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Wireless Multiroom Audio: Growth And Challenges

By all accounts, wireless multiroom-audio systems represent another long-overdue success story in home audio.

They appeal to a new generation of audio enthusiasts who don’t sit down in front of a refrigerator-size rack of components to listen to music but who listen to music as a backdrop to their daily activities. They appeal to consumers whose appetites for multiroom audio have been whetted by the proliferation of installed systems but who don’t have the money for it or find it impractical to retrofit a system.

One challenge, however, is high return rates. Consumers get the systems home, and the systems don’t do what the purchaser expected them to do. Or the systems are simply too difficult to set up. Given the difficulty that suppliers themselves and their websites have in explaining the capabilities of these complex systems, it’s quite understandable that some consumers are frustrated.

Some systems, for example, let users stream music stored on a DLNA computer to only one speaker at a time, or, as with AirPlay, stream only one song at a time to multiple speakers. Other systems use controller apps that run only on iOS devices. Some controller apps send only one smartphone-stored song or streaming service at a time to multiple speakers, while other apps stream multiple songs and streaming services from a mobile device to different speakers at one time (making these true multizone systems).

For other consumers, setup is frustrating. To stream music stored on my phone to multiple speakers, how am I supposed to know the location of the songs stored on my phone? (In my case, it’s /storage/emulated/EXT-SD/music.) The app prompted me to supply the location, but I couldn’t determine the location for weeks until I came across it quite by accident. Then the app worked like a charm. Some systems find the music for you.

And why is the term “local music” used by an app to describe music stored remotely on my PC? I eventually figured out what it meant.

And my PC-stored music stopped playing after 15 minutes, and it took a while for me to figure out that my computer was set to sleep after 15 minutes of non-use. You’d think playing music from a PC would constitute some form of use that would keep a PC awake, but who knew? I guess that one’s my fault.

At some stores, high return rates plagued health and fitness wearables until the stores proactively took measures to better explain each product’s capabilities. Return rates then fell.

With the proliferation of wireless multiroom-audio systems, wireless audio is at the same stage as wearables, and proactive efforts must be taken not just by retailers but by suppliers themselves to better explain setup procedures, make the process easier, and clearly explain what their systems can and can’t do.

Oh for the days of inserting a CD and being sure it would play back.