When Samsung announced its Shape Wireless Audio System a few months back, tech bloggers were quick to dub it “Sonos Killer,” “Sonos Toppler,” and “Sonos Taker On-er.” To a certain extent, all of those categorizations are true: By releasing a system that’s functionally similar to, and identically priced with, Sonos’ offerings, Samsung is clearly trying to snatch away some of that company’s dominance in the affordable multiroom audio space. How well did Samsung fare in its mission to violently dethrone Sonos? We’ll supply the gory details after the break.
The Shape Wireless Audio System consists of two components: the Samsung M7 speaker ($399) and WAM250 hub ($49). The hub connects to your network router via an Ethernet cable and is required only for systems with multiple M7s; otherwise, a single M7 can be linked directly to your home’s Wi-Fi network. The system uses dual-band Wi-Fi to stream audio among multiple speakers, and you can also transmit music directly to an individual M7 via Bluetooth and NFC.
Connections on the M7 speaker’s back panel include a LAN port and a mini-jack analog stereo input for direct device hookups. A touch-sensitive volume control dial is located on the top surface of the wedge-like speaker, which can also be set up in a vertical configuration by attaching the included stand.
System control is carried out via the Samsung Multiroom Android/iOS app (shown above). The app serves for initial system setup, and is also used to switch inputs (Wi-Fi, analog, Bluetooth, and TV SoundConnect for use with Samsung TVs) to various speakers on the network as well as send music stored on your phone or tablet to individual speakers or M7 “groups.” (If this write-up is starting to sound like a Sonos review, that’s because Sonos systems also do all of the above.) Along with your own music, you can also use the app to stream audio from Pandora, Rhapsody, Amazon Cloud Player and TuneIn Internet radio.
A neat feature of Samsung’s system is its ability to pair a set of M7s and configure them as left and right speakers for stereo playback. While each M7 contains a pair each of 0.75-inch tweeters and 2-inch midranges plus a 4-inch woofer, cramming all those drivers into a 20-inch-wide box results in a narrow soundfield—a typical characteristic with compact all-in-one audio systems. However, you can only tap stereo speaker-pairing for music delivered via Wi-Fi, not for Bluetooth or TV SoundConnect sources.
Multiroom audio may be the Shape’s main gig, but its TV SoundConnect feature is what makes it of particular interest to HDGuru. When paired with a recent-model Samsung Smart TV, the Shape wirelessly connects with the set via Bluetooth 3.0 to transmit sound from sources like a DVR or Blu-ray player connected to the TV. Once linked, you can then use either the Samsung Multiroom app or the TV’s remote control or voice/gesture command features to adjust volume.
With a single M7 connected to a Samsung UN60F8000 and set on the middle shelf of my TV stand, its sound was easily a huge improvement over the set’s built-in speakers. Watching an episode of The Mentalist on CBS, in a scene where Patrick Jane chats with an FBI agent in a plaza, both actors’ voices sounded impressively full, and I could boost the volume to loud levels without the M7 sounding strained. When this same scene was conveyed by the TV’s own speakers, dialogue sounded thin and weak in comparison.
Switching to a scene from the movie Pacific Rim on Blu-ray where a giant robot does battle with a Kaiju alien-monster-thing, the M7 displayed impressive bass wallop for a small box and I could crank the volume up to near-uncomfortable levels without the speaker distorting. Does the M7’s decent performance here mean that it could work as a soundbar substitute? On the one hand, the sound was mostly constrained to the TV’s screen area, and ambient effects were pretty much nonexistent—even the Samsung TV’s built-in speakers, which feature 3D audio processing, did a better job of conveying a sense of spatial immersion. Then again, while spaciousness is something that better soundbars on the market easily deliver, movie and TV soundtracks mostly consist of dialogue, so the M7’s ability to deliver it both loud and clear is a definite asset.
Although the M7 perfomed better than expected with TV/Movie sound, its performance with music was just passable. The kick drum and electric bass on heavy tracks like indie band Deerhunter’s “Desire Lines” sounded punchy and dynamic, and the M7 didn’t suffer from the overly crispy, etched treble that’s often heard from all-in-one speakers. But both instruments and vocals on acoustic music that I streamed from my iPhone via Wi-Fi had a slightly rough and unfocused quality that I’m not accustomed to hearing when playing those same tracks on my regular speakers or headphones.
Is Samsung’s Shape Wireless Audio System the Sonos Slayer it’s been made out to be? I didn’t have a Sonos
rig on hand for comparison, but the wide lineup of products that Sonos offers seems to make it the more appealing option for a serious whole-house wireless audio system. Also, from what I’ve seen, Sonos’ Controller app is also more sophisticated than Samsung’s and features more streaming services, including both Spotify and my current fave, Rdio. That said, Samsung’s system does plenty of the same stuff the competition does, and the M7’s TV SoundConnect feature makes it a great option for pairing with a Samsung Smart TV. So, yeah, 3.5 hearts out of 5 , and maybe Sonos does need to watch its back.
—Al Griffin/ Email
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