SMART SPEAKERS FOR EVERY KIND OF HOME
Streaming music or playing downloads via all kinds of devices has become the playing system of choice for many, but how do you know which is the best system to choose for your home? We’ve asked three expert tech and audio bloggers to give us their recommendations for three different living set-ups.
FAMILY HOME - GEORGIE BARRAT
The family home is a complicated beast; it has to cater for many tastes and tasks. From the hub of the kitchen, to the comfort of your living room and the sanctuary of the bedroom, each room has its own unique function. So, if you’re looking for a home audio overhaul, a wireless speaker setup should be on the top of your list.
Sonos wireless speakers deliver audio quality with glittering finesse and have a great line-up of multiroom devices. Their flagship PLAY:5 would hold court at any party, while its more compact sibling the PLAY:1, is ideal to dot around your home to form a network of speakers; you can start with just one and then build from there.
Wireless play not only allows you to have Michael Ball crooning from all the rooms in your home in glorious unison, you can also control from your smartphone exactly how loudly you want your kids blasting out British Sea Power. Setup is simple; just download the Sonos Controller app and from here you have access to all of your music, streaming services, podcasts and radio.
A must-have this year is the latest addition to the Sonos family; the Sonos One can be bought with added benefit of Amazon’s voice-controlled assistant Alexa.
If you’re a frequent host to friends and family, you may want to go for a wireless speaker set-up that includes Bluetooth connectivity. Bose’s SoundTouch speaker range makes it easy for any device or person to put on their ultimate classic. Much like Sonos, you can create a multiroom speaker system, which you control via the SoundTouch app or the remote that it comes with
Sony’s wireless speakers also come with Bluetooth and Near Field Communication (NFC) allowing anyone to instantly hop on as DJ. If you’re happy to splash, the Sony SRS-X99 boasts 7 speakers that produce a beautifully rich noise. Your music’s never sounded so good.
FLAT - HOLLY BROCKWELL
Once you’ve heard high-quality sound, you can never go back -- which is how I’ve ended up with smart sound products in every room of my home.
For the bedrooms, Google Home makes an excellent all-round hub for music, podcasts, setting alarms and hearing the news. It’s a cute, compact speaker with Google built in, so you can tell it what you want to hear. I love waking up with a song in my head and getting it playing before I’ve even got out of bed -- even if I don’t know the title or artist. “Hey Google, play the song that goes 'I would walk five hundred miles' ” works beautifully
You can connect Google Home speakers together and give them a group name, which means you can set the same thing playing on all of them. My lounge and bedroom speakers are connected, so I just say “Hey Google, play Absolute Radio on Speakers” and it does - like magic.
For the kitchen, I use Amazon’s Alexa-powered Echo speaker. It’s similar setup to Google Home but with Amazon instead of Google under the hood, which means you can do things like ordering cleaning products you’ve run out of by simply saying what you need. I do that a lot (binbags. It’s always binbags). Alexa is especially good for recipes, and if you go for the Echo Show model with its 7-inch screen, you can watch cooking videos as you go. Plus when it all goes wrong, there are Alexa skills for voice-ordering from Just Eat….
With all the music keeping me company around the flat, it’d be weird if I had to shower in silence. Of course, you don’t want anything mains-powered in the bathroom, so I use a waterproof shower speaker. The UE Wonderboom is ideal for this, not only because it’s dunkable (handy if you drop it in the bath) but because it comes in a wide range of colours so it doesn’t clash with the towels.
In the living room is my pride and joy, the 4K TV. Of course, since they have to be so thin, many TVs don’t have amazing sound. So I have a gorgeously bassy Bose soundbar paired with mine, plus a Chromecast plugged in the back so I can voice-command it via a Google Home Mini. I can sit down with my cuppa, say “OK Google, play La La Land on Netflix” and enjoy the soundtrack with glorious sound that does the picture justice. It’d be nice if Ryan Gosling could sing, but you can’t have everything.
SHARED LIVING - TOM HONEYANDS
My housemates and I can never agree what music to play. But whether we listen to Tom Petty’s Free Fallin’ (my choice) or Ed Sheeran’s Galway Girl (no comment), we do agree that buying a speaker was a great investment for the house as opposed to listening out of a phone’s tinny speakers.
So what sort of speaker should you buy? Let’s start with cheap and cheerful portable speakers. When I was sharing a house at uni, we wanted something small enough to chuck in a backpack or move between rooms, waterproof for the inevitable beer spillages, and good value for money (because we were strapped for cash).
Most portable speakers will last at least 10 hours on battery or charge, and it’s easy to connect and stream your music over Bluetooth (or higher quality Wi-Fi on more expensive models). The John Lewis Polka is worth a look at under £40.
The Sony SRS-XB20 or UE WONDERBOOM are both good options. They’re small, waterproof and under £70. You’d be surprised by how much of a kick these little Bluetooth speakers have, and while they may not offer the best audio experience, they get the job done.
Amazon Echo and Google Home - which use the Alexa and Google Assistant voice-assistants respectively - can even recommend a playlist or discover a new artist for you, on command of your voice. They’re under £100, and ideal living room or kitchen speakers. Their audio quality is perfectly adequate, but the good news is that Sonos offers an Alexa-supported speaker with far superior sound quality.
Movie night is always fun with the flatmates, and buying a soundbar will deliver significantly better sound over your TV speakers. Most soundbars come with a dedicated subwoofer for deeper bass, and connect to your TV via Optical-In or HDMI (HDMI ARC lets you control it with your TV remote).