Samsung Shape M7 review: Samsung's sweet-sounding Sonos alternative

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MSRP: $399.99

The Good The Samsung Shape M7 wireless audio system is the best competitor to Sonos yet, with reliable audio streaming and a simple-to-use app. The M7 speaker sounds better than the similarly-priced Sonos Play:3 and has a few bonus features, including built-in Bluetooth, playback of hi-res files and the ability to wirelessly connect with some Samsung TVs.

The Bad Streaming services are currently limited to Pandora, Amazon Cloud Player, Rhapsody, TuneIn, and DLNA, unless you use Bluetooth. There's still occasional grumpiness in the form of app nonresponsiveness or dropouts. The ecosystem of products is also limited compared to Sonos, without the option to add a subwoofer. Pairing two M7 speakers also doesn't result in true stereo sound, like you'd expect. And playlists aren't quite intuitive, as they can't add tracks from Amazon.

The Bottom Line The Samsung Shape M7 is a versatile streaming speaker that sounds better than the Sonos Play:3 but lacks a rich ecosystem of products and supported services.

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7.6 Overall
  • Design 8
  • Features 8
  • Sound 8
  • Value 7

As of CES 2014, seemingly every electronics manufacturer is taking a shot at wireless audio -- from Panasonic to Samsung to Bose. While Sonos and Squeezebox have been around since the start of the millennium, it took until the last year for the rest of the industry to decide that wireless, multiroom audio was worth developing.

The M7 ($350 street) is the first of Samsung's new Shape wireless audio platform, which will include a smaller streaming speaker (M5) , a surround-sound system, and a Blu-ray player. The Shape M7 is a well-built, versatile streaming speaker that sounds better than the comparable Sonos Play:3, with a few feature perks like built-in Bluetooth and the ability to wirelessly connect to some Samsung TVs. On the other hand, it supports only a handful of streaming services -- no Spotify -- and it remains to be seen how committed Samsung will be to the Shape platform. Squeezebox fans know all too well what it can be like when their wireless audio platform is abandoned.

Sonos remains our go-to recommendation for wireless, multiroom audio -- especially the Play:1 -- but the Samsung M7 is a plucky newcomer that could mature into a serious competitor.

The Shape M7 comes in a choice of black or white. Sarah Tew/CNET

Design and features

The Shape M7 is a large speaker that's roughly the same size as the center channel in dedicated 5.1 systems. It 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. Each cabinet contains five drivers in total, with two tweeters, two midrange drivers, and a 4-inch woofer.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Each speaker supports Bluetooth (from a phone or compatible 2012 or later Samsung Smart TV), NFC, and dual-band Wi-Fi. With a single-speaker system, you can 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. For a multiroom setup, you'll need to add the Samsung Shape Hub ($50) to your system, which connects to your router to sync and coordinate streaming music to multiple rooms.

Note that while there is a USB port on the back, it's used only for firmware updates, so you can't directly connect a USB hard drive full of music.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The system currently supports a small number of streaming services including Pandora, Amazon Music, Rhapsody and TuneIn. The system supports DLNA in addition to the music on your iOS or Android device, and will playback 24-bit/192Khz files--something the CD quality-only Sonos can't do.

The Shape acts as a Sound Share device and can stream Bluetooth audio from Samsung Smart TVs. Sarah Tew/CNET

As far as further services are concerned, Samsung has been unable to provide details beyond "watch this space." Spotify is the most glaring omission at this point, but Sonos supports a much larger range of services, including Spotify, Rdio, and Beats Music.