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Fon Gramofon review: A bargain Spotify Connect adapter with great audio quality

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Sonos is still undoubtedly the king of multiroom audio, but it can still instill a sense of sticker shock even with its lowest-price items. Gramofon is available for $50 (or 49 Euro in the UK, according to the company; Australia availability is still to be determined), which is $150 less than the cheapest Sonos speaker .

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8.1

Fon Gramofon

The Good

Gramofon is a low-cost way to get Spotify playing on your home audio system using your phone or tablet app as the control. Audio quality and stability is significantly better then Bluetooth. Setup is fairly simple and straightforward. The device also acts as a Wi-Fi extender, which is an odd, but extremely useful extra feature.

The Bad

Spotify Connect and Gramofon's underwhelming WahWah service are the only two services Gramofon can access for now. It lacks a battery, so it is not portable like the similar Rocki Play.

The Bottom Line

Spotify Premium users who value sound quality and the convenience of controlling Spotify through their phone's native app will love the Gramofon.

If you already have a perfectly good audio system and want to use it to listen to Spotify, Gramofon is worth a serious look. It doesn't offer nearly the range of services Sonos does, but if you get your music mainly from Spotify, you might not have much interest in the rest of them.

What is Spotify Connect?

Spotify Connect is a proprietary system that streams music directly to a Spotify Connect-compatible device and is controlled using the Spotify app on a phone or tablet. A Spotify Premium account is also necessary to take advantage of Spotify Connect.

The biggest advantage Spotify Connect has over Bluetooth is that the phone is not tethered directly to the dongle or receiving device. That means dropouts are much less common, range is superior, audio quality is better and sounds from email alerts and phone calls do not interrupt Spotify music playback.

Sure Bluetooth dongles for home stereo systems can be cheaper, but they're also less effective than Spotify Connect. Bluetooth is like a wireless cord from your phone's headphone jack to your stereo. Spotify Connect is like a direct connection to the service that just happens to be controlled by the phone.

Enter Gramofon

Gramofon is made by Fon, a company better known for making routers and powering its own wireless networks globally. The device is a product of a successful Kickstarter campaign. It works with Spotify Connect and Gramofon's own WahWah music streaming app, and is also a Wi-Fi extender.

Gramofon is a basic black box. Sarah Tew/CNET

Design

Gramofon is a tiny black box that would look at home next to an Apple TV or Roku . It has a two-tone finish -- matte on top with a glossy base. On the back is a power port, a 3.5mm audio-out (the device comes with 3.5mm-to-stereo RCA cable) and an Ethernet jack for up to 100Mbps networking, which should be way more than enough for music streaming. Gramofon also includes 802.11b/g/n Wi-Fi.

On the top is the sole control, a large circular button surrounded by a ring of light. The light changes color depending on the mode -- red for power, green for Spotify playing and so on. The button also acts as a Play/Pause button. Volume is controlled either through your speaker system or the Spotify app itself.

Sending music from the Spotify app to Gramofon. Sarah Tew/CNET

Music features

Much like Chromecast , Gramofon uses your phone as a remote control. The device itself connects to your home network and pulls down the audio directly over the Internet.

Right now, Gramofon can access two music services: Spotify and WahWah for Gramofon. The WahWah app is available for both iOS and Android, and it's not rated terribly highly -- our experience was quite spotty with that particular app on both platforms. We had Facebook sign-in issues, the app did not always display music that was playing, and the app occasionally did not find the hardware. The Spotify app did not have these problems.

For multiroom audio setups, the Gramofon is limited by Spotify Connect, which sends audio to one Spotify Connect device at a time. Sending the same audio to multiple Gramofons at the same time, a la Sonos' party mode, is not yet possible. However, a future update to Gramofon should allow this feature thanks to Qualcomm's AllPlay technology.

Along with synced multiroom audio, AllPlay will also bring access to additional music services including Napster, TuneIn and Rhapsody, some DLNA compatibility, plus the ability to stream local audio from iOS and Android devices. Fon tells CNET that it expects to "launch / announce AllPlay end of March," whatever that means. If that upgrade does roll out, the Gramofon will get a lot more powerful and its price tag will make it look like a bargain.

Is Gramofon Apollo Creed to Rocki's Rocky? Sarah Tew/CNET

Gramfon isn't the only Spotify Connect adapter out there. There is the similarly priced Rocki Play , which already supports DLNA, supports more music services, and is more portable since it includes an internal battery (the Gramofon must be plugged in for usage). Compared with the Gramofon as is, picking a Rocki Play is probably the better option if you want some DLNA functions right now.

Networking features

Because Gramofon is made by Fon, the device also doubles as a wireless access point and wireless repeater. That means you can extend your home network using a Gramofon. The network settings are accessible through a Web interface. A dedicated access point or repeater can cost as much as a Gramofon, and they probably don't directly stream music. For those who do not wish to use the networking feature, it can be turned off quite easily in the Gramofon setup app.

Connect to Gramofon's own Wi-Fi network to set up. The SSID and password are printed on the bottom. Sarah Tew/CNET

Setup

Setting up Gramofon is similar to setting up a number of smart-home items like the Belkin WeMo . First, connect Gramofon to a receiver and download the free Gramofon setup app to your iOS or Android device. Then power up the Gramofon and connect your phone to its Wi-Fi network. The network information for Gramofon is printed on the underside of the device.

The app allows Gramofon to name the device and have it connect to your local network. Additionally, the app can be used to rename the device, its Wi-Fi SSID and password. Once the setup is done, the app reminds you to join your regular network so Spotify can see Gramofon.

A small, but powerful package. Sarah Tew/CNET

Performance

Since Gramofon receives its streaming music over Wi-Fi, audio quality was better than streaming over Bluetooth. Overall, instruments sounded crisper and clearer compared to the muddy sounds of a Bluetooth connection.

We also compared the audio of the Gramofon to that of the Spotify Connect-enabled Marantz NR1605 AV receiver , a device that costs about the same as 14 Gramofons. The high-end Marantz's Spotify playback sounded brighter than Gramofon, but Gramofon held its own in terms of audio quality.

Spotify Connect is well-implemented. While the phone is used as a remote, system noises like text alerts or other audio will not stream to Gramofon. If the phone leaves the network, Gramofon will continue playing whatever playlist was set up originally. Using multiple devices as remotes worked seamlessly. Additionally, sending audio from one Gramofon to another using Spotify Connect worked very well.

Changing network settings on the Gramofon caused music playback to stop, which makes sense. Accessing the network settings via a Web browser did cause a brief hiccup on audio playback.

Conclusion

At its current price Gramofon is an excellent value for Spotify Premium subscribers who want to extend their tunes beyond the phone. The Wi-Fi extender functionality is a nice addition, and the upcoming addition of AllPlay should make it even more appealing.

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8.1

Fon Gramofon

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 7Sound 8Value 9