Multi-room speaker setup for dummies
October 31, 2018 3:07 PM   Subscribe

I like streaming music at home and have been making do with this little portable bluetooth speaker. I'd like to upgrade to a multi-room system with better sound quality. This one is tinny, especially at higher volumes. There are way too many options, Google isn't helping me narrow them, and aside from the speaker linked above, the last audio equipment I bought was a boombox I bought with my high school graduation money. (My 25th reunion has long passed.) What do I want to buy?

  • I stream music primarily from my Samsung phone, although I also have a Roku.
  • It seems like wireless is less limiting than Bluetooth (i.e., over wireless, my phone wouldn't have to be within a certain range of a speaker)?
  • I'd like to have a speaker in my large-ish living room, my kitchen (which is cut off from the rest of the house), and my bedroom.
  • I'd also like to be able to turn each of those on and off.
  • Sound quality is my main motivator, but I'd also like to get away from having to move the phone and speaker from room-to-room.
  • I have a very good WiFi connection.
  • I don't need Alexa or Google voice controls, but I'm not opposed to them either.
  • I'm willing to spend ~$200-ish out-of-pocket. I also have $150 in Target gift cards that I could contribute towards something fancier (but I don't need anything top of the line).
  • Not looking for booming base or mad volume -- just better sound and less inconvenience.
  • I'd like to find something available at Target, Costco, or Amazon.
What is it I'm looking for?
posted by mudpuppie to Technology (16 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Sonos is great sound quality, but expensive. At your budget, you could get a starter set of two small speakers.
posted by roll truck roll at 3:26 PM on October 31, 2018 [2 favorites]

So you want 3 separate speakers covering those rooms?

You won't do it on that budget, not really. But there are options.

Sonos is very popular, pretty high-end. Three-room set of Sonos One speakers is $549. Wifi based, works with a bunch of streaming services. That model says Alexa is supported, I think there's a Google Assistant model too. They can be grouped for synchronized playback in multiple rooms. Dunno where they sell them other than direct online.

Google Home is $129, available at Walmart and Target. They can be grouped or used individually. Voice controlled by Google Assistant, works with Spotify, Pandora, Google Play Music, some radio services and some other services outside of north america, I assume you're in the US. You could get three Google Home Minis @ $49 each or $78 for two, but this is more clock radio sound quality. But functionally exactly the same. The Home is better, Home Max is really good but it's $399 per unit. so like $400 for three rooms, roughly. You could also buy Chromecast Audio for $35 if you already have a speaker and don't need voice control. But honestly voice control is a nice feature.

The base Echo is roughly equivalent in sound quality to Google Home, decent but not great. The Sonos One is probably better quality. No ability to group speakers like Home or Sonos afaik. $99 on Amazon, works via Alexa. Works with Spotify, Pandora, Amazon Music, a bunch of radio services. The new Echo Plus has better speakers at $149. You can now buy a subwoofer that pairs with a newer Echo for $129. I like Home better than the first-gen Echo but I haven't heard how the newer models sound. So like $300 for three rooms. Like the Home Mini, there's the Echo dot which is small, cheap and sounds not that great. But it does have a speaker. Not a top choice if you really want decent sound quality. It does have line out if you want to connect to a stereo.

All three of these options are wifi based, are driven by your phone and/or a voice assistant. Because it's wifi it doesn't matter how far you are from any one speaker like with bluetooth. All work with either ios or Android.

I am a Google Home user and I like it but really for the basic activities of playing music or online radio, they're all roughly equivalent. There are differences between Google Assistant and Alexa but for what you described they're not meaningful.

None of these devices require a paid music service subscription but you'll get better functionality if you have one.
posted by GuyZero at 3:29 PM on October 31, 2018

Best answer: Look into Sonos, they're a little pricier, but they have excellent sound quality and the speakers sound great at loud volumes. They use wifi and have the ability to sync and turn off individually. I have two units of the older PLAY:1 model, and they've been working perfectly for the last four-ish years.

I have the Sonos app on my phone and computer, and can control the speakers with either device. Mostly I play music from Google Play Music, my own music library (from my hard drive), podcasts and radio (TuneIn, iheartradio).
posted by extramundane at 3:30 PM on October 31, 2018

Best answer: I've had Sonos for 3+ years and love it.
posted by matildaben at 3:45 PM on October 31, 2018

Best answer: Sonos Play:1 speakers are $150 each, available at Target, and are really fabulous.
posted by gyusan at 3:53 PM on October 31, 2018

Best answer: Also a vote for Sonos. I really like the app, as well - you can add all your streaming accounts to it and search from one place, just like you can do with Roku.
posted by Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug at 4:19 PM on October 31, 2018

Response by poster: Sold.

posted by mudpuppie at 4:31 PM on October 31, 2018

Best answer: One more vote for Sonos, with a mild caveat ... I have the kind with Alexa built in and that part seems to be pretty finicky compared to an official Alexa device.

If I were doing it again, I would not pay extra to get the Sonos with Alexa baked in, I would just get the regular kind ... I find that I end up using the phone app to control the Sonos all the time anyway.

Having the Alexa built-in isn't a bother, I just don't think it's worth extra $$.

SUPER easy to set up and great sound quality. Highly recommend!!
posted by mccxxiii at 5:05 PM on October 31, 2018

Best answer: If you're willing to wait a bit, Sonos has previously had a discount on pairs of Play 1 speakers on/around Black Friday.
posted by mersen at 6:41 PM on October 31, 2018 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Yeah, I resisted Sonos for ages for various reasons (mainly them not having services that they now do, eg pocketcasts), cracked and bought one Play1 speaker last week, and now am pretty much set to fit my whole apartment with them.

You get WAY more sound than you'd think from those little Play1s, too.
posted by ominous_paws at 6:03 AM on November 1, 2018

Best answer: Hey,

If you haven't already dropped the cash, Sonos is good (and the fancy expensive brand name), but I get by fine with buying an Alexa Dot for every room instead. For the big rooms, I hook her into speakers. It's about 1/4th the cost and comes with excellent spotify/bluetooth connectivity, and everything else Alexa can do.
posted by bbqturtle at 6:04 AM on November 1, 2018

Best answer: On sale, Alexa Dots are $30. So you could get 5 of them for the price of one Sonos speaker.
posted by bbqturtle at 6:05 AM on November 1, 2018

Best answer: There is also a third option of using Chromecast Audio to to stream music to non-smart speakers. I have four of these all linked together throughout my house, and it's just a matter of turning on the speakers right after I cast the music to them. If you already have a bunch of speakers, it's a cheap option.
posted by dobi at 7:13 AM on November 1, 2018 [2 favorites]

You don't say what your source is, but if you've got apple devices it's worth looking into Air Play 2. You can get a couple of old Airport Express 2s, and have multiroom audio on the cheap. Airport express hooks up to an regular old speaker. May be a cheaper option.
posted by aeighty at 10:23 AM on November 1, 2018

1) Nthing the "Sonos" comments. We've had Sonos for years and have been expanding our system slowly. Zero regrets with the system overall.

2) I also tried one of the Sonos-with-Alexa combo speakers, and it went back to the store after about a week because of the flakiness described above. Replaced with a straight Play:1 and a nearby Echo dot (see below).

3) We have Echo dots scattered around the house to let us (among other things) send music to the Sonos via voice. Whenever somebody flubs the incantation and the music starts playing out of the dot rather than the Sonos—you *definitely* notice and *not* in a good way. The audio quality of the dot is poor, poor, poor—weak and tinny. It works fine for hearing Alexa's voice responses, but is horrible for music.
posted by BlueDuke at 10:38 AM on November 1, 2018

If you want something a little more affordable, JBL makes Assistant enabled speakers starting at only $100 that will do what you want. (They are both Bluetooth, which works basically like any Bluetooth speaker and also have WiFi so they can work like a Google Home speaker) You can scale the dollar figure based on what you want from each specific speaker. $100 gets you a portable speaker with about a 5 hour battery that has a 4" driver yet manages to sound half decent. $250 gets you a Link 300 that will actually put out some bass.

Like any Assistant-enabled audio device, you can set them up in groups that will play the same audio or have them work independently using the Google Home app.
posted by wierdo at 10:14 AM on November 2, 2018 [1 favorite]

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