Price: £1,149 (Base, Connector, Controller, Speaker S), Base - £299, Controller - £349, Connector - £279, Speaker S - £349, Speaker M - £699 More info: Raumfeld Units: Base, Connector, Controller, Speaker S, Speaker M Size: Base - 175x155x40mm, 680g; Connector - 155x130x30mm, 312g; Controller - 180x80x55mm, 312g; Speaker S - 200x140x180mm, 2.7kg; Speaker M - 285x172x190mm, 6.6kg Connections: Base - Ethernet x2, USB x2, Connector - RCA in/out, digital optical in Wireless network: 802.11g Speaker S: 1x 19mm dome tweeter, 1x 10cm bass/mid driver Speaker M: 1x ART ribbon tweeter, 1x 13.8cm bass/mid driver Speaker output: S - 2x15W RMS, M - 2x30W RMS
Hassle-fee set-up, easy to use, good sound
Macho looks won't appeal to everyone, not cheap
Seamless wireless audio is a great idea for spreading your music around your home. Much cheaper than an installation, and the ideal way to unlock the audio that's been building up on your computer's hard drive all these years.
So far, the Sonos system has offered one of the easiest plug n play solutions to the problem, and now little-known German manufacturer Raumfeld is muscling in on the act at a similar price point.
The Raumfeld system (they've only really got the one product at the moment, so that's what it's called) consists of a Base station, which you connect to your PC or wireless router via Ethernet cable, a pair of Wi-Fi-enhanced active stereo speakers and a Controller with touch-sensitive screen. It can stream audio directly from your PC or Nas drive, access web-based streaming services and play internet radio too, either through the Raumfeld speakers or through your existing stereo via the Wi-Fi Connector.
So far, so Sonos, but the Raumfeld system has an extra trick up its sleeve by including a hefty 160GB hard drive in the Base. You can use it to back up your favourite tracks so you don't have to switch on your computer to access your music.
Style-wise, it's quite a macho set-up, with the Base and Connector boxes in gloss black and speakers in matt black. The Controller follows a similar aesthetic and is a hefty handful, especially with its chunky volume knob and the stand that projects from beneath one end, allowing you to view the screen even when the Controller is laid on its back.
As well as its hard drive, you can also connect additional hard drives to the Base via two USB inputs. It can play MP3, WAV, Flac, Ogg Vorbis, ASF, WMA and M4A/AAC files (so long as they're DRM-free) and it can also access shared iTunes libraries.
If you don't care for Raumfeld's own speakers, there's a Connector which adds Wi-Fi to your existing hi-fi system via the RCA inputs or a TV via S/PDif/Toslink optical audio output.
The active speakers are provided by US-based Adam Audio and there are two types available: the smaller Speaker S which offers 2x15 watts but and the larger 2x30-watt Speaker M. The former has a 10cm bass/mid driver topped with a 19mm dome tweeter, while the latter boasts a 14cm bass/mid cone and an ART (Accelerated Ribbon Technology) tweeter.
You can add additional sets of speakers for a multiroom set-up and if you stretch beyond the Wi-Fi limits of the Base, you can extend its reach with standard Wi-Fi boosters.
Raumfeld Controller screen
Set-up couldn't really be much simpler. Plug everything in, press the relevant pairing buttons and they'll link up automatically. Like the Sonos, it uses its own wireless system, separate from any existing wireless network you may have, in this case an 802.11g Wi-Fi link.
The external aerials on speakers, Base and Connector help provide a strong wireless connection, though we noticed that the Controller didn't always connect so well at the limits of the range (the speakers kept playing seamlessly though). Incidentally, we'd recommend that you replace the controller in its charging cradle often - it takes several hours to charge.
The Controller layout is intuitive and easy to find your way around, and leaps into life with a tap on the large 4.3in screen offering 480x272 pixels. It displays cover art where available and also offers a recording studio style scrolling readout of the audio playing.
Once connected, it was easy to search the music on our PC by artist, album, genre or playlist, and we had no trouble accessing internet stations though search options are a little limited - you can search via genre or UK region for instance, but not alphabetically or by country.
Raumfeld Speaker M
Music streaming options include Last.fm and Napster (and hopefully Spotify later, though that hasn't yet been confirmed) and it comes with a year's subscription to Napster worth £60.
Both speaker models sound surprisingly good. The M in particular offers a full-blooded, well rounded sound with a detailed midband and incisive high end, though the bass could perhaps be just a little fuller. The more compact S meanwhile is capable of pumping out a surprisingly high level of volume without distortion.
And if you're not happy with the sound, there's an onboard equaliser on the Controller that allows you to adjust bass, mid and treble frequencies.
Again like Sonos, it's not a particularly cheap system. In its most basic form you can get a Base (£299), Controller (£349) and Connector (£279) for £927, though there's also a bundled deal that throws in a pair of Speaker S speakers (£349) for a total of £1,149, which is enough for two rooms if you already have a stereo system in one of them. The Speaker M speakers will set you back a further £699.
To put that in context, a basic two-room Sonos system with a pair of BU250 bookshelf speakers costs £839 - cheaper, though it lacks the Raumfeld's hard drive.
The Raumfeld system is a hassle-free wireless streaming solution whose only real rival at the moment is Sonos. Neither system is particularly cheap, and while the Raumfeld is the more expensive option, you do get the benefit of an onboard hard drive which allows you to use it without having to switch on your computer.
The sound quality of Raumfeld's speakers is superior to the Sonos's, but then again they're not so neat as Sonos's ZonePlayer S5. It's horses for courses, but the Raumfeld is a serious rival to the Sonos and an excellent way to open up your computer-based music collection.