Wireless Streaming Technology & Speakers

AsSiMiLaTeDAsSiMiLaTeD Posts: 11,717
edited June 2014 in Going Digital
I've been looking at lots of speakers with wireless streaming over the last couple years, everything from AirPlay to Bluetooth to Logitech and now Sonos. I’ve tried LOTS of models and have played with each of these enough to get a feel for how they compare. I thought I’d take a few minutes here and share my findings, maybe someone will stumble on this and find it useful.

I’m going to do two posts here, the first is an overall comparison of the technology and then I’ll do a quick write-up on the Sonos Play:1 and some of the other models I tested.
Post edited by AsSiMiLaTeD on

Comments

  • AsSiMiLaTeDAsSiMiLaTeD Posts: 11,717
    edited May 2014
    These are my observations of the core technology, not the quality of the specific speakers I tried.

    Bluetooth
    + It’s basically a universal standard at this point, pretty much any device that you’d want to stream FROM as Bluetooth
    + You can stream from any app, basically anything you can play on your phone will work
    + It’s also its own entity, no need for an existing network as the connection is built into the technology
    - The sound quality isn’t that great due to data compression, of everything listed here it has the lower sound quality
    - It has limited range, so it’s not really a viable whole house streaming option
    - Streaming from a computer or music library to multiple speakers around the house isn’t an option
    - There may be support for hi-rez audio but the compression and resulting loss in sound quality mean that there’s no effective hi-rez audio

    Synopsis – Bluetooth is a great portable and universal option, it’s just not ideal for streaming around the house.

    AirPlay
    + The sound quality is very good since there is no data compression
    + It has a much larger range, basically the range of your network
    + It can stream to multiple devices simultaneously, making it a good whole house streaming solution
    + You can stream from any app, basically anything you can play on your phone will work
    + The Remote app is great and very intuitive and playing content from my local library is a breeze
    - The obvious disadvantage is that it’s a closed system, so both streaming and receiving devices need to have AirPlay
    - It uses an existing Wi-Fi network, and streaming to multiple devices simultaneously can use a good bit of network throughput
    - On most devices there is a slight delay when playing or changing position in a track
    - There’s no support for hi-rez audio

    Synopsis – AirPlay is a great option if you’re in the Apple ecosystem or don’t mind running iTunes on a Windows PC. There are LOTS of AirPlay speakers and devices on the market and it has great sound and a great interface. It uses network bandwidth which could be a problem when streaming to multiple devices on a substandard network. With most devices on the market there is also a slight delay when controlling playback, which I actually found more annoying than you’d think.

    Squeezebox
    + The sound quality is very good since there is no data compression
    + It can stream content to multiple devices simultaneously, making it a good whole house streaming solution
    + It has built in support for most of the music services on the market, so I can stream something like Spotify without going thru an app on the phone
    + The iPeng remote app is great and very intuitive and playing content from my local library of online music services is a breeze
    + Of everything I’ve tried it’s the only option with true support for hi-rez audio
    - The main disadvantage is that it’s a closed system and even more so than AirPlay, you are limited to Squeezebox hardware and software
    - The quality of the Squeezebox speakers
    - It uses an existing Wi-Fi network, and streaming to multiple devices simultaneously can use a good bit of network throughput
    - I’ve never been able to get different content to stream to multiple devices simultaneously

    Synopsis – The main drawback with Squeezebox is that it’s no longer on the market. It has support for hi-rez audio and a great interface, but is also a closed system with a limited selection of devices.

    Sonos
    + The sound quality is very good since there is no data compression
    + It creates its own network and has a great range, so doesn’t use your network resources
    + It can stream different content to multiple devices simultaneously, making it a great whole house streaming solution
    + It has built in support for most of the music services on the market, so I can stream something like Spotify without going thru an app on the phone
    + The Remote app is great and very intuitive and playing content from my local library of online music services is a breeze
    - The main disadvantage is that it’s a closed system and even more so than AirPlay, you are limited to Sonos hardware and software
    - The initial investment is a bit expensive, it really makes the best sense when you start to add multiple speakers around the house

    Synopsis – If the Sonos system will do what you want it’s my favorite of the bunch. Even though Sonos is more closed and has even fewer device options than AirPlay, the Sonos products are great and it’s rock solid reliable and easy to set up and use and as you add more devices the initial investment starts to make more and more sense.

    There are other options on the market as well that I’ll mention briefly without the full detail on. DTS has a solution called Play-Fi that I’ve not yet tried, but it seems to have only a few devices and few streaming services, so isn’t a very comprehensive solution yet. DLNA is also another option out there, but there’s not really a very good comprehensive, end to end, solution out there. Most systems that use DLNA are pieced together solutions and I’ve not spent much time with these. I think Bose and Samsung have their own competitors to Sonos, but I’ve not tried any of those so can’t really comment on that tech.

    In summary, there’s not really a ‘best’ option here, all of them have their pros and cons. For me personally it came down to AirPlay and Sonos, and Sonos ultimately won out. What ultimately won me over is the ability to stream different content to different speakers simultaneously and how responsive the whole Sonos system is.

    Next Up, review of a few speakers I’ve tried…
  • AsSiMiLaTeDAsSiMiLaTeD Posts: 11,717
    edited May 2014
    These are the better models I tried:

    - Libratone Zipp – This one is nice because it’s portable and small. The small size though lends to lighter sound, kinda thin sounding with not much impact
    - Cambridge Audio Minx 200 Air – This one has great sound and lots of playback options and a very nice build quality. It’s picky with placement though and doesn’t like to be in a corner or near a wall. It also has a boxy sound to it, not bad but not real spacious either
    - Bowers & Wilkins Zeppelin Air – This one sounds great but needs to be out in the room and away from wall otherwise it’s got way too much bass. It can also be a bit finicky with the AirPlay connection, and there is a lag when controlling playback via AirPlay
    - Bowers & Wilkins A7 – This is probably the best sounding AirPlay device that I’ve tried. Despite the shape it actually has a wider soundstage than the Zeppelin and is better sounding overall. It’s quite expensive and AirPlay control is still finicky with a delay, and it’s also limited in terms of connections compared to other devices out there
    - Polk Woodbourne – This one has a good overall sound and can go right up against a wall since it’s a sealed design. I would say that of everything I tried, this is the most versatile option both in terms of placement and features. It has a warm overall sound and can be a bit too laid back with the mids and highs, but is a great looking product with a good sound. This is probably the most WAF friendly of the devices I tested
    - Peachtree DeepBlu – This is one of the best sounding wireless speakers I’ve heard when using the wired connection, but sound quality over Bluetooth had the typical drawbacks. It’s really a great sounding speaker, but just too limited for what we wanted
    - MartinLogan Crescendo – It has a beautiful midrange and top end, but a weak bass response and is quite expensive
    - NAD Visio 1 – I didn’t have the AirPlay version but did test this earlier model out. I thought the sound was really good, not quite loud enough for a larger room. Of everything I tried (even the Zeppelin) the wife liked the design of this one the least
    - Sonos Play:5 – I thought the sound was pretty good, but at the same price as two of the Play:1 speakers in stereo configuration it wasn’t nearly as good, maybe a tad more bass but not as clear sounding overall

    Play:1
    So after trying all those listed above that were anywhere from decent to great (and several others which suck so much they weren’t worth mentioning), I settled on a couple of the Play:1 speakers in a stereo configuration. As mentioned, the Play:1 speakers can be used individually or configured in stereo pairs, and the ability to set these up in pairs was a stroke of genius by Sonos and ultimately what sold me. Two of these Play1 in stereo sound significantly better than any of the other solutions I've tried. They have a great balanced sound overall and are not bass heavy, and when run as a stereo pair have very good imaging and soundstage. A single Play:1 also sounds great by itself and competes with anything else I’ve tried, but when run as a pair they’re significantly better.

    Another great feature is that these are humidity resistant, so they can be placed in a bathroom or somewhere like a covered patio or in the kitchen. I’m going to pick up a few more of these for those specific purposes
  • mantismantis Posts: 15,365
    edited May 2014
    Very cool write up my man. I have experienced most of what you where talking about.
    Sonos is amazing plain and simple. I do Sonos just about every single day. I love selling it, I love seeing my customers light up after it's all installed and working. Love the interface , even the new one is growing on me.
    The Sound bar is by far one of the very best on the market especially when mated with the Sub. The Sonos sub is a monster especially for its price. It's very clean clear deep and very musical. Love it.

    Airplay rocks man. I use Airplay personally and have for years. I use my Apple TV wired to my NAD DAC in Audioquest Optical and it sounds great.
    Dan
    My personal quest is to save to world of bad audio, one thread at a time.
  • txcoastal1txcoastal1 Posts: 10,512
    edited May 2014
    Danny,
    Does the Play 1 have a line-in input? If it does if using a pair I would assume the pair would not carry the signal just the one you are plugged into....let me know


    Oh, nice write up as usual

    Cheers
    2-channel: Modwright KWI-200 Integrated, Dynaudio C1-II Signatures
    Desktop rig: LSi7, Polk 110sub, Dayens Ampino amp, W4S DAC/pre, Sonos, JRiver
    Gear on standby: Melody 101 tube pre, Unison Research Simply Italy Integrated
    Gone to new homes: (Matt Polk's)Threshold Stasis SA12e monoblocks, Pass XA30.5 amp, Usher MD2 speakers, Dynaudio C4 platinum speakers, Modwright LS100 (voltz), Simaudio 780D DAC
  • AsSiMiLaTeDAsSiMiLaTeD Posts: 11,717
    edited May 2014
    Nope, the Play:1 is Sonos streaming only.
  • tonybtonyb Posts: 31,132
    edited May 2014
    You mentioned the Sonos software being a closed system. A better description would be proprietary. Plus their software, as "closed" as you say, is miles in front of all the others I've seen anyway. The options are endless with a Sonos, add a good dac and you could be satisfied for a long time.

    Sonos streaming only....insinuates that it's limited somehow. You can stream anything on your computer, all the different music services, your personal library of downloaded cd's, plus get just about every radio station on the planet. Play different music in different zones, or group zones together.

    I'm not however a fan of their speakers. I find picking my own speakers, a cheap receiver and a ZP90 works extremely better. Though their speakers may be a better fit for a bedroom/bathroom/garage.

    Seriously, a cheap receiver with A-B speaker switching, even A-B-C, one ZP90 , your own speakers and you can cover up to 3 different area's off one Sonos box. Of course you can use a speaker selector box too if you wanted. Sonos is the most versatile, easy to use, expandable product out there right now.
    HT SYSTEM-
    Sony 850c 4k
    Pioneer elite vhx 21
    Sony 4k BRP
    SVS SB-2000
    Polk Sig. 20's
    Polk FX500 surrounds

    Cables-
    Acoustic zen Satori speaker cables
    Acoustic zen Matrix 2 IC's
    Wireworld eclipse 7 ic's
    Audio metallurgy ga-o digital cable

    Kitchen

    Sonos zp90
    Grant Fidelity tube dac
    B&k 1430
    Tad 803 speakers
  • AsSiMiLaTeDAsSiMiLaTeD Posts: 11,717
    edited June 2014
    Have you heard a pair of the Play 1s in stereo? I'm not a fan of their bigger speakers, a little bloated and muddy overall for my tastes, but their smallest speaker set up as a pair sound much cleaner and more coherent. In smaller areas like a bathroom they even sound great individually. I have a Connect now wired into the main system and running through my Oppo 105's DAC and it sounds great, no hi-Rez support at this point in the game does kinda suck though. Then I have a couple pair of Play 1s in the bedroom and office, and a few more scattered around the house and the whole setup works and sounds great.

    I don't make the distinction between closed and proprietary really and note that I did mention the ability to stream all those music services above. For example, with something like a Bluetooth speaker literally anything I can play on my phone can be played back on the speaker. With Sonos it's only stuff they support, so for example I can't crank up YouTube or iTunes Radio and play those back on those speakers. Unless of course I'm wrong.
  • tonybtonyb Posts: 31,132
    edited June 2014
    Youtube is video, but any radio with a web address is playable. You can add any station, with a web address not just the ones listed on the software.


    Haven't heard the play 1's yet, play-3-5 though, not to my liking. Like you said, a tad too boomy sounding for me. Also didn't like there zp120, with built in amp. Sounded horrible to me, but again, may suit someone with a small rig for an office or bedroom.

    No hi-rez support on the standard boxes is a bummer. A well recorded cd downloaded on the computer still sounds awesome though, and you can get the boxes modded to support higher rez material but that's a tad costly. I'm kinda surprised to say the least that they haven't come out with hi-rez support on their standard boxes. Seems to me the industry is heading in that direction anyway.

    There is certainly many options to stream music around the house, but Sonos steps away from the crowd with their software, working off it's own network, versatility and expandability. Plus it's so simple to set up and use, a caveman can do it....and that's a huge plus for the not so digital inclined people out there.
    HT SYSTEM-
    Sony 850c 4k
    Pioneer elite vhx 21
    Sony 4k BRP
    SVS SB-2000
    Polk Sig. 20's
    Polk FX500 surrounds

    Cables-
    Acoustic zen Satori speaker cables
    Acoustic zen Matrix 2 IC's
    Wireworld eclipse 7 ic's
    Audio metallurgy ga-o digital cable

    Kitchen

    Sonos zp90
    Grant Fidelity tube dac
    B&k 1430
    Tad 803 speakers
  • AsSiMiLaTeDAsSiMiLaTeD Posts: 11,717
    edited June 2014
    Do they sell a 'non' standard or upgraded model, an Elite line of sorts? I've seen the Wyred4Sound upgrade, are there other options on the market?
  • tonybtonyb Posts: 31,132
    edited June 2014
    Yes...someone in Europe I believe does a different mod, name escapes me at the moment. Some say it's better than the W4S mod, some say it's about even. I've seen used modded boxes go for 500 on the used market, that's a deal. In any event, they ask you when you mod the box, which setting you want as it isn't like a dac that will decode a variety of incoming signals. You can have the box set at 24/96- 24/192, or even higher. That simply means the box will take all incoming signals and upsample in a sense to the set range. The people at W4S told me the 24/96 was the sweet spot in these mods for the Sonos box. Anything higher sounded a tad less desirable to them. So I went with the 24/96 just to play around with some higher rez stuff. It does remove a level of grunge prevalent in the standard boxes, sounds more clean and clear.

    I did a head to head with a standard box and the modded one. Differences were slight but noticeable. On my Cary dac, it becomes more apparent.

    To get software comparable to Sonos, your talking Q-sonix/Zoolos kinda money....thousands. So the 375 for a standard box seems like a steal. Adding a good dac even to the standard box takes it to a new level. Ask Phil, he'll tell ya. I had mine running into the receivers dac while in between separate dacs and while it sounded good, no comparison once the Cary dac entered the picture. I think Phil has the Teac dac that's tickling his fancy right now.

    Sonos themselves don't offer an upgraded model. Don't plan too either if you follow their forum. Many have complained about the lack of higher rez support, but seems to be falling on deaf ears. Only when a competitor enters the picture will they probably do it. They have their niche strong points already said in this thread, and they seem to be running on that alone.
    HT SYSTEM-
    Sony 850c 4k
    Pioneer elite vhx 21
    Sony 4k BRP
    SVS SB-2000
    Polk Sig. 20's
    Polk FX500 surrounds

    Cables-
    Acoustic zen Satori speaker cables
    Acoustic zen Matrix 2 IC's
    Wireworld eclipse 7 ic's
    Audio metallurgy ga-o digital cable

    Kitchen

    Sonos zp90
    Grant Fidelity tube dac
    B&k 1430
    Tad 803 speakers
  • tonybtonyb Posts: 31,132
    edited June 2014
    Let me add also, that Cullen also offers an I2S mod for sonos. I know Phil uses a Empirical Synchro Mesh, basically a reclocker with his standard box. I don't see the need for the Cullen mods if using the Synchro mesh, unless you want to add I2S. The price of the mods are about the same as the Synchro mesh so that's a toss up.
    HT SYSTEM-
    Sony 850c 4k
    Pioneer elite vhx 21
    Sony 4k BRP
    SVS SB-2000
    Polk Sig. 20's
    Polk FX500 surrounds

    Cables-
    Acoustic zen Satori speaker cables
    Acoustic zen Matrix 2 IC's
    Wireworld eclipse 7 ic's
    Audio metallurgy ga-o digital cable

    Kitchen

    Sonos zp90
    Grant Fidelity tube dac
    B&k 1430
    Tad 803 speakers
  • recoveryonerecoveryone Posts: 759
    edited June 2014
    Sorry to hear you could not get multiple squeezeboxes to play at once, I do it often.

    Hero.JPG
    Song in Key.JPG


    I can control all 6 of mine from one tablet if needed
    Family Room HT 7.2/i]:
    Vizio P55-E1UHD Pioneer Elite SC-LX502 Pioneer Elite BDP 85FD Pioneer Elite N-50 Panamax M5300-EX
    Living room 2ch:
    Integra ADM 2.1 Teac EQ MKII Squeezebox Touch Fluance SX Speakers Panamax M5100-EX
    Upstairs media room:
    Vizio D1 32" Pioneer Elite VSX 32 Sony PS4 Squeezebox Touch Polkaudio Rti 6's fronts Polk CSR Center Polkaudio PSW 10 sub Panamax M5300-EX
    Master bedroom:
    Vizio VF550M Pioneer Elite VSX 33 Pioneer Elite BDP 80FD Squeezebox Touch Polk audio Monitor 40 II fronts, Rears Optimus LX5s Jensen CCS center Polkaudio PSW 10 sub Panamax 5100
  • AsSiMiLaTeDAsSiMiLaTeD Posts: 11,717
    edited June 2014
    I could not get multiple boxes to play different content at the same time, when I contacted Logitech support a couple years back they told me it wasn't possible.
  • recoveryonerecoveryone Posts: 759
    edited June 2014
    That is odd, as that was one of the best features about the system. My daughters play their rap in their rooms while I play jazz or R&B in my room or down stairs. if you clicked on the pics I posted you saw that I had different artist in each room play at same time.
    Family Room HT 7.2/i]:
    Vizio P55-E1UHD Pioneer Elite SC-LX502 Pioneer Elite BDP 85FD Pioneer Elite N-50 Panamax M5300-EX
    Living room 2ch:
    Integra ADM 2.1 Teac EQ MKII Squeezebox Touch Fluance SX Speakers Panamax M5100-EX
    Upstairs media room:
    Vizio D1 32" Pioneer Elite VSX 32 Sony PS4 Squeezebox Touch Polkaudio Rti 6's fronts Polk CSR Center Polkaudio PSW 10 sub Panamax M5300-EX
    Master bedroom:
    Vizio VF550M Pioneer Elite VSX 33 Pioneer Elite BDP 80FD Squeezebox Touch Polk audio Monitor 40 II fronts, Rears Optimus LX5s Jensen CCS center Polkaudio PSW 10 sub Panamax 5100
  • AsSiMiLaTeDAsSiMiLaTeD Posts: 11,717
    edited June 2014
    It only half matters at this point anyway since Logitech killed the product line, but I was never able to get it working from the same computer.
  • recoveryonerecoveryone Posts: 759
    edited June 2014
    So true, a great product killed off. I managed over the years to pick up the classic, Duet, Touch and Transporter. Always on the look out for good deals on the product.
    Family Room HT 7.2/i]:
    Vizio P55-E1UHD Pioneer Elite SC-LX502 Pioneer Elite BDP 85FD Pioneer Elite N-50 Panamax M5300-EX
    Living room 2ch:
    Integra ADM 2.1 Teac EQ MKII Squeezebox Touch Fluance SX Speakers Panamax M5100-EX
    Upstairs media room:
    Vizio D1 32" Pioneer Elite VSX 32 Sony PS4 Squeezebox Touch Polkaudio Rti 6's fronts Polk CSR Center Polkaudio PSW 10 sub Panamax M5300-EX
    Master bedroom:
    Vizio VF550M Pioneer Elite VSX 33 Pioneer Elite BDP 80FD Squeezebox Touch Polk audio Monitor 40 II fronts, Rears Optimus LX5s Jensen CCS center Polkaudio PSW 10 sub Panamax 5100
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