Review: Raumfeld speaker systems for the connected home (hands-on)

Raumfeld is quick to claim its high-res multiroom speakers are an essential addition for audiophiles in a modern home. How do they measure up?

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German company Raumfeld, founded in 2008, was built from the ground up by those who wished to create a wireless multi-room system that could stream high quality audio files and reproduce them "the way the artist intended." With the emergence of the connected home and the abandonment of old Hi-Fi and CD players, Raumfeld is tapping into a market dominated by software and wireless streaming.

Rival Sonos is well-known as a strong player in the connected home and multiroom speaker niche. The company's speakers are compatible with a number of third-party Internet of Things (IoT) controllers as well as both AirPlay and Google Play. Raumfeld would like a slice of this pie and has launched its wireless-compatible multiroom speaker rigs in recent years in both the US and UK.

As IoT -- the concept of networked devices and home appliances -- expands in Western homes, speakers are expected to follow suit and offer networking in one fashion or another. Raumfeld's setup ranges from small cube speakers to freestanding systems, all of which offer wireless capabilities including music streaming service support and speaker control via mobile devices.

But is it worth forking out for the rig in your connected home? ZDNet finds out.


Pros: Stylish design | Powerful | Crystal clear sound | Easy operation

Cons: No Bluetooth support | Quality loss at higher ranges | App required | Potential setup issues


Key features: Multiroom system | Wireless streaming | High-res streaming | Support for Spotify, Tidal, Napster | Solid, stunning design

The Raumfeld range

The Raumfeld range consists of the One S, One M, Stereo Cubes, Stereo M and Stereo L speakers.

The One S, available for £199, is a tiny Wi-FI speaker which represents the lowest end of the range. Despite its tiny size, the bass is good thanks to the firm's 50-watt bi-amping technology and a class D amplifier, and the system supports app-based control and presets for playlists compiled through music streaming services, online radio and private collections.

Each price jump provides an increase in power. The One M, a 120-watt step up with an additional built-in downward firing subwoofer, can be purchased for £349.99. Stereo Cubes, also part of Raumfeld's offerings, are 160-watt speakers that utilize a two-way coaxial system for precise sound imaging. It is at this level the bass line improves sharply, and you can also directly attach USB devices to the cubes for direct playback -- before streaming to other speakers linked up to your audio system. Each pair will set you back £399.99.

Finally, true audiophiles might be interested in taking a look at the Stereo M and Stereo L. Available for purchase at £699.99 and £1249.99 respectively per pair, the Stereo M packs a punch at 320 watts, while the floor standing Stereo L channels 400 watts of power.

See also: Flic: The wireless button which brings the connected world into your home (hands-on) | Manything review: How to transform old devices into a home security system (hands-on)

Design

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There's no denying the speaker systems are beautifully made. The Raumfeld range's design is sleek and adult with a solid, expensive feel. While they do have retro elements, the robust speakers take these design points and punt them into the 21st century with a lacquered finish, modern color palette and thick rubber points on the bottom to reduce vibration.

I see them fitting admirably in a modern, minimalist flat -- but they would no doubt stick out like a sore thumb in period properties, unless you kept your rig to smaller speakers hidden away on a bookshelf here and there.

Setup and streaming

When it comes to connectivity, Raumfeld's range can be connected to a network using an ethernet cable or Wi-Fi. Alternatively, a USB drive plugged into the back of a speaker -- or making use of line-in jacks -- makes any music files on the flash drive available for streaming to any of the other Raumfeld speakers. When connected to an accompanying mobile app, the speakers can read and stream locally stored music on your device in a wide variety of audio formats. In addition, you can stream content from online subscription services including Spotify, Tidal, Napster and online radio.

To control your speakers, you must install the Raumfeld Controller app on a mobile device and hook the speakers up through a network or Wi-Fi router. The app is compatible with both iOS and Android devices.

It's important to download and install the app before configuring your speakers or connection issues may occur later on which can be frustrating. It can take some time for the speakers to become sourced by the app, but once setup is complete, using your rig is incredibly easy.

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The app requires a Wi-Fi connection to use and includes playlist options, Tunein radio, options to enable streaming services such as Spotify and access to your own private music collection.

The £49.99 Raumfeld Expand is also a handy accessory you can buy from the firm to solidify your multi-room system. The gadget launches its own autonomous Wi-Fi hub for your speakers, improving signal and ensuring that obstacles won't get in the way of music play.

One feature I expected to find in these high-end speakers was Bluetooth support, which is sadly lacking. When you want to quickly stream music without having to go through libraries, streaming services and apps -- for example, using Bluetooth to forge a quick connection between your iPod and the speaker -- this standard is useful.

It seems strange that a pair of my $50 bedroom speakers have this facility, and yet speaker systems which are highly advanced and have a price bracket to match do not.

Performance

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The average home does not need a full rig of this size or power -- ramp up the volume and you're likely to annoy your entire street (as I found to my cost during testing.. but I couldn't help myself). True audiophiles would thoroughly enjoy the crystal-clear quality that Raumfeld's speakers offer, it is only in the absolute upper volume registers that quality begins to muffle, bass suffers and there is a slightly harsh edge. Despite this flaw, each speaker system is powerful enough to fill a room with gorgeous tones.

Once you've spent the day listening to your favorite tracks with this polished setup, it's difficult not to become dissatisfied with the quality of other, low-end speakers on the market.

Should I buy?

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Modern homeowners interested in the concept of IoT, connected homes and multi-room speaker setups should consider Raumfeld as an option. The sound quality is excellent -- albeit you're certainly paying for the quality -- and streaming, once initial setup is over with, is seamless. A pair of the floor standing speakers would also certainly be an interesting conversation starter.