I have a dilemma. I really love my old stereo, but it's outdated. Is there any way to plug it into a multi-room set-up?
Ah, an old-school audiophile. If you've got a stereo set-up you can't bear to lose but remains resolutely off the grid, there are still options for bringing it into the 21st century. Unfortunately, all but one are rather pricey.
With set-ups like Sonos CONNECT and Bluesound's multi-room audio, featuring the Node and Vault products, you can plug those network devices into a spare input on your current amp. This will take network streams and play them over your existing stereo set-up, as well as pump it out to connected speakers, like the Pulse, set up in separate rooms. But that all comes at a high price.
Thankfully, those Google gals and guys have come up trumps again with the new Chromecast Audio. It's a £30 dongle that plugs into a spare audio input (from either 3.5mm or optical outputs), and enables you to stream music from any Cast-enabled service, such as Spotify or 7digital, on your smartphone, tablet or laptop. What's more, with an update this year, it'll enable multi-room support if you have more than one Chromecast Audio set-up in your home.
Where do I get better-quality audio streams than Spotify and iTunes?
First things first – have you made sure that you're getting the best quality out of Spotify? Check the settings and make sure you're running at the highest-possible level when you're streaming on your home network. Done? OK, the next step up is Tidal, a streaming service that prides itself on CD-quality audio.
Then there's Qobuz, another streaming service that offers CD audio, and also actual Hi-Res Audio in the 24-bit range. One of the biggest names in the burgeoning Hi-Res Audio market is 7digital. It maintains its own – as well as providing the back end for other – download and streaming services. It has hundreds of thousands of studio-quality tracks.
I find that my Sonos PLAY:1 speakers often lose the audio around the house. What should I do to remedy this?
It may sound trite but the answer is to throw money at them. Sonos removed the need for a Bridge system to run its speakers this year, enabling you to simply connect your speakers directly to your home Wi-Fi network. Unfortunately, this isn't the most robust way of maintaining a multi-room set-up around your home. You can either buy a separate Sonos Bridge, which physically wires into your router, creating its own wireless connection for the speakers, or buy a Sonos Boost. This is a more powerful (and expensive) version of the Bridge, ideal for larger houses or those with really thick walls.
Should i pay for a music- streaming subscription?
There's a host of music streamers, and almost all operate as a subscription service with a monthly fee – although there's a handful that offer decent freemium options. These are usually ad-supported, so if you don't mind the odd commercial interruption, they can be a good way to go. Both Spotify and Deezer offer such free options, though Apple Music does have its own Beats 1 radio station, which is accessible gratis so long as you have an Apple ID.
Is it worth paying for a sub at all?
The benefit of paying the tenner a month for either Spotify, Deezer Standard, Apple Music or Google Play Music is that you don't have to put up with the ads. That's also worth thinking about for those parties where you're really putting your multi-room audio system to task. The subscriptions are only on a rolling monthly set-up, so you can always cancel. A sub will also often enable you to take your account offline and download tracks, as well as giving you access to higher quality audio. And with the likes of Tidal and Deezer Elite giving the highest CD-quality sound, you may even want to spend more if you've got a high-end system.