Samsung Shape M7, $350
This distinctive-looking, wedge-shaped Samsung Shape M7—which can be positioned either horizontally or vertically (using an included mounting stand)—is basically the company's answer to Sonos, with a few interesting additions, such as Bluetooth and NFC technology. The attractive speaker comes with a black or white enclosure with complementary-colored, diamond-shaped textured grilles. Hidden behind a plate at the rear of the speaker are several connections, including a 3.5mm audio input, an Ethernet jack, and a USB port that's used only for firmware updates.
The M7 can be used with its proprietary Wi-Fi-based technology and with Bluetooth for connecting to Bluetooth-enabled portable devices or to Samsung TVs that have the SoundShare feature. It also has a 3.mm auxiliary input for wired connections to music players. In general, we found the speaker was very easy to set up and use, especially if you have a WPS-enabled router. There are a few buttons (including Mute and Volume) on the top of the unit, but you can get iOs and Android apps that let you control with smart phones and tablets.
Thanks to its unusual shape and the combination of dual-band Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and DLNA (AllShare) support, the M7 is among the most versatile speakers we've tested, though it's not without some limitations. One is that there's no option for adding a subwoofer—but while it lacks deep bass, it's hardly bass-shy.
When used as a single stereo speaker, the Shape M7 delivers good overall sound quality—a bit better than the Bose SoundTouch 20, but not quite as clear and detailed as the Sonos Play:1. So it should be a fine choice for most noncritical listeners looking for a wireless stereo speaker for music and movie or TV soundtrack reproduction.
But sound quality bumps up to very good when two M7s are paired to form a two-speaker stereo system, though you've now spent $700 for the speakers and $50 for the hub. When we paired two M7 speakers, bass became more balanced and thus less prominent, midrange lost some of its softness, and treble was a bit more extended.
The M7 speaker streams audio wirelessly from Internet services such as Amazon Cloud Player, TuneIn Radio, Pandora, and Rhapsody—more services than Bose, but not as many as Sonos. It can also stream from network-connected hard drives and computers. It can also stream content directly off your phone or tablet via Bluetooth, which Sonos can't do. You can also use your phone, tablet, or computer to access Internet streaming services the Shape M7 lacks, such as Spotify.
Unlike Sonos, the M7 system doesn't require at least one speaker to be wired directly to your router. But if you want to create a stereo pair or a multi-room system, you'll need the optional hub, which connects to your router via an Ethernet cable. Like Sonos, the M7 doesn't come with a separate remote control. Instead, you use the free Samsung Multiroom app on an Android or iOS device. The app also lets you add speakers and have them work as a stereo pair. There's also a pairing button on the speakers.
The verdict: The Samsung Shape M7 is an impressive first step into the world of Wi-Fi speakers, especially when you consider its versatility. Like the Sonos—but not the Bose SoundTouch 20—it can play high-resolution (lossless) audio files. It also features manual or NFC Bluetooth pairing, which the Play:1 lacks. Still, the M7 comes in second place in our three-speaker shootout. But we'll continue to monitor improvements in all these speakers systems to see if any can usurp Sonos' throne.
—James K. Willcox