Amazon has delivered on its long-standing promise to add whole home audio to its line of Echo smart speakers.
I gave it a quick test today. Multi-Room Music as Amazon calls it works reasonably well. Well enough that if I were Sonos I would be feeling the Bezos death grip a little harder today.
Set-up is simple. You create a “Group” and check all the Echo devices you’d like included. If you’ve made groups for other home automation devices — Philips Hue, for instance — then you’ll be right at home with the concept.
Let’s say you have 4 Echo speakers: kitchen, living room, bedroom and office. You’d create the group by ticking the 4 speakers in the Alexa app under Settings -> Multi-Room Music. Then give the location a name. In this case, “Everywhere”. You might also elect to group downstairs separately from upstairs, or indoors from outdoors to give but a few examples of the flexibility of the new feature.
Once in a group you can then start asking Alexa to play music: “Play Neil Diamond Everywhere.”
And voila. You’ll be jamming like never before to “Coming to America” and “Sweet Caroline” throughout the entire house, with music streaming completely in sync across all the Echo speakers included in the group.
Follow these steps to stream music across multiple Echo speakers. Amazon calls the new feature Multi-Room Music.
- Open the Alexa app on your Android device or iPhone
- Go to Settings
- Then scroll down to the new Audio Groups section and select Multi-Room Music
- You should see a list of all your available (if online) Echo speakers
- Select the ones you’d like to group so that music streams in sync
- At top give the group a name
- Hit save
- To make further changes you can also access the new Group (along with all the others you’ve created for things like lighting) under Settings -> Smart Home -> Groups
- Now you can ask Alexa to stream music: “Alexa, play Neil Diamond everywhere” / “Alexa, play Look What You Made Me Do by Taylor Swift downstairs” / “Alexa, stop.” / “Alexa, play EDM everywhere.”
Echo Multi-Room Music: Supported Streaming Music Services
- Amazon Music
- Sirius XM
- Apple Music
- Google Play Music
In my initial tests, performance was as expected. As far as I could tell all the Echo speakers remained in sync.
One thing I did notice is that if you have an external Bluetooth speaker paired with your Echo (I have a great little Sony Blueooth speaker connected to an Echo Dot that really makes a big difference in audio quality) it will drop the connection when playing in Multi-Room Music mode. Unfortunately, that will mean a drop in sound quality on that particular Echo speaker.
Another limitation that’s a little unfortunate is the restriction of an Echo speaker to a single group. You can’t add an Echo to multiple groups (say, everywhere and downstairs).
Also note that Multi-Room Music does not yet support Spotify or Sirius XM and is currently available only in the US, UK, and Germany.
IN PHOTOS: Multi-Room Music on Echo Speakers
Amazon Crush: What impact does Multi-Room Music have on quasi-partners, quasi-competitors such as Sonos, Bose, Sound United and others?
As for what this means for dedicated whole home audio and speaker companies like Sonos?
When Bezos and team are gunning for you it’s time to batten down the hatches and strategize fast. Toss in some other companies like, oh I don’t know, Google and Apple, and it’s hard to see any light at the end of the smart speaker tunnel for the smaller players.
Then again, Sonos has survived this long, and faced challenges before. Purists might still appreciate the robustness of the Sonos apps, and the depth of customizability, the likes of which is not yet available on Echo speakers. I like the convenience of Alexa and Echo, but it’s hard to give up all the depth of my Sonos. At least, not yet. Mainstream buyers I suspect will embrace this feature and Amazon will sell even more Echos.
“Song Sung Blue”? For Sonos and other smart speaker players (Bose), sadly, it sounds about apropos.