Multiroom Music – Thousand Options, One Winner

Everybody knows that I’m a technics and gadget geek. And when it comes to music, I actually have nearly all of the options: AirPlay, Chromecast, Amazon Fire TV & Fire Tablets, several Bluetooth speakers, Samsung’s AllCast crap, many (useless) DLNA options, Google Music, Spotify, Amazon MP3, Xbox Music, Raspberry Pi with XBMC (now Kodi), and many more – and of course all the devices you need to use this stuff.

But, believe it or not, I have been struggling for quite some time to get (or build) a serious multiroom audio setup. Of course I looked at Sonos (which for long seemed like the option), but also at Teufel, Samsung’s efforts, and most of the others. The only thing that kept me off buying Sonos’ Connect devices is the price – and believe me, I’m not saying that very often. Yes, of course, having all those great features of the Sonos App with your existing HiFi system is fantastic – but 350,- € to enable an existing speaker system is really a lot. Last but not least, while Sonos has great support for many services (especially with Spotify, my service of choice), it is still limited to those options.

A few weeks ago, however, I came across something I have been waiting for quite some time for: Harman/Kardon’s Wireless HD Audio System (often called “Harman/Kardon Omni”). I have always been a fan of Harman’s products, be it Harman/Kardon (H/K) or JBL – they just sound very good across the board, and they never failed me.

The clue in H/K’s solution is actually the simplicity: Instead of being used as a highly sophisticated streaming “brain”, Harman put the focus on essentially creating a Bluetooth-to-WiFi bridge. The Omni boxes (and the speaker-less Adapt connector) find each other via WiFi, and whatever you stream to one box via Bluetooth is replicated on all the others – and that’s just fantastic! It gives you the option to use any music service you want, via any app, on any device, or anything else that can emit a Bluetooth audio signal.
And even better, for people like me, who invested a lot of money in Samsung’s ecosystem (hoping that they would at some point solve the multiroom challenge with a solution like this), it’s the perfect add-on solution: To add your existing speakers to the mesh, you just buy what H/K calls the “Adapt” – a device similar to Sonos’ Connect, but simply working via Bluetooth, for a third of Sonos’ price tag.

Now, one thing remains: Remotely controlling the playing device, which needs to stay in Bluetooth range to the H/K Adapt it is connected to. Fortunately, there is Spotify Connect – the “remotely control every Spotify app / service / device” offering from Spotify. In a sense, H/K’s solution is the perfect extension to Spotify Connect – simply because the Spotify’s cross-vendor, cross-device functionality does not (and likely never will) provide multiroom/multidevice capabilities (it’s just to difficult to synchronise an audio-stream over dozens of hardware vendors).

So, this is it, my multiroom audio setup for the foreseeable future: H/K Omni + Spotify Connect. I will keep you posted on anything new, and whether or not I actually added Sonos to my setup after all.

Take care.

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