Sonos is about to be well and truly challenged in the multi-room arena as Samsung says “game on”, bringing in some audio heavy hitters to make its speakers sound bigger and better.
Where ever we go, we are dependent on sound. So much so that if you see someone on a bus or train without headphones, it’s possible that they’re either sleeping, hoping for quiet, or frustrated that they just left their pair at home and are forced to listen to everyday ambient noise instead of their own tunes.
Seriously, look around and you’ll see personal audio everywhere. If we’re travelling by ourselves, there’s a good chance that we’re listening to music most of the time.
When we go home, for many of us, it doesn’t stop. On goes the stereo, the television, the Bluetooth speaker system, playing the songs off Spotify, Google Play, or Apple Music that we love, or even tuned into the constant conversation that is radio.
At the TV level, many of us have surround sound, as it has become common, and soundbars are helping to bring that to more living rooms due to smaller products sizes, less setup, and no fuss.
But while soundbars are great for one room of the house, the current big playing field for audio isn’t just the living room, it’s every other room, and usually all at once.
Called “multiroom” audio by those in the know, these are speakers that talk to other speakers, synchronising audio and letting you hear it in every room you walk into.
Sonos practically invented this category, but some of the other players like Sony and Samsung have been pushing into it, and this week, Samsung showed off its wares for the 2015 season, just getting in there with only a couple of months to go.
Like the previous attempts by Samsung, these speakers can be controlled by an app and synced together, talking throughout your home to disperse audio.
They can be set up with alarms and they can talk to soundbars, so if you decide to get an ice cream while you’re rewatching “Star Wars”, you can still hear the audio throughout the house as you walk towards the kitchen and back. No need to stop the movie until you get back.
They offer Bluetooth support and the ability to play back 24-bit 192kHz audio, but really, the constant connection to other speakers is one of the main reasons new wireless speakers are built, and engineering this constant connection is only one part of the equation, because good sound has to be built by people who understand it.
Samsung has never had a big problem in sound, mind you, but it has been clear in the past few years that the company was on a warpath to take down other players.
We started seeing a change in the company when it began to accomodate older styles of technology — the vacuum tube, for instance, though it was mostly there for looks — and that kind of signalled that it wasn’t going to be all about digital perfection for the company, as it looked to new ways to recreate audio for the general public.
In fact, since that product, there have definitely been some interesting products to come out of Samsung’s research, including the omni-direction almost Portal-turret inspired speakers launches at CES earlier in the year.
Those models were the R6 and R7 (above), and Australia will be seeing them, but this week, the attention is on three new models consisting of this research thrown into small, medium, and large-sized omni-directional speakers.
These speakers — the R1, R3, and R5 — follow that logic of small, medium, and large to the T, relying on 360 degree omni-directional sound that doesn’t technically just travel across the 360 degree plane, but technically works across 360 in each axis, horizontal and vertical, essentially making it a 720 degree speaker when all is said and done.
From a marketing point of view, we suspect most people will understand the whole “360” side of things more than “720”, but the more important point is how Samsung gets this to work, and it does so by firing the sound up and down inside the speaker against acoustic lenses which shape the sound and allow it to disperse in an even spread.
In theory, that means where ever you stand, you should get the same sort of sound, though distance can and will affect volume, as it often does. In practice, it’s not far off, and we found from our initial tests that a solid and clear sound was heard regardless of where we were standing from the R5 speaker we were near.
To get to this point, Samsung’s lead audio engineer — Allan Devantier — has brought together a team of experts, many of whom come from the place he used to work at, Harman International, responsible for the likes of Harman Kardon and JBL, among others.
Since bringing on Devantier, Samsung has shown that audio isn’t just a passing fancy for the company, going so far as to build two anechoic chambers for testing sound, a technical term for “a room without echo”, which has allowed the company to engineer speakers to sound clear from every point.
“When I joined Samsung, the goal was to build a state of the art lab,” said Devantier in an interview with GadgetGuy. “When you give audio engineers good anechoic chambers and good listening rooms, it’s like creating a little playground for them.”
This playground has allowed Devantier’s team to push past just another product lab, with a goal of making audio sound good in every direction, which was the focus for the R series of products.
“It’s that idea of really great sound everywhere in the room,” said Devantier. “I think what we’re going towards is good sound for everyone [and] sound everywhere.”
Devantier did say that Samsung’s R products aren’t technically audiophile products, but even with that caveat, has said that the engineering of these speakers has led Samsung to build something with spaciousness at the forefront of its thinking, catering for audio that sounds like it’s happening around you, not just in front of you.
“The fact of the matter is that stereo helps create a sense of envelopment because the two speakers are different,” he said. “Envelopment and spaciousness are not the same, but they’re similar, so when you think of single speakers for multiroom that just face forward, you’re really specially deprived.
“The great thing about these speakers with their wide dispersion is that we can get a sense of spaciousness,” said Devantier.
“I’m not going to pretend we have stereo out of a single speaker, but at least we have spaciousness. This absolutely knocks it out of the ballpark.”
Samsung’s R1, R3, and R5 speakers are shipping now to stores across Australia where you’ll find them for a recommended retail price of $299, $499, and $649 respectively, sitting next to the flagships, the R6 portable for $599 and the R7 for $699. Samsung’s multiroom lineup is backwards compatible with last year’s M speaker range.