Samsung Radiant360 R1 WAM1500 review: Samsung speaker makes the perfect dinner companion
There has been an explosion of Wi-Fi-connected speakers in the last couple of years, all fueled by the success of industry leader Sonos. Wi-Fi music is the natural successor to Bluetooth, with the same kind of convenience in using your phone for control. But it has better range, fewer dropouts, better audio quality and no interruptions from calls or other phone sounds.
Samsung's new Radiant360 series of Wi-Fi speakers replaces the existing "M" or "Shape" models, which have been around for two years, and all of them can coexist and use the same app. The cylindrical R1 is in some ways an upgrade from the M3 in that it can now be placed pretty much anywhere, but its height means it's no longer really suited to serving as a TV speaker.
The advantages Samsung's system offers over Sonos are Bluetooth support, integration with (some) Samsung TVs, and hi-res playback for the audiophiles. While sound quality takes a hit due to the omnidirectional nature of the speaker, the R1 is a unique product in the ridiculously full clown car that the wireless audio market has become. Samsung's product shows off some really good ideas, even if Sonos remains the ringmaster.
The Samsung R1 is available in the US for $179, the UK for £169 and Australia for $299.
Taking its design cues from Amazon's Echo, the Samsung R1 is a cylindrical, full-range speaker that features a 360-degree soundfield. The speaker incorporates a driver pointing upward toward two separate "acoustic lenses" which distribute the sound in all directions.
The top of the speaker features a touch-sensitive surface that supports two main gestures: swipe in either direction to skip tracks; or tap to play or pause. The other controls include a mode button which switches between TV Connect (for use with Samsung TVs), Wi-Fi and Bluetooth in addition to volume buttons.
The speaker is five inches across and nine inches tall which makes it a little tall to use as a center speaker (although if you insist, you can easily stick it on either side of the TV). The speaker tapers out towards the top and is covered in black acoustic cloth. The bottom of the speaker hides the power cable and the connect buttons.
The Samsung device is controlled with the company's Multiroom app. I found it serviceable, if subject to a little bit of a learning curve. For example, looking at the image above, which button should you press to get more music? The answer is the three line "hamburger button" on the top right but it's not immediately obvious what the other speaker-themed buttons do, for example. We kept hitting the top left speaker to get more music by mistake.
In 2014, Samsung's "Shape" Multiroom speakers were introduced as one of the first competitors to Sonos. While the original Mx speakers that launched the line have been replaced, the new R1 takes on most of that series' features.
The R1 is primarily a Wi-Fi speaker which offers dual mode (2.4GHz and 5GHz) support and compatibility with streaming high-bit-rate audio (hi-res). In addition there is also Bluetooth and the ability to stream Bluetooth sources over Wi-Fi to other Multiroom speakers.
The Samsung Multiroom app offers a sizeable list of 10 streaming services that includes Pandora, Spotify, Amazon, iHeartRadio, TuneIn Internet radio and CD ripping service Murfie.
The speaker supports a Samsung feature called TV SoundConnect which appears on some older Samsung TVs. However the company seems to have moved away from this connectivity option on newer models in favor of the simpler Bluetooth out.
Sadly, the speaker lacks a 3.5mm input to connect external devices which is something the older Shape models offered. This would have come in handy if you have a TV with an analog headphone output but which lacked Bluetooth.
While most $200 Wi-Fi speakers sound boxy, the R1 doesn't. Sure it can sound a little lightweight at times, but it does a good job at projecting an enjoyable bubble of (mono) sound. However this is not a rock speaker, it's an incidental jazz and orchestral music kind of speaker. When things get too heavy for the Samsung -- think aggressive guitars and drums -- the sound begins to crumble and become thin.
Depending on where in the room you put the Samsung, it can act a bit like like Bose's Direct/Reflecting system, where you hear as much reflected sound as you do the speaker itself. Additionally, putting it close to corners boosts the bass quite substantially, which could also be used to tune the amount of low end you want. When it was sitting on an AV unit at the end of the testing room, the speaker sounded unfocused and distant with Arctic Monkeys "Do I Wanna Know?" We tried putting baffling on the two closest walls but weren't able to firm up the sound enough to compete with the Sonos Play:1. The Sonos was more focused and had better rhythmic drive.
But with softer, more ambient music the tables could easily be turned. We found that while the Samsung speaker's bass lacks the punch of its rival, it was better able to convincingly portray the tricky male voice in "Alviverde" by Jun Miyake (from the "Pina" soundtrack). The song sounded a little chesty and boomy on the Play:1 -- blending with the upright bass too much -- but the Samsung brought out a bigger sound which still kept a semblance of vocal intimacy.
Is is a good "puttering around" speaker. If you're cooking, getting the kids ready, and tidying the house, the Samsung offers the biggest sweet spot of any speaker of its type, regardless of price, no matter where you are in the room.
Why did Samsung get rid of the existing line for one that isn't quite as flexible? Conspiracy theorists might point to the fact that Sonos has sued Denon for copying its product line, and that Samsung's Shape wireless range also bore resemblance to Sonos' offerings. But whatever the reason, it has certainly led to something a little more unique than most Wi-Fi speakers.
If you're an audiophile, you probably won't like this speaker. It's mono, for one thing, and secondly it has a dispersed sound signature that doesn't reward "active" listening. It's a dinner party speaker, and for that it works very well. While you can potentially bigger sound by trading up to the larger R3 and R5 speakers, if you just want background music there is really no need to spend any more more money on those. The R1 is unassuming, it's fun, and it works.