What's New in Wireless Home Audio Systems

By now, most music fans are familiar with the pros and cons of Bluetooth technology. Its a simple way to connect wireless speakers to audio devices, provided all those components are placed within 200 feet of each other. But it's not much help if, say, you want to pipe the Best of Bowie throughout your home.

That's why Sonos, Bose, and Samsung now offer speakers that link via Wi-Fi. Not only does that allow you to broaden the footprint to the full range of your router, hitching multiple speakers together via a network that's already in place, but it also permits you to pump music from streaming services such as Spotify and Pandora directly through those speakers.

And this fall, Riva—known for its Turbo line of Bluetooth speakers—plans to enter the Wi-Fi market with its new WAND (Wireless Audio Network Device) speakers.

This new line, scheduled for release in September, includes two home models: the WAND 100, a 3-channel stereo speaker that will sell for about $250; and the WAND 300, a 3-channel mono speaker that will likely cost between $450 and $500. And for $200 more, you can add the Riva Arena Trillium soundbar, which spans roughly 44 inches and features five discrete channels. (Riva also has a battery accessory on the way for $80 to $100 that turns the WAND 100 into a portable speaker.)

One of the big questions, though, is how this new wireless system will stack up against an established leader such as Sonos. According to Riva's executives, their speakers and soundbar offer one distinct advantage: They let you play audio from just about any source, including Bluetooth. In addition to Wi-Fi, Riva claims you can use Apple's Airplay, Googlecast, Spotify Connect, and DLNA. The network will also be able to play Hi-Res audio files.

By contrast, Sonos's system is less open (although there are workarounds). Denon's HEOS system and Bose's SoundTouch system also lack built-in Bluetooth support. And while Samsung's system does offer the technology, it doesn't accommodate as many streaming services as Sonos.

Of course, we'll be sure to check these claims as well as the quality and versatility of the system when the WAND speakers and soundbar become available later this year.

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