The Best Multiroom Wireless Speaker System for 2023 | Reviews by … – The New York Times

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We’ve tested the new Sonos Voice Control function and added our thoughts. We also added the new Sonos Ray as a more affordable soundbar option.
A wireless multiroom speaker system is the easiest way to listen to music, podcasts, and other audio entertainment in more than one room at a time, and Sonos is the best option. It supports the widest variety of streaming services, the speakers sound great, and its apps are practically foolproof. The competition is catching up, but Sonos is still the most complete and reliable package overall.
If you want an audio system that can play music all around your home but you hate running wires, this system is for you.
Do you want a system that you control via an app, or do you prefer voice control? Your answer may affect which system you choose.
The best multiroom system sounds great, is easy to set up, has a variety of speakers, and supports many streaming audio services.
We tested each system in different homes, using our own music libraries and streaming music services such as Amazon and Apple Music.
The Sonos One sounds great and is an affordable entry point to the Sonos system. Plus, it’s Alexa and Google Assistant enabled.
The Sonos Five easily fills large spaces with full-range, detailed sound comparable to that of nice bookshelf speakers. You can also pair the Five to enjoy great stereo sound.
May be out of stock
*At the time of publishing, the price was $500.
If sound quality, easy setup, and intuitive operation are your top priorities in a multiroom wireless speaker system, Sonos is our recommendation. Sonos has made these systems for longer than anyone, and its experience shows at every level. The mobile and desktop apps are among the most polished available and offer unified search across every service you subscribe to—including Apple Music.
Sonos’s tight control of its ecosystem means you’re limited in terms of the speaker brands you can add to your setup (unless you buy Sonos devices specifically designed for you to add your own speakers), but the company’s offerings come at a variety of prices and all sound excellent. The Sonos One is a great entry point. It costs less than most high-end Bluetooth speakers, yet its audio performance measures as accurately as that of speakers costing several times as much. For better sound or bigger rooms, the higher-end Sonos Five creates a large soundstage on its own, and a pair can compete with similarly priced midrange bookshelf speakers—without the need for a separate amplifier. There’s also the wireless Sonos Sub, which you can pair with any existing Sonos speaker to add some oomph. And you can even add Sonos to your TV using the company’s ArcBeam, or Ray smart soundbar, all of which can pair with two other Sonos speakers to form a surround system.
The main drawbacks to the Sonos ecosystem are that it is a closed system (so you have to use Sonos products) and, though many Sonos speakers have both Alexa and Google Assistant built in, the system’s voice-control capabilities are not as advanced as those platforms’ own smart speakers.
The fourth-generation Amazon Echo is a significant departure from earlier generations in terms of sound quality and design, and the native Alexa support allows for more advanced voice control.
If you want to add immersive 3D audio playback capabilities to your multiroom wireless music system, the Echo Studio is the easiest and most affordable way to do so.
If you’re looking for a more affordable multiroom wireless music system that still sounds great—or if advanced voice control is especially important to you—Amazon’s Echo family of smart speakers is a good alternative to Sonos. Although none of the Echo speakers sound as good as anything in the Sonos lineup, the latest generation of Amazon speakers is a big improvement over earlier Echo devices. Using voice commands to operate a synchronized multiroom music system requires a little more in the way of setup—and isn’t quite as intuitive as Sonos’s app control—but the Echo system’s configuration and operation don’t require an unreasonable amount of effort. The standard Amazon Echo (4th Gen) and the larger Echo Studio are both great picks, and the latter in particular offers something that no other compact wireless speakers do: Dolby Atmos support (which adds a height element to make the sound even more immersive).
You could also add the more affordable Echo Dot to the mix if you have Bluetooth speakers in and around the house that you want to add to your multiroom music system. On its own, the Dot’s sound quality is pretty solid for a $50 speaker, but its small size and lack of bass mean you probably only want to use it for the most casual music listening or for podcasts and audiobooks.
The Sonos One sounds great and is an affordable entry point to the Sonos system. Plus, it’s Alexa and Google Assistant enabled.
The Sonos Five easily fills large spaces with full-range, detailed sound comparable to that of nice bookshelf speakers. You can also pair the Five to enjoy great stereo sound.
May be out of stock
*At the time of publishing, the price was $500.
The fourth-generation Amazon Echo is a significant departure from earlier generations in terms of sound quality and design, and the native Alexa support allows for more advanced voice control.
If you want to add immersive 3D audio playback capabilities to your multiroom wireless music system, the Echo Studio is the easiest and most affordable way to do so.
Dennis Burger has been reviewing headphones, speakers, AV receivers, home automation systems, home theater gear, and high-end audio gear for nearly two decades. He served as East Coast contributing editor for Home Entertainment magazine and is now senior editor at SoundStage! and a regular contributor at Cineluxe. In the past he has written for Residential Systems, Home Theater Review, Electronic House, Big Picture Big Sound, Digital TV & Sound, Home Smart Home, and Home Theater magazine, just to name a few.
Chris Heinonen, who wrote previous versions of this guide, has reviewed speakers and other audio/video equipment since 2008. He has tested multiroom wireless speaker systems—from retail versions to custom-installed ones—for many years.
Multiroom wireless speaker systems are for people who want to be able to play music and podcasts throughout their home and easily control them from their phone, tablet, or computer, or even through their voice. These systems, connected via Wi-Fi, let you play different tracks on each speaker or group them together to play the same track throughout the home. They support both local media libraries and online streaming services, allowing you to access music from almost any source. They make it easy to expand your system by simply adding another speaker or zone.
If you care only about playing music in a single room and don’t need built-in voice-control capabilities, other options work well for less money. Bluetooth speakers can easily stream audio from your phone or computer, but few of them let you group multiple speakers together—and even when you can, you’re usually limited to playing the same source through all the connected speakers, which isn’t the case with Wi-Fi speakers. Bluetooth speakers also require your phone or computer to be the streaming source. In contrast, multiroom wireless audio systems access the music sources directly and don’t use your phone’s battery life.
Since we first published this guide in 2013, we have considered more than a dozen different multiroom wireless speaker systems and called in many of them for testing (see the Competition section for more details). We focused on the following criteria for what’s important in a multiroom speaker system:
Some other features aren’t essential for a whole-home audio listening system:
We tested each system in different houses and apartments, with both local music libraries and streaming music services such as Amazon, Apple Music, Pandora, and Spotify. We put the speakers all around the house to make sure range wasn’t an issue. In the case of soundbars and subwoofers, we watched movies and TV, as well.
The Sonos One sounds great and is an affordable entry point to the Sonos system. Plus, it’s Alexa and Google Assistant enabled.
The Sonos Five easily fills large spaces with full-range, detailed sound comparable to that of nice bookshelf speakers. You can also pair the Five to enjoy great stereo sound.
May be out of stock
*At the time of publishing, the price was $500.
The Sonos system is the best multiroom wireless speaker system because it supports the most services and has a wide selection of great-sounding speakers, comprehensive search features, and a well-organized app that runs on almost all major mobile platforms. Sonos keeps its platform current by updating its speakers, adding more services, and introducing new features such as Trueplay room-correction technology. The Sonos user experience is the best of any of the multiroom wireless speaker systems currently available.
Sonos offers speakers that start at the budget end with the small Sonos One and Sonos One SL (which lacks voice control) and extend to the Arc, Beam, and Ray soundbars for use with a TV. You can use a single speaker, combine two into a stereo pair, or even build a 5.1-channel home theater system using a soundbar along with two other speakers for surrounds and the matching Sub. You even have the ability to add dual Subs to home theater setups.
If you already have passive speakers that require an amp and you’d like them to work with your Sonos system, you can use the Sonos Amp. The Amp also has a stereo analog input if you want to connect a turntable, a CD player, or some other audio source device, as well as an optical digital audio input and an HDMI ARC port to connect a TV. Before you go that route, though, it’s important to consider your specific needs. If you’re just looking for a stereo setup, you can get a pair of the impressive Sonos One speakers for a lot less; the most serious audiophiles might consider upgrading to a pair of Sonos Five units. If, on the other hand, you’re just looking to bring your record collection into the Sonos ecosystem, you’re probably better served by the Sonos Port, which features a single analog input that can work with your turntable, as well as analog and digital outputs that you can connect to your receiver.
For portable listening, the Sonos Move adds a battery and Bluetooth, so you can take it with you and use it outside of the range of your Wi-Fi network. It is one of the larger Sonos speakers, with a carrying handle on the back, and it sits in a small charging base. It can play louder with more clarity than the much smaller Sonos One, but it isn’t as detailed and offers less stereo separation than the Sonos Five. A better portable option is the Sonos Roam, a more compact and affordable solution that supports Qi wireless charging and has IP67 waterproof certification. You can read our impressions of the Roam here.
IKEA offers Sonos speakers, too. The Symfonisk WiFi Bookshelf Speaker is the cheapest Sonos speaker yet, coming in around $120, while the Symfonisk Table Lamp (yes, it’s a speaker built into a lamp) is $180. The Symfonisk bookshelf speaker doesn’t sound quite as good as the Sonos One, with more distortion in the bass as you play louder, but you can create a stereo pair for almost the same price as a single Sonos One, and it has a different design that may blend into certain rooms better. The lamp design inspires mixed reactions and doesn’t sound as good as the other models do. If you want music and light from one device, it achieves that odd goal. As surrounds in a home theater setup or as a reading-lamp-and-speaker combo in a bedroom, it fits a niche, but for the best sound we’d stick with the Sonos One. In July 2021, IKEA also has added the $220 Symfonisk on-wall speaker that looks like a piece of art, but we have not tested it.
Sonos also offers a series of architectural speakers designed to be combined with the company’s updated Sonos Amp. These were created in conjunction with Sonance, a company with a long history in architectural speakers, and the lineup includes in-ceiling, in-wall, and outdoor models.
Using the microphone of an iOS device, Sonos’s Trueplay software offers room correction for your Sonos speakers at no extra cost. This is handy, since most people tend to place multiroom wireless speakers where they’re convenient, not where they sound best. A speaker tucked into the corner of a kitchen counter, for example, is likely to sound extra boomy in the bass because of its proximity to the walls. Trueplay uses test tones to measure how the room influences the speaker and then corrects for that. After using Trueplay, we found that it always improved the sound of our Sonos speakers, helping to produce less boomy bass and a clearer midrange.
The Sonos app is well designed and runs on iOS, Android, Windows, and macOS. From the app you can control all of the speakers or zones, group them in any combination, adjust the volume of each individual speaker (even if they’re grouped), find music, create playlists, mark your favorites, and more. The speakers themselves offer very few controls—only volume and a play/pause button in most cases. The app handles the rest. It also makes setting up and configuring a system very easy no matter how technically inclined you are.
Having access to your favorite music is the most important feature of a multiroom wireless speaker system, and the Sonos system continues to lead the way in that regard. Currently, it offers support for over 130 streaming services, although not all of them are available worldwide; many other systems offer a half dozen or fewer. The major ones are here, including Amazon, Google Play, Pandora, Spotify, and even Apple Music—as are social services such as Bandcamp, Mixcloud, and SoundCloud. You’ll also find more niche services such as Concert Vault, Murfie, 7digital, Tidal, and Qobuz. You can play back your local music library (with some limitations for iOS users) and subscribe to podcasts, too. Sonos also features its own Radio app, which combines the core functionality of TuneIn and iHeartRadio and offers access to more than 60,000 stations from around the globe. No matter how or where you get your music, the odds are good that Sonos will support it.
With access to so many music services, being able to find what you want to listen to is also important. Sonos gives you direct access to all of the supported streaming services through a single app for your computer or smartphone; many other systems make you use the individual app for each service. Sonos’s unified service approach lets you search across every service you subscribe to, which makes it easy to find the music you want to listen to.
Because some people prefer to use native streaming service apps, such as those for Spotify and Apple Music, Sonos is starting to make its speakers compatible with those. Using the Spotify app or Apple Music, you can send music directly to a Sonos speaker, just as you would with a Spotify Connect speaker or the Apple HomePod, respectively. Sonos has said that this compatibility will be available for more services in the future but has not provided a timeline or named specific services.
Sonos’s unified service approach lets you search across every service you subscribe to.
The Sonos One is almost identical in form and sound to the original Sonos Play:1 but allows any Sonos system to become Alexa or Google Assistant enabled. You can now ask the Sonos One to play music or to turn off a smart light, just as you can with any Amazon Echo or Google Home speaker. Any Alexa device on your system (such as a standard Echo or a Dot) can initiate a music stream to any other Sonos or Alexa device on your system—whether to an individual speaker or to a group. Using voice this way takes some getting used to, and it has some drawbacks that we detail in our standalone review of the Sonos One. It’s really powerful and useful once you get the hang of it, but if voice control is your main consideration, you may be better off with an Amazon Echo system for now, for reasons we’ll discuss in further detail below.
In spring 2022, Sonos also introduced its own voice control feature, which—unlike Amazon and Google’s digital voice assistants—is purely tailored to music playback and multiroom audio control. It may not seem intuitively obvious why Sonos chose to develop its own voice control system when many of its products are already compatible with other digital voice assistants. But with its own in-house voice control platform—which is compatible with the Sonos One (Gen 2), Roam, Move, and Beam (Gen 2)—Sonos seems to be attempting to appeal to consumers who might have reservations about using Alexa or Google Assistant.
The first major advantage of Sonos Voice Control is that it doesn’t record your voice and upload it to the cloud for processing. That reportedly gives the service a leg up in terms of privacy, and removes some concerns about false-positive wake-word recognition. It also theoretically gives Sonos a responsiveness advantage, since all voice commands are processed locally by your Sonos speakers themselves. Theoretically, voice commands should be processed nearly instantaneously, and perhaps at some point they will be. But in our preliminary testing, we found that there’s still a perceptible lag between when you say the request and when it happens.
The second selling point is that Sonos Voice Control is designed for music and multiroom audio control only, not for operating your lights or playing Jeopardy J6 or counting down the days until Halloween or telling you what time it is in Guadalajara—although it will tell you what your local time is if you simply ask, “Hey Sonos, what time is it?” Since Sonos isn’t trying to sell you audiobooks or remind you to reorder your shampoo, you’ll find that your music is interrupted by intrusions much less frequently, and although it takes a bit of time to get used to the lack of audible feedback when a voice command is received and processed (it doesn’t “doop” the way Alexa can when its wake word is recognized, for example), interacting with Sonos Voice Control can feel more conversational. It certainly doesn't hurt that the system sports the voice of actor Giancarlo Esposito, whom many will recognize due to his work on Breaking Bad, Better Call Saul, and The Mandalorian.
The conversational aspect is aided by the fact that the system responds quite well to naturalistic speech and doesn’t require you to memorize very rigid syntax in order to make it work, as Alexa and Google Assistant did in their early days. Any combination of words that the average person would understand to mean “turn up the volume” is also recognized as meaning such by Sonos. Even after a mere few minutes with the system, it didn’t even occur to me to look up specific voice commands to send the music I was listening to on the Sonos One in the living room to the Sonos Five in the front bath. I simply said, “Hey Sonos, play this song in the bathroom, too.” I was almost surprised that it worked that easily.
For now, Sonos Voice Control works with Sonos Radio, Apple Music, Amazon Music, Deezer, and Pandora. Sonos says that support for more services is on the way, but there’s no indication as to when services like Spotify, Tidal, and Qobuz will be controllable via voice commands.
The limited number of services compatible with Sonos Voice Control is one of its biggest downsides, but how much of a downside it is will largely depend on whether or not your preferred music service is supported.
The problems created by trying to use Sonos Voice Control when you don’t subscribe to the supported services aren’t immediately obvious or easy to figure out. For example, if you primarily rely on Spotify, Qobuz, or Tidal for your music listening and you find yourself in the mood for Cake—the song “Comfort Eagle,” perhaps—Mr. Esposito will respond to a request for that song as if you asked for the square root of -1. As it turns out, Cake’s library is only available on Amazon Music Unlimited, not Amazon Music Prime, which is the sort of thing you would notice when using Sonos’ in-app universal search, but it’s not clear at all when using the Sonos Voice Control function. If the system told you, “I’m sorry, that song isn’t available on any of the supported music services,” it might be a little easier to figure that sort of thing out.
Complicating things is the fact that Sonos Voice Control sometimes simply doesn’t understand what you’re asking for no matter how clearly you speak. Ask for Joanna Newsom’s Ys (which rhymes with “lease”), and the system responds that it can’t find Joanna Newsom’s Peace. And the voice-recognition system has a bias for traditional western-sounding names, often struggling to understand requests for artists whose names don’t conform to such standards. After multiple voice requests to play something—anything—by Thao Nguyen, the closest Sonos Voice Control got was some songs by The Well.
Another potential concern for Google aficionados is that turning on Sonos Voice Control disables Google Assistant. Oddly, though, you can run Sonos Voice Control and Amazon Alexa in parallel, although doing so results in some occasional weirdness and confusion. If you start playing a track or a radio channel with Sonos Voice Control, Alexa doesn’t recognize this and hasn’t a clue what you mean when you ask her to pause or skip tracks. So you have to remember which virtual personality you last spoke with.
As we detail in our standalone review of the Sonos One, there are other significant limitations in the way Amazon Alexa is implemented on Sonos devices (including the One, Arc, Beam, and Move). This is a moving target, as the functionality is regularly updated, but as of this writing the most frustrating quirk is still the fact that the volume of Amazon’s digital voice assistant cannot be adjusted relative to the volume of the speaker itself. And it desperately needs this functionality, since Alexa is simply way too loud by comparison.
Thankfully, Sonos speakers with Alexa built in do support the Whisper Mode feature found on standalone Amazon Echo speakers, which helps a little. Whisper Mode means that, if you whisper a question or command to Alexa, it whispers to you in response. But that’s not a wholly satisfying workaround, and it’s no replacement for being able to independently control the volume of Alexa relative to the volume of the Sonos speaker.
Sonos speakers with Alexa built in also have some other voice-control shortcomings when compared with proper Echo devices. For example, Sonos doesn’t support Alexa Routines that include audio actions (Routines are customizable features that can execute multiple actions from one voice command). We wouldn’t normally focus on such smart-home functionality in a guide about wireless music systems, but since this deficiency specifically relates to audio playback, it’s relevant.
Consider one of the Routines that my wife and I use most frequently: As we’re going to bed, we say “Good night” to the Echo Studio in our bedroom. This command turns off most of the lights in the house, adjusts the temperature on our Ecobee thermostat, and then starts playing the album Thunderstorm (Sounds of Nature) to lull us to sleep. Since playing a song or album is an audio action, the Sonos One will not perform that Routine. That’s one reason why we recommend using a dedicated Echo device for more advanced voice control, at least until Sonos Voice Control matures a bit.
Sonos also has other quirks that are unrelated to voice control: Until recently, Sonos’s soundbars lacked the ability to directly decode DTS audio, which is a common audio format on DVD, Blu-ray, and Ultra-HD discs. As a result, users had to set up their disc players or other sources to convert DTS soundtracks to a different format before sending the audio to the soundbar. In November 2021, Sonos released a software update to finally add DTS audio decoding to the Arc, Beam, Playbase, and older Playbar (and the Sonos Amp, which has HDMI ARC)—but this decoding support only includes the standard DTS surround format, not the higher-quality DTS-HD and DTS:X formats. This doesn’t affect multiroom music playback, but it’s worth noting for those who’ve built a Sonos surround sound system.
The only Sonos devices that offer Bluetooth audio support are the portable Move and Roam. If a streaming service is missing, getting it onto your Sonos devices without using AirPlay is difficult. A few Sonos models, including the Five, Amp, and Port, have analog inputs, which allow you to add a Bluetooth receiver if you’d like. But that eats up an analog input that could probably be put to better use, and it isn’t nearly as simple as having a unit with Bluetooth built in.
On a related note, we would like to see a cheaper way to add a line input for hooking up a Bluetooth receiver, record player, or other device. Currently, your only options are the $450 Port, the $500 Five, or the $650 Amp.
Many Sonos models are also stuck on the standard 2.4 GHz band unless you buy the company’s optional bridge, which creates its own Wi-Fi network. If you live in a standalone home, using 2.4 GHz is a good choice, as it provides better range. If you live in an apartment or condo, the large number of 2.4 GHz routers in such a building can make those signals less reliable than 5 GHz, and the added range isn’t important. Support for both frequency bands would be better across the entire lineup, but for now, only the One (Gen2), One SL, Five, Move, Roam, Port, and Sub support an 802.11a or 802.11n 5 GHz connection. The Amp, Arc, and Beam support 802.11n 2.4GHz only.
Many of Sonos’s strengths come from the fact that it is a closed system, but this is also a weakness. Hardware from any other company won’t work with it, and if Sonos were to cease to exist as a company, you might find yourself with a bunch of very expensive bricks. We don’t expect Sonos to vanish anytime soon, but we do consider such a possibility to be a drawback for many of the other proprietary systems we didn’t pick, because if their manufacturers give up on them, you might be left with a system that’s either non-functioning or unable to be updated.
Lastly, Sonos made some serious PR missteps in early 2020, when it announced that the original Play:5, Connect, Connect:Amp, and Bridge, along with the original Zone Player and the CR200 wireless controller, would no longer receive feature updates after May 2020. These models were released between 2005 and 2011, so it’s not surprising that they’re no longer receiving new features, but the company didn’t clearly articulate the news, which created a lot of confusion. All of these models still work, and they will continue to receive bug fixes and security updates for as long as possible, but they are no longer receiving new functionality. Connect and Connect: Amp models manufactured after 2015 still get updates, as do Play:5 v2 units.
Unfortunately, if your system consists of a mix of newer and older models, the new models also won’t receive updates because updating the new models would remove compatibility with the older ones. The solution to this problem amounts to creating two separate Sonos systems, with older devices controlled by the original Sonos app and newer devices controlled by the new S2 app. With such a split system, only devices within the S1 system can be grouped together, and likewise only S2 devices can be grouped together. In other words, grouping S1 devices and S2 devices together to create a truly whole-home wireless music system is no longer possible.
In August 2017, Sonos established a privacy statement outlining the data it collects from customers’ systems. The data includes customers’ Wi-Fi signal strength, IP address, music services, product use history, names of products or rooms, and other functional data. Sonos says it uses this information to keep the products functioning and to improve service; the company also says that it never sells the data, although it may share some data with third-party vendors, music services, and voice services.
Some customers take issue with the fact that, if you don’t agree to the policy, there’s a chance that your Sonos devices will cease to operate over time because they will stop receiving software updates. However, you can still opt out of some data collection even if you agree to the policy. In addition, Sonos notes that it does not collect recordings of your voice.
When news of this policy came out, it seemed alarming. But we believe it’s in line with the data-collection policies associated with many other companies, including the makers of smart TVs, media streamers, and nearly any other online device. To help clarify its new privacy statement, Sonos published this blog post outlining what data it collects and why.
The fourth-generation Amazon Echo is a significant departure from earlier generations in terms of sound quality and design, and the native Alexa support allows for more advanced voice control.
If you want to add immersive 3D audio playback capabilities to your multiroom wireless music system, the Echo Studio is the easiest and most affordable way to do so.
If a Sonos system costs a little more than you’re willing to spend, or if you value advanced voice-control functionality more than pitch-perfect sound fidelity, we also really like Amazon’s Echo ecosystem as an alternative. The Echo family isn’t as diverse as Sonos’s offerings, but it does include a couple of good-sounding speakers: the Amazon Echo (4th Gen) and the Echo Studio, both of which also support Bluetooth. Amazon’s multiroom music platform isn’t as robust and intuitive as Sonos’s, but it continues to improve, and you can use more precise, nuanced voice control.
At $100, the standard Echo (4th Gen) is $80 less than Sonos’s cheapest speaker (the One SL), and although it doesn’t sound as good—the bass isn’t as dynamic, high frequencies aren’t quite as sparkling and its upper bass/lower midrange is somewhat boomy and uneven by comparison—it still sounds quite good for the price. It’s a noticeable improvement in the sound quality over the 3rd Gen unit.
The 4th Gen Echo boasts a radical redesign compared with its older siblings. Instead of the cylindrical form factor we’ve come to associate with Amazon’s smart speakers, the new model has a spherical design and has been upgraded to include two 0.8-inch (20 mm) tweeters instead of one. Its 3-inch (76.2 mm) woofer is also placed at the top of the speaker instead of the bottom. The upside of the dual tweeters is that the new Echo delivers a reasonably effective stereo effect. The downside is that the Echo is now a more directional device than the previous iterations. What this means is that if you install your speaker in the center of a room (say, on a coffee table) or between two rooms (e.g., on a counter between a semi-open kitchen and family room), the sound quality of the speaker, as well as the stereo effect, shifts depending on where you’re standing or sitting.
For $200—the same price as the Sonos One—you might instead opt for the Echo Studio, which features a front-firing 1-inch tweeter, two side-firing and one upward-firing 2-inch midrange drivers, and a 5.25-inch down-firing woofer. The result is much beefier bass than you can get from the standard Echo, but even the much larger Echo Studio doesn’t quite beat the Sonos One in terms of balanced, neutral sound, nor can it match the sheer output of the Sonos Five. But it does have one trick up its sleeve that no other compact speaker in our roundup can claim: Dolby Atmos capabilities to add a more immersive height effect to the sound.
The Echo Studio doesn’t support direct streaming of Atmos-mixed music from Tidal, but it does support a reasonably large library of 3D-audio tracks available on Amazon Music HD mastered in both Dolby Atmos and Sony’s 360 Reality Audio spatial audio codec. The Echo Studio can also upmix stereo music into a simulation of 3D audio. Although the quality of this upmixing has drastically improved since the Echo Studio’s release, it can still be a little inconsistent with some music, especially some of the radical stereo mixes of the 1960s, like The Jimi Hendrix Experience’s “The Wind Cries Mary.” This is somewhat less of a problem if you pair two Studio speakers in a stereo group. But in our long-term testing, we’ve found that maintaining the stereo pairing of two Studio speakers can be frustrating and inconsistent, so we can’t recommend it.
The Echo Studio also has a feature similar to Sonos’s Trueplay called Automatic Room Adaptation, which according to Amazon “analyzes the acoustics of the room and continuously adjusts audio filters during music playback to optimize sound output regardless of placement.” Unlike Trueplay, this feature doesn’t require you to use your mobile device to measure the sound of a series of test tones. Instead, the Echo Studio listens to itself while it plays music and makes tweaks to the sound over time. The speaker runs through a setup process for room calibration upon initial setup, but there’s no easy way to rerun that calibration should you move your speaker from one room to another, short of resetting the device and going through setup again. But since the process is constantly running as long as the device’s mics aren’t muted, this shouldn’t be necessary. Just let it play, and it will adapt itself to the new room over time.
The Echo, Echo Dot, and Echo Studio are compatible with the Echo Sub if you need more bass. But the subwoofer’s functionality is somewhat limited, and reviews have been mixed, so we can’t really recommend it.
One potential advantage that the Amazon Echo lineup has over Sonos speakers is two-way Bluetooth support. You can connect your phone or tablet to your Echo or Echo Studio and send audio directly to the speaker, or you can pair an Echo device with a bigger Bluetooth speaker for improved sonic performance. The Echo and Echo Studio can also pair wirelessly with Amazon’s Fire TV streaming media players, and a combination of the Echo Studio and Fire TV gives you Atmos audio playback capabilities for movies as well as music.
When Amazon added multiroom music streaming to the Echo lineup in 2017, it was in a severely limited capacity. Back then, if any of your Echo devices was connected to a Bluetooth speaker, that connection would drop when you initiated multiroom playback. And none of the Echo speakers available at the time sounded good enough on their own to justify their use as your main music system. But in the years since, the audio fidelity of Echo speakers has improved, and the multiroom functionality has gotten steadily better. Bluetooth connectivity is now supported, so if you have an Echo Dot paired with, say, a Monoprice Soundstage3 in your home office, that duo can sync up with the rest of your Echo devices just fine.
Alexa doesn’t support nearly as many music services as Sonos (in the US, it’s mainly limited to the best-known apps such as Amazon Music, Apple Music, Apple Podcasts, Deezer, iHeartRadio, Pandora, SiriusXM, Spotify, Tidal, TuneIn, and Vevo), although any music service it does support is controllable via voice—something Sonos can’t claim. What’s more, creating groups of Echo speakers isn’t quite as intuitive via the Alexa app as grouping is with Sonos. But it’s not too difficult.
The only major frustration of using Alexa as your primary multiroom music platform is that adding or removing individual speakers during playback isn’t supported. So, for example, if you’re listening to a podcast or audiobook in the bedroom and want to add your living room and kitchen speakers to the stream in real time, that’s currently not possible.
If you have your Echo speakers configured to control your smart-home devices, you can also create Routines that include music and home-automation tasks such as lighting levels and thermostat settings. You can launch these Routines with a short verbal command that you can name anything you’d like, such as “Alexa, good night” or “Alexa, bath time.” One of the shortcomings of the Alexa support built into some Sonos speakers is that they do not initiate any Routines that include an audio action, so this capability is a big bonus of native Echo devices.
In other respects, Alexa and Sonos get along quite well. You can, within the Alexa app, create speaker groups of Sonos speakers, but you cannot include Sonos speakers and Echo speakers together in the same group. However, you can select a Sonos speaker as the preferred speaker for any Echo device. For instance, if you want voice commands, alerts, timers, and reminders to come out of the Echo Dot by the kitchen sink, but you want any music that Dot plays to come out of the Sonos Five sitting atop the refrigerator, it’s simple to configure.
As such, the “best of both worlds” multiroom music system is a combination of Amazon Echo and Sonos devices—the former in rooms where voice-assistant functionality is more important (or where you don’t want Alexa yelling at you) and the latter in rooms where audio quality is the top priority. But this arrangement does complicate day-to-day use a bit, so if you value simplicity, your best bet is to pick one or the other for all of your multiroom music streaming needs.
In 2021, Amazon introduced a new feature of its Echo devices known as Sidewalk, a private, low-bandwidth connection between devices, even if they’re not on the same home network. This means that if both you and your neighbor have Sidewalk enabled, you might be using a bit of their internet connection and they might be using a bit of yours. Overall, we’re not happy about the fact that Amazon chose to make this service opt-out, rather than opt-in, but other than that, we’re not as concerned as other outlets are. You can read more about our stance on Sidewalk, and get more details about how it works, here.
Given that Apple AirPlay 2 is a relatively open ecosystem, it has a lot going for it. You can easily mix and match speakers from a number of different manufacturers, including Sonos, Amazon, Bowers & Wilkins, Naim, and (of course) Apple’s own HomePod mini smart wireless speaker. Many mass-market AV receivers and even many TVs also feature AirPlay 2 connectivity. Add in Siri voice control, and the overall flexibility of the platform is hard to deny. The downside is that relying on AirPlay 2 for all of your multiroom music mostly anchors you to iOS as a mobile platform, so if you ever sour on Apple and decide to switch to Android or some other mobile operating system, you’ll mostly be left with a collection of disconnected speakers or sound systems. Grouping AirPlay 2 speakers via HomeKit isn’t as intuitive as it is with Sonos or Amazon, either. If you’re using your iPhone to control your music playback, as most people are likely to do, there are some frustrating limitations. For one thing, if you want to add or remove speakers from playback or adjust the volume of individual speakers, you need to do so via a widget found in the iOS Control Center. This wouldn’t be a problem, except for the fact that the speaker-selection and volume-control widget occupies less than a quarter of your total screen real estate, meaning you can see only four connected devices at a time. In other words, it involves a lot of unnecessary scrolling and (for those of us old enough to remember when “airplay” was broadcast-radio lingo) a good bit of squinting.
We previously had the Chromecast Audio platform as a pick for anyone who wanted an inexpensive multiroom wireless option, because you could get in the door with just the $35 audio dongle. However, Google has discontinued that dongle, so now you must buy other devices (speakers, soundbars, smart speakers, and the like) with Chromecast built in. Overall, we prefer Sonos as a complete system: With Chromecast, you can’t do 5.1 surround sound, it lacks room correction like Trueplay, it doesn’t support Alexa (which is not surprising), and grouping rooms is more complex since you have to start playback from an app and then switch to the Google Home app and merge it there. Sonos also lets you control every source from a single app or, in many cases, allows you to use the individual app, whereas Chromecast still works only through individual apps. Google has introduced the new Nest Audio smart speaker ($100) to replace the Google Home. There’s a lot that we like about the new speaker, including its improved sound quality, its pairing capabilities, and for the purposes of this guide, its enhancements in terms of voice-based multiroom audio control. In that respect, it’s about even with the Echo system. It’s easy to create speaker groups in the app, and sending music to groups requires easy-to-remember commands (“play Ramones in Whole House”), but you can’t switch music to different groups once you’ve started or play different music from the same service on different speakers, as you can with Sonos. Among smart speakers, we prefer Amazon’s ecosystem and its diversity of product offerings. That said, if you’re already invested in Google Assistant, there’s nothing about the Nest Audio that would make us recommend avoiding it. We just like Echo a little better overall.
The Marshall Multi-Room system is based on the company’s line of Bluetooth speakers, which we really like, but the whole-home system functions more like a Bluetooth speaker than a fully integrated system. You stream to the speakers via AirPlay, Bluetooth, or Chromecast, not through an integrated app that unites all the services in one place. You need to load the Marshall setup app to send audio to multiple rooms or join speakers into a group. We like the retro styling of the Marshall speakers, but the system lacks the complete integration that other whole-home audio systems offer.
Bose SoundTouch models offer presets on the device, giving you fast access to your favorite internet radio stations or playlists. Right now they support Apple Music, Pandora, and Spotify, along with a handful of other streaming services, but they don’t support Google Play Music.
DTS Play-Fi is another open standard that is supported by a number of vendors, including Anthem, Onkyo, Paradigm, and Pioneer. It supports 5.1-channel surround sound using wireless speakers, and it covers a wide selection of devices. Unfortunately, it still offers support for only around a dozen music services and doesn’t support Apple Music or Google Play Music, nor is it capable of gapless playback.
Denon’s HEOS system offers a number of different speakers in a variety of sizes, and Denon has built HEOS into all of its new receivers, as well. But at this point no other companies—aside from Marantz, which is part of Denon’s parent company—have adopted HEOS. The lack of Apple Music support makes this system easy to pass up for now.
Yamaha MusicCast is currently only in Yamaha devices, including soundbars, speakers, and receivers. It supports Pandora and Spotify but not Amazon, Apple Music, or Google Play. It supports AirPlay and Bluetooth on all its devices, but not enough services directly.
BlueSound is meant as a higher-end option and has the features to back that up. These devices include hi-res audio and MQA support, as well as a CD-ripping vault. But most people don’t need or won’t use these features, and the hardware costs almost 50% more than the comparable hardware from other companies because of all the extras.
Logitech has added multiroom support to UE Boom speakers, but they still stream the music from your phone over Bluetooth and communicate over Bluetooth, so the range is lacking.
The Naim Mu-so system looks and sounds great, and it lets you control everything from a single app, but the company’s cheapest model is still much more than most people want to pay. It might be a fantastic-sounding speaker, but it starts at a price that is too high for most people.
WiSA is an alliance that is licensing its technology to different speaker manufacturers. It operates in a different wireless band than conventional 2.4 GHz or 5 GHz Wi-Fi, making it less prone to interference. It is mostly aimed at building wireless surround-sound systems, where it can support lossless 24/96 audio with 7.1 channels, but it is starting to add multiple zones for multiroom wireless speakers. Unfortunately, it’s not a complete system approach and thus not a true competitor in this arena.
The UE Wonderboom 3 is the all-around best portable Bluetooth speaker because it sounds good and looks cool, and it’s the most rugged model we’ve tested.
Klipsch’s The One II Bluetooth speaker is a great way to get full, satisfying sound in the home with no need for complicated setup or special apps.
Stylish design and great sound make the Polk Signature Elite ES15, ES10, and ES30 combo our pick for the best surround-sound system.
The Q Acoustics 3020i is our favorite pair of passive bookshelf speakers, while the Edifier S1000MKII is a great choice if you need a powered speaker set.
For powerful, precise bass in stereo and home theater systems, the best subwoofer is the affordable and compact Rogersound Labs Speedwoofer 10S MKII.
The Monoprice SW-12 is the all-around best budget subwoofer because of its class-leading power and clear, tuneful sound.
The Polk MagniFi Mini AX is the all-around best soundbar because of its big, immersive sound, small footprint, affordable cost, and easy operation.
Roku’s new Wireless TV Speakers are impressively easy to set up, and they sound pretty good—but they’re not right for everyone.
Apple’s HomePod sounds excellent, but its Apple-centric design can feel limited next to other smart speakers.
The Google Nest line of smart speakers makes it easy to access music, audio, trivia, and in some cases video, all by voice commands to Google Assistant.
Dennis Burger
Wirecutter is the product recommendation service from The New York Times. Our journalists combine independent research with (occasionally) over-the-top testing so you can make quick and confident buying decisions. Whether it’s finding great products or discovering helpful advice, we’ll help you get it right (the first time).
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