In the early days, multi-room audio was all about specialized network-connected systems. The category has been dominated by Sonos, but now both LG and Samsung are getting into the act, though, with music systems to complement your television and living environments
Of the two, LG's approach is more whole-home, covering everything from your living room TV's soundbar to the speakers in your bedroom and the den. Dubbed LG Music Flow, the system includes different speaker options, covering everything from two different soundbars for your television, to portable, battery powered speakers.
Music Flow was first introduced at IFA 2014, but at the time, it was a global launch with no specifics of US availability. That all changed at CES 2015, where the system was demoed with a fully-formed companion app for Android or iOS, and booming sound that dominated its demonstration corner. And, oh yes, I got confirmation the system will come to the US in March.
The lineup includes the standalone H7, H5, and H3 models and the H4 Portable, the first model with built-in battery. At launch, there will be a total of five different speakers, four different soundbars, including a package for about $900 with a 7.1 array with wireless subwoofer (actual pricing wasn't announced, but a rep mentioned these ball park numbers). The mono 2.1-channel speakers for rear surround are expected to sell for $150 to $200 apiece.
Impressively, the system can support up to 100 speakers, with 100 songs playing on each, or 1 song playing on all. Mind you, that will get to be quite an investment in LG's system, but it's good to know it's highly scalable and can grow with your needs. The sound I heard demoed at CES 2015 sounded good, but it was hard to gauge specifics of the audio given the open, loud trade show environment.
The way it works is simple: Each speaker in the LG Music Flow system has built-in Wi-Fi and a built-in node for connecting wirelessly via Advanced Wireless Network and Dual Ban Wi-Fi (2.4/5GHz bands). Each LG Music Flow Wi-Fi device can be used independently or connected to one another device wirelessly, using Advanced Wireless Network and Dual Band Wi-Fi (2.4/5GHz) technology.
The devices form their own dual-mesh private Wi-Fi network, and Music Flow traffic gets prioritized over your home network to provide a smooth playback experience, with virtually zero latency as music hands off from one speaker to another.
Because each speaker has its own node built-in, MusicFlow creates its own bridge between the app and the connected speakers. No other bridge devices are necessary to interconnect the speakers; this makes the network connections both easy and affordable.
The system is controlled by an easy-to-configure and use app. In the detailed demos I saw, the app appears to be fairly advanced in development, with clear, simple options for walking through how to set up the speakers. Setting up speakers required a matter of taps, and was very clearly defined with visuals and text, making it appealing to the less tech-savvy.
Music Flow makes it simple to stream content from your own music library on your phone. Or, if you want to play music from a friends' phone you can do so by providing your friend with your Music Flow network's passcode. Finally, you can stream music directly from Google Cast-ready services, and supported services include Google Cast-ready services and popular streaming services like Pandora, iHeart Radio, Spotify, Deezer, Songza, NPR One, Rhapsody, Napster and TuneIn.
You can choose to manually push music from the application to each speaker, or you can designate a group of speakers to push content to. Or you can use Bluetooth Low Energy, and if you're a foot away from a speaker the app will send the music to it.
You can choose to rename individual speakers, control the volume for each speaker individually, and link a designated set of speakers to stream the same content to. Integration with the LINE app lets you send a text message to the Music Flow system so you can tell your speaker to, for example, "Play Playlist one at 7pm."
LG says its aiming to cost almost half the price of the competition, with more streaming services supported and an easier user experience. While I found the Music Flow system promising and offering reasonably priced multi-room audio, I'll have to wait for the shipping product to see how well it works in real world environments and not the bustling halls of CES.
Techradar's coverage of the future of tech at CES 2015 LIVE is brought to you courtesy of Currys PC World. View Currys' full range of the latest audio and multi-room speakers here