Wireless audio systems are notoriously tough to get right, and while Sonos is arguably the only company that has truly succeeded.(and some are ),
Samsung is the latest company to try its hand at the wireless audio market, with the newly announced Shape wireless multiroom audio platform. The system consists of two products, the M7 speaker and the Hub, which Samsung demoed at a private press event in New York.
The M7 speaker ($399) has a sleek, wedgelike shape, with a textured speaker grille and a plastic cabinet that's available in either a white or black finish. The speaker can be positioned horizontally or vertically using the included stand and in the vertical position you can pair two M7 speakers for stereo. It's a good-looking speaker, although the cabinet doesn't have quite the same high-end feel that Sonos' speakers have.
Each speaker supports Bluetooth, NFC, and dual-band Wi-Fi, and with a single-speaker system, you connect directly to the speaker over Wi-Fi using your smartphone. There's also an Ethernet port on the back of each speaker for making a direct, wired connection. Note that while there is a USB port on the back, it's only used for firmware updates, so you can't directly connect a USB hard drive full of music.
For multiroom setups, the Hub ($49) is required, which is a small black box that you connect to your router. Setting up the Hub and several M7 speakers is done using the Shape smartphone app, available for iOS and Android, and in the demo it didn't take more than a few minutes to get up and running. The app lets you sync music into multiple rooms or play different music in each room. The app looked simple to use during the demo, although visually it lacked some of the polish of Sonos' apps, such as integrated cover art, though I was told that will be available in the official app.
At launch, the Shape app supports only a handful of streaming audio services: Amazon Cloud Player, Pandora, TuneIn Radio, and Rhapsody. That's a pretty limited initial rollout, without support for some major services like Spotify and Rdio, although Samsung says it's looking to support more services in the future.
It's also possible to access any music service on your mobile device using Bluetooth, although you'll be limited to single-room playback. Any music stored on your phone can be directly streamed, while personal music can also be accessed using a DLNA server, which, in most cases, means you'll need to have your computer turned on. (Samsung hasn't announced what file types will be supported yet.)
The Samsung Shape wireless audio platform is currently limited to the M7 speakers, so there's no way to integrate your existing speakers in the Samsung Shape ecosystem, although the company says it's looking into future products that let you use existing audio equipment.
On the other hand, the M7 speakers do have one more trick up their sleeve, which is support for Samsung's SoundShare feature. It only works with compatible Samsung TVs, but SoundShare lets you wirelessly (via Bluetooth) use the M7 as a speaker for your TV. It's a neat feature and gets rid of one more pesky wire in your TV cabinet.
The M7 speaker and Hub are sold separately, and both products will be available starting on October 13. The big question for the Shape platform will be whether it can compete with Sonos, which is a more mature platform with similar pricing, so we're looking forward to getting some hands-on time with the M7 speaker to find out how it stacks up.