Sonos is the best-known name in multiroom audio, but its biggest challenger could be Google with its $35dongle. We love the Chromecast ecosystem, which lets you easily stream from just about any audio app on your phone, but it needs a genuine speaker, not just a dongle, to compete.
At $150/£149, the JBL Playlist is the cheapest Chromecast speaker we've seen to date, and based on its performance it could do for Google what the Play:1 did for Sonos. Its main benefit over the dongle is integration. With the dongle you need to make sure your hi-fi or speaker is turned on and set to the right input. With the JBL, all you need to do is press Play in your favorite app and it just works.
The Playlist looks very similar to the JBL Boost TV, albeit a bit bigger at 12.4 inches by 5.8 inches by 5.2 inches (316mm by 147mm by 131mm). It looks like a black football. The Playlist doesn't boast the most luxurious finish with a thick, plastic mesh covering and an orange, rubber base. It's fairly light at 4 oz (120g) but be aware that it's not a portable speaker -- it doesn't run on batteries and you'll need to plug it in, just like the Sonos. The cabinet houses a pair of 2.25-inch woofers and a passive bass radiator at the rear.
The connection options are relatively simple with Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and a 3.5mm auxiliary. Of most interest to future-proofers is the Chromecast built-in function under Wi-Fi. Setup is easy using the Google Home ($99 at Crutchfield) app -- a pop-up within the app should appear informing you of the Playlist's presence and then it walks you through connection. It's one of the most streamlined setup sequences out there, a rival to Sonos for simplicity.
Chromecast brings with it dozens of native apps -- the big ones being Spotify, Pandora iHeartRadio and YouTube Music -- plus the ability to stream anything from an Android phone or Chrome browser (though this is less reliable). Tap the Cast button in your favored app and after a brief pause it begins playing. Like the Chromecast Audio, the JBL also supports hi-res music up to 24-bit/96kHz over your network. Using a Google Home, users can group compatible speakers together for multiroom listening.
For $150 you can't expect too much from this speaker performance-wise, right? Well, I was surprised by how well it fared against my current benchmark, the $200 Sonos Play:1.