May 04, 2018
Wall-to-wall home internet options like Panoramic WiFi routers have given music lovers the opportunity to wirelessly extend their music systems throughout the entire house. With the right setup, you can send music from almost any source into any room. You can even keep the peace with your family or roomies and play different music in every room.
Since these systems are connected to WiFi, they offer direct access to online music apps and streaming services, such as Music Choice, Pandora and Spotify. Here are some of the best choices for smart, whole-house music systems that will get you one step closer to a truly connected home.
These systems embed WiFi capabilities within powered wireless speakers, and most offer options for adding existing home stereos or speakers to the network. Generally, you can control these speakers yourself with an accompanying iOS or Android app. Some even let you pair two speakers in the same room for a true stereo experience.
- Sonos: Sonos, the company that defined this category, offers a range of speakers at different sizes as well as a soundbar. Other components accommodate other powered speakers or a traditional stereo setup.
- Denon HEOS, Yamaha MusicCast, Onkyo FlareConnect: These established vendors have jumped into the game with their own lines of speakers, soundbars, receivers and amplifiers. They all offer (or will offer) some degree of Amazon Alexa-based control.
- Bose: The SoundTouch line includes the familiar assortment of wireless speakers, soundbar, and devices to connect to a stereo or powered speakers. The speakers also include physical buttons for quick access to your favorite sources.
- Bluesound and Muso: Bluesound‘s Pulse speakers and the Muso line are audiophile-quality entrants in the field, supporting the highest-quality digital music formats. Muso’s speakers also play music from USB drives or through analog and digital input ports.
Systems in this category let you play music from traditional music sources such as turntables and CD players, or connect to existing home theater speakers.
YamahaMusicCast, Denon HEOS, and Onkyo FlareConnect-equipped receivers have traditional ports for those devices and can also send the music to compatible speakers in other rooms. Associated apps let you play the same music to each device, or change it up and play different music in each room.
Less expensive than the other solutions, smart speakers let you wirelessly stream music from a mobile device or online services, but (with one exception) they cannot access a stored music library. They also work with voice-enabled digital assistants for tasks like setting timers and accessing weather and traffic information, and enable voice control for compatible smart home devices.
- Amazon Echo: Probably the best-known example, the Echo works with Amazon’s Alexa voice assistant to let you call up music from Amazon Music and other streaming sources. You can stream the same music to multiple Echo speakers. With an Unlimited Family Amazon Music plan, you can play different music on different devices.
- Sonos One: The One is an Alexa-equipped version of the company’s Play:One speaker. You can pair two units for true stereo, or connect one to your multi-room Sonos setup.
- Microsoft Invoke: The Invoke works with Microsoft’s Cortana digital assistant (as found in Windows and the Xbox). You can also use it to place phone calls via Skype. Speakers from Harmon Kardon give it good quality sound, but there’s no multi-room or multi-speaker option as yet.
- Apple HomePod: The HomePod is the smart speaker most serious about music quality, and it can access an existing iTunes library. It uses Apple’s Siri digital assistant to control the music (including playing it to different rooms) as well as HomeKit-compatible products.
The Amazon Echo may be a popular all-purpose assistant, but users have found that it only has so-so music listening options. If you’re already comfortable with Cortana and like the idea of a built-in phone, the Invoke is a good choice; if you’re deeply embedded in the Apple ecosystem or have an extensive iTunes library, look at the HomePod. The Sonos One is a good compromise and can be incorporated into a more elaborate system later.