The idea of sound everywhere in the home is one that makes us happy, but sometimes you just want a speaker to send music everywhere in one room. Fortunately, Samsung is stepping up to the task with the omnidirectional R5, and it’s multiroom too.
Features and performance
The idea of sound everywhere is one that comes with many meanings. In most homes, it means individuals in various parts of the home listening to music through earphones, headphones and small speakers individually, while others have a sound system in the living room that they can all dance to.
But there’s a different way one can listen to sound everywhere, and it comes from two solutions: speakers that push the sound out to as much of the room as possible, and speakers set up all over the home that can be synchronised to talk to each other.
The latter if the very definition of multiroom sound, but 360 degree sound is another interpretation of it, and while there are products that have each, few have both inside the one package.
Samsung is giving that concept a good go in its R series speakers, rebuilding its sound and engineering team with some talent that used to be at Harman Kardon, with the outcome being a speaker that challenges your ears with a dose of audio everywhere times two.
It needs to be said that this series of speakers is Samsung’s second attempt at multiroom audio, and even from first glance, it is a much better follow-up to last year’s M series, which offered decent sound, but suffered from a slightly clumsy design and a woeful setup process that almost had us tearing what little hair we have left out.
Fortunately, setup is far easier, with an app and network joining process that isn’t quite as simple as what Sonos offers, but also isn’t far off.
Connecting to the R5, we’ll be taking things through Samsung’s Multiroom app, which relies on the wireless networking where ever you are. You’ll need WiFi to get this speaker to work over multiroom, as there is no Ethernet port.
There are other ways to talk to the R5 speaker — indeed, all of Samsung’s R-series speakers — with Bluetooth offered as well as a TV connection from compatible TVs, made by Samsung, of course — but we’re sticking with the app because of one basic reason: the R series Samsung speakers are meant to have a little more control with the app, from controlling various services to connecting up multiple Samsung speakers.
That should make the Samsung R5 more like a proper multiroom system similar to what Sonos has achieved on its platform, and we’re even looking forward to friends and family sitting on the same network and being able to control the sound with their devices, seeing the queue.
For now, we have to set up the speaker which fortunately isn’t hard. While the previous version struggled to find a wireless network and stay on it, Samsung appears to have fixed the problems in this iteration of speakers, with an app that merely looks for the lone speaker calling out for some attention and pairing it to the same network your phone or tablet is using, entering the password when it is requested.
Yes, you’ll need a phone or tablet if you want to pair the R5 to your network, but given that this is a speaker made for playing audio from a phone or tablet, this shouldn’t come as much of a surprise.
So that clears up the act of setting the speaker up, but design has also been improved, too, with less of a sloped speaker and more something that would fit in pretty much anywhere you can fit something tall, dark, and handsome.
In fact “tall, dark, and handsome” pretty much sums up the design of the R5, because it offers that in a package designed to push out the sound, and lots of it.
Under the cover of darkness — the grill, that is — Samsung has equipped a speaker relying on one 25mm tweeter and one 125mm woofer to fire sound in every direction, making it a 360 degree speaker. That’s 360 degrees around and also 360 degrees vertical, which you might want to translate into a 720 degree speaker, but let’s just call it 360 for ease of use.
Dealing with the bass, though, is a little more complicated, because bass needs to spread out and tends to want to rise up, so to deal with that, the woofer fires its bass at a small piece of plastic called an acoustic lens which shapes the sound to leave the bottom in each direction.
That gives you that slightly odd shape at the bottom just below the fuzzy grill, and this provides balanced audio in every direction.
That’s the theory, anyway, so let’s put it to the test and find out if Samsung’s R5 is more than just another omnidirectional speaker (because that’s not new) and is rather something worth having in your home.
Once the connection is good and the speaker is talking to your network, it’s time to have some words with the speaker, sending music for it to sing, and you can do this in a variety of ways.
If you’re into music services, you’ll find a few at your disposal in the Samsung app, though it’s not nearly enough for us to be happy. You’ll see Spotify, Samsung Milk, Deezer, TuneIn radio, and Pandora, but the other popular options of Apple Music and Google Play Music are both missing in action. Shame that.
Even if those services aren’t really what you’re looking for, you can send your own music the way pf the speaker, whether it’s on a network drive or the device you’re already using, and this will likely be one of the big ways the R speakers are used.
Interestingly, the Samsung R5 is compatible with lossless audio, and a fairly high-resolution grade of lossless audio at that, with support for FLAC files as high as 192kHz operating at 24-bit. This means if you’re already buying 24-bit music at the best quality you can find, Samsung’s R5 is compatible, believe it or not.
And that’s how we ended up testing the R5, using the GadgetGuy 2016 Sound Test in full FLAC, which is what we do when high-res is supported by a device.
In action, we found the audio out of the R5 to be fairly improved even from the decent quality Samsung provided in the past.
That’s the thing about Samsung audio: it hasn’t really ever been bad, but the attention to balance is more distinctly noticeable on the R5, with the general feeling that everything has more rounded out edges, at least for the most part.
The bass was always quite prominent, something we could feel in Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean” and The Who’s “Won’t Get Fooled Again”, with little lost to the strength of the highs. Instruments were detailed, and sound went everywhere, making it one of those speakers you could position on a table and be quite happy with, or even a kitchen counter, giving sound to the room and the chef working on dinner.
Tracks that are well engineered are really loved by this speaker, with Mark Ronson’s “Uptown Funk” proving itself as a solid example where all the right notes are hit, from the massive punch of the drums to the thick drop of bass, to the vocal highs of the singer and his band.
The amount of volume is also fairly impressive, with 50 points of sound, and only around 15 to 20 needed to be loud enough in the testing space of GadgetGuy. That says a lot about how much sound you’ll be able to send out in a large room, which should be good news for those of you with converted warehouse rooms.
Jazz and classical also demonstrated a slightly more delicate side of the Samsung R5, telling us that the speaker was made for music that wasn’t necessarily gimmicky, just made to sound good. In Dave Brubeck’s “Take Five” from the “Time Out” recording, each instrument was as clear and discernible as the other, and there was no fuzz or distortion in the package.
It was the song you wanted to hear with no nasty additives or problems throughout, and that was generally the same provided we played audio without too much stereo separation.
When we did, however — when we encountered audio files that relied on that directional stereo design — the Samsung R5 began to lose it in some sections, with the stereo sounding a little distant and hollow.
That wasn’t very often, mind you, and neither was a WiFi transmission problem which decided to cut out the audio altogether and send it in dribs and drabs. That’s just something you might want to be careful of, though from the way the app was struggling, it appears it might have been more an app issue than a WiFi one.
Still, it’s good to remember that you don’t just have WiFi to send your music to the R5, but Bluetooth, too. Handy.
It’s hard not to be impressed by the level of improvement Samsung has made across the board in the R5, with better design, lots of volume, and a relatively punchy sound with its own personality.
We’d be remiss in our job if we didn’t point out that Samsung’s biggest competitor in this space is Sonos, a company which literally dominates the multiroom space, which should be no surprise since Sonos practically invented the area.
That being said, Samsung’s R5 makes a solid attempt to thwart the Sonos brand, and even tries to win some points back off Sonos by undercutting its competition by a good $100, with the Samsung coming in at $649 against the Sonos Play:5 at $749.
Is the price difference worth it?
Honestly, we think it’s not bad, though Samsung could probably drop a good $50 more, seeing as there is no wired audio port, meaning you can’t send a line-in audio source to the Samsung, and you don’t have nearly as many sources, including the limited streaming services in the app.
Those two differences kind of make up for that loss of $100, though it does offer FLAC support in 24-bit, which again is something missing from Sonos, at least for the moment.
Overall, Samsung’s R5 does a commendable job in the sound department, and given that it supports multiroom, it would be a great option for people not sold on the Sonos way of doing things or who already own a compatible Samsung product or soundbar, because the R5 will work with new Samsung soundbars.