Multi room wireless sound system

Since 1999 I’m carrying the same sound equipment with me. A Yamaha RX-V496RDS with relatively small 5.1 Quadral speakers. Within the last 16 years a lot has changed. I watch less movies, especially much less delivered on spinning plastic discs. I moved several times, the equipment stayed the same. I recently ditched the Sony 5-CD changer which I haven’t used at all in my last two apartments. Now the other parts of that setup has to go.

As the apartments get bigger, with more rooms, compared to what I used to live in as student, I wanted a system covering several rooms. As I’m renting the apartment I don’t want to drill holes and put cables in every room, that’s why something wireless needs to serve this purpose. As I‘ getting lazier and don’t want to build a audio-Frankenstein out of my old equipment with wireless components from different companies, I wanted an integrated system.

I do have some other requirements on the system and the longer I researched, the more requirements are appearing.

Bose Soundtouch 10 The first system fulfilling nearly all requirements I set for myself was the BOSE SoundTouch. I’ve bought a SoundTouch 10 for the first test with the plan to buy a Soundbar, Subwoofer, SoundTouch 30 and an old portable to built the system.
This would have given me the possibility to stream music in all rooms and put a battery powered device on the balcony if needed. The preset buttons enable the device to play music without using the app on the phone or tablet all the time.

The setup was fairly easy, you turn on the speaker, open the phone app, connect to the speaker (using the Wifi generated by the speaker), enter the information for your local WiFi (SSID and password) and you are done.

While playing with the device I noticed a no-go which is the reason I was returning it after less than one day of use: The Spotify connection is very poorly integrated. When using the buttons to start a playlist, the connection to Spotify is flawless, but with the app opened on the phone or iPad, it was nearly impossible to start or change the music. I was tapping the song I wanted to play about 20 times within two minutes and the song wouldn’t change. Even with the dedicated remote control, the music wasn’t changing when I wanted it to. When the Speaker was standing quietly in the corner, the music wasn’t starting when using the Spotify app. Only the preset buttons would enable the system to make some noise and even those would often pause every other second to think how the song might continue. I’ve tested it with different sources (iPhone, iPad and two Macs) on different WiFi networks and it’s not that I have a bad Internet connection, I’m behind a 500mBit/s fibre.
There was just no reliability in this system and a speaker is no good, if it’s standing quietly in the corner.

Don’t get me wrong, the speaker looks great and if it’s playing some sound, it sounds great, but this just doesn’t work reliably.
Other downsides are that BOSE has cut AirPlay from the newest Series (Series III) and the Soundbar for the TV in only able to receive, but not to send music (a feature I want to use to play music from the AppleTV or play the Sound of the TV to other rooms – following live sports on the toilet to be honest). If I would start to review the App this post would be probably double the length, but to say it in few words: It is awful. The sidebar with the preset buttons (like the hardware has) is to big, the iPad App is just a blown up Phone app and both don’t feel like a real iOS Application. And even when having a completely different way of device, the Mac app looks exactly the same like the iPad one. Non of them are native for their OS. It’s just horrible.

Back into the box and to the vender. The next solution is ordered.

I know that Sonos should be very good in terms of synchronised multi room audio, but I liked the preset buttons on the Bose, that’s why I ordered some speakers from Raumfeld by Teufel.


 

Raumfeld One S

The Raumfeld system can only be ordered via the internet or bought in their Berlin flagship store. I’m not that kind of person who always wants to buy from the local companies, but it feels good to buy some German engineered products if you are a German engineer.

Because Raumfeld (or Teufel) offers a 8 week tryout phase with free returns and full refund if you are not 100% satisfied, I went all in and ordered what I need to cover my apartment. As they got some bundle offers, I got a dedicated wifi router and a ‘legacy equipment connection box’ kind of for free.
In addition to the Soundbar, I got an One M, which will be placed in my bedroom and an One S which goes into the bathroom. Teufel offers also some huge hi-fi speakers in stereo pairs, but due to my current apartment, I just don’t have the space to place them.
Everything arrived in 5 packages here in the south of France. After reading some instructions before, I unpacked and set up the expand box (a kind of special wifi router) first. After that the setup of all three speakers was nearly the same:
Unpack it, connect it via ethernet to the network, press a setup button, connect to the wifi of the speaker, select SSID and enter the password of your local wifi. I don’t know why the connection with the ethernet is necessary, but everything else was flawless. Could be done better, but was ok.
The setup of the subwoofer was a little different: You press a sync button each on the soundbar and the subwoofer and hope they connect (it took me 3 attempts). The manual tells you that you need to redo this in case of a loss of connection. Which might not be optimal for a device you hide underneath of behind the sofa.

After setting up everything I had a system completely designed by raumfeld. The Expand was delivering the signal to the three speakers (+ sub) in three different rooms. The goal was to have synchronised music in my small apartment. I admit that one of the speakers turned on very loud would have been enough, but I like a quiet background music. Unfortunately it doesn’t work.
While playing the first song, I noticed a time difference between the speakers. The music was coming from the Raumfeld app to all speakers. After about 1 and a half minutes, the time difference between the speakers was hearable and I had to pause and restart the music. Which might be ok if you have a big house and just want to have the same music everywhere, but in a small apartment where you can hear the sound from one room in the other it has to be perfectly in sync. I was standing in the middle of my apartment, in similar distance to each speaker (about 5 meter each) and could notice the difference. This is not acceptable for me.
Another problem with the multi room music is that you can’t play it from spotify. With spotify connect, the music can only be played on one speaker at the time. I thought I could use my local music library to compensate this, but the music provided in the raumfeld app is limited to the music storred on the device. It does not include the songs storred on icloud and available with streaming (iTunes in the cloud / iCloud Music). I wanted to integrate my iTunes Server music library to the system, but I was stucked in a login circle (always asked for username and password – I gave up after 10 attempts).
With other streaming services like Napster and TIDAL multiroom music should be possible, but I don’t want to subscribed to another paied music service.

The big advantage of the raumfeld system compared to sonos for me are the dedicated buttons to start music without to open an app. To make it short: They are not working reliably. You should press the button on the speaker to set the current playing music to this preset. It didn’t work for spotify for me and for other services, I could recall it reliable. The knob on the One M (the bigger box) didn’t change the volume and the remote of the soundbar didn’t work after pairing – neither did the HDMI input.

I really like the design of the Raumfeld system, but I won’t put 2000 Euro of not working sound equipment in my apartment.


 

Sonos Play 1While waiting for UPS to pick up the 5 packages, I’ve ordered some speakers from SONOS. I’ve ordered a Playbar for the TV and two Play:1 speakers for bathroom and bedroom.

The setup is much easier than setting up the Raumfeld. Instead of connecting every speaker via ethernet to the router and entering the wifi password, I had to do nothing of it (well, I had to connect the Playbar via ethernet, but non of the other speakers). You just open the SONOS App, press two buttons on the speaker wait and press several times ‘next’ within the app and you are ready to go. I would like to describe how painful the setup was, but it just wasn’t.
Two things which were not working on the raumfeld system but which work flawlessly here is 1) to play spotify in every room (with one downside, I will describe later) and 2) walk from one room to the other while singing along with the songs and staying in sync with the music played in the different rooms. It’s just magical.
The downside is that Spotify is played within the SONOS App and not using the Spotify App. Using the App it is not possible to start playing using the iPhone and later switching to the Spotify App on the Mac to change the music, you got to use the SONOS App (which is also available for Mac and PC). The Spotify Interface within the Sonos App is also a little different and you have to get used to it.

But just because I don’t have so much to complain doesn’t mean SONOS is perfect. I would love to have a hardware remote with some presetbuttons. At least the Play/Pause button on each speaker let’s you resume where you stopped before. When you stop your music in the evening and press that button the next morning, the playlist/radio continues. If the last thing listening to on a saturday night was progressive hardcore techno, this is what you hear sunday mornings with a hangover if you don’t use the app.
The same for changing the volume, it’s easy to do with the App and the integration of the Volume control buttons of the iPhone or the buttons on the speakers, but a dedicated remote would be good. Which – for sure – would lead to some decisions: Would this remote control all speakers within a set or only the one in the room you are in?
The buttons on the speakers are a little inconsequent here: The Play/Pause controls all speakers, the volume control only the speaker you are pressing the buttons on (within the app you have the possibility to adjust the volume for each speaker or all together).


I know there are other companies providing similar solutions.

I like the concept of the Harman/Kardon follow me button on their OMNI speakers, but as they don’t offer a dedicated solution for the TV, I kicked them out of my options.

The Helos system from DENON looks quite interesting as well, especially with offering a ‚go pack‘ which adds a battery and bluetooth audio to their smallest speaker

The Philips Fidelio looks also quite nice, they have a Surround System with detachable rear speakers. You rest them on the main speakers, in case you want surround sound, you take them of their base and place them behind you.
LG offers a system called Musicflow, They have a speaker that looks like a bottle of milk, contains a battery and can connected to their mesh network of speakers.

One issue that I’ve noticed with all tested (or researched) solutions is that the apps are all very different, even though the concept is similar and non of the apps provided a simulation mode to test the app without the hardware. But this is a topic for another time.

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