Gone are the days when you had to string copper around your room or through your walls just to get the speaker you want set up in the place you wanted. Now the world has gone wireless — audio cable-less, more precisely (since most of the time you still need power cords!), and that means far more flexibility and expandability, even if there are still a few things you need to pay attention to. … They’re so good that, if your end-goal is a multi-room wireless speaker system, with up to 32 speakers on the same network, your go-to is Sonos.
That said, you may find the Sonos wireless speaker system is a bit out of your budget or that it doesn’t offer your particular criteria for easy music streaming (i.e., it’s controlled via an app you download from the App Store). If you’re looking for an alternative means of providing yourself with a whole-home wireless speaker system, here are the best alternatives!
Amazon Echo Dot
For $50, you can get a tiny wireless puck that’ll add Amazon’s Alexa voice service and wireless music streaming to any speakers you choose to plug in.
The Amazon Echo Dot has a built-in speaker and microphone array, but the speaker is very small. The entire device is only about an inch-and-a-half tall. The idea here is not to use the Dot as a standalone smart speaker, but to buy several of them and connect ’em to your best speakers — both wired and Bluetooth-enabled. Amazon added multi-room audio to its Alexa-enabled devices back in August. I’ve been using the feature to stream music throughout my home and it’s pretty solid!
Need help getting that multi-room audio up and running? Check out this guide from my colleague Phil Nickinson:
For $35, you can get a different wireless puck that’ll add Google’s Chromecast streaming system to your home speaker setup. The minuscule device is perfect to tuck behind a pair of speakers. Keep in mind it’s only going to stream audio — this isn’t like Google’s normal Chromecast device. It packs in a 24-bit audio decoder and offers both 3.5 mm and optical audio output. Even cooler, the Chromecast Audio device has a high dynamic range setting for those particularly choice tracks you’ve got saved up.
You’ll need to use apps that support Google’s Chromecast protocol, but you’ll find most media streaming apps do!
Need help getting whole-home audio set up for your Chromecast Audio pucks? My colleague Jerry Hildenbrand has an excellent guide for you:
Libratone ZIPP Wi-Fi + Bluetooth
The Libratone ZIPP is a sight to behold. Along with being an awesome option for multi-room listening, it’s a beautifully designed device that you’ll have no problem placing out in the open.
Most multi-room speakers use a direct connection to the internet over Wi-Fi to stream music. The Libratone Zipp features both Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity, giving you the option to connect directly to the speaker from your device. On top of typical Bluetooth and Wi-Fi connectivity (controlled via the app), the ZIPP features Spotify’s proprietary streaming technology, Spotify Connect. You can also connect to the speaker using DLNA with an Android Device and AirPlay with an iOS device.
The $299 ZIPP will pair with up to five other ZIPPs to give you whole-home music streaming. Once you’ve connected more than one ZIPP speaker, you can start to do some pretty creative things. One Amazon reviewer set one of their speakers to an equalizer preset that focused on low and high range, while the other one was set to a preset that focused on vocal and mid-range — pretty clever!
Bose SoundTouch 10
The Bose SoundTouch 10 wireless speaker is a pretty popular multi-room option. With nearly 500 reviews on Amazon, the SoundTouch 10 maintains a 4.5-star rating.
Like the Libratone ZIPP, the Bose SoundTouch 10 sports both Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity. Unlike the ZIPP, however, it seems the SoundTouch 10 doesn’t offer AirPlay streaming. Bose lists compatibility with Spotify, Pandora, Amazon Music, and iHeart Radio to name a few music services. But again, with Bluetooth connectivity you can stream any sound over the speaker you’d like.
A unique feature of the SoundTouch 10 that really stands out is the preset functionality. There are six preset buttons atop the speaker that you can assign to a specific song, a radio station, a specific artist, a specific playlist, etc. It keeps you from having to fumble and fiddle with your phone in order to listen to music. You simply walk in, tap a button, and boom! you’re listening.
The $199 SoundTouch 10 can pair with other SoundTouch speakers to provide a whole-home listening experience. Bose offers several Soundtouch speakers — not just the 10, so be sure to check out all its offerings if the 10 doesn’t seem to be doing it for you.
Apple TV 4K
With Apple TV 4K, you can use AirPlay to stream music throughout your entire home. In fact, I’m currently listening to Adele’s “Hello” play on the television sets in my living room and in my bedroom at the same time. It’s as simple as opening your iPhone, iPad, or Mac and changing your audio settings to output to the Apple TV devices in your home.
If you’ve got a set of nice speakers hooked up to your television set(s), AirPlay via Apple TV 4K isn’t a bad option — especially if you’ve gone all-in on Apple technology. Plus, the $179 Apple TV 4K comes with a whole host of other features: Siri, smart home control, the Apple TV App Store, etc.
Honorable mention: HomePod
Although it doesn’t offer multi-room support at launch, that technology will eventually work its way into Apple’s new wireless speaker. Judging by the early reviews — including this one from my colleague Serenity Caldwell, it’s safe to say the $349 HomePod will eventually be a worthy contender for a Sonos alternative. For sound quality alone, it’s already there. Once it gets multi-room audio support, Sonos is in for a challenge.
How do you jam?
Do you have a whole-home music-listening setup? Do you prefer to rock out in one room at a time? What speaker(s) are you using to make that happen? Shoot me a tweet or let me know in the comments below!
Updated January 2018: This article has been updated with new options, links, and prices for the best Sonos alternatives.