August 30, 2014 2:23 pm

Samsung meets Sonos head-on, is there a winner?

*Steve Makris is a technology expert who does a weekly Tech Talk segment during Edmonton’s Sunday Morning News. You can watch the segment above. 

Samsung’s recent entry into multi-room wireless speakers with the Shape series brings attention to a growing trend of wanting to listen to quality audio at home in every possible way.

What used to be running a pair of wires to each speaker and play back from physically connected sources like record, tape, receivers and portable media players (using the player’s headphone plug) is now an invisible network of streaming high quality audio, anywhere in your house.

WiFi is the wireless technology of choice for best quality and reach in an entire home, as shown by the decade-old Sonos system. WiFi has always been expensive especially if done right, as in Sonos, where a separate sub network with a constant rate of streaming music to speakers is maintained regardless of what other WiFi traffic takes place at home – like kids downloading huge files at the same time or several folks browsing simultaneously.

Wireless Samsung Shape multiroom streams audio with WiFi, Bluetooth and Soundconnect TV

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Samsung’s new Wireless Audio Multiroom Shape M7, $449 (and smaller M5, $349,), while not as glitch-free as Sonos, does a few better in meeting new user’s needs. It also streams audio through Bluetooth or Soundconnect from your Samsung TV. A single tap with NFC equipped phones automatically pairs Bluetooth between speakers and phones but only one speaker at a time. It’s satisfying as the M7’s two double tweeters and mid-range drivers plus generous bass driver deliver a rich, as-loud-as-you-want full sound adding a new sound dimension to music listening.

The speakers also stream music from Samsung TVs, using Soundconnect. No remote control comes with these speakers. It uses iOS iPhones and iPads as well as Windows and Mac PCs for that. One added feature similar to Sonos is being able to play different songs on each speaker, or groups of speakers anywhere at home home.

To be clear, both competing systems can be run with smartphones. Sonos does WiFi only, while Samsung also throws in Bluetooth and TV streaming.

Both Samsung speakers are simple yet strikingly shaped and can lay horizontal or stand upright (a sensor converts the speaker drivers to mono when upright).

Sonos offers more variety in speaker design, price and function like deidicated bass models

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The only practical downside to the M7 and M5 is the high price, especially if you are considering building a multi-speaker system when only a few hundred bucks will do the trick for a ready-made 5.1 system, often thrown in for free with TV purchase. Sonos, over the years has a better priced and comprehensive speaker size selection spanning several generations of carefully designed and well-priced components. Sonos speakers start at $219 for Sonos Play:1 to $750 for bass units.

Both systems need a “bridge” box for hooking on your Internet WiFi on more than one speaker. Stores occasionally include the $50-$70 bridge for each system for free, with speaker purchase.

Soundwise, the Shape M7 will attract younger listeners with more punchy and accentuated high tones, compared to the more level, even-toned Sonos. Music with sublime recorded tones of a singer’s breath or the special intonation of a bass player’s squeaky finger sliding on strings, sound better on Sonos. It is a preference.

But being able to listen from your personal device in the same room with Bluetooth, or streaming audio from TV is Samsung’s M7 strength. I could not get the apps to always work properly and had to troubleshoot. Samsung is still behind in directly streaming music from online services compared to the three fold more services Sonos offers but that is a matter of catch-up. The Bluetooth audio quality is not as good as WiFi, something other companies like Plantronics on their new BackBeat Pro wireless noise cancelling headphones can do better at, and from up to 100 meters.

Do you want to do it all? Buy Samsung. Do you want to do one thing (WiFi) better than anybody else? Buy Sonos.

http://www.samsung.com/ca

http://www.sonos.com/

© Shaw Media, 2014

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