if your home Wi-Fi is rubbish, you can use the Ethernet port on the back instead.
While the Undok app can be used to play any music stored over your local network, the main service we've been using is Spotify Connect. The Undok app has a light touch, just sending you to the Spotify app to pick your tunes.
Roberts Radio S2 review: Sound quality
The Roberts Radio S2 takes a very hands-on approach to fiddling with the sound too. There's a switch on the back that flicks the unit between "normal" and "wide" sound, and playing just either the left or right channels.
And so to the crux: how does it sound? The S2 isn't quite the runaway success the Sonos Play: 5 is, but it goes very loud and easily has the power to fill a mid-size lounge with party-level tunes. Much of this is down to the giant bass driver in the middle, which is matched with a passive radiator on the back to let the S2 push around even more air.
As is the norm for a radiator-based system, there is a point in sub-bass territory which the S2 just gives up, lacking a driver large enough to create the right frequencies at the right amplitude without firing a speaker cone across your living room. However, this applies to most speakers of this style, and in person the impression you get is of a little-compromise, powerful speaker with plenty of bass.
When you set the S2 to "normal" sound, the bass is dominant. Mids and treble struggle to pull focus next to the shade-throwing bass, making the sound a bit confused and messy in the lower registers. Kick drums can resonate above vocals, which just doesn't sound good.
Flick the mode over to "wide" and the S2 gets a serious injection of treble and upper-mids, radically increasing the clarity of the sound, with just a slight knock-on effect to the tonality of the mids. Listen carefully as you can hear that extra definition does result in a slightly harder edge to the mid-range.
The treble has a smudge of zing over what's natural also. It doesn't make the sound hard but does have a digital-sounding edge to it. Roberts Radio may be able to improve this with DSP updates, and hopefully it will as we've found it quite distracting in parts of Kate Bush's This Woman's Work.
With wide mode engaged, the Roberts Radio S2 becomes a fun, detailed and generally much better-balanced sounding speaker. It has plenty of energy and the sound, appears to extend out of the sides of the unit even though all the drivers are placed on either the front or the rear.
Wide modes fixes the S2's sound issues, in other words. If you want a lounge-ready wireless speaker for under £300, you could do a lot worse.
The Roberts Radio S2 is one of the better mid-price, mid-size, multi-room speakers. It comfortably takes on the Ministry of Sound Audio L Plus, sounds bigger than the Sonos Play 1, and is an awful lot cheaper than the Sonos Play: 5.
It's not a perfect speaker, however, and if we had the cash just sitting around we'd still opt for the Sonos Play: 5. But use the right mode and this Roberts delivers bags of audio that will easily fill most people's lounges.