Raumfeld Wireless Speakers Review
|Pros||Great sound quality, some features that competitors like Sonos are missing, huge range of products from $250 up to $2,500, upcoming GoogleCast functionality, HiRes support.|
|Cons||Limited ecosystem at the moment, larger speakers are wired together, soundbar needs to be updated to better integrate into an AV system.|
|Summary||Judged only on sound quality, the Raumfeld line of whole home audio products sound fantastic. They offer excellent sound for the price, and have a number of features we'd like to see other companies adopt. The soundbar we aren't that enthusiastic about, but the One S and other models are worth a look, especially once the GoogleCast for Audio update is available for them.|
Raumfeld is a recent entrant into the whole home audio arena. They’ve entered into it with a wide array of speakers, from the small models you’d expect on a countertop to a pair of floorstanders more common in a dedicated stereo system. With a nice finish and the best sound of any wireless speakers I’ve heard, Raumfeld impresses both the eyes and the ears. Some small drawbacks make them imperfect for everyone, but the dedicated music lover will come away impressed.
The whole home audio area is one that everyone is moving into. For a long time Sonos has ruled the roost, but as they stagnate others are coming from all angles. Some companies, like Denon and Yamaha, are happy to copy the Sonos approach. Amazon is attempting to replace many of your wireless speakers while also integrating Alexa voice control with their Echo line. Raumfeld is the first system I’m aware of that is taking direct aim at both $200 Bluetooth speakers as well as $3,000 component systems.
For my home testing of the Raumfeld system, I used three components: The soundbar on my living room TV, the One S in the kitchen, and the Stereo M bookshelf speakers in my home theater room. The Stereo M is the model that is set apart from most other wireless speakers on the market today. At $1,300 for a pair, it’s an area most companies don’t try to target. Unlike all other wireless systems out there, you can also use the Stereo M as a pair of passive bookshelf speakers in your existing stereo system. I’m not exactly sure who would do this, since you can’t switch them between active and passive, but you can.
The drawback to this flexibility is that the Stereo M speakers connect through speaker wire. Only one speaker is powered, which contains the amplifiers and electronics for both. This is another setup I hadn’t seen before in a wireless home audio system. While this is likely more cost effective, and eliminates issues with timing, it makes it not a wireless system. Sitting in my living room next to systems from Oppo and Sonos, the Raumfeld is the only one with a cable you can see.
A Shallow Ecosystem
Lets the the main drawback of the Raumfeld system out of the way first: the streaming service ecosystem isn’t there yet. This reason Sonos rules the roost is that it supports almost every streaming service out there today. Last check, there were over 60 supported with more in beta testing. If you subscribe to it, you can stream it, which makes the lack of Bluetooth or AirPlay on the Sonos products more forgivable.
Raumfeld is still working on this. Right now the Raumfeld system supports Spotify, Tidal, TuneIn, SoundCloud, and Rhapsody. You can stream from your local DLNA sources, or you can use the USB and analog inputs for music. If you only use these sources for your music, then you’re set. If you have a different service you want to stream, there’s no Bluetooth to get it onto the Raumfeld systems. When the new Radiohead album came out and I wanted to listen from Apple Music, I couldn’t do it. This has always been the limitation of most streaming audio systems.
Raumfeld is working to fix this by adding support for GoogleCast in a firmware update. GoogleCast for Audio is the technology I think is going to gather more and more support over time. As a more open standard, companies like Raumfeld, Vizio, LG and more can put it into their products. You can then group these together as you can a system like Sonos, and GoogleCast for Audio even supports 24/96 HiRes audio streaming. Once Google Home comes out later this year, you might even get voice control of all these speakers. It opens up the Raumfeld system to support all the services that already support GoogleCast. This means services like Pandora, iHeartRadio, 7Digital, NPR One, Plex, Slacker and more will work with the Raumfeld system once this update happens.
Wonderful Sound Quality
Where Raumfeld excels is in sound quality. The Stereo M is the best sounding whole home audio speaker setup I’ve used. Listening to lossless audio from Tidal and comparing it to the options from Oppo and Sonos I had on hand was a bit unfair. The Raumfeld system is twice the price of these competitors but sounds like it costs far more. Deeper bass, a bigger soundstage, and improvements in sound set it apart. If the only thing you are concerned with is audio quality, then the Raumfeld system is going to be your favorite.
Setup of all the Raumfeld components through the included app was smooth but could be better. During setup you connect to the speaker as a WiFi access point and provide you WiFi credentials. Some other systems let you connect and then send your settings without needing to enter them from your iOS device. No matter what, it took me under 5 minutes to have them setup and on my network. Once connected they downloaded firmware updates and installed those.
The Raumfeld One S is a direct competitor to the Sonos PLAY:1. It has a similar form factor, and can be made into a stereo pair just like the Sonos system. The feature that the One S has that Sonos lacks is four easy preset buttons. Using these I can assign my favorite playlists, or my kids, to the buttons so you don’t need a remote. If I want to have the radio on KEXP in the morning, I can do that with a single touch. My kids can start up Daft Punk with their own preset as well. Since I find over time that half my listening is from the same stations or playlists, this makes it much easier. For rooms like a kitchen where you want background music and don’t want to always pull our your phone, the One S works well.
As good as the Soundbar sounds, I actually found myself not using it much due to the design. Raumfeld chose to have it controlled by IP just like the rest of the speakers, but this isn’t ideal for a sound bar. Because of this, it won’t work with any of the universal remote controls I have around the house and requires a separate remote to use it with the TV. You can somewhat get around this if your TV supports variable output levels for external audio, but many do not. For such a high-end product to lack IR support to integrate into a home theater system is questionable at best. Even if the main remote uses RF or IP control, they should have included a way to adjust the volume over IR for universal remote support. As good as the Soundbar sounds, the fact that it’s hard to use makes it the one component I can’t recommend as much.
The Soundbar does include an HDMI output for using HDMI Audio Return Channel. Combined with HDMI CEC support, this allows your TV remote to control the audio volume on the Raumfeld while the audio is sent over HDMI. Since the Raumfeld only has an HDMI output with ARC, and no HDMI input, this means you give up an HDMI input on your TV. For some people this might not be an issue, but for many people all of those HDMI inputs are essential for the number of devices they have.
Raumfeld offers an EQ control in the app, but no automated way to set it. Adding an automated EQ, or a real time analyzer with pink noise, would make this much more useful than it is. It’s good to have it, but the competition is ahead at this point.
With all wireless speaker systems it comes down to if you can listen to your streaming services or not. Without Bluetooth or AirPlay, this is essential in the Raumfeld system. If you use Spotify, Tidal, or a local library then the system works great. The speakers are well designed, sound great, and look stylish. If you are listening to Deezer, Apple Music, Pandora, or any of the other popular services out there then you’re out of luck right now.
With a forthcoming update to add GoogleCast support, this flaw will be reduced. You don’t have Bluetooth still, but you can use the analog input for that if you desire. I do hope they go back and can add IR to the Soundbar to make it more useful. The use of speaker wire to connect the Stereo M speakers is one you should decide if you are OK with. The speakers sound great, but aren’t as cable-free as some competitors.
The Raumfeld speakers are a good system with some shortcomings. Some of these are being fixed now, and some might be fixed in the next revision of hardware. It is nice to see people taking on Sonos and offering systems that offer options that Sonos does not. Whole home audio is here to stay, and Raumfeld is helping to push the market into new areas.