The best multi-room speakers are a current big thing in audio, as the best ones are much more like 'proper speakers' than the majority of what you'll find labelled under 'wireless audio'. The best multi-room speakers can also, of course, be used in just one room if you wish, and some of them also turn their hand to home cinema audio via HDMI. They are a more premium proposition than, for instance, most of the Best Bluetooth speakers, and certainly much more so than any waterproof portable speaker you'll find. They just won't float in your pool.
Here, we're dealing with premium, primarily Wi-Fi-connected speakers, from £200/$200 to over £1,000/$1,000. Some have Alexa or Google Assistant or, in one case, Siri built in – but again, the best multiroom speakers are a somewhat more serious proposition than most smart speakers.
Proprietary systems such as that used by Sonos and Bluesound make it easy to play different songs in different rooms, or the same song in every room. Google Chromecast and Apple AirPlay 2 are more geared to the latter.
The good thing about Chromecast and AirPlay - and the underrated Spotify Connect - is that you can use speakers from multiple manufacturers together in one system. However, you well may find that speakers from different brands are slightly out of sync in terms of timing. This, to be honest, is the very definition of a first-world problem, but it is something you might need to be aware of.
What is the best multi-room speaker?
For overall quality, it's the Naim Mu-so 2nd Gen. It's £1,200, or '12,000 dimes', as Americans put it, and is really quite outstanding. It uses Naim's own multi-room system but is also compatible with Google Chrome, Apple AirPlay 2 and Spotify Connect, all of which can also be used for multi-room japes. It also supports Tidal from within the app, as well as web radio.
Those seeking a cheaper entry into multi-room, wireless music probably don't need to be told that Sonos is quite a big player in this market and its Sonos One is the outstanding 'gateway drug' to multi-room speakers and home cinema. As well as Sonos' own wireless system it's also compatible with everything from Apple AirPlay 2, to Spotify, to Tidal. It also happens to incorporate Amazon Echo's Alexa and, more recently, Google Assistant, to work as your digital PA.
Those in search of a speaker with multiple analogue and digital inputs, a CD player, if you please and DAB/FM/web radio should look no further than the Ruark R5. Purists might be best served by the Bowers & Wilkins Formation Duo, as it is a genuine audiophile-grade system and can't even operate properly unless you have bloody Roon. The same brand also makes a more obvious Mu-so rival, the one-box Formation Wedge. This looks decidedly weird but sounds great.
How to buy the best wireless speaker
Decide what type of streaming you want to employ. Apple fans may favour AirPlay 2. Google lovers may want Chromecast compatibility.
Obviously if you're a subscriber to Spotify, Tidal, Amazon Music Unlimited, Qobuz or one of the myriad other subscription-based streaming services, you'll need compatibility with that, but note that these can also be piggy-backed over Chromecast or AirPlay. Apple fans: while AirPlay 2 supports multiple speakers from your mobile, original AirPlay speakers only allow this via your PC or Mac.
I've helpfully indicated what each speaker is compatible with, to help you out, there. Some of them also support Bluetooth, either because there is consumer demand for big, expensive speakers that support the format or because brands just feel obliged to chuck it in as a backup.
You'll also want to consider what size of room you want to use it in. Again, I've noted what size of space I think each speaker is able to fill – small (offices, kitchens, bedrooms); medium (larger bedrooms, most front rooms) and large (more palatial or open-plan spaces, combined kitchen/lounge type spaces, Donald Trump's toilet and so forth).
Finally, although these are meant to be wireless, in some houses that's just not going to work, and you may have to revert to powerline AV – T3 uses and endorses Devolo powerline AV. A lot of these speakers have ethernet connections to accommodate this. Although with the best mesh networks, high-speed wirelessness for all is no longer a pipe dream.
The best wireless speakers, in order
• Read our 5-star Naim Mu-so 2 review
Sonos has long dominated the multi-room market and despite market-leading status immediately making certain critics and consumers hate it, its speakers have always been somewhere between good and excellent.
They have also, perhaps, been a bit over-priced at times but that is not a criticism one can level at the Sonos One, which puts the DEAL into the phrase, "This is the best multi-room speaker you can get, deal with it."
Of course, you can pay more and get something that sounds even better, but pound for pound/dollar for dollar, you are getting a hell of a lot of speaker for your money. The Sonos One genuinely delivers the tedious old speaker marketing claim of "room-filling sound from a small box", but it's not just loud; it serves up genuinely high quality audio.
The Sonos app is not the greatest thing ever invented, I'll grant you. It offers so many connectivity options that it's naturally quite unwieldy at times. However, a recent update has smoothed off some of the roughest edges, and it does offer support for just about every music service out there. You can do anything from the simple – sending the music on your phone to the speaker – to using all the streaming services you can think of, to pulling tunes from a NAS drive, and playing it on multiple Sonos speakers. You can also construct playlists on the fly that use multiple sources.
Arguably the real clincher in terms of VFM is the inclusion of Amazon's Alexa AI. The old Play 1, which this replaces, was excellent value, and that was slightly less sexy, didn't include Alexa and was the exact same price.
Now, to be fair, the Alexa implementation is not perfect. The array of mics in the Sonos One is sometimes not sufficient to actually hear your instructions, even when there isn't music playing. There are other quirks like the way it cuts off every Sonos in your house to listen, when you speak to just one, er, One.
I can't say any of that bothers me greatly, to be honest. You can get Alexa to work, and to control multiple Sonoses ("Sonii"?); it's just you may have to shout at her a bit.
If you think of the Sonos as a superb speaker that happens to have Alexa built in as an extra – rather than an Amazon Echo with much better sound quality – it's well worth the purchase.
The Ruark R5 is less satisfactory than the Naim or Sonos when it comes to streaming. But it makes up for a slightly ropey app and lack of streaming connectivity (no AirPlay or Chromecast here, and the Tidal implementation is pants compared to Naim's) with excellent sound and a wealth of additional features.
Like a mini system for the 21st century, Ruark's R5 chucks in a CD player, DAB and FM radio and two extra inputs, including one pre-amped for use with a turntable. There's also a Bluetooth aptX input, which is not compatible with many devices so far, but still nice to have.
Ruark's signature audio is in place, which is to say it sounds great but is not really built for rockin' out or mashing up de place. An extra bass speaker does make it more party-friendly than previous Ruarks but it's still more at home with 70s and 80s classics than hip-hop or pounding rock.
Factor in the CD player and radio (there is web radio as well) and you have something seemingly aimed at a slightly older crowd, or one that's less keen on going 'full digital'. We'd like this better if it dropped the legacy elements and tightened up the app and streaming experience, but Ruark's many fans will love it, and the value for money is undeniably impressive. Well, as long as you actually are going to play CDs, vinyl and radio through it rather than just your streaming service of choice…
• Read our Ruark R5 review
These look like two Bender from Futurama heads and sound like God yodelling in your ear. The only wireless choice for any real audiophiles out there, Bowers & Wilkins' Formation Duo is uncompromisingly specced, and not exactly affordable.
Obviously taking the view that if you're splashing £3,500 on a stereo pair of wireless speakers, B&W would also like to sell you a pair of stands for £700 and a standalone wireless box for £600 if you want to use any external sources. Oh, and if you want to really get the best out of Formation Duo you'll also need the Mac and Windows app Roon, which costs a further $500 (about £450; you get a free 1-month trial with a code from B&W). Otherwise, it's AirPlay 2, Spotify or Bluetooth for you, my wealthy friend.
All your qualms about costs do rather melt away – assuming you can afford it – when you put on some music and listen to the Duo. That's because – with all due respect to KEF's LS50 Wireless, which is the only other product even remotely in this area – Bowers & Wilkins' pair of speakers sounds far better than anything else on the wireless market. That's especially true once they're ensconced on their stands and receiving music via Roon's fully buffed, hi-res-capable streaming. Well, in for a penny, in for just shy of 5 grand, eh?
These are less mad looking and far more affordable than the Formation Duo, so those in the market for a stereo pair are generally going to favour these excellent KEF speakers. Like the Bowers & Wilkins Duo, they are truly wireless – ie: there's no wire connecting them.
Unlike the B&W there is the option to dump that and wire them together with an ethernet cable but all you lose by going 'full wireless' is the ability to stream hi-res audio above a certain bit-rate. That's not going to bother most people, realistically.
Compact enough to make positioning easy in most rooms above toilet size, the LSX does lose a bit of bottom end compared to the Naim or B&W as a result. However they sound excellent so long as you can live with that – they aren't weedy or anything, it's just the otherwise ideal cabinet size precludes major bass extension.
The app is not all that good and this was a serious problem for some users until the addition partway through this year of AirPlay 2. This means iOS users, like Spotify users, no longer need to deal with the app at all, and also makes multi-room much easier.
The entry-level Formation product is a great way to spread that Bowers & Wilkins goodness around your home. If you have more than one Formation speaker it starts using a proprietary mesh network rather than drawing on your home Wi-Fi, which is neat.
This follows the lead of the Duo by sounding excellent, looking, uh, distinctive, and having quite limited connectivity: Spotify Connect, AirPlay 2, aptX Bluetooth… and that's your lot unless you want to shell out for Roon. Realistically, those options are going to serve most listeners well, though.
It's hard to say if the way Bowers & Wilkins' app only handles setup and not streaming is a stroke of genius – just use the apps of Tidal, Qobuz, Amazon or whoever and stream via AirPlay or Bluetooth – or a bit lazy. We prefer using the Tidal app, for instance, to using the versions of Tidal shovelled into most speakers' streaming apps. Some users do like having all their streaming services in one place, though – there's always Roon, if that's you, but that costs an extra £500.
The winner of the T3 Award for Best Bluetooth Speaker of 2019, the Pulse Flex 2i is actually rather more than just a Bluetooth speaker. With Wi-fi and ethernet included, it's actually like a more portable Sonos. It's Airplay 2 compatible, and also works with popular streaming services including Tidal and Spotify, and internet radio.
Considering how small it is, sound quality is little short of remarkable. With a wired connection it's even capable of playing hi-res audio files, for audiophiles, but Tidal (CD quality) and even the likes of Spotify (compressed MP3) sound wonderful.
The versatility needn't stop there, as you can add a battery pack (£69) and carry it with you wherever you may roam. Although not for very long, as battery life is only 6 hours.
Compared to the Audio Pro speaker at #2, Bluesound's champ is bordering on ugly, but since it sounds even better than the C3, has even more connectivity, and boasts an app that actually works, we'll set aside our aesthetic reservations.
A great-sounding speaker, and now fully multi-room ready thanks to AirPlay 2. If you're not an iPhone or iPad user, probably move along.
• Read our full Apple HomePod review
Expensive, made of concrete, and ready to rock, the MA770 is a piece of modern art that also happens to be the best sounding wireless speaker you can get for under £2,000/$2,000.
Its 1.5-inch titanium tweeter and brace of 4-inch Kevlar woofers are amplified by a 100W Class D amp with a discrete channel for each speaker, but the headline spec doesn't really give much indication of how impressive this is.
In short, this thing sounds fantastic. The unique, acoustic concrete construction allows remarkable weight (and volume, when required) with absolutely minimal vibration or distortion. At low volume it's very pleasing; at high volume, it crushes any other wireless speaker. And if you drop this monster on your foot, it'll crush that, too.
With rock, hip-hop and electronica, it can be truly epic, but the way it deals with stripped-back, voice-and-guitar or voice-and-piano tunes can send a shiver down the spine.
The only other wireless speaker I can compare Master & Dynamic's MA770 to is Phantom's Devialet Gold, but this is 'cheap' compared to that.
Connectivity is a tad stingy, considering the price. The MA770's main connection option is Google's Chromecast, making set up easy via the Google Home app. The only problem is that your only other options are Bluetooth or an optical digital or 3.5mm analogue input.
Given the price and the fact this was designed by award-winning architect David Adjaye, this seems tailor-made for the wealthier iPhone owner. So, it seems little short of incredible that M&D hasn't included AirPlay support – or, indeed, a proper phono input for an expensive turntable… But it hasn't, so Apple users will just have to use Spotify or Tidal via Google Home, or plug an Apple TV or AirPlay DAC into the optical digital input. And owners of expensive turntables will need a pre-amp and a dual phono to 3.5mm adaptor.
I did find that disappointing but not all that much, because the MA770 is a unique slab of contemporary audio art. It sounds as good as it looks, and vice versa.
This is very similar visually to the Mu-so 2nd gen and uses the same app, but lacks Chromecast. It also, naturally doesn't sound as good as its successor but it does sound very good indeed and with its price coming down a touch, it's a relative bargain. This or the Mu-so Qb further down would be an excellent second Naim speaker if you wish to start going down the multi-room path…
Trying to decide which you prefer out of the HEOS 7 and the Sonos Play 5 is a bit like deciding which of your children you love more.
The Sonos has a more 'accurate' and less aggressive sound than the HEOS 7, and looks way better, in my opinions, with a subtly curved, tactile white form that's far more interesting than it might appear at first glance. Although it is also rather hard to keep clean, I've found.
I think I narrowly prefer the more forward sound of the HEOS 7, but the Sonos speaker has so much to recommend it as a standalone or multi-room speaker – it fits seamlessly into Sonos' eco-system, and can be controlled via Alexa if you have a Sonos One or an Echo/Echo Dot with the Sonos skill. See the Sonos One review above for my thoughts on that.
The Sonos app does a lot, and a recent upgrade has made it less irritating than it used to be, even if it's still not perfect.
No, it's not quite as great as Naim's full-size Mu-so and certainly not the Mu-so 2, but the Mu-so Qb is a few hundred bucks less, more conveniently proportioned and sounds almost as good – you naturally lose a bit of presence and volume, but not as much as you might think. It has the same, very solid set of connectivity options, from Spotify and AirPlay to Bluetooth and Naim's own multi-room app.
What really sets Naim's wireless speakers apart is that not only do they sound superb – whether turned up and really pumping it out, or serving up more winsome, acoustic or background fare – but they also deliver on the tech front.
Wireless connectivity is impeccably reliable, and there is also the nuclear option of ethernet if your house is one big Wi-Fi black spot. Bluetooth is very solid too, although you'd be nuts to pay this much, only to use the Qb as a Bluetooth speaker.
The range of music and streaming options is only missing one obvious big hitter (Chromecast), and the Mu-so Qb also works very well as an internet radio, as well as being able to stream from your own music servers.
The build quality is just fantastic, and although the look is decidedly boxy, the subtly curved grille at least softens it a bit, especially if you shell out for a coloured one. You may think it resembles a Borg cube wearing a burqa, but I like it.
Multi-room performance is also excellent, via Naim's system or AirPlay 2.
The Beast to the Sonos Play 5's Beauty, Denon's HEOS 7 is a loud, thumping, pointy-shaped powerhouse.
To be fair, the white version of the 7 looks alright, but the black one that Denon sent us for review is not an attractive thing.
Never mind that though, because this is another exceptional audio box. The performance here is full and forceful. It's not like the HEOS 7 is incapable of rendering speech or quieter music - in fact it's very good - but arguably the Sonos Play 5 is a better option if that's your bag.
If, however, you're after something that sounds thrilling and upfront, and rocks out with its docks out, this is for you.
Admittedly, the lack of AirPlay or Chromecast is an irritant, but for most users, Denon's own mobile app and/or Spotify Connect, will be just fine. You can also extract music from USB devices, NAS drives, and via Bluetooth.
Denon has a full range of HEOS speakers that roughly mirrors that of Sonos. Multiroom setup is just a matter of dragging 'rooms' on Denon's app on top of each other, and works very well.
The only thing the Heos 7 HS2 needs now is a bit of a price cut – the Sonos Play 5 is usually a bit cheaper than it, and has much wider brand recognition.
Marshall's mid-size Stanmore speaker (there's also the smaller Acton, which is quite neat and the larger Woburn, which is rather an imposing thing) is very similar indeed to the Urbanears Baggen on the inside (they come from the same factories), but very different on the outside.
If Baggen is multi-room for hipsters, Stanmore is multi-room for rockers, with Marshall deploying its usual bag of stylistic tricks (ie: it's black and looks like a miniaturised guitar amp), and meaty audio.
As such, the Stanmore is comparable to Denon's similarly forceful Heos 7 in terms of performance – and looks a lot better. I keep seeing these in 'edgy' boutique hotels.
The other cool thing about the Marshall Stanmore is its pleasingly full range of connectivity options. It not only has both a 3.5mm line in and proper dual phono inputs, but also upports AirPlay, Chromecast, Spotify Connect, Apt-X Bluetooth.
There's also an excellent internet radio app, and a brilliant multi-room system. This lets you play anything – including anything introduced via the wired inputs and AirPlay from your mobile, which is normally strictly non-multi-room – across multiple Marshall speakers by either pressing a button or using the app.
A knob toggles between the connections, and also includes 6 presets, which can be set to web radio stations or Spotify playlists.
The sound here is not quite as good as on similarly priced rivals, but there's still a lot to like. Please note that there is also a Marshall Stanmore Bluetooth speaker. It's also good but not, alas, multi-room capable.