Tech Roundup: Choosing a Connected Speaker in 2019
Connected speakers are the new Hi-Fi systems. All-in-one formats allow users to listen to digital audio, from streaming services to files from their own library. But in a sea of similar products with similar features, how can one make the right choice today? Follow us as we round up and compare 5 exceptional connected speakers.
The upsides to a connected speaker are undeniable. Put it down, plug it in, connect to the internet and you’re pretty much set for years of musical enjoyment. Cable management? No longer a problem. It turns out connected speakers are pretty similar to the old-timey portable radio, especially for its “plug and play” simplicity. However, the connected speaker’s extreme connectivity is a small revolution. When connected to the internet, it can access all the radios of the world, as well as millions of artists, albums and titles thanks to their integration into online music services like Qobuz. The story of connected speakers really started with Sonos. The brand is a reference in the field, but long gone are the days when it was the only player on the market. New manufacturers rushed to compete with their own connected speakers. Most of the big names in the traditional Hi-Fi industry have also turned towards this new phenomenon. This new field in home audio can no longer be ignored!
1. Sonos One: A compact connected speaker designed by the expert in the field
Caracteristics: Price: $199 Features: Amazon Alexa, Wi-Fi, Ethernet, Qobuz, Sonos multiroom and AirPlay 2
The expert in the connected speaker field has two speakers to offer: the Play:5 and the smaller One. Sonos gave the latter multiple features; the result is a great value speaker. It’s equipped with microphones for Amazon Alexa voice control, as well as Google Assistant (as of July 2nd 2019). The One is a mono speaker (duh!) with a medium sized speaker and a tweeter. The sound coming from such a small format is extremely impressive. Trueplay audio tuning allows you to calibrate your speaker to the room you’re in.
THE GOOD Dynamic sound signature, Vocal assistance, Sonos multiroom & Airplay
THE BAD No Bluetooth, No aux input, Trueplay tuning only for iPhone
2. Klipsch The Three: The best neo-retro speaker around
Caracteristics: Price: $499 Features: Wi-fi, Bluetooth, Qobuz, aux input, phono input, USB DAC audio, multiroom DTS Play-Fi, Hi-Res
Klipsch might go by this saying: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. That applies to their designs: even their connected speakers’ finishes include wood and retro cloth. That’s about as far as The Three’s retro vibe goes - it is a product of our time. Connected via Wi-Fi or Bluetooth, it also has an aux input, a phono input and a port for USB DACs. The Three is a stereo speaker with two 57mm full range drivers, completed by a 13cm woofer and two passive radiators. Klipsch clearly wanted a strong bass response with frequencies down to 45 Hz.
THE GOOD Good enough for most bassheads, Multiple inputs, Universal multiroom
THE BAD Divisive design, No Ethernet, No tweeter
3. Yamaha MusicCast 50: A multifaceted speaker for music and home theaters
Caracteristics: Price: $499.95 Features: Wi-fi N, Ethernet, Bluetooth, Qobuz, 2 aux inputs, optical input, MusicCast & AirPlay, Hi-Res
The MusicCast 50 uses Yamaha’s multiroom protocol, allowing for compatibility with dozens of other products from the brand. It has Bluetooth and three physical inputs: an Optical input, a 3.5 mm Stereo mini input, and an RCA input. All that’s missing is a USB port. It’s a heavy and wide connected speaker with two 10 cm woofers, each with their 3cm tweeters, amplified at 2x45 watts. It can also play Hi-Res files. And last but not least, it can be used as a surround speaker in a Yamaha home theater system.
THE GOOD Yamaha Multiroom & Airplay, Three different inputs, Multiple uses for music and home theater
THE BAD Shiny finish collects dust, No USB port, No Chromecast Audio
4. Bluesound Pulse Mini 2i: The best value mid-range connected speaker
Caracteristics: Price: $499 Features: Wi-fi AC, Ethernet, Bluetooth aptX HD, Qobuz, aux input, optical input, USB port, multiroom BluOS, AirPlay 2 and Roon, Hi-Res playback.
The Bluesound Pulse Mini 2i is the third of its name. Bluesound went through several iterative design phases to improve it piece by piece, settling on what is practically a perfect solution. Features are numerous, with a combined aux and optical input. Bluetooth aptX HD is bidirectional here, in the sense that you can connect your Bluetooth headphones to the wireless speaker. 100 watts of power feed a stereo setup with two 10 cm woofers and separate tweeters. When it comes to multiroom capabilities, it has BluOS, AirPlay 2 and Roon – multiple possibilities. All that’s missing is Chromecast Audio.
THE GOOD BluOS & AirPlay 2 Multiroom, Bidirectional Bluetooth, Roon Compatible
THE BAD No Chromecast audio, Combined digital and analog input, No integrated voice assistant
5. Dynaudio Music 5: Dynaudio applies its craftsmanship to a new model
Caracteristics: Price : $699 Features :Wi-fi N, Bluetooth aptX, aux input, optical input, DLNA/UPnP, Dynaudio multiroom and AirPlay, remote control, Hi-Res
The Dynaudio Music 5 is a large speaker, at 66 cm wide. It can serve as a soundbar under a TV, which is what the optical input and analog 3,5mm inputs are there for. The remote control is included, a nice detail which makes this connected speaker completely autonomous. About the speakers themselves, they are configured in 2.1 mode : two channels (one for each side, left & righ) and a central subwoofer. Each speaker is powered by 50 watts power. A DSP tunes the speaker according to how the Music 5 is positioned and ambient noise. It has AirPlay and Bluetooth aptX. The rest of its networking capabilities are somewhat limited. But luckily there is Qobuz compatibility (!)
THE GOOD 2.1 Configuration, Dedicated to high quality audio, Remote control
THE BAD No Chromecast audio, Combined digital and analog input, Limited networking capabilities
Conclusion: The market for connected speakers is getting more and more crowded as we speak. Audiophile-oriented, Hi-Res playback, Multiroom extensions, voice-control – it’s up to you to decide which possibilities you value the most. In any case, these 5 speakers are all compatible with Qobuz. That’s one feature you can’t go wrong with.