We've spoken in some detail about the ubiquitous nature of the new generation of speakers from brands like SONOS, Apple, and Google. The take-up of these products is fast, with one report claiming "as recently as 2014 SONOS accounted for 50% of the small but growing Wi-Fi speaker market…"
Add all other similar devices from some of the world's biggest brands; and it is more than likely that many of your mixes are going to be listened to on these devices.
The latest partnership between SONOS and IKEA and the SYMFONISK Wireless Speaker range starting at just £99 puts this technology in the hands of nearly 1 billion (official figures state 780 million) customers.
So we thought it a good idea to see how the sonics and the limitations of a single unit (with MONO summed audio) would work in a studio environment. Previous generations of mix engineers would use everything from a mono Auratone, a cheap stereo or the car HiFi to see how mixes translate. No one in their right mind would suggest mixing on such a device or even mixing for one, but it is prudent to have one to check mixes.
SYMFONISK Wireless Speaker
SONOS and IKEA are remaining tight-lipped about specs but we’ve managed to glean some information. The unit comprises two class-D digital amplifiers, mid-woofer, one tweeter all housed in a plastic ported enclosure.
Width: 10 cm
Depth: 15 cm
Height: 31 cm
Cord length: 150 cm
Packaging has an almost Apple feel to it, albeit it in brown cardboard, but there’s been some nice thought put into the unboxing experience.
Those new to SONOS may at this point start to get a little lost, so here’s the first few minutes of setting up a SONOS speaker pain-free.
Plug in the power cord
Plug the speaker into your router - you can make it wireless later on.
Download the SONOS mobile app. Open it and choose the ‘More’ option.
Use ‘Add Speakers’ then follow the on-screen prompts. You may also be prompted to update the speaker software.
Once set-up, go to ‘Settings’ then ‘Advanced Settings’ and choose Wireless setup to enable wireless control of the speaker. Once this is done you can unplug the speaker from the router.
The IKEA SYMFONISK In Action
There is no wired audio connection to the speaker, so the speaker was tested on a Mac using AirPlay to send audio from the computer to the speaker. There are also solutions for streaming audio from Windows to the speaker as well as iOS and Android devices.
The sound is better than one would expect. As a user of SONOS One, Play, and Beam I was impressed that a speaker costing half as much as the SONOS unit didn't sound half as good. The sound, as one would expect with a speaker of this size and a ported enclosure, has a low mid boost, which can prove helpful when testing mixes done on other systems.
Perhaps it was unfair, but I was switching between my Kii Audio THREE speakers, costing £12,000. The test wasn't to see if it could replace them; on the contrary, the purpose of the speaker is to give a 'real world' impression of mixes. As already stated, most people listening to our work will be using a device like this.
So it did what was hoped and indicated how mixes would translate sonically and how the stereo mix sounded when collapsed into mono.
One thing to mention, because the speakers use wireless technology, there's a severe amount of latency, and I mean a severe amount. Far too much to even consider using in real-time, but fine when checking bounced mixes.
For the intended purpose, the IKEA SYMFONISK wireless speaker is better than one would expect given the price and also considering the next closest SONOS version is twice the price. So if you are in the market for a SONOS or AirPlay-compatible speaker, then the IKEA SYMFONISK wireless speaker is a no-brainer.
Let’s be clear, the IKEA SYMFONISK is not intended to replace your studio monitors. As already stated, the latency alone puts that idea to bed, but even if it didn’t then mixing on a pair would be ill-advised. However, given that millions of people are going to be listening to music on devices like these and quite possibly in mono, then it is wise to consider something like one of these units in the studio to check mixes, and the price point makes this unit a very attractive solution.
The wireless workflow is not ideal. I’m sure it won’t be long before someone figures out how to hardwire the speaker, watch this space. So ironically, you have to be prepared to work within the constraints of wireless audio.
Do we all need one? Possibly.