Hello again, and welcome to the second edition of our beginners guides for streaming music at home.
In the first edition of our beginners guide to streaming music, we talked about streaming audio, explained a little bit about what it is, and the options it offers you.
In this part 2 edition we’re going to bring you up to date on audio hardware and explain some of the options you now have for enjoying various sorts of music, including streaming audio throughout your house.
Audio Back In The Day
Back in the old days your options for listening to music were pretty simple. A lot of people started out with a phonograph. A phonograph was a single box. Most plugged into a power socket, but a few were portable, and ran on batteries.
It had a round platter on top where you put the records, one or two speakers on the front for the sound to come out of, and some controls for things like how loud you wanted it to play. If you wanted music in another room you unplugged it and took it with you.
The next step up was usually affectionately known as “the big stereo”. The big stereo usually had a separate amplifier, and two speakers, and allowed you to play music from several sources, like record albums and the radio.
In more modern equipment, the record player was often replaced with a CD player, and a tape deck might be added, so you could record things and play recordings other people made.
Some really serious listeners even had separate preamps and amplifiers. For the most part, the big stereo really was big – it was made up of several different pieces of gear, connected by lots of wires, and wasn’t very portable.
If you wanted music in another room, you put another pair of speakers in that room, and ran wires from them back to the mothership.
This sort of gear is still used by many audiophiles and, if that’s really what you want, you can still find some excellent stereo gear around. The video below represents a newer breed of hybrid gear. Traditional audiophile speakers with built-in amplifiers and wireless/bluetooth connectivity. KEF Audio are a trusted brand in this space and their bookshelf speakers like the new LSX are second to none.
KEF's LSX is a more affordable hi-fi system in a box
Moving Onto Modern Audio Gear
For a while separate little portable music players, like the well known Apple iPod, were quite popular. However, nowadays, many people start out listening to music on their phone.
Smartphone Audio Streaming
A modern smartphone can be used to connect to those streaming audio services we talked about last time, and there are also various ways you can take music from your own CDs, or music files you download or get from your friends, and transfer them to your phone.
The Spotify app is the most popular music streaming app for smartphones
Unfortunately, while many smartphones have really nice screens, they all have small amplifiers, and really dinky speakers. Because of this, while they’re actually OK for listening to music through earbuds or headphones, they don’t work very well for listening to music out loud.
Now, if you still have dad’s big stereo, you can connect the phone’s headphone output to that with a wire, and it will work pretty well.
However, now there’s a better option. There’s a standard called Bluetooth, which allows devices (like phones) to connect to other devices (like speakers) – without wires. All you need is a good quality Bluetooth speaker, or pair of speakers, in your living room.
Now you can listen to music on your phone, whether it’s from your own collection, or from your favorite streaming service. Then, when you get home, you connect to your Bluetooth speakers, and your music plays through them. Your phone is still the source, and you control everything from your phone, but “Look ma… no wires!”
There are all sorts of high-quality Bluetooth speakers available, from small ones the size of a soda can like the Vanatoo T0 speakers, to high quality systems whose sound quality is even better than the best traditional speakers, like the Devialet Phantom.
Of course, this is nowhere near the end of the story...
How to Use Spotify (Beginners Guide)
Wireless Home Audio Systems
The wireless technology that started out as a convenient way to play music from your phone has evolved into extremely sophisticated whole home audio systems that combine both great sound and the ultimate in convenience.
However, it is important to remember that each of these great products has a slightly different selection of features, so you’ll need to figure out exactly which one has the features you need and want.
Here at Rateyoursound, we not only rate products in terms of how well they work, but we provide the detailed information you need to figure out which one is exactly right for you. Take a look at our Best Wireless Speakers list.
Sonos gear is the most popular home audio streaming kit in 2019
Here are a few of the things you need to consider….
- Some systems expect you to use your phone to store your music, or to connect to your favorite streaming service, and then relay the music to them. This is handy if you have all your stuff on your phone; just remember that your phone has to remain turned on and within range. If you turn your phone off the music stops and, if you take your phone with you to run an errand, your family can’t listen to music while you’re gone. In contrast, some systems, like the Sonos Play:5, connect directly to streaming services with their own built-in software.
- Some of these products really are just a super high quality Bluetooth speaker, or the equivalent of a separate stereo system. You can send music to them via Bluetooth, but they won’t pass it along to units in other rooms. The B&O A9 Speaker is an example of this standalone mode of streaming. However, if you go with a Sonos system, every Sonos device is part of a system. They can send music from one to the other and, if you add a second speaker, or a subwoofer, they each simply take their rightful place in the system and play without a lot of complicated setup. Then you can do things like decide whether to play something different in each room, or play the same thing in every room, and make sure it remains perfectly synchronized. There are lots of different options here – so read the details carefully.
- Different products support different kinds of content. Most of the ones that connect to your phone using Bluetooth can play anything you can play on your phone. The ones that connect directly to your streaming service are going to have a specific list of streaming services they support. Some offer an analog input for connecting other audio sources, while others offer more interesting options, like a built-in FM tuner, or a phono input. (Read the reviews carefully if you’re looking for specific options there.)
- And, of course, we’re still talking high end audio gear, so sound quality is important. Some units, like the B&O Beolit 17 have truly superb audio quality, but lack some other options. Others, like Sonos, are remarkably flexible, and offer an incredible array of features, but may offer slightly less impressive sound quality. And, even among those that offer the best sound quality, some work better in small rooms, while others are capable of filling even a large room with superb sound.
If this is all new to you, the best way to figure out what you need is to read as many reviews as you can… Once you see what options are available you’ll have a better idea which ones are important to you.
In the next edition of the newsletter we’ll offer several examples of actual systems so you can see exactly what’s involved in choosing the best wireless audio system for you.