Multi-room audio is set to be the next battleground for audio fanatics, as Samsung attempts to steal the crown from industry leader Sonos, which has long had a hold on the area it practically got people interested in the first place. Can Samsung manage to best Sonos on the first go?
Curious about sound throughout your home? You’re not the only one, and for Samsung’s first product in the field, the company isn’t holding back, releasing two speakers and a hub to expand the system in your home.
In this review, we’re looking at the M7, Samsung’s bigger speaker of the two available, featuring two 19 mm tweeters, two 56mm mid-range speakers, and one 4 inch woofer, with all of this lending itself to the plastic chassis and making the entire thing weigh in at just under 4 kilograms, or more accurately 3.8kg.
Connecting to the speaker can be handled through Bluetooth, WiFi 802.11b/g/n, and there’s even support for Ethernet, too, if you prefer the stability of wired networking. Support for Near-Field Communication (NFC) is also present, a technology that will help start a Bluetooth connection for supported devices, making the connection just that much easier for Android and Windows Phone products.
A network connection will be needed for that multi-room audio, and if you have files on your network, this will read them too, able to play AAC, MP3, WAV, OGG, WMA, and even FLAC, though that last one can only handle up to 16-bit 44.1KHz files, leaving high-res audio mostly out of the picture.
If you already have an audio source, however, you can patch this in using the 3.5mm headset jack.
The Samsung M7 can be found in black or white, and can be expanded across the house using a Samsung Multi-room Hub, which is available as an optional extra, but isn’t needed to operate the M7 by itself.
Apps for the Samsung Multi-room setup exist for iOS, Android, Windows, and Mac OS X.
Sonos may have pioneered the concept of multi-room audio, but it’s not the only company to take it on, and now that we all have smart devices that we carry around with us, it’s time to see another company enter the multi-room audio arena.
In case you’ve never heard of the concept before, it’s pretty simple: speakers all throughout your home that synchronise music and music services, to play audio in multiple rooms of your house at the same time.
In essence, the idea is that as you walk through your home, the music you’re listening to will follow you, playing out of the speaker in your living room, kitchen, bathroom, and back to your bedroom. If you so choose, you can change the music on a speaker by speaker basis, grouping the various speakers so they play different things, controlling them as you choose.
As we mentioned before, audio company Sonos practically pioneered the concept with its “Play” series of speakers which exist in a few types, and now Samsung is giving this a good and solid thwack to see what it can do to this area.
It’s worth noting that if you have a Sonos system already, the Samsung system is not compatible, as they work on completely different systems, though are based on similar technology, as we understand the Hub — which can expand a Samsung Multi-room speaker system — works by creating a mesh network similar to what the Sonos does.
That said, it is different, and to get started with the one speaker, the M7 in this case, you simply plug it in.
Before you do, you’ll have to pick it up and take it out of the box, and when you do, you’ll find a relatively weighty product, though one that doesn’t feel as durable as you might expect.
It’s good looking, that much we’ll attest to, with a repeating pattern over the grill and a clear top with only a smattering of controls, very few in number. For the most part, it’s clear, however, and will blend into most environments.
Is it a little plasticky, however, and picks up on fingerprints so easily, so if you’re setting it up for the first time in your home, don’t be surprised if you have to rub the glossy surface down with a micro-fibre hand towel, removing your fingerprints in the process.
That will no doubt happen as you’re deciding whether the M7 should lie down — how it comes in the box — or stand up, which it can do if you replace the back plastic on the corner with the stand option, and this even makes the speaker appear more compact, making it look more like a vertical speaker you might have in your home.
Once you decide, then you can plug it in, threading any necessary cords — the power, included — through the holes at the back of the replaceable plastic corner section. When this is done, plug it in and start setting the speaker up.
Now you may have a different experience to us, but we found the wireless setup was a little hit and miss. Technically, it should just be as simple as switch the speaker on and start the pairing process, linking the speaker up with your network by using Samsung’s Multi-room smartphone software, but our complicated network proved fiddly, forcing us to connect it via an Ethernet cable, which linked the Samsung speaker immediately.
Depending on your setup, one of these will work quickly, and once you’re done — and have installed the almost immediately required update — you’re ready to go, using the application to stream music directly from your phone, your network devices, or from one of the few streaming services available to you.
Those streaming services are small in number, with Deezer, Pandora, 8tracks, Rdio, and Spotify available to you, as well as TuneIn for radio, and any music tracks available on your device or network.
Setting up Bluetooth is even easier, and if you have NFC on your device, simply bump the two products together to start the Near-Field handshake, connecting the two and making the handset and speaker talk to each other quickly.
Credit to Samsung where it’s due, and even though the idea of multi-room sound is new to the company, it’s clear that some of Samsung’s top work on previous speakers and sound bars has been put to use here.
Tested with some of the tracks in our headphone test, we were quite ecstatic to hear clear and balanced music across most of the selections.
We started with rock, and in Muse’s “Uprising” and “Supremacy” tracks, the mids and highs from the vocals and instruments sang out over the oomph of the bass drum and accompanied bass guitar, each giving the room a good pounding as the music pushed hard.
More modern rock from Australia’s Closure in Moscow with “A Night In The Spleen” showed solid guitars and vocal lines, with obvious percussion behind the track, while classic rock edged towards the highs and mids, too, showing a bright response in “Gimme Shelter” from The Rolling Stones.
Over to some electronica, the Pretty Lights remix of “Solar Sailer” from “Tron: Legacy” (a new addition to our playlist) showed the bass was just as solid in synthetic music as that created with real instruments, with the volume pretty loud for our liking at under half the volume, which was also good to see.
Our staple electronic track — Mooro’s “M66R6” — was strong in treble, with the highs and mids given a good work out throughout this track.
Pop has a similar response, noticed in Laura Mvula’s mostly high-driven “Green Garden” and the smooth mids of Pharrell’s “Happy” from the “Despicable Me 2” soundtrack, while light rock leading into jazz (we’ll get to the full length of jazz next) from Dave Matthews Band with “Crush” supports similar balance. We do need to note that the bass was still noticeable, but wasn’t as pronounced in these tracks, where the emphasis was less pushed out than the artificially induced pieces of music.
Jazz was a little less balanced, mostly due to the differences in subtle versus strong bass, but there was always strong detail and recreation, and bright sound, with a lot of volume providing a stage that gives off the impression that you’re listening to a bigger speaker than what is sitting on your desk or shelf, and that’s a good thing.
Dave Brubeck’s “Maria” showed the M7’s strength in the highs of the piano, while the bass of the drums and double bass was still noticeable, though not quite as obvious as the highs creeping out on top. Balance was much the same in John Coltrane’s “Blue Train” where the tonality of instruments is very different, with the mids and highs of the brass and woodwinds coming out over the top of the bass, which is more subtle in jazz than it is in rock, pop, and electronic musics.
Likewise, classical was delicate and entrancing for us, as a take of Chopin’s “Fantasie Impromptu” from Freddy Kempf allowed us to hear not just the quick key strokes from the pianist in this speedy piece, but also the movement from the wood below, with reasonable balance from this mostly bright piece of music. Nigel Kennedy’s take on Satie’s “Gymnopedie” emphasised the highs too, likely because of the lead violin.
Good to know was that the sound quality wasn’t dramatically different when the speaker was stood upright or lying down, and that’s a good thing, too, as you have the option of making the M7 stand up or sit down.
Samsung’s app, though, is nowhere near as good as the sound coming out of the speaker, and it’s here that you can’t help but feel the company needs to put more effort in for development.
The layout is clunky and comes off feeling weak in the design department, with four tabs for music coming from your phone, TuneIn radio, other services, or other devices around you.
While we understand the layout, it doesn’t feel anywhere near as clean or large as what Sonos provides for its comparative app, which this competes directly against.
Likewise, some music playback options are also missing in action, with Google Play Music one of these omissions. That’s surprising, especially since so many Android phones rely on Google’s own music service to play back their music.
Unfortunately, if you use Google Play Music, the only way you’ll be running music through this speaker is through Bluetooth, and that’s pretty much the same problem Apple’s iTunes Radio has, which is missing in action on this app, as well.
While the nearest competitor offers access through the app to listen to Google Play Music, Spotify, Pandora, Rdio, Deezer, 8tracks, JB HiFi Now Music, Stitcher, TuneIn, Concert Vault, Songl, Shuffler.FM, Rara, Songza, and plenty of others, the Samsung app offers far less and closer to barely a quarter of these — Pandora, Spotify, Deezer, 8tracks, TuneIn and Rdio — even omitting Samsung’s own Music Hub service from the list, which is still being used in Australia, and a strange one to leave out since it is Samsung’s music streaming service.
With the level of sound technology inside the M7, it feels like Samsung is going for the jugular of the Sonos Play:5, a speaker that has some serious audio cred and is made by one of the better multi-room audio brands out there, and one that helped to pioneer an area that Samsung is trying to get in on.
Price wise, Samsung is competing with about a hundred dollar difference, and your wallet will likely prefer the outlook with Samsung’s less expensive speaker, but as for quality, well, that remains to be seen.
Both offer solid sound, but Sonos appears to have the better app at this point, with much easier setup across the board, and some serious differences in design, usability, and service selection.
In fact, it is quite alarming how different the two apps are, with lots of options available for playback and control on the Sonos front, while Samsung has something that feels like it left development far too early.
That will likely change as time goes on, and when it does, Samsung’s M7 — and the rest of its multi-room audio — could become a force to be reckoned with.
Right now, though, it’s the weakest part of the Samsung Multi-room formula, and unless you own some of Samsung’s other multi-room friendly speakers, we’d advise you to audition both the Sonos and Samsung multi-room products for your own ears before settling in with that wallet, because they both offer excellent sound, but only you will be able to work out if the product line-up matches your home.