As of CES 2014, seemingly every electronics manufacturer is taking a shot at wireless audio -- from Panasonic to Samsung to Bose. While Sonos and Squeezebox have been around since the start of the millennium, it took until the last year for the rest of the industry to decide that wireless, multiroom audio was worth developing.
The M7 ($350 street) is the first of Samsung's new Shape wireless audio platform, which will include a smaller streaming speaker (M5) , a surround-sound system, and a Blu-ray player. The Shape M7 is a well-built, versatile streaming speaker that sounds better than the comparable Sonos Play:3, with a few feature perks like built-in Bluetooth and the ability to wirelessly connect to some Samsung TVs. On the other hand, it supports only a handful of streaming services -- no Spotify -- and it remains to be seen how committed Samsung will be to the Shape platform. Squeezebox fans know all too well what it can be like when their wireless audio platform is abandoned.
Sonos remains our go-to recommendation for wireless, multiroom audio -- especially the Play:1 -- but the Samsung M7 is a plucky newcomer that could mature into a serious competitor.
Design and features
The Shape M7 is a large speaker that's roughly the same size as the center channel in dedicated 5.1 systems. It has a sleek, wedgelike shape, with a textured speaker grille and a plastic cabinet that's available in either a white or black finish. The speaker can be positioned horizontally or vertically using the included stand, and in the vertical position you can pair two M7 speakers for stereo. Each cabinet contains five drivers in total, with two tweeters, two midrange drivers, and a 4-inch woofer.
Each speaker supports Bluetooth (from a phone or compatible 2012 or later Samsung Smart TV), NFC, and dual-band Wi-Fi. With a single-speaker system, you can connect directly to the speaker over Wi-Fi using your smartphone; there's also an Ethernet port on the back of each speaker for making a direct, wired connection. For a multiroom setup, you'll need to add the Samsung Shape Hub ($50) to your system, which connects to your router to sync and coordinate streaming music to multiple rooms.
Note that while there is a USB port on the back, it's used only for firmware updates, so you can't directly connect a USB hard drive full of music.
The system currently supports a small number of streaming services including Pandora, Amazon Music, Rhapsody and TuneIn. The system supports DLNA in addition to the music on your iOS or Android device, and will playback 24-bit/192Khz files--something the CD quality-only Sonos can't do.
As far as further services are concerned, Samsung has been unable to provide details beyond "watch this space." Spotify is the most glaring omission at this point, but Sonos supports a much larger range of services, including Spotify, Rdio, and Beats Music.
The system is controlled by the Samsung Multiroom app, which is relatively simple to use, particularly in the way it handles multiple speakers. Adding new ones was a snap, and while the speakers have an "add" button on the rear, the autodetect was so good we never had to use it. The app also lets you click a button to put two speakers in stereo and swap left and right if they get connected the wrong way.
When it comes to playing music there are a few quirks though -- for example occasionally it would prevent us from pausing the playing track. Also, pressing the big "Play" button doesn't automatically play the last thing you listened to, you need to press the Menu key above to get something playing. Creating playlists is also currently problematic as you can't add tracks from Amazon, and there's no on-the-fly lists without opening a playlist first. It's also unclear at first how to access playlists -- you need to swipe to the left.