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Wireless & Bluetooth Speakers

Home wireless gets Monstered by high-res friendly SoundStage system

We get a first taste of the Monster SoundStage S3 wireless speaker system and it's packing some extra features that could edge competitors in this fast-growing category.

Monster Soundstage S3
The Monster SoundStage S3 is sleek and simple at first glance. Seamus Byrne/CNET

BERLIN -- Monster has launched its new SoundStage speaker system here at IFA 2014 and the company isn't messing around. At launch Monster will have three options on offer -- the small S1, the mid-size S2 and the larger S3 -- aimed at a variety of uses around your home.

I taste-tested the flagship S3 at a private CNET session in Berlin to get a feel for what Monster thinks it can bring to this rapidly growing category, against competition from the likes of Sonos, Bose, Pure and Harman Kardon.

From the front, the S3 is reminiscent of the elegant, simple styling favoured by Sonos, with a metal mesh grill and a gentle curve across the front of the panel. Monster says this helps to widen the audio field. The package has a black finish across the mesh and throughout the body, though Monster hinted at other colour options being offered at a later date.

Monster SoundStage S3
Rear-firing speakers look a lot more aggressive than the front. Seamus Byrne/CNET

Once you move in for a closer look, you start to find physical differences to the competition. For starters, turn the system around and you find a large rear-firing speaker. Monster believes having both front and rear speakers in the unit will make it much more versatile, suiting more positions in many differently shaped rooms.

In the back you will also find an array of connectivity options. USB can be used for charging devices, with a second USB for possible firmware updates, digital optical for TV use, and a 3.5mm stereo input, granting plenty of physical input opportunities if you're so inclined. You'll also find a touch-sensitive panel of controls tucked into the front of the unit. Discreet, facing upward in a small long cavity near the top, but not at all difficult to access. The controls let you play/pause, adjust volume and navigate content with forward/back arrows.

Monster SoundStage S3
More inputs than your usual audio streaming speakers. Seamus Byrne/CNET

Of course, the focus here is on wireless audio streaming and in that regard Monster is including both Wi-Fi and Bluetooth in its system. With a range of different SoundStage speakers in your home you will be able to manage up to four separate streams at once from the one device, to a mixture of different speakers arrange however you choose.

Monster will also release associated apps to manage your system and control your music across all your SoundStage speakers.

Music can be streamed directly from the device you're using, from your home networked music collection, or from a range of services including Spotify, Rhapsody, Napster, and Soma.FM, with others to be confirmed in future. Monster also told us SoundStage will also support high-resolution music playback.

The brains behind the streaming is the new Qualcomm AllPlay chipset, and Monster suggested there will be more tricks coming to its SoundStage platform, thanks to this new technology and its wider potential as an Internet of Things platform. One example suggested by Monster is for a SoundStage speaker to act as a broadcast hub to send audio to a set of wireless headphones.

In our brief ears-on session, the speakers packed plenty of punch for their size. In a fairly large, square conference room, the S1 punched well above its weight, but was quickly outclassed by the bigger S2 and S3 as we cycled through their playback. These speakers are no slouches, though we'll leave final judgment to when we get them into the labs.

Pricing for the Monster SoundStage S3 will be $400, with the S2 at $300 and the S1 at $200. European pricing will be €430, €330, and €230 respectively. The US pricing is directly in line with the Sonos Play:5, Play:3 and Play:1 range of speakers, though a little steeper in Europe. Pricing in other territories has yet to be confirmed. (The Euro prices convert to £340, £260 and £160 for the UK. US prices convert to around AU$430, AU$320 and AU$215 in Australia.)

Monster was very open about adding more speakers to the range, including a sound bar and a subwoofer, so we can expect to see Monster making a very aggressive play for its share of the audio streaming market this holiday season.

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