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Building a Sound System for Your Wireless Home

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Building a Sound System for Your Wireless Home
In a world with a glut of options for data transmission, this guide will help you pick the best format to fill your home music, sans speaker wire or vacuum tubes.
By Alexander George
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SONOS CONNECT
SONOS, INC.
December 2, 2013 6:30 AM
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A . pandora A . pandora jewelry outlet A
For all but the purist vinyl-owning audiophiles, speakers have become wireless extensions of our phones, tablets, and laptops. pandora outlet charms A few swipes of a glowing screen are typically all you need to link your music library to a speaker. pandora charms cheap Right now, playing music loudly is cheaper and simpler than ever, but it takes some know-how to identify the best way to spend those hundreds of dollars.
There are several options for wireless formats, and, unfortunately, committing to one generally means eschewing the others. pandora jewelry outlet We have witnessed format battles before such as Blu-ray vs. pandora jewelry cheap HD DVD or VHS vs. Betamax, in which one emerges dominant. But for years now, wireless audio has yet to present a victor whose ubiquity will please shareholders and relieve confused consumers. Until that happens, it pays to understand the differences between formats such as Bluetooth, AirPlay, and Sonos. All of them have specific benefits and drawbacks that will determine which one is best for rigging your house for wireless music.
Bluetooth: Reliable and Idiot-Proof
Two reasons that Bluetooth accounts for the great majority of wireless speakers sold: simplicity and stability. Connecting to a Bluetooth speaker, such as the wildly popular Jawbone Jambox, seldom involves more than holding down a button while keeping your phone's Bluetooth window open. Once the two devices are connected, the beat will go on uninterrupted as long as you keep the music source within spitting distance of the speaker. Because it transmits data with compression, Bluetooth's major drawback is compromised sound quality. Still, with the right speaker, you can create sound so good that all but the most studied audiophiles will be satisfied.
For anyone looking to serenade house guests with Diplo bass drops, or bring dancehall reggae to a beach bonfire, Bluetooth is ideal. Most audio, like Spotify's default streaming rate of 96 kbit per second, is low enough in quality that the data compression will not noticeably diminish the sound. Even if you are working with high-fidelity music files like Apple Lossless tunes ripped from a CD, a great speaker will still supply nuanced bass and undistorted high notes. Two speakers—the Bose SoundLink Mini and the Grain Audio PWS—will do justice to acoustic live sets, or even a Philip Glass record. If you don't need portability and are willing to make enemies of neighbors in the name of sternum-shaking bass, you can go bigger and get something like the Peachtree deepblue, with its 6.5-inch subwoofer.
Still, in general Bluetooth works best for portable speakers, and all but a few of those are too wimpy to be used for more than one room. If you're serious about building a substantial home sound system, read on.
AirPlay: Bring Patience and High Fidelity Files
For playing classical horns or jazz trumpets from big, robust source files, Bluetooth won't be sufficient if you want to hear the crescendos in their full effect. AirPlay, Apple's proprietary wireless protocol, runs off Wi-Fi and does not compress the music in transmission, to the bits of data arrive at the AirPlay speaker's woofer and tweeters in full fidelity. This unadulterated transmission format is part of why super-speakers like the Bowers & Wilkins Zeppelin Air use AirPlay. If you are among the few who can supply a thoroughbred rig like the Zeppelin with a quality recording of a Wagner opera, AirPlay will coat a dark den with wonderful sounds.
But for years now AirPlay has retained many of its major technical issues. Nearly all AirPlay speakers require you use only Apple gear. Some speakers have a capability called DLNA, which allows an Android phone to connect, for example, but setup is complicated. And even if you are armed to the teeth with Apple products, be ready for other issues. When playing from non-iTunes music players like Rdio or Spotify, AirPlay has a two-second delay. Hit play on your iPhone and the song will come on the speaker two seconds later as the display counter hits the 0:03 mark. This gap, when skipping songs or fast-forwarding to the bass drop, can kill a mood.
Besides sucking up your Wi-Fi bandwidth, AirPlay speakers are prone to dropping their connections entirely if there is too much background wireless noise. An AirPlay speaker set up in a Manhattan or San Francisco apartment, where at any moment there are a dozen wireless networks buzzing around, might get overwhelmed and stop playing, forcing you to restart and reconnect. AirPlay is also difficult to setup as multiple speakers. Third-party apps like WHAALE and AirFoil work around this, but there is currently no elegant way to play music via AirPlay in both the kitchen and living room at the same time.
Still, the speakers are often gorgeous and sound fantastic. Libratone's lineup, created with a Scandinavian design eye and packed with impressive woofers and tweeters, can be living room centerpieces—albeit expensive and fickle centerpieces. 
Sonos: Build It
The last and arguably best option for bringing music into a home is also the most DIY. Sonos uses a home Wi-Fi network to connect, and like AirPlay, the transmission happens without compression so the music arrives at the speaker with every wonderful detail ready to fill the room. Unlike AirPlay, though, Sonos does not eat up bandwidth, nor will it drop its connection. The software linking your music library to Sonos speakers makes a severed connection a rarity.
Devices like iPhones and Android tablets connect to the Sonos network through the Sonos app. The app brings together all the music you have at your disposal—Spotify, Rdio, iTunes, TuneIn Radio, etc.—with which you can create and re-order playlists, or turn speakers on and off as you meander between rooms. The interface that controls the Sonos speakers is intuitive enough to make operation feel only slightly less natural than the Spotify and iTunes menus to which most are accustomed.
This system's inventiveness and reliability would be irrelevant if the speakers did not deliver great sound. But they do, from the $200 entry-level Play:1 to the $700 cement-shaking Sub. The best part is that as your paychecks permit, you can start from a single unit and outfit corners and end-tables with speakers until every cubic inch of your residence can be filled with music.
Bose has recently introduced a similar system called SoundTouch. The speakers also run off of their own internal network and can be easily modified, but Bose's approach is focused on making startup as easy as possible. Speakers can be operated with the Bose app, but every speaker has dedicated buttons to which the user assigns presets. Button one, for example, can be the Wham! Pandora station so that when you walk in the door, you simply press “1” and George Michael's vocals fill the air.
For now, though, Sonos remains the best option. SoundTouch only supports streaming from connected computers' iTunes libraries and Pandora. That means no Spotify or Rdio. The sound is as tremendous as the Bose name would have you expect, but for control over details like stereo separation, you do not have much agency. 
Sonos, on the other hand, has setups limited only by your checkbook and availability of wall outlets.
Tags:
music,
how-to,
spotify,
home stereo,
itunes,
sonos,
wireless speakers
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